by Shirleen Soyo
What makes a space sacred? Religious use? Blessings? Dedication?
Perhaps it’s just a flip of a mind switch.
The words about sacred space in Chögyam Trungpa’s Shambala this week spoke to me. I thought, “What if every space was sacred? Home? Everywhere would be filled with peace, unconditional love, and fun. Causes and conditions this past week allowed my dharma eyes to open and show me a glimpse of the beauty of the ordinary, the mundane, the everyday – of sacred spaces.
Sacred to me means precious, valuable, someone or something to be cared for, maintained, cherished. Promises are sacred. Normally I would say home, family and children are sacred; however, I have sometimes failed to treat them as such.
Home has always felt like a sacred place for me – a haven filled with peace, unconditional love, and fun. But it’s also been a place I’ve used to hide, retreat, recluse and escape from the noise and pain of the outside world or more probably my own fears.
Yesterday when I came home, rather than seeing a place to plop down, filled with pleasant distractions – white noise – I saw sacred places. The laundry area in the basement is the sacred space where dirty clothes can miraculously be made clean. The shower is the sacred space where I become clean and warm. The car or bus is the sacred space that houses me while I travel to places near and far. The road, the sidewalk, hot yoga, Jazzercise, restaurants are sacred spaces providing opportunities to connect with others – different sanghas.
My kitchen is a multipurpose (different than multitasking) sacred space. An open table can be used for creating salads or eating together creating a sacred space for food. Close one side of the table and put my laptop on it – presto – a sacred space for school or creating dharma glimpses and reports. Change the laptop to a sewing machine creates a sacred area for mending clothes and creative crafts. Curl up on the window seat with a book makes a sacred space for new ideas and adventures.
Other sacred spaces are defined by what I do rather than a specific physical location. For instance, at 6 pm CT on Sundays, wherever I am with my cell phone is the sacred space where my Bright Dawn Sangha meets to share time together, exploring Buddhism and witnessing the changes in each others’ lives.
Once seeing – believing – in these sacred spaces, it was a small step to appreciating the sacred tools. The laundry area contains the washer and dryer, detergent and fabric softener all in one space dedicated to cleaning clothes. Previously, laundry has been a chore to be done, a means to an end. Now, why would I want to rush through an event experienced in a sacred space? I see how to better maintain the area – to treat the area and all that happens in that space as sacred; to create a space that I appreciate when I’m there; that reflects how I treat a sacred area, a precious place.
Along with tools, my dharma eyes saw people differently. While I do believe that people (the Sangha) are the most important part of every experience, it never occurred to me that they are sacred. It’s funny that accepting a space as sacred allowed me to see everything, everyone and every event in those spaces as sacred rather than the other way around.
This experience has been like getting new glasses, requiring time to adjust to seeing everything clearly or differently. I feel like a baby, overloading on all the sights with no filter. People, places and objects that had seemed so dull, ordinary and easily overlooked or taken for granted, remain ordinary, but also sacred, miraculous and appreciated. Believing a space is sacred seems to change it, like in the Wizard of Oz, from black and white to color, adding depth and dimension, and, oddly enough, peace.
What’s kind of cool is that while everything feels different, nothing looks different. There’s nothing for me to go around bowing to; no blessings I’m compelled to offer; no urge to kiss the ground I walk on (that would make me feel like I was in the movie Holy Man). The ordinary, while sacred, has remained blissfully ordinary.
Unsure how long this will last. Already today there were moments when I lost the sense of sacred space – looking through books that carried me away to a different world; worrying about whether or not I was kind enough to a stranger; judging rather than appreciating the company of others at yoga. Rather than self-sustaining, it feels more like an ebb and flow, clarity alternating with cloudiness. My hopes are that maintaining dharma eyes is possible with exercise of the heart and mind, understanding and demonstrating that people, places, and things are sacred by treating them as precious.
However long the experience lasts, I’m happy to be in it. Right now, my kitchen looks the same as it did yesterday to the eye, but has now become sacred space. What makes a space sacred? — a thought in my head, a feeling in my heart and the view through my dharma eyes.
Shirleen Soyo is part of the Lay Minister program with the Bright Dawn Way of Oneness Sangha. To learn more about Bright Dawn Way of Oneness please visit us here.