At first, we find refuge at home. It is our sanctuary, where we can (hopefully) be unreservedly and authentically ourselves. It is where the outside world rarely intrudes, where we are safe. This, if we are among the lucky ones. This, if we are able to provide this for our children.
But home is just an outer, temporary refuge. When you are at last freed of any unwelcome obligations you have decided to carry, you kick off your shoes, and the storm shutters are latched tightly against the larger world… you have created a cage that holds you in as much as it keeps others out. You can’t keep the lessons of life and fears at an arm’s length; sooner or later they inevitably cross the battle line if you try.
There is more community, but no firmer boundaries, if a church or temple is your preferred sanctuary.
A deeper, better sanctuary is our spiritual practice. In the comfortable routines of meditating, we find ourselves returning to a deeper “home” when we sit. Perhaps you have made a meditation out of gardening, music, or writing. Whatever it is, putting on the familiar shoes and going for a walk around the familiar landscape of any mindful ritual is a refuge. But, just like the shell of wood and stone, our practices can be a cage just as much as they are a shelter. Just like our physical homes, our rituals have battle lines that will inevitably be compromised.
The ultimate sanctuary is consciousness itself. It is that landscape of mind that we find when we deeply meditate and the flotsam and jetsam of thoughts have cleared. It is the unlimited sky of awareness, the seat and ground, that Witness consciousness that can never be adequately described. Unlike the outermost sanctuaries, your consciousness cannot be burned by fire or interrupted by unwelcome visitors. Unlike the outermost sanctuaries, your innermost sanctuary is not an illusion.
Even your inner altar and garden are outside the illumination of awareness. Yes, happily chase that which you have placed on your inner altar. Yes, lovingly remove weeds and plant flowers in your inner garden. But do not cling to these things – they are only distorted reflections, confusion in the world of forms. You are not any of these empty forms that you may have once sought refuge in.
Rather, it is you that is the sanctuary. All these thoughts, feelings, and forms have come to you seeking refuge and safe passage. With loving kindness, may you grant it.