Making Sacred Space

 Architect: John Pawson

Architect: John Pawson

The word sacred means “to make holy.” It connects to the Old Latin root word saq, which means to "bind, restrict, enclose, or protect,” and generally refers to that which is secret or set apart, as in a sacred temple.

The concept of sacred space is as follows: natural systems, including the human body, have an innate intelligence and ability to heal themselves. Through an intricate and highly sensitive feedback system, our cells communicate with each other via electrical signals to direct the functioning of our various systems of life (see: Gabriel Cousens, MD, Robert O. Becker MD).  

However, when these systems become overloaded with various inputs or “noise,” they experience what Dr. Andrew Weil calls, “toxic overload." This toxic overload can be physical, in the form of the daily pollution and industrial chemicals in our water, air and everyday products; and it can it mental, in the form of media saturation and sensory overload that overwhelms our brain and nervous system. In order to re-access our innate intelligence and healing capacity, we require sacred space, space apart from this "noise" where deeper listening can take place. 

On a temporal level, this means times of silence and deep relaxation for the mind, body and senses. One of the most simple and natural forms of this is sleep. Other times include meditation, yoga, walking, reading or simply being with loved ones. On a physical level, this space takes the form of areas in the world that are free from the constant inputs of modern day life: gardens, churches, studios, libraries… 

More than anything, our bodies require sacred space to feel safe. The sensory overload of modern-day urban environments exceeds our brain's processing capacity, such that many of us live in "fight or flight" mode, dominated by our sympathetic nervous system; within this mode, less immediately critical bodily systems such as digestion, elimination, immunity, cell growth and repair, are halted. As a result, we are both less able to absorb beneficial nutrients and fight off harmful agents. (Think of a neglected apartment, where both the wanted and unwanted stuff begins to pile up unattended. ) 

Only when we feel safe and stop fighting the invisible and visible battles of our lives, can we begin to actually recognize what is going on inside, and “clean up," both figuratively and literally through detoxification, immune regulation and cellular repair.

These spaces are not only crucial for healing but also for deep learning, creativity, and connection… What great art would be made without the intense privacy of the studio? Or mental discovery without the secluded walls of a library? Or spiritual awakening without the hallowed walls of a church or forest?

These are spaces of silence, stillness and listening. They are the in-between spaces, hidden spaces, secret spaces that mark our cities and days… the spaces in which our consciousness is able to expand and touch upon the world around us and within, and in so doing, honor and give it life. 


WritingMikaela Bradbury