Photo of a kitten curled up in a tiny dish, creating a sanctuary of its own - photo by Alex Pavlou

Even small sanctuaries are powerful

Every once in awhile I get a little sanctuary wake up call. This week was one of those times.

For some reason, sleeping through the night has become a rarity for me. Not sure why this has happened – is it my age? My changing patterns and cycles? My stress level and worry? Or just that I am slowly losing my mind – who knows? But the truth is, sleeping uninterrupted for a solid 7–8 hours is just not happening for me at this point in my life. And it has felt frustrating.

It’s funny how waking up at my new time – 4:30 a.m. to be exact – has turned into something I dread, even as I go to sleep. It has happened so much over the past few months that now I worry about it even before it happens. Clever, right? So I wake up, with a mind all set to worry. I find that my brain actually starts trolling the conversations I had the past day, the things I might have forgotten to do, the oversights that I might have made, just to find more fodder to feed that worried state. I know this sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. I lay there, worried about all sorts of things that may or may not happen, that may or may not even be true. And then the REAL worry kicks in. Now I’m not going back to sleep and now I’m going to be tired the whole day long. You can see where this is going, right? I have created a cycle of unease and fretting that has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What on earth has happened to me? I have turned into someone’s batty old great-grandmother, getting up in the middle of the night to sit in a chair and wring my hands. Well, not quite. But you know that’s coming. It should be noted that I did not set out in my life to cultivate lunacy. It just happened.

But wait. So I’ve been acting crazy but also watching myself acting crazy (does this ever happen to you?) and I realized something this past Saturday. I have been really resisting not sleeping – I have been working myself into a near frenzy over it. Why? I can’t answer that. Not in a way that makes any logical sense anyway. It occurred to me that maybe instead of working against myself, I should rather look at the changes in my sleep patterns and work with them instead. What a novel idea!

But what would that look like? Well, as the creator of sanctuaries, I decided to try a little micro-sanctuary right in my bedroom. After all, life is our laboratory, right? Here is what I did: I pulled a bench into my bedroom with a wooden top and put it in front of my sliding glass doors, to serve as a table. I added a floor pillow underneath, a candle to the surface, an aromatherapy oil blend, a small book light, a notebook and pen, a pair of reading glasses, a blooming orchid plant, a pile of crystals and a cup of herbal tea. I knew it wouldn’t be hot when I woke up at 4:30 a.m. but that’s ok. Herbal tea is easy that way – still soothing even at room temperature. Honestly, the set-up looked so pretty when I was finished, I found myself kind of hoping I would wake up just to use it. Makes me sound like a sanctuary junky. And you know, maybe I am.

So are you surprised that I did wake up absurdly early? Yeah. Me neither.

I woke up first at 2:30 – even worse than usual. I rolled over and saw that beautiful, little sanctuary created to honor my (sleepless) spirit and thought, “Hey! That’s for me. How nice. I can roll right out of bed and use that if I want to. Yawn.” And I went right back to sleep.

Lesson 1: Just knowing that I set the intention to care for myself with compassion and kindness was big. Big enough to let me relax and go back to sleep. This intention is the true art behind creating a sanctuary for ourselves.

Then I woke up again at 5:30 a.m. Ok, not as early as other days – it’s something. I got up, pulled on my favorite bathrobe and sat down at this lovely altar I had created. I lit the candle, fumbled to find my glasses, took a sip of the tea and opened the sliding door. Venus, in all her glory, was perched up there in the sky sparkling at me – nice not to be the only one up. I heard the splashing of the fountain, smelled the early morning air and heard the wind chime sounds in the gentle breeze. Lovely. I rubbed some scented oil on my hands and inhaled. Yummmmmmm. I opened my notebook, uncapped a pen and began to write. I wrote what popped into my mind. I wrote what I worried about and then a line about what I felt grateful for that went along with this subject of worry. After a page or two, I felt the anxiety and dread draining right out of me onto the page, evaporating out the door into the air like a fine mist. I smelled the oil as it warmed on my skin and felt my kitty brush against my leg. It was me, Venus, and Lettie the Wonder Cat. A beautiful, almost sublime moment.

Lesson 2: Honoring ourselves can lead to transformation. Now don’t get all excited – I know it’s only been a few days. But I can tell you that I am more peaceful and more calm inside than I’ve been for awhile. And it feels amazing.

I ended up meditating rather that going back to sleep on this particular morning, but the truth is that I felt better. And that feeling better spread into my whole day and now my whole week. I have an alternative to waking up and worrying. I used my sanctuary superpowers to soothe my own ragged soul this time. And I will be able to continue doing that whenever I need it.

So the sanctuary lesson goes on and on. You’d think I have this all figured out by now, but as it turns out, I am a work in progress. Probably most of us are when you get right down to it. So what are YOU resisting? Where can sanctuary help you lean into your life and meet yourself and your circumstances right where you are? I so want to hear about it – please leave me a comment in the section below. Your stories and input remind me that I’m not just writing into the great abyss. And that is a lovely thing.

With gratitude,




  1. Lisa, this is a poignant post. My life oftentimes is so “all or nothing”. This is a great reminder that a small change, an awareness or acceptance, a giving in and adjusting, is mega powerful. I have two areas in mind where a mini-sactuary would assist me. Sleep is one, ritualizing an earlier bedtime. Secondly, work stress, finding some joy and ease in a project that is hanging over me like a heavy brick. I love your idea of essential oils, aromatherapy and music always help me get over a hump. Thanks Lisa for sharing your journey and inspiring me, yes life is a laboratory. xoJana

  2. Absolutely love this, Lisa. Your experience is oh-so-true for so many of us! I’m going to embrace this new perspective on sleepless nights.

  3. Lisa, this is so strange, I woke up at 3:30, could not sleep, picking up my phone, to get my mind on something else, having had an emotional day yesterday, and saw your site, I think of you often, and when I do I smile. You were always so sweet, and I remember the days we worked together. It does seem along time ago. Listening to your words, I feel better about the day ahead, thank you. You are special, and wish you so much happiness, thinking of you, kathleen