“In my own situation, when I was between the ages of about eleven and fifteen, I was crazy about American Indians. My family bought me The Complete Works of Parkman, reports of the Bureau of Ethnology, and all sorts of other books on the subject. I had a very nice little library, with beautiful, bronze, Indian heads that were bookends, and Navajo rugs, and so on. Then the house burned down. It was a terrible crisis in our family. My grandmother was killed. All of my things were gone.
“I now realize that the sacred space I created for myself, the room in which I do my writing, is really a reconstruction—a reactivation, if you will—of my boy-hood space. When I go in there to write, I’m surround-ed by books that have helped me to find my way, and I recall moments of reading certain works that were particularly insightful. When I sit down to do the writing, I pay close attention to little ritual details—where the notepads and pencils are placed, that sort of thing—so that everything is exactly as I remember it having been before. It’s all a sort of ‘set-up’ that releases me. And since that space is associated with a certain kind of performance, it evokes that performance again. But the performance is play.
“Work begins when you don’t like what you’re doing. And if your life isn’t play, or if you are engaged in play and having no fun, well, quit! The spirit of the sacred space is Śiva dancing. All responsibilities are cast off. There are various ways of doing this casting off. and it doesn’t matter how it happens. The rest is play.”
Joseph Campbell in A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living.”
I totally relate, discovering Joseph Campbell in New York, collecting reading and learning from his remarkable insights. A large eclectic library of books sit in my garden studio, paying attention to the space, paying attention to what I buy, what I read. How I interpret. It is my retreat. My sanctuary. My ‘sacred space’. My life.
Then the question arises. What is sacred space?
For 40 years I spun. Out of control. Faced by a dilemma at age 40. Change or Die. My life changed. By discovering the sacred within my self. The sacred that I believed I had consigned to the depths of a metaphoric mythological Scottish Castle. Deep within the dungeons of solid stone walls, surrounded by a moat, protected by a draw bridge, keeping me in and others out. I was dying from within, out of control. Lost in my world. Work became my drug of choice, earning, spending, food, wine, things. I meditated on this for three years then discovered New York and my life took a radical turn. For the better by far. I discovered Mythology. It fed my hunger. Filled my emptiness. But not wholeheartedly.
Sacred space has been a curious, challenging part of my life since early childhood. Raised in a ‘Christian’ environment, not relating to religion as we were taught. Hypocrisy? I lived in an alcoholic controlled family environment. I often became nauseous, claustrophobic in church and had to leave, walk outside to breath. The sermons irritated me with their sanctimonious platitudes. I attended at my Mother’s behest. My Father not present. Men appeared to me as bullies and I cringed my life away. Creating my own, controlled environment, my early film studios were my escape. Creative Space.
On the contrary I enjoyed Maori school friends, visited sacred Maori places, worked in the Maori Land Court. I felt a connection. I played Cowboys and Indians. I was always an Indian. My art at school was Native Americans on horseback. Today I have a sacred prayer rug laid out on my desk, hand woven by Navahjo women from ancient Navajho sheep. Bought from Indian Traders on Navajo Lands. Along with many memorable memories, spending time on sacred lands of and with indigenous peoples. From The East Coast of New Zealand to the American West.
My collection of Joseph Campbell languishes in my studio but will find a new explorer. I am sure.
My first sacred space was reading under the blankets in bed. Romantic Zane Grey Westerns! Then my running, the nurturing of nature. On a hill, in Napier I sat, looking out over the town centre toward the Pacific Ocean where it entered Hawke’s Bay. It was my first remembered experience of enlightenment, filling me with a sense of wonder and mystery as a teenager. I reconnected with that sense of being through my cross country running. Runners high? Euphoria? It fascinated but also confused me. Who was I? In my first and second marriages my sacred space was in sailing boats. An escape to the Pacific Ocean, off Sydney and Los Angeles. Standing at the helm, searching the horizon. Clean salt air, a sense of self, surfing the ocean swells. Adventure. Freedom. Space.
New York’s TriBeCa, I could climb a circular staircase to a separate room on the roof of my loft. Space for writing looking out at the New York skyline. In Venice Beach enjoying an ocean going yacht for my sanity. A classic design. A place of retreat and with which to explore the Channel Islands of Southern California. I treated that yacht as my Cathedral. It was inspiring, serene, with dreams of sailing back to my homeland. Then came a kiwi inspired shearing shed style studio behind my home in Venice. A space in which to edit, write and retreat. I loved exploring, hiking, alone and with friends. The Mountains and Trails of Southern California. The spirit of the trails inspired me. Solitude. In Nature. The Santa Monica Mountains became my sacred outdoor space. The native Indian trails of Point Mugu were mysterious and challenging. The Los Angeles Marathon was another sacred journey. One started at age 18 in New Zealand, unfinished, and finally completed at age 53. Friends ran, cycled and cheered along side me in support, I could not, would not complete it alone.
In America my last sacred space was a glistening Airstream trailer. For two years it followed my heart and soul into the American West. Death Valley to Big Sur, Salt Lake to Denver, Colorado. Zion National Monument, Wilderness areas of the Grande Canyon, Kanab and the Coral Pink Sand Desert, Lee’s Ferry, Moab to Ridgeway, Tombstone to Jemez Springs, New Mexico and finally, returning to Venice Beach, California.
Searching for my self . . . Navajho guided my adventures into the deserted Betatakin cliff dwellings of the Paiute. Paiute awoke in me, reminding me, of the power in healing the sacred self. Mormons showed me the power of community, of parenting, of commitment. Never have I experienced such loved and happy children. I filmed, photographed, hiked and slept in sacred places. Ancient glyphs of the Navajho. More recent, 1885 carvings by Mormon Settlers. Mormon and the Navajho traded together. Zane Grey wrote of this. I ran across Monument Valley. Parts of Death Valley. I explored the deserted places of Zane Grey’s Westerns. I sat, meditating on the edge of the Grande Canyon at Toroweap Overlook as the sun rose and set. I hiked the trails and peaks high above Ridgway, Ouray and Telluride, Colorado. I sat observing the majesty of the Rockies at 13900′. I enjoyed my experiences with Paiute, Navajho, White River Apache, Hopi, et al. Conversations covering indigenous cultures, healing, faith, even rough riding. Past and present. I was surprised and intrigued by their openness and curiosity. On reflection, always reflecting, I wish I had gone deeper. And longer! Far longer! Travelling with my dog Kiri was memorable. She was my trusty loyal companion. I miss the West. And, I miss Westerners. They inspired, entertained, encouraged me. I felt accepted in America like nowhere else, before or since. However . . . I ran into and accepted my limitations. I had enough funds to continue for the rest of my life. My homeland called me. I longed for a partner with whom to share my journey. Romantic ideas and ideals pulled me toward New Zealand even though I had become “one of many” – an American Citizen. A badge of honor. I found the challenge of ‘aloneness’ daunting. Fearful at times. Hiking Spencer’s Trail high above the Colorado River at Lees Ferry, I hit my limit and froze. I experienced white faced paralysing fear. I recorded my fear on camera. It was a mysterious experience. Did I dessert my sacred self or was it simply hitting my limit. It could have been my sacredness protecting me. It was after all a sheer 3000′ climb up a cliff face. A fear of heights? Possibly!
Before returning to Aotearoa, while hiking the Colorado Rockies, I bought, over the internet and sight/site unseen, a Roger Walker designed tree house with its very own Jungian Tower in which I spent countless hours writing and reflecting. Now, ensconced in the South Wairarapa I have created a garden space for my self in which to create and reflect. To me the concept of a Tower, a Studio, is a place to retreat forward, to close off access to others, pulling up the ladder, creating a safe sacred space. Today, I smile as my Power Wheel Chair appears to be my sacred space. Ironic. I spend all my daylight hours in this sacred space. There are no mistakes in life! I love ‘doubting’ Thomas’s “god is within us and all around us”. The sacred never leaves me it is me that leaves me. Amen.
Two who had loved in each other’s eyes met strangeness.
Wonder at loss. Distance. It seemed as if
(we pondered alike) a third party, a guest,
who knew us both, and lived, or seemed to live,
in our relation (shadow), grew as we grew,
suffered what gave us pain and breathed our breath
or ardor, had grown between us like a thorn.
An apartness. Or lifted (perhaps) subtly and secretly
away, as a feather in a light wind, a thistle
disengaged… In our eyes, knowledge of loss.
Wonder at absence. Vacancy. Terror at peace,
at acceptance—easy adjustment to unspeakable emptiness.
—Laurence Lieberman. ( does he refer to MND! )
I am learning that my true Sacred space is my Heart, all else is EGO aka Edging God Out!
Each morning I am drawn to the rising sun, the Sun of God. I enjoy lying still, like a child, beneath the cosy covers of my bed. In dialogue with the Universe. Asking that my heart be open. To give and receive. My bedroom window is a cross like frame which I see as a compass guiding me forward. A full moon filled that space last night. I love it. Sacred Space is Within us and all Around us. It has simply taken time to become aware, accept, embrace and explore.
The Mystery of Life revealed through reflection on the sacred spaces explored in my Life Long Journey. And, it continues. Gratitude.