Everyone deserves to be physically,
emotionally and spiritually safe at all times. This is not necessarily
something we are taught, but it has profound implications for the choices we
make in life. It is also the fundamental first principle to internalize for
anyone embarking on the process of healing from trauma.
But what does being safe mean, and what is
a safe place? Is it merely the absence of danger? In my work as a psychiatrist,
I have found that the Jewish concept of sanctuary has not only enriched my life
immeasurably, it has deepened my understanding of the healing process.
Sanctuary- sacred space- can exist in time, physical space, and interpersonal
relationships as well as within our souls.
Shabbat is the ultimate sanctuary in time:
a day free of the impositions of telephones, emails, business and commitments.
Instead, we have time for our children, family and community, as well as our
relationship with our Creator. We can also create small sanctuaries in time
during the week by taking a few moments to stretch, have a coffee, chat with a
friend, sit in the park, reflect on a few things that inspire us, or pray:
essentially, by doing anything that reminds us that there is more to life than
meets the eye before we plunge back into our routine.
The concept of sanctuary in space is
fundamental to Judaism. The Holy Temple was the ultimate sanctuary, a place of
unparalleled holiness and peace. Because every part of the Temple had spiritual
and symbolic layers of meaning in addition to physical function, the use of
iron (which was primarily used to fashion weapons) was forbidden in its
creation. A home is a place for love and safety, not for strife and violence.
We have been told that, since the
destruction of the Holy Temple, G?d’s presence rests within each of us and
within every Jewish home. How important it is, then, that our homes be true
sanctuaries of light, warmth and peace: that we only allow into them people
with whom we feel safe, and things which are congruent with the values we want
to instill in our children. Even in a busy, crowded house, one can make a small
sanctuary. It does not need to be a whole room: perhaps one chair with a
beautiful view, a small garden, or even a few beautiful things on one’s desk.
What do I mean by the concept of safety and
sanctuary in a relationship? A safe, honoring, respectful relationship is
one in which the balance of power is equal. The Lubavitcher Rebbe once
explained why people flocked to him from all over the world, saying, “I try to
be a good friend.” He then described what a true friend is: “A friend is
someone in whose presence you can think aloud without worrying. A friend
is someone who suffers with you when you are in pain and rejoices in your joy,
someone who looks out for you and always has your best interests in mind. In
fact, a true friend is like an extension of yourself.” (Link to Mendel
Kalmonson’s piece: How Many Friends Do You Have?)
One must also feel safe within oneself. We
must respect and honor our inner sanctuary, the deepest part of our soul which
is untouched by any action or event. We often treat ourselves harshly, in
a way we would not tolerate from another person. We have to learn to think and
speak kindly and soothingly to ourselves.
Our sages tell us that true happiness comes
from living a life in which there is no disconnect between our deepest values
and the way we conduct ourselves in all areas of our life. The world calls to
us with many enticements: it tells us to do what feels good, to indulge
ourselves without necessarily thinking about the consequences of living life in
such a manner. But the wise person looks at all the possible consequences of an
action before making a decision. There is a natural drive towards such
wholeness and authenticity. The Torah encourages us to ensure that our every
action is congruent with our inner values, and that it will lead to a place of
greater health and healing for us and for the whole world.
We all have the inborn capacity to create
such sacred spaces, to establish clear boundaries and to choose wisely. Indeed,
by doing so we play our part in transforming this world into the true sanctuary
our Creator intends it to be.
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