We are doing some long overdue work on our house and, for a number of reasons, have decided to stay living here during the process. Despite many warnings against doing so. This means, many of the rooms that are most central to the functioning and enjoyment of our home are now construction zones. Messy, dirty, noisy, hard to navigate. People coming and going. A hectic hive of activity. And, as the walls came down, we learned to expect the unexpected. Surprises, emergencies, forced changes in plans and details big and small to be decided on the fly. It’s strangely exhilarating. It feels great to be making needed progress and to be able to see that progress materialize before your eyes. But, it’s also chaotic.
Going into this, we knew it would be a lot. I started out with a lot of dread. I found myself negotiating with myself – “Just grit your teeth, hold your breath and focus on powering through and getting to the fall when it will hopefully be completed. Then, you can take a nice, warm bath.” It struck me, though, that I didn’t want to just power through and survive my summer. I wanted to savor it and thrive. Leah Badertscher helped me frame it in her The Art School Podcast and her “Your Best Summer Yet” workshop. There is a way to have our best summer yet not just in spite of the upheaval but because of it. But, it was going to take intentionality.
The foundation of bringing this into being has been focusing on creating sanctuary spaces. Rooms and areas that we have kept largely untouched that we can relish in peace. Renewing retreats where we can recharge and even rejoice. Rather than allowing things to spill out as they naturally would when we emptied cupboards and drawers, we confined them to designated areas. So, yes, as a whole it’s a bit of a mess with a lot going on. But, in the sanctuary spaces themselves, you can still find spaciousness and calm. So far, this has allowed us to sail pleasantly through the storm. And, dare I say, even enjoy the process.
In reflecting on how powerful sanctuary spaces have been for me and my family, it occurred to me that I’ve been using them in my workdays for some time. I am very deliberate about time management, so my days end up being extremely focused, tailored and full to the brim. It feels great to go from one thing to the next accomplishing what I set out to do and having impact I can readily see. But, it’s also chaotic. And, it leaves little time for the big picture thinking that underpins the strategies and vision that are so critical to my role.
That is where my sanctuary spaces come in. I bookend my day with them to maximize my effectiveness and, also, my wellbeing. Each morning, I wake up at five. Instead of hitting snooze, I grab my phone and meditate for ten to fifteen minutes. Then, I stretch my arms overhead and wake up my body sinew by sinew. I try to focus on the feeling of the soft sheets on my skin as I sit up, then gingerly step out of bed, feeling the hard wood under my toes. I get coffee and snuggle back into bed to savor it, along with the news and the headlines from some of my favorite publications. From there, I pick an intellectually nutritious book or podcast to listen to while I go for a long walk or do yoga. They get my creative and strategic juices flowing and pull me into big picture thinking, planting seeds that I water as I move my body.
So many answers and ideas come to me in this time. And, they come easily, like dewdrops simply appear on blades of grass overnight. These sanctuary spaces are my most generative and enjoyable time, and they also set the tone for the day. When I can, I try not to check my work email in this window and do my best not to interrupt it with meetings. Sometimes, that can’t be avoided but the consistency on the other days largely offsets any imbalance to my equilibrium.
I like to end my day with a sanctuary space as well. Somewhat opposite of my abundant and fruitful mornings, I like my evenings to be a true powering down. Hard stop on work email, trying to put the to do’s out of my mind and focus on my family. Just being in the moment. Gathering for dinner and maybe one of our favorite shows, cuddled up on the couch with my beloved fluffy blanket wrapped around me. Maybe read a little bit in bed after putting my child down to sleep.
For most of my career, I didn’t do this. I worshipped at the altar of productivity. Working to all hours was par for the course and, even when I got better about leaving my desk at a more consistent time, I would continue where I left off from my phone right up until the time I went to bed. Ultimately, I found breathlessly chasing productivity to be a false god. It is perhaps of little surprise that I struggled immensely with insomnia. Sleep often felt out of reach when my head hit the pillow, despite my exhaustion. When I finally managed to drift off, it would be short lived. I spent most nights awake at two to four a.m., sending myself emails about all the things I was still ruminating about or wrestling with. This, of course, made my days harder, my stress responses faster and less predictable and pulled together to create a vicious cycle.
Sanctuary spaces create the opposite. Rather than frantic bursts in the middle of the night, I now awake to clarity, having cleared my mind and found rest the night before. And, I protect that clarity so I can harvest all of the fruit it bears before I get into the frenetic pace of my day. The irony is, this virtuous cycle renews me and makes room for the calm and reflection that drives my most strategic thinking and fuels my most meaningful unlocks in work and outside of it. Which means, not only am I happier and more fulfilled overall, I’m also considerably more productive.
As I look at the plastic sheets blocking my hallway, the contents of my kitchen stacked high on my dining table, I focus not on the disarray. Rather, on the sanctuary spaces that keep it all together. There is always space for calm, reflection, regeneration and joy. If you set your mind to it.