Where Is Your Emotional Sanctuary?

Me on the flight to the US with my parents, January 1972.

When I started first grade, I didn’t speak English. My parents and I had just emigrated from Poland, and within a couple of weeks of arriving in Detroit, Michigan, my mother enrolled me in the local public grade school. I don’t remember much from that time, but what I do remember is sitting in class feeling like I didn’t belong. I didn’t understand anything anyone was saying, it was a new country with new surroundings and a new culture, and I was completely freaked out.

At recess on the second or third day of school, I decided I didn’t have to stick around if I didn’t want to. And I was done trying to fit in. I started walking home—by myself—not caring whether or not I’d get lost, or if anyone was home to let me in, or what would happen if my mother found out I ran away from school. I was already on the other side of the school playground fence, fiercely determined to blow that popsicle stand, when a classmate ran up and motioned for me to stop and come back. I’m sure that at that point, a teacher must have seen the exchange and followed me, and perhaps had taken me by the hand and led me back to the school, but I don’t remember. All I remember was the feeling of needing an emotional sanctuary because I felt so untethered and alone. I just wanted to go home, and I didn’t care about the consequences.

When I was that little kid, my mom was my emotional sanctuary. I ran to her when I’d been hurt or insulted, or when I felt overwhelmed. As an adult, I have no desire to go running home to mommy whenever I’ve had a bad day. We don’t have that kind of relationship. But I do want to reach out and connect with my husband, or a friend, or just visit an online forum where I can vent and get support.

As adults, sometimes “home” isn’t the best place to run to, either, for a variety of reasons. Home may represent too many responsibilities, or “home” may be the source of emotional challenges because your kids are acting up or you just had a fight with your spouse.

There are times I long for “home” even when I’m already there, physically. There’s a work challenge, or a project bombs, or I feel deeply criticized in some way. Emotionally, “home” is a place where I can feel accepted and safe, and it has nothing to do with the house I reside in. In my case, home means staying true to myself, writing about the things that matter to me and my tribe, and creating beauty for the sake of beauty, not for the sake of someone else’s misguided idea of beauty. Home means a place where my deepest longings are expressed as reality and my greatest concerns are met with serious consideration and thoughtful feedback.

Home can be a state of mind, but it can also be a location.

The physical location for my emotional sanctuary is on the trail. When I’m surrounded by trees, birds, grass and an expansive sky, I am free. I am accepted, and I am safe from judgment and criticism and expectations. Nature has no expectations. Nature doesn’t have an ego and it isn’t offended if you have one. Nature just IS. It is neither friend or foe, but it does command respect.

When you’re feeling lost, criticized, uncertain, overwhelmed, where is your emotional sanctuary?