shouldering on and seeking sanctuary

Last week was a difficult one for me, not because of its events or stresses or daily stuff but more of an emotional struggle within myself. It was as though I was fighting myself, this me that strives for trust and presence against the me that doubts so deeply she can disappear into a well of what ifs and of courses. There are times that I cannot shake the feeling that something is wrong, usually with me, and once the fear of what it could be surfaces, I can no longer act or think rationally. I end up making myself sick, physically and then when the doctor says, "Your body is responding to stress in odd but reasonable ways," I want to lay on the cold bathroom tile and stay there.

When things are going well, it is hard for me to trust it. I become suspicious of conversations, second-guess my decisions (even more than I already do) and refuse to embrace the logical explanation for anything. Many times, these feelings, this anxiety rises when my hormones are shifting as though I haven't paid enough attention to my body to notice. Other times, I'm just out of whack in a more general sense.

One day this week I was carrying my bag, full of books and papers and I kept thinking, "gosh, this is really heavy!." I finally leaned over and readjusted the books, redistributing the weight, which had slanted to one side and was pulling me down. As soon as I did, the bag was much lighter. Nothing in the bag had changed; it was still the same heavy books, the same folders full of papers, the same calendar, dry erase markers, etc. I didn't add or take out anything; I simply readjusted the weight. I really couldn't believe the difference when I moved the books from being stacked on top of one another to their sides.

This weekend I've been thinking a lot about that, about how I stack the odds against myself, about how I carry too much, and about the damage I do to myself, how I stress my body and mind. When I'm in it, I don't see a way out even when I am aware that I'm spiraling. I've tried meditating, tried yoga, tried mantras. But I'm not good in the quiet, not purposeful quiet. I'm better at finding the quiet in unexpected places like waking up this morning and noticing a spider making a web outside the window or rolling down my windows on the last 6 miles home and turning up the radio to my favorite song. Okay, it's not conventional quiet but it's the best thing I've found. The one kind of quiet I've always allowed myself is the kind of reverence found in church. It's no secret I have mixed feelings on religion, but the solitude I often feel just being in church is often more important than what a minister says or what the choir sings. I think it's why I don't like the contemporary feel of some church services, though I certainly understand from a marketing perspective the need for such a service. I need a reverent space, one that pushes me to be in awe, to notice I'm somewhere else, outside of myself and my stresses and my weights. I want a true sanctuary.

I love the word sanctuary. For me, it connotes protection, a haven. A sanctuary doesn't have to be ornate for me to be in awe of it. One of my favorite sanctuaries was a small church in the backroads where my father preached every other Sunday. It was small and simple with sturdy pews, no air conditioning and an old piano where I played hymns. When I think of the word sanctuary, I think of that church as much as I think of the beautiful churches in Bath and St. Alban's, Oxford, Canterbury, London and Paris I've seen.

People talk about creating sanctuaries in their lives: gardens or stuff on a shelf, carving out a space of serenity in their daily lives. I take out my camera, the way I did this morning. I go to church. I roll down the windows; I talk to my friends and call my family. I watch my favorite TV shows and listen to music. I reposition the weight. I do what I can. I shoulder on.

* Lovely image of the Canterbury Cathedral from Mike Cattell