Make Your Own Sanctuary
Design a Place That Will Rejuvenate Your Spirit and Tend Your Soul
Caregiving can be physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausting. You need to be refreshed and restored daily to maintain your own well-being. Why not create a sanctuary at home, a special place where you can find strength?
If you're not fortunate enough to have an entire room you can use, you can design a sanctuary anywhere, on any kind of budget. Only imagination limits you. You can create a little haven of beauty in the corner of a room, on one end of a kitchen counter, on a bookshelf with the books removed or in a portion of a closet. You can even use the glove box of your car to make a mobile sanctuary.
If you are an outdoors person, perhaps a corner of your garden will be ideal. Plant flowers for butterflies, and keep a feeder filled with avian treats. The beauty of butterflies and birdsong has a calming effect.
Water helps the soul to expand and welcome the inspiration of the universe. You might consider adding a small reflecting pool, a birdbath or even a tiny electric fountain to your garden. Fountains provide lovely sounds, as do wind chimes or meditation bells, which you can hang in trees or on the edge of a balcony.
The centerpiece of your sanctuary can be an altar. Throughout history altars have been used to express human longing for and awareness of divine presence. It may be helpful to place an object on the altar to help you center on the divine, perhaps a holy book (the Quran, a Torah or a Bible). A cross, candle, statue of Buddha or a saint will help you center on the divine. The object you choose can be a powerful reminder you are not alone in the act of caregiving.
Focus on the seasons
The focus of your altar could also blend the seasons of caregiving with the seasons of the calendar. For example:
Bouquets of fresh flowers in the summer can recall the delight of reestablishing a caring relationship with an elder or parent after years of estrangement.
Bowls of fruit, vegetables or colorful leaves in autumn may be coupled with objects used once by the elder. Former caregiver D.B. McLaughlin of Denver says, if she were going to construct an altar today, it would include the pair of red suspenders she gave to her father during his last months of life when he could no longer wear a belt. "He never wore a pair of suspenders in his life, much less red ones," she said, "but when he was dying with cancer bloating his belly, he loved them and even managed to slip-slide dance to show them off to the nurses." McLaughlin has passed the suspenders on to her son, who says they provide a tangible link to his grandfather.
Candles and evergreen wreaths may be used to banish the dreariness of daily tasks that seem never to end or to lift your spirit beyond the grief you feel about profound changes in an elder.
A nest filled with eggs or a dish of lotus flowers can symbolize the promise of restoration, revitalization and new life. If you have trees nearby, you may find an empty bird's nest in the fall to save and use later. Or check hobby shops and catalogs that sell artificial bird's nests.
A place to rest and remember
With your altar in place, your sanctuary has become a place where you can retire to rest and remember. Remembering the past puts the present in perspective. Your sanctuary might include objects to help you remember: a treasured letter from an elder, a scrapbook of your parent's accomplishments, a marriage or baptismal certificate.
In your sanctuary, you can cultivate peace and serenity through sound, sight, smell, touch and taste. Here's how:
Sound: Play a CD of soothing music, or make your own gentle music with a flute, recorder or harmonica.
Sight: Place a painting or photograph of a pastoral scene in a prominent place.
Smell: Burn incense. The fragrance of vanilla is especially pleasing. If incense doesn't appeal to you, you can use chips of cedar wood, a small dish of dried rose petals or crushed sage for the desert dweller.
Touch: Soft furniture or pillows can add to the comfort of a sanctuary, as can thick rugs or draperies.
Taste: Keep a small bowl filled with sweet treats. Let one of the treats melt slowly in your mouth. Receive the comforting sweetness as a gift.
Tending the soul rewards the caregiver. Entering your sanctuary, a sacred place apart from outside influences, is a loving way to energize yourself and enrich your acts of caregiving.