A Sacred Space
When I was eight years old, my family spent part of a summer vacation visiting friends in New England. One of the grownups we spent time with was a painter. He had a big sunny studio out behind his house, just past trellises groaning under the weight of roses and through a little wattle-type gate.
I remember the artist’s wife telling me and my brother, “Don’t ever go in there without Peter’s permission.”
Of course Peter gave his permission all the time. He was happy to have kids around. Sometimes we would even take naps in the studio.
One thing we were always careful of, though, was not to make noise.
And not to distract Peter when he was working.
His studio was a sacred space.
Later, when I studied martial arts, the sensei insisted that his students stop and bow as they crossed the threshold of the dojo—to him as our teacher and to the space itself.
It too was sacred.
My own office is just a converted bedroom in my house. It’s got nothing particularly esoteric in it, except maybe my lucky toy cannon that fires inspiration into me, or perhaps my lucky horseshoe from Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky.
But it’s a sacred space too.
I’ve made it sacred by the work I’ve done there and by the attitude of respect and devotion that I bring with me when I enter. Kids can come in. Animals can hang out. But they have to be respectful too, as I and my brother were when we crossed the doorstep of Peter the painter’s studio.
My friend and mentor David Leddick tells of when he was a young ballet dancer in New York and how his teacher instructed her students, before entering the studio where they were about to work,
“Leave your problems outside.”
She meant, “Leave your ego, leave your greed, leave your competitiveness with your rivals, leave your fear and your self-doubt and your lack of belief in yourself.”
Leave everything profane outside.
In here, in this space where we work, there is no room for such stuff.
Here, the goddess dwells.
(Or at least we hope she’ll stop briefly by.)
We must enter this space without dirt on our feet or mundane aspirations in our hearts.
My friend Ed Hinman feels that way about the gym. Ed is a gonzo weight guy (he’s writing a book called Drawn to Iron) who sees resistance training the way yogis see yoga or renunciants see a week-long sesshin.
The word Ed uses is “portal.”
I like that a lot.
Through this space, Ed believes, we pass by dint of effort and dedication and commitment onto and into a nobler plane of reality.
This is my world too—and my attitude—when I enter the converted bedroom that is my office and turn my little toy cannon so its muzzle faces me, ready to fire.
“Leave everything profane outside.” I like that, and if this post had a subtitle, that would be the line.
My wife and I have making our effort to sit and do a 15-minute meditation together each day. Our offices are on different sides of the house, and one of us will text the other during the day: “15 at 0930?” or “15 @ 1100?” Sometimes it’s, “Sure. Meet you on the porch,” but other times it’s, “Can’t now. On a deadline.”
We’ve taken to doing our 15 first thing in the morning… right after brushing teeth and right before making coffee. We finished up this morning, and I came in and read today’s post. I see a parallel, a common thread.
Studio, dojo, writing shack… leaving everything else outside and bring the attention to the plié, the kata, the sentence.
Meditation… leave the thoughts alone and outside and let them pass, and bring the attention back to the breath.
As sacred spaces, they’re different but the same.
Thanks for another good Wednesday morning.
I agree wholeheartedly. I have a sacred space and nobody is allowed to enter without my permission. Its a small room but fits my desk. Thank you, Steven. You always inspire me.
In my experience, it also helps if you assign different places to different types of work (of course if you can afford it in terms of available space that is).
I have one space where I sit when I answer emails, read material, comment on it, review what I have written for typos, formatting etc. And I have another space (in reality it is two separate desks in the same room, but it works) where I sit when I write, invent, create.
It works for me because as soon as I sit at the “create” desk it seems to trigger my brain to activate certain parts that were inactive before I sat down there.
I really like that Mike. It’s like switching from ice hockey to soccer – oh this is the game I’m playing now.
As a man of faith, who despite it, still listens from time to time to my inner critic. Love the sacred space imagery for your work. Right now, I’m about three weeks into the Artist’s Way, the Julia Cameron classic, and I have chosen
one area of my house early each morning and it seems to be working, having cranked out 100 pages of streaming unedited inspiration that has yet to be corrected. I also like the other comment, to have more than one sacred space to help you uncover your writing skills. Taking it one step further, I was inspired by the stations of the cross, after identifying one sacred space, I also have embarked on finding others. The are multiple stations of the cross for the Chosen One, and the concept stuck with me a bit. Thanks sharing both. Let’s see where this can take me. Thanks for sharing, Stephen.
Like the torii gate of a Japanese Shinto shrine. When you pass through it, you enter sacred space and leave impurity and negativity behind.
Thank you. My mind is my sacred space. It used to house negativity and bitterness and all things non-sacred. Now I guard the door. None of that can enter now, since I learned that those are not my thoughts. They are planted there by the enemy. I can hold the hold the door closed. I can “barre” the door. And I can say not today not now not ever again. It’s going to be lovely when I can set up a sacred space in my home, with vision boards and seashells and complete quiet. Sacred space compounded. Right now my writing space is a cluttered dining room table with all my inspiration sitting on pieces of paper waiting to be entered into my manuscript, my sacred manuscript. Love the word “sacred”…I used to be scared. Now I’m sacred.
It occurred to me that I haven’t seen Mary Doyle’s comments in this space for a couple months (and she used to be regular like clockwork). Anyone know if she’s doing okay?
You’re right, and I don’t know. She was always one of the first people to respond.
I wondered too.
Hope all is well. Say Hi when you can. Take care.
I’m doing great, thanks for asking, Joe! I still check in here most weeks, but just haven’t been leaving comments lately. My schedule has me out early on Wednesdays now, which didn’t used to be the case.
This is a terrific post today – I treat my entire home as “sacred space” when I return to it at the end of the day, so this really resonated with me. My writing space is the most sacred of all, though.
Mary! I’m so happy to see your comment–I was wondering if something had happened.
Glad to know the change is due to your schedule and not anything else.
Yay, Mary’s here!!
Hey Mary! Good to see you’re around, and glad to hear all is well!
Hey Mary, great to see you’re still in this sacred space, if not at the same time!
I love that you have a lucky horse shoe from Lexington, KY Steven!
Helen Gurley Brown once said, “You’re a sparkler, and your home [home office? :)] is your setting.” That setting matters.
mine’s a mess. Gonna do something about
I’m fortunate to have a sacred space, separate from our home, as a recording studio. It’s quiet, secluded, and, yes, sacred, bathed in prayer. Resistance is removed as if a wet raincoat, at the door. Your post reminded me to carve out time, the sacred space awaits!
Yes! I have a sacred space for all the work I do as well. At the moment, I am transitioning from my art studio to something new. Not sure what my sacred space will look like yet. I have a sacred space for my own personal growth as well next to my bed where I can meditate and place reminders of my intentions. Mine is a bit esoteric and has a beautiful aesthetic to it. But in a way, it’s practical. It keeps me focused, grounded, and happy. Glad to see so many of us have that space
Love this. Thank you. I will remember this when I enter my own home office
A thousand times, YES! This couldn’t have come at a better time for me. The lack of respect to my writing area and my writing time and the lack of seeking permission to enter my space while I work are huge problems I encounter, and causing me resentment and frustration. Thank you, Steve, for giving me the right name by which to call it–“sacred”. My writing time and my writing area ARE sacred. This will help me to better express my expectations to those around me.
The quickest way to make me angry (as in Hulk-level angry) would be to touch any of my stuff in “my half of the room”. I share a room with my sister, but for all intents and purposes she’s moved out and my French easel is in her half (and I prime nine out of 10 of my canvases in her half, too). I write to support my painting and I do that in my half of the room, too. It amazes me how I’ve had to churn out relatively huge paintings in this tiny half of a room I’ve got to work in, which is also occupied by my bed and literal piles (stacked right up to the ceiling) of my framed pieces. My desk (which also serves as my easel) is about 2 x 4 feet (more than half of which is now occupied by 3 x 4-ft canvases and a few 2 x 3’s on top). The maids aren’t allowed to set foot into my half of the room, hence the dust bunnies and spider webs. (I’ve only got so much time to sweep and dust, I’m afraid. Part of a weekly routine I’ve neglected now that the opening’s less than a month away.) I’ve never thought of “my half of the room” as a sacred space; there’s nothing sacred about anything I do, really. Although being Asian (my country’s right under Japan on the map) I totally get the whole “bowing before entering the dojo” thing. But it’s nice to know that other people have the same “where I work is sacred” mentality, or rather, a “woe unto you if you mess with anything in here, and heaven help you if you should poke me or I hear so much as a hiccup out of you while I’m working” approach to their workspace. It’s a little comforting, in a way, and I hope other people come to respect the places where people like us work whether we’re painters, writers, sculptors, flower arrangers, oboe players or you get the idea. They’re not just “the messiest places in the house” (dust notwithstanding I am pretty damn OC about my itty-bitty workspace – it’s dusty AF but I know where everything is) – they’re sacred spaces ^__^ Capisce? ^__^
I absolutely do not have this, I realize. My beloved wife insisted I get a nice new writing desk, which I did thanks to her, and it is beautiful and comfortable, but – it’s in our bedroom.
Perhaps I can counter here, and rationalize that waiting to have a perfect, sacred space is just another form of resistance? 🙂
Quite likely,we must have been creating such spaces in our home,at workplaces and many others that interest us and spark the Divine in us.We must have imbibed it with our vibes of creativity,great work,ideas,love .And have been receiving the same in return.But when pointed out here by You sir,it is somehow legitimatised for me .That this must be real and truly happening.
I have one sacred space in a bedroom for my wiritng desk and shelves above, and another space for my painting desk downstairs. Everything stays just as I left it, ready for me to re-enter the respective portal and that is very important so in that sense – yes, not to be touched by others. But on the other hand I’m happy to have someone checking either of my desks out with me explaining how I use the space and I’m grateful for their interest. I enjoy their interest as I relish being creative. Sometimes, someone sees the painting desk with a work in progress on it and says nothing at all. This I find so weird, as I couldnt possibly pass someone elses scared space without wanting to revel in it!
Sweet. I feel the same way of others creativity. It just amazes me. Love all these shares. Thank you.
I enjoyed this post too. I’ve always regarded my studio as a sacred space in my life as a painter. I enjoyed Mike’s comment about more than one sacred space, and loved Alexander’s thoughts on a parallel to Stations of the Cross. And I want to extend that respect and care to other parts of my life – the kitchen, the bedroom etc. and to enter shared family space with a caring intent. Also aware of needing to continually attend to the threshold to my studio – at the top of narrow attic stairs, it tends to accummulate clutter, which isn’t conducive to clearing my mind of external distractions!
Making space for our creative endeavors is making sacred our work, but would like to add, that sometimes, making the time can be an important substitute. In our writing group we we schedule write-ins just to give people those moments needed to create they wouldn’t otherwise give themselves. What they can’t find in a space they don’t have they get with dedicated time.
So if you can’t make that physical space work for you just yet, assigned a time and treat it as such.
Wonderful read. Endearing and full of insight.
Beautiful post. Inspires me to find a sacred place in my heart and head that will help me cross the threshold to a sacred space to write.
My sacred space isn’t mine. It’s a beautiful old library with towering arched windows, thick wooden tables, wrought iron reading racks, and Hillary and Chris who say hi to me when I come through the door. The little sign next to the elevator button says “The Mercantile Library. Welcoming Nerds since 1835.”
Beautiful and inspiring!
Wonderful Idea, Steven. My trading computer is in corner of our office, and in a way this is my sacred space. My wood shop at home is the same.
From now on I wil observe the dojo practice when entering. I have a friend who is an Akido Sensei
Just reading the story put me at peace. Just lovely
Thank you so much
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Your post has gotten me to think about where and how I co-work. After years of copywriting and running a business from a home office, I now choose to spend a couple days a week sharing space with others. I have realized that time with other business owners is sacred to me. Mind you, I still have a home office, and how I think about that space and how I use it is in transition.
For reasons I won’t go into here, I found working alone rather painful after years of doing it. Now I am gradually figuring out what the combination of working in my home office and in a co-working space means to me.
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I feel really stupid. But where is New England? I would rather just visit England as the last time I’ve been there was 15 years ago. So do you think it’s high time?
Me too. Have just seen some really stunning photos from England and Scotland, and it became my dream to go there in spring or early summer. So once thought of, the idea started to live its own life, and I saw Highlands and Islands Jeep tours website that I found just fantastic. I think I have never seen such a creative trip. Will go for it.