When I was little, we had a heater on the wall in our bathroom. I’d curl up on the floor in front of it, finding refuge in the heat and the time with my mom as she got ready for work. Sometimes when I feel heat blasting on me, it takes me back to those moments where everything felt so safe, so right.
We lived on a University campus and went to all the basketball games. I found refuge with my friends exploring under the bleachers, discovering all the treasures people dropped. I felt so free. During those few hours it was as if time stood still and I’ve carried that freedom with me ever since.
I was the only kid around whose parents were divorced and the only one who didn’t, on appearance, have a “leave it to beaver” life. I found refuge in other people’s families, their routines and normalcy. I remember them taking me with them to family events like going to dinner and a movie and the entire time my refuge was pretending their world was my own.
As I got older, refuge became outdoor space— a big sky can hold me completely no matter what’s going on and the wind seems to blow out any troubles I’ve got brewing.
I found refuge in addiction, using to get me away from wherever I was, transporting me from whatever painful reality I was amidst into some place that momentarily felt like bliss but brought me back far worse for wear at the end of the day.
Thankfully, that unhealthy refuge guided me to many more—church pews and church basements, countless rooms with 12 steps and too much coffee but a group consciousness that instilled spiritual values deep in me that became and remain the heart of my everyday navigation thru this life.
Eventually I began creating refuge—spaces that supported my life, made me feel comfortable, safe, productive and happy. It’s incredible to have beautiful things around and space that works… my life today is a series of spaces that nurture and support what matters most. A dedicated space to write, to work, to meditate, to create… walls so full of art no more space exists…. it’s all a gentle reflection of what’s inside me and it re-ignites me consistently.
I found more places to take refuge on Highway 1 between San Francisco and Big Sur than I could ever count. I have explored just about every inch over the last 2 decades; it’s my absolute drug of choice. Something about that coast, that incredible winding road, the magnetic big sky and those insane deep vibe Redwoods fills and centers me in a way very little else can.
I took refuge in other people the most. I sought their approval and validation, dove into them for comfort and support, sought them out for love and affection. What other people thought mattered so much to me for so long… it haunted me and influenced significant lengths of my journey.
When the people ran out, when they inevitably couldn’t provide the refuge I needed I moved on to historical wisdom— people and philosophies of long ago. I found refuge in their teachings and views, in their guidance on how to navigate this life with nobility and kindness.
Of all the religions, Buddhists seem to most often talk of “taking refuge”. They refer to it as taking refuge in the “Three Jewels” or what they call the “Triple Gem” which is The Buddha ( the man Siddhartha ), The Dharma ( his teachings ) and The Sangha ( the community of people dedicated to the teachings and the teacher ). I have found unparalleled comfort and support in this refuge and I take refuge here often.
Truth is, all of these refuges have served me well.
During various times, they clearly delivered what I needed and afforded me the opportunity to re-center and connect. Even the painful places of refuge offered lesson’s I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Over time however, all these refuges have proven hollow. Inevitably they can’t provide enough… the exterior nature of each and every one them leaves me half-baked, floundering and unfulfilled.
It’s only been since I found refuge within myself that I’ve discovered authentic peace, sustainable happiness and a connected deep energy that motives me to serve.
The rest are amazing tools in my toolbox and each are beautiful and sacred in their own right… but they’ve really all taught me is that within me is everything I really need.
What I know for sure now, after trying literally every other way:
No way out but in.
“They go to many a refuge, to mountains, forests, parks, trees, and shrines: people threatened with danger. That’s not the secure refuge, that’s not the highest refuge, that’s not the refuge, having gone to which, you gain release from all suffering and stress. But when, having gone for refuge to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, you see with right discernment the four Noble Truths — stress, the cause of stress, the transcending of stress, and the Noble Eightfold Path, the way to the stilling of stress: That’s the secure refuge, that, the highest refuge, that is the refuge, having gone to which, you gain release from all suffering and stress.”— Dhammapada, 188-192
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