Sanctuary of Self

I found this thought-provoking:

If you would know a mystic, do not confine your search to monasteries and temples, but look also on the highways and byways, in towns, hamlets, and in the hustle and bustle of the great cosmopolitan centers of the world. When you find someone who is industrious, studious, compassionate, loved by friends, and neighbors, tolerant in religious views, and who can point out to you the magnificence and efficacy of God in the simplest of things, you have found a mystic. With these qualities, whether one is attired in sacerdotal robe or in the overalls of a mechanic, one is none the less a mystic.

~ Ralph M. Lewis, from The Sanctuary of Self ~

As I read this passage, it occurred to me that “God” in this context could range from the Christian or Jewish or Islamic version of a supernatural deity to—more in line with my thinking—the mere existence of the astounding complexity of every aspect of the cosmos and its contents. And, of course, many other interpretations could fit. God, then, could constitute one or more “beings” or some variation on recognition of the astonishing, awe-inspiring, incredibly complex puzzle that constitutes everything. But who or what God is does not really matter, does it? Yet why do I want to consider the possibility that “mystics” are among us. It depends on what constitutes a mystic. You or I could be one. All the people we admire could be mystics. And even those we loathe. Yes, it is possible to loathe someone who is “industrious, studious, compassionate, loved by friends, and neighbors, tolerant in religious views, and who can point out to you the magnificence and efficacy of God in the simplest of things.” But if we do, that loathing is not caused by an external reality; it is created in ourselves through fear or envy or some other human emotion, an emotion that feeds our ego and stokes the fires of hatred in our hearts.

I have not read The Sanctuary of Self; I was drawn only to a few meaningful passages I found in front of me. I do not know enough about the book to say precisely what it is about, beyond the apparently obvious. But the quotation and the title of the book both appeal to me in odd ways. That is, emotion is what attracts me to them; logic has no bearing on how I feel about them.

On one hand, I am thoroughly atheist, through and through. Though I admit the possibility, I am close to certain that “beings” such as those presented in the Bible or Quoran or Torah do not and did not exist. On the other, the amazing complexity of all existence is more than sufficient to inspire in me awe, wonder, worship…appreciation at the very highest level. The relationships between humans and between all other living creatures and the environment in which we exist summons, in me, reverence.

Conversations between mature adults, in which they explain their beliefs (or lack thereof) may be insightful—offering insights about one another—I doubt those conversations change attitudes, ideas, or positions. Beliefs about the nature of existence form early and coalesce into almost inalterable ideas by the time one exits one’s teens. At least my concepts of the universe and the cosmos and all “creation” had long since solidified by my early teens. My point, here, is this: at a certain point in life, probably very early on, one’s only sounding board about one’s belief’s is oneself. Others’ insights might be interesting, but they essentially are irrelevant to one’s own ideas and experiences. And that’s where “sanctuary of self” and “mystics” fit in. Sometimes, the only sanctuary available to us are ourselves. And we might find it is possible others may be mystics—but it is certain we can be and should be our own mystics. Especially for atheists and doubters, the only sanctuaries, sometimes, are ourselves.


We recently visited with friends who are in the process of selling their house and moving on to their next adventures, the destination and content of which remains uncertain. During our conversation, Hawaii came up as an attractive option. The state’s politics, climate, natural beauty, diversity, and a host of other factors are clearly in its favor (for people of our political persuasion, anyway). The cost of living, not so much. That’s an obstacle that could be overcome if approached creatively. One of the couple is, like me, enamored of the concept of co-housing. If enough people—and the number might not have to be very big—got on board with the idea, they might collectively be able to amass enough money to create a “community.” Without breaking their respective banks, so to speak. The right plot of land, the right design, and the right people could make Hawaii a truly appealing destination. Maybe.

The appeal of Hawaii came to mind this morning as I read an AP article about the state’s laws regarding guns. A new law allows more people to carry concealed weapons, but simultaneously prohibit people from taking guns to a wide range of places, including beaches, hospitals, stadiums, bars that serve alcohol and movie theaters. If a private business allows firearms, it must post a sign to that effect. I do not know enough about the law to know whether I would support or oppose it; it depends on who can carry concealed weapons and why they are permitted. Whether I support or oppose it, though, is immaterial; it is what it is.


Even in the laid-back environment of Hot Springs Village, even in the deep, dark woods, the world sometimes can seem intrusive and hostile. Those are times a person needs the world to empty out, leaving him safe and alone. Those are the times I feel strongest that I need to go away somewhere, by myself, and spend a day or a week thinking and writing. It doesn’t last long, the sense of urgency that I need to be away from all people. But while it does, that feeling tugs at me hard. As I think about my occasional hunger for solitude, I wonder what that craving for being alone means? The feeling that I need to find a safe retreat from the world is not new; it has come and gone, with about the same frequency, since I was in college. Maybe, in the deepest recesses of my mind, I think I will one day find an “answer” by reaching far, far inside myself during a time of total solitude. An answer to who I am, really, at the cellular level. That is an absurd idea, but in absurdity may be precisely the place where the answer rests.

Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god.

~ Aristotle ~


When I went in on Thursday to get a “loaner” hearing aid to see what it might do for me, it was unavailable because the supplier’s internet was down. The hearing aid had to have its software updated before use, which was impossible without internet access. So, I did not test the hearing aid. I am growing more skeptical by the minute of audiologists who sell hearing aids. I have decided to have my hearing tested by an ENT doctor, if possible. Ach! It’s the little things that can drive a person stark-raving mad. Having experienced many little things, I know this.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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