A Secular Sacred Space
The Midwest Alliance for Mindfulness Peace Pod, our practice room, is a secular, sacred space. Most meditation and yoga teachers will tell you that it is important to reserve a special space for regular practice. It doesn’t have to be big or fancy – it could be a corner of your living room. It doesn’t even have to be yours – it could be a community yoga or meditation studio. The important part is that you have a space that is dedicated to this activity. In this way it becomes “sacred”.
The ‘sacred’… is not a uniquely religious category’… occasions (such as marriage), persons (a lover), things (a ring), places (a registry office) and principles (equality and justice) that they value above all others, and that they see as set apart and inviolable: those things that may be deemed to be both secular and sacred. – Kim Knott
In the beginning, a protected space provides us with some measure of quiet and freedom from distractions that makes it easier to practice. Later the space and the preparations and routines around it provide cues that help us drop in, transitioning from the world of doing to the experience of being. This is one of the reasons why sleep experts tell us we should use our bedrooms only for bedroom activities – the room itself becomes a cue for rest and rejuvenation.
Certain spaces demand certain behavior – often for very practical reasons. For example, in a library, we speak in soft voices so as not to distract people from reading and research. The practice space also functions best when certain types of behavior are observed. For example, in the Peace Pod we take off our shoes, speak in soft voices, endeavor to arrive on time, and use the space for its intended purpose. Some of the reasons for special behavior in the practice space are purely functional while others are attitudes or observances that facilitate the practices:
- Observance: Removing shoes is a symbolic act of leaving the outside world of distractions and busyness outside.
- Practicality: Shoes carry bacteria and other contaminants and many practitioners spend a lot of time on the floor in the practice room. Sitting meditation on a cushion and certain yoga postures are uncomfortable with shoes on for most people and shoes can soil and do damage to props and equipment.
- Observance: Having a dedicated time to practice each day makes it into a ritual.
- Practicality: A routine helps us stay consistent. Getting to a public practice space early allows time to settle in and prevents undue distraction for others.
- Observance: Silence becomes a refuge in and of itself – a place of deep calm and stillness. Respecting silence signals that we are relating differently to experience.
- Practicality: Turning off devices, limiting unnecessary chatter, using a soft speaking voice, or even observing silence, maintains a more peaceful and distraction free environment.
When we make space for things in our lives, it is usually an indication that they are important to us. What is sacred in your life? What space have you carved out for practice and what are the objects and routines that signal to you that its time to drop in and just be? If you’re curious to see how and where other everyday people practice, check out this blog series, The Faces of Mediation – I’m in it too!
I breathe in All That Is-
to take everything in,
as if my heart beats
the world into being.
From the unnamed vastness beneath the mind,
I breathe my way into wholeness and healing.
Each Breath a “yes,”
and a letting go, a journey, and a coming home.
– Danna Faulds, Breath of Life
Knott, Kim. 2013. ‘The Secular Sacred: In-between or Both/and?’ In Social Identities Between the Sacred and the Secular, ed. Abby Day, Giselle Vincett, and Christopher R. Cotter. Surrey: Ashgate.
Lynch, Gordon. 2012. The Sacred in the Modern World: A Cultural Sociological Approach. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
Stipes, C. (2017). Is It Healthier To Take Off Your Shoes Indoors? UH Researcher Finds It’s Not Just Good Manners, It’s Good Hygiene. University of Houston Magazine. Fall Issue.
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