Whether you’re travelling or staying at home this holiday season, it’s a good time for reflection and meditation. Here’s how to create space in your life for the sacred, wherever you might be
Many afternoons ago, as a friend answered my phone call, I could hear her four rambunctious children fighting and playing in the background. Then, suddenly, I couldn’t. Then I could hear them again, only this time there was dull thudding and the sounds were muffled. I had to ask what was going on. It turned out she’d locked herself into the pantry to give herself a fighting chance of having a conversation. The kids were outside, pummelling the door with tiny fists.
By the time the end of the year rolls around and we’re finally on holiday, it’s easy to feel as if we’ve spent a long time inside that pantry, trying to escape all the demands others place on us. But then come the demands of the holiday season itself – visitors, shopping, wrangling children, extended family commitments, etc.
For many, however, there’s a deeply spiritual element to the holidays, certainly for those who celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. For those who don’t, even New Year can usher in a time of reflection as we look back on the past 12 months and make plans for the ones ahead.
But how do you move from the pantry position to one of reflection and meditation? How do you make space in your life for the sacred and the spiritual, especially in a world that can dismiss this need for spirituality and ritual as being “woo-woo” or indulgently esoteric? In fact, how do we even identify what we hold sacred any more?
FINDING THE DIVINE IN THE MUNDANE
“There are many forms of spiritual expression that are disregarded and mocked, and African spiritual modalities fall into this category,” says sangoma Nokulinda Mkhize, who’s popularly known as Noksangoma. “Identifying what’s sacred, however, requires understanding that not everything sacred or important is intangible, far-fetched, spiritual or disconnected from our flawed human lives as we live them every day,” she says.
“People tend to disregard the daily efforts they can make to be better people and connect with a sense of ubuntu, love and justice. We are what we do, what we say and how we think or live. People also tend to project outwardly when they’re on a journey of self-improvement, almost in a desire to shape the world to their liking, instead of looking inwards and working on becoming a channel for peace, justice and ubuntu in their daily lives.”
Many of us have lost touch with our spiritual side – and you don’t have to be observantly religious to feel this. Life in the 21st century is busy and overwhelming, sometimes at the cost of our souls’ good health.
“There’s a great deal which indicates spiritual alienation and existential crisis in people, and a lot of it has to do with the fact that the world we live in isn’t built for humanity to fully thrive and be respected,” explains Mkhize. “Simply by being born into this world, and the way it’s structured, we’ve already lost a great deal of what’s sacred and important.
“Often, when people suffer from anxiety, self-doubt or confusion about who they are and what their purpose is,
it’s because the world tells us we should aspire to 1-2-3 and the markers for success are X-Y-Z, based on capitalist and/or Eurocentric, individualistic benchmarks. So when our humanity doesn’t flow in that direction, or our aspirations fall short, we can lapse into feelings of defeat and frustration.”
HOW TO RECONNECT
The holidays are a good time to reconnect to a sense of spirit, or soul. Because many of us aren’t at work, there’s time to carve out sacred space – at home or away – and find our way back to ourselves. But it does take effort and while it sounds simple, it’s not always easy.
“It’s a lifelong effort that can be painful, because it’s transformational,” says Mkhize. “There’s no check-list or tidy flow process that allows a person to make space for their soul needs – we’re all different, our souls are in different places and we’re here for different reasons.
“Accountability and forgiveness are important in any journey a person wants to undertake to heal, do better and be better. If people can learn to recognise and forgive themselves, their patterns, triggers, crutches and the different ways in which pain manifests in their lives and bloodlines, they can take accountability for themselves better, break harmful cycles and begin the endless work of replenishing their souls and meeting their core needs.”
There’s no Pinterest-perfect way of doing this – it’s not about what “stuff” you need because we all come from different spiritual origins. It’s more about creating an internal space in our minds and souls than about paraphernalia.
“There’s an increasingly popular notion that a sacred space looks like a shrine of sorts, with candles, offerings, crystals and beads – and this can often be tricky,” says Mkhize. “People going that route are trying to externalise an essential internal experience.
“In some cultures, families and homesteads have a dedicated space in the home for rituals, prayers, offerings, etc. The establishment of these spaces is strictly governed by custom and family protocol. I generally caution people against making physical ‘sacred’ spaces, especially when they’re not guided by elders. Spiritual practice does have parameters and protocol, so even if it’s deeply personal, it should always be guided by the ways of your people and reverence for them. It’s important to understand that while we’re individuals trying to find a space in this world, there are things that are much bigger and older than we are.
“We need to play our part and not fall into the trap of centering our desires and needs, no matter how noble. We’re each a link in the chain of our families, world, history and heritage – a thread in the tapestry of spirit and cosmic being. We’re not the centre.”
And that’s really good news, because it means you don’t need to rush out and buy anything – you have everything you need within you. Instead, says Mkhize, it’s about rethinking and re-imagining what sacred spaces are. Then you can cultivate mindful practice in your daily life by creating pockets of sacredness every day: for example, no cellphones at dinner, disconnecting from technology as a family, taking time to be outdoors, gardening, taking time to reflect on each day, giving thanks or recording dreams.
“None of these requires the establishment of a physical ‘sacred’ space in the home, which could open people up to the risk of naive spiritual practice,” says Mkhize. “Instead, these practices open up space in people’s hearts and lives to experience the richness and peace of connectedness and spiritual grounding.”