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Creating sanctuaries.

© Catherine Ripplinger Fenwick

Since my cancer diagnosis eight years ago, many things have changed in my life, as you have probably gathered from my earlier columns. I’ve noticed several major shifts in my levels of consciousness. Many people who have overcome really tough times say that life is fundamentally different. They believe that to go back to the way things were would be detrimental to their well being.

High stress levels really do affect our health. Experiments with laboratory mice show that stress can be deadly. In the lab, mice tend to live for an average of two years. If a mouse is placed in a laboratory cage and a cat is released into the room every few hours, the mouse will die of "natural causes" in about two months. If lab mice are fed a low fat, high fibre diet, exercise regularly (given a wheel to run on!), are caressed and shown affection, and are spoken to in a kind way, they can live for five to six years. Do you have any "cats" wandering around in your life?

I will share with you some of the major changes I’ve made in my "lab." I eat healthfully, exercise faithfully and surround myself with loving, caring people. I regularly take time for personal renewal, a short time each day and then for extended periods at various times during the year, as schedules allow. Some of the most meaningful activities involve spending time outdoors with nature, attending seminars and retreats, and creating special places for myself.

I call these special places sanctuaries. A sanctuary is a place of refuge, a place of safety. It is a condition of serenity, inspiration and personal renewal. Sanctuaries are places and spaces that allow us to fully experience and honor our feelings, wishes and needs. These safety zones increase our ability to cope with change and live with uncertainty and create a positive, encouraging environment in which to heal.

Sanctuaries are made up of many components. 1. Values; remind yourself of the things, events and people that really matter to you. Defining your values increases your ability to cope. 2. People; look for opportunities to make new friends and validate those who are supportive. 3. Things; contact with familiar objects can create comfort. I always bring my own pillow, a special blanket and pictures of my loved ones to the hospital or the clinic. 4. Creativity; do something creative. Listening to music can be very calming or energizing, depending on whether you are listening to Chopin or The Rolling Stones. Better yet, create your own music and give voice to your emotions. Consider one of the other creative arts, such as photography, painting, writing, needlepoint or crafts. Creative expression is healing and energizing. Don’t neglect your hobbies. 5.Community service; volunteer some of your time and talents. Studies show that doing good deeds is healing. 6. Places; create or identify special places for yourself.

Sanctuaries help us to regain our sense of balance and create the kind of supportive, caring environments which give us strength to meet hurdles and challenges. Joy and laughter hearten feelings of courage and hope. Healing humour is a sanctuary.


Cathy Fenwick is a therapist, author and educator. She develops and delivers workshops and keynotes on how to get more healthy humour into your life.

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