W R I T I N G   A S    S A N C T U A R Y

by Sharon Bray

“I have simply wanted to show that whenever life seeks to shelter, protect, cover or hide itself, the imagination sympathizes with the being that inhabits that protected space.”
                                                                                                    - Rainer Maria Rilke -

When I was first invited to lead a retreat at La Serrania, I struggled to find the right description that would best convey what I, together with Heidi Darr-Hope, my dear colleague and a studio artist, wanted to create for the men and women who would work with us.  I knew the magic of La Serrania from attending a workshop a year earlier with poet Ellen Bass.  My senses were reawakened the moment I set foot on the grounds:   the air perfumed with wisteria blossoms, high arid peaks across a wide valley blushing rose in the morning sunrise, a blaze of constellations in the night sky, and the distant Zen-like clink of goat bells in each day’s dawn.

La Serrania became a sanctuary for me; a place where I could feel embraced by all of nature’s quiet beauty and where it was enough to simply be. In this wondrous place, I could hear my deepest self, and my creativity burst open.  La Serrania offered me a place of refuge, of quiet contemplation, of safety to let the words that rumbled up from my soul make their way onto paper. It was the physical manifestation of the sanctuary that writing has given me all my life.

The word “sanctuary” has many meanings. It denotes a sacred and holy place where we are profoundly aware of our deepest selves.  A sanctuary is also a place of refuge, a safe harbor in the storms of life, a retreat from the dissonance of the world, and a place of solitude and quiet. It allows us the space to be all that we truly are without criticism or judgment.  A sanctuary also provides protection from harm for the most untamed and wild of a species, and metaphorically, safety to acknowledge the wildness that resides deep within us.

Writing is my sanctuary.  Whether I sit in a noisy cafe, at my desk in California, or in the peaceful surroundings of La Serrania, once I write, I descend into a place free from the intrusions of the outer world.  I catch my breath and the noise of my busy, everyday life is suspended.  I become aware of all that resides within me and clamors for expression.  I am quiet and at peace.  In that sanctuary of writing, I discover a world rich with memories, dreams, and possibilities.  I am given a roadmap to my soul’s dwelling place and access to my deepest knowing.  As I write, I have the chance for reflection and to make meaning out of my life.  Writing brings me home to myself, and it is here that I discover the wellspring of my creativity, the inspiration for my art.

At La Serrania, we explore the sanctuary that writing and art offers to us, creating the safety and support to dive deeply into our innermost selves and express what is there.   We honor the vulnerability, the pain and sorrow, the tenderness and even the wildness as the necessary raw material for our creativity and the authentic expression of the soul.  We learn to listen to our words with the ear of the heart and to see our images with the eye of the soul.

Our unique ways of self-expression are our greatest natural resources for art, and they demand sanctuary as surely as a protected animal species.  "If any growth is going to happen in the spiritual area," John O’Donohue, the Irish priest and poet, said, "you need a bit of stillness, a bit of silence; then there can be a return, and a retrieval, and a reawakening."  For a writer, the sanctuary of silence and solitude are as necessary to the soul as food and water to the body.  In that sacred space of self-encounter, we learn to listen and understand what is deep within us. When we discover that we can fully express all that is in our hearts, we find the greatest gifts to bring to our art.


Sharon Bray workshop (with Heidi Darr-Hope):
Creating Sanctuary Through Writing & Art
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