This past weekend I taught a workshop called “The Writer’s Notebook” at The Hugo House in Seattle that was geared toward published and emerging writers. As I entered the building, I was struck by the idea of there being “a house” just for writers, and thought about how great it would be if every city had one. Seattle was just named by Unesco as The City of Literature, joining 28 other cities around the world with this designation, including Edinburgh, Dublin, Krakow, and many others. The only other place in the U.S. that was so named was Iowa City, known for its renowned Iowa Writers’ Workshop. While not everyone can have access to a house just for writers, the visit reminded me of the importance of having a “room of our own.”
No matter what writing workshop I teach, I ask my students if they like reading. This group of writers giggled when they answered, saying, “Of course, this is Seattle,” obviously proud of their new designation. The next question I asked was if each writer in the room had a place of their own to write, and most agreed that they did. Nevertheless, in my workshops I always like to discuss the importance of having a special space just for ourselves. Regardless of one’s profession, I believe it’s important that we all have what I call a “sacred space.” Yogis call this a place where one can do inner work. Artistic individuals call it a place to be creative, and others might call it a place to unwind from the chaos of our lives.
If you cannot designate a sacred space, then maybe you can invite others into your life who can create such a space for you, even if it’s for a short period of time when you are with them. These people might include psychotherapists, healers, body workers, teachers, or shamans.
We all need the privacy that a sacred space provides—a place of solitude and regrouping. Writer Virginia Woolf called this place having “a room of one’s own” in her book of the same name. She was referring to a figurative room, which can be a more profound concept than that of an actual physical space. She believed that people (in those days, women in particular) needed a place where they could feel safe and comfortable and write, if that’s what they wanted to do. Ideally, the place would offer a blanket of support, while at the same time be inspirational.
If you’re designing your own sacred space, it’s important that it reflect the person you are. It should be scattered with mementos and books that embody your essence. Your energy should permeate the room, and it should inspire you and make you smile. Perhaps you can include memorabilia that remind you of joyous or poignant events in your life.
My own writing sacred space has candles, essential oils, prayer beads, family photos and, of course, many books. On the top shelf of this space is my collection of typewriters, one of which—a black Smith Corona—I used to type my first book, Getting Pregnant and Staying Pregnant: A Guide to High-Risk Pregnancies. In the corner of my desk sits a little Buddha holding a stone that says “Serenity,” which truly grounds me in the moment. Years ago, I read that some major corporations place coffee-scented candles in their offices as a way to increase productivity, so I have one of those on the other corner of my desk. My reading chair is on the opposite side of the room.
Joseph Campbell (1988) also spoke of the importance of having a sacred space—a place without human contact, a place where you can simply be with yourself and be with who you are and who you might want to be. He viewed this place as one of creative incubation, saying that even though creativity might not happen right away when you’re in this special space, just having it tends to ignite the muse in each of us. In his book The Power of Myth, he said that such a room is essential for everybody. In that room, “you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, and you don’t know what anybody owes to you” (p. 115). He went on to say that the modern-day “sacred space” is what the plains were for hunters.
During my teens, my grandfather took me to Parisian cafés to engage in the fine art of people-watching. For him, the café was his sacred space. We all need to figure out what works best for us. It's important because having our own sacred space is vital to emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being.
How to establish your sacred space:
Campbell, J. (1988). The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers. New York, NY: Anchor Books.
Raab, D. (1989). Getting Pregnant and Staying Pregnant. CA: Hunter House.
Woolf, V. (1989). A Room of One’s Own. New York, NY: Mariner Books.