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Making Our Home a Sanctuary

Making Our Home a Sanctuary

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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.

What does being safe mean, and what is a safe place? Is it merely the absence of danger?

Shabbat is the ultimate sanctuary in time: a day free of the impositions of telephones, e‑mails, 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.

A safe, honoring, respectful relationship is one in which the balance of power is equal

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 allow into them only 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.” (See also 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.

True happiness comes from living a life in which there is no disconnect between our deepest values and the way we conduct 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.

Dr Yetta Krinsky, MBBS BA FRANZCP, is a psychiatrist who works with women to facilitate the healing process from trauma and other life challenges. She lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her husband and their lively blended family.
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Andrew Sussman January 17, 2013

Thank you for reminding us Reply

cy melbourne November 22, 2012

Thank you Yetta A reminder to walk the walk. Reply

Esperance Clark November 19, 2012

like the way you elaborate on the subject Reply

W.R. Hodge Auckland, N.Z. November 14, 2012

Thank you Dr. Krinsky for this valuable article. So helpful! Reply

Anonymous Berkeley, CA November 14, 2012

Treating oneself with kindness The lovely comment,"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." set me thinking. I'm recovering from childhood abuse. When so traumatized, we can be taught to tolerate all manner of insults from others, because it is all too familiar. Often we can be blind to the unkindness of others. My reminder to myself is to learn how to treat myself with the same depth of understanding and generosity of spirit with which I treat my own children. I honor their every step, even when they fumble, fall, are lost or miss the mark. It's near impossible to treat myself with a shadow of the magnanimity that easily flows from me to my children. What you say, Yetta, is true, such good council. For survivors of abuse, drawing forth a compassionate voice for ourselves is a life-long struggle. Still, I am grateful for these lessons: of kindness of love for myself which I never knew as a child. Reply

Laura Ellen Truelove Sewanee, TN, USA November 14, 2012

Home as a Sanctuary For many years now I have endeavored to make my home a sanctuary for both myself and my guests. My small apartment is filled with love and laughter and joy and is a place where I pray and take delight in G-d's presence and goodness and the presence of the holy angels. It is filled with beautiful, although not necessarily expensive, objects that reflect my travels and interests. They are arranged to delight the eyes and bring a smile. My home as a sanctuary has been pivotal in my understanding of myself as a sanctuary for G-d's Spirit. More and more I am aware that I can be a sanctuary where others can come and rest for a while and where they can take delight in G-d's presence and experience a safe place just to be. Reply

Daniel Frank Toronto November 14, 2012

Be all that you can be We, alongside G-d, are the architects of our personal destinies; we should strive to make our finite lives worthy of infinity Reply

Hanna Perlberger November 13, 2012

Profoundly beautiful. What will you make space for in your life - and what won't you? Reply

M. Gordon November 12, 2012

Beautifully expressed! Reply

Malka Forshner Ft. Myers, Fl. November 12, 2012

"true friend" I just loved the definition of "true friend" that you quoted from the Rebbe. What I realized as I was reading it was that the attributes mentioned should also be found in your "true" spouse........... All in all, I enjoyed the article's content, but I really enjoyed the way you put it together--good therapist and good writer!~ Ya'asher koach! Reply

Ervinna Z singapore November 11, 2012

I love reading..so i save this articles for later readings.and useful info Reply

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