Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

What Do You Take Refuge In?

The word “refuge” is a noun, which has three meanings according to the online Meririam-Webster Dictionary

“Shelter or protection from danger or distress
A place that provides shelter or protection
Something to which one has recourse in difficulty”

The Encarta World Dictionary defines refuge as:

“A sheltered or protected state safe from something threatening, harmful, or unpleasant.
A place, or sometimes a person, offering protection or safe shelter from something.”

We’re all subject to vulnerability.  Sometimes, you actually need shelter from the storm.

But sometimes – or maybe many times – the “storm” is a misperception.  And the urge to seek protection becomes a deeply habituated response.  A way to avoid inner discomfort and distress.  Or, something you find “unpleasant” or a subtle threat.

Often, what appears “threatening or harmful” may actually be a mirror telling us to look within.  A call to untangle a deeply-seated misery.

Yet it may take many years and multiple ‘wrong’ turns before we are able to fully heed the plea.

Our choice of refuge may be a person, a place, a substance, a memory, an opinion, or a way of being.

It may buoy us up for awhile, validate our worthiness, confirm our right to existence, or numb the pain.  But let’s not mistake temporary solace for a permanent, reliable state of affairs.  It’s merely a stop gap measure that will eventually fall apart at the seams.

Taking Refuge in Dysfunctional Ways

I’ve mastered the art of taking refuge in the most dysfunctional of ways.

As a young adult, I took refuge in serial relationships.  Desperately looking for love to confirm my worthiness.

I took refuge in alcohol.  After a few drinks, I was funny, relaxed, and carefree.  With each sip, I momentarily escaped the emotional turbulence of being the day-to-day me.

These indulgences didn’t continue too long.  I took a permanent break from the revolving-door relationships and put aside the alcohol.  Ah!  Much more peace was discovered being on my own.

But, I still didn’t realize that all the relationship hubbub and visits to classy bars came from not accepting or appreciating me just as me.

So I continued to take refuge in more wayward ways.

I took refuge in helping those less fortunate than me.  Altruism motivated my action to a certain degree.  But, truthfully, all the busyness of being a perpetual giver served as yet another diversion from my own insecurities.

Now let’s not forget food!   Who in the West, doesn’t pack on the pounds or become impossibly thin as a failed salve for one’s wounds?

As the trend continued, I ambitiously took refuge in work – to a new extreme.  Taking on duties above and beyond, I labored endlessly – six or seven days a week.  Always on the spot, 24-7 you could give me a call.

This time, I wasn’t smart enough to stop.  My body broke down, putting the brakes on for me.

In the middle of all this, I married too.  At last, a good, sane, and sensible man.  But we can employ even the positive to be yet another illusive safe harbor to set anchor in. How fascinating the ways I allowed my self-worth to quietly, insidiously come to depend upon him.

Sometimes, it takes a dramatic change to bring you to your senses once and for all.  Illness, separation, job loss, financial dives, betrayal, disappointment, and more.  If we need them to wake us up, then bring them on.

Giving Up the False Refuges

I’m tired of taking refuge in all that is false.  I’m tired of taking refuge outside of myself.

I pray may this finally become a truth I hold with the deepest clarity:  there’s no reliable refuge in this material world of ours nor in all the experiences we chase after with glee.

In drugs, sex, partners, friends, work, money, homes, rock-n-roll, the internet, pluses, likes, tweets or anything else.  Even this planet will burn up in a fiery ball.  All experiences are as fickle and changeable as the wind.  And that which is material isn’t nearly as solid as you may think.  Atoms are quietly banging about at breakneck speed.

Thoughts and emotions are even worse!  They seem so real and alluring, but will lead to nothing but trouble if you don’t let them pass right by.  Thoughts and emotions are a big waste of time; better to rest in the open awareness of mind.

Instead of running for refuge from all one’s stormy emotions and twisted beliefs , let them rise up and let them dissolve.  It’s all just like a film.  Momentarily so vivid and real.  Till the lights turn up in your personal movie theater.

When death comes knocking – it could happen at any time –  all that has happened will seem no more than a dream.  Can you even remember what happened just a short time ago?

What Can We Rely Upon?

If everything is changing, is there no refuge to be found?  Is there anything that is changeless or deathless, indeed?

When I turn my mind inwardly, I’m relieved to see what is true.

Beyond all the passing thoughts and emotions is the essence of mind – the open space of awareness that is constantly there.  So I strive to simply remain in this present moment of clear awareness, where love and compassion abounds.  Why run after the past or jump into the future when only suffering is there?  This is the safe haven that I’ve personally found.

Is it easy?  Not a bit!

So much rises up that wants to pull me away.

Staying present and awake in this very moment is a challenge indeed.  One that requires patience, commitment, and diligence at least.  But throw in some humor and mix with space.  Then you begin to have a true taste.

I still get lost in thoughts and emotions for seeming endless amounts of time.  Hope and fear can suddenly burst upon the scene, winding me up and then spinning me wildly like a colorful top.

But, now there’s a difference:   the truth keeps calling to remind me to come home.  There is a safe haven. You’ll find it by looking within.

What do you take refuge in?  What do you perceive as threatening, harmful, or unpleasant?  Is it a mirror showing you something within?

Image:  Chris 73 – Wikimedia Commons

Thank you for reading and sharing!  If you enjoyed this article please subscribe for free updates by email.  With love, Sandra


Need a Writer?

Are you looking for a seasoned freelance writer who can communicate your message in an intelligent, authentic voice?  Check out my writing services and portfolio of copywriting, webwriting, and editorial content at Envision Writing.



The Power of “Yes, But…” to Catapult You to Clarity


Stay on Track with Daily Non-Negotiables


  1. I want me some of the freedom and clarity that comes from accessing that space of awareness! I’ve lately been realizing how I take refuge in emotions. This morning, for instance, a low pressure system brought rain in and that can often make me feel a little blue. And that feels like a refuge. Today, however, I caught myself and realized what I was doing. Then I read your post and realized I need to go meditate as well. Thanks!

    • You deserve it, Charlotte! I’ve been sensitive to weather changes in the past too. It’s easy to get immersed especially in these more subtle, pervasive, background moods. Glad you went for a dose of meditation. I find just being aware creates a little more space between me and the emotion.

  2. I take refuge in silence and solitude. It is both my refuge and nourishment. I’m especially feeling that now after two weeks visiting my family. While it has been wonderful, so much social, extravert time as worn me out a bit too and I’m looking forward to my refuge when I return home to Vancouver today.

    • Sandi, I find silence and solitude incredibly nourishing myself! I wish you a quiet, nourishing time on your return home!

  3. I felt close to you reading your past false refuges, because I had nearly an identical list. I don’t think I’m as consistent as you are in feeding my contemplative side, but I am making progress as I allow time in which to do nothing – on purpose. In addition to silent meditations and training the dog (walking while seeing the world through her new eyes), I take refuge in writing, dreaming and trying to understand the lessons of my own past that I was in too much of a hurry to grasp at the time. I also suspect that my habit of enjoying the humor in everything will not abate. There are few forces as “enlightening” as a laugh.

    • How interesting that we share the same false refuges! Your new refuges are very similar to mine too!I love the way you are weaving contemplation and meditation into your life. I’m so glad you pointed out the enlightening quality of humor. When wisdom is present, humor is not far behind! I love your insights. By the way, you got caught in the spam filter so I will just delete the other comment, which is very similar to this one. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Taking refuge within with awareness is very nurturing and good for the soul. It is taking refuge unconsciously in all the things you mentioned….food, alcohol, relationship, work, etc…. that is unhealthy and breeds chaos.

    I used to do this and my life reflected the habit. As you say, “The storm” is usually not as bad as the mess we create by seeking refuge. Thank goodness, I have let go of all the unhealthy types of refuge. Meditation and solitude are now my safe places.

    • Debbie,

      Being aware or on automatic is really the dividing line, isn’t it? It’s easier to make positive choices when we take the time to practice being aware. Meditation and solitude are the foundations for this. Thanks for your thoughts.

  5. I so too have many of the same places I frequent – especially my years and years of volunteering. I have worked on feelings of unworthiness, but think I must have a few more to ponder and deal with as I am attempting to let go of another fear in my life that I can not recognize yet. The book CODE TO JOY that I reviewed on Patricias Wisdom is a helpful starter kit to identify just want fear one is working with.

    I read your post and then did my long meditation – it was a great refuge and source for being in the now Thank you for sharing this

    • Patricia,

      I think we all have more to ponder and deal with! I’m still working through layer after layer of my own protective habits and fears. I applaud you for your willingness to tackle this currently unrecognizable fear. Being in the now is a great transformer!

  6. I think this is especially interesting because you pointed out that some of the things we might think of as “good” refuges are not really different from “bad” ones. I had not really thought about that. You’ve given me a new perspective on how I spend my time and where I put my attention and energy.

    • Hi Galen,

      It all depends on our level of attachment, doesn’t it? Not that we need to be cold and detached, but a healthy level of spaciousness and not taking it all too seriously helps. I’m still on my way to finding that. Thanks for sharing your perspective, it’s a little different take!

  7. I really, really love this post, Sandra. I’ve been thinking a lot about this question lately as well… what am I taking refuge in? What am I committing myself to? Far too often I slip into less conscious modes of being and try to comfort myself with food or other transient pleasures. Something deeper within me needs to be nourished.

    Thank you for writing this. Though it’s been in my mind a lot lately, it really helps to see someone else put such well-crafted and heartfelt words to it.

    • I’m so glad this posted resonated so strongly with you, Maia. I really appreciate your insight that something more deeply within you needs to be nourished.

      I found it interesting last year that when I did a week-long loving kindness retreat on my own, my urges for food decreased and I ate less yet felt more satisfied.

      That doesn’t mean I’ve miraculous overcome my tendency to seek refuge in food or other material things or experiences. But I am more cognizant of the tendencies and more likely to make better choices. It seems to me that often this is how change occurs; it sometimes seems almost invisible but then it does show up!

      It makes me so happy to know that this post was a helpful mirror for you. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  8. Hi Sandra – great post – poetic in a way and powerful:) I have in the past taken refuge in a monastery. Boy, do those guys get angry when you hide there unnanounced! I didn’t realize all the things we could be taking refuge in – I’m afraid to say it but I may be taking refuge in my travels. But I think I’m doing so to understand myself better and get more clarity. So hopefully I’m taking refuge in myself.

    I also have taken refuge at various times in my work life, in helping others and food (specifically chocolate). I’m hoping to take more refuge with me instead of relying on outside sources. thanks for this post!

    • Hi Vishnu,

      Thanks for noticing the ‘poetic’ quality of this post. When I read it to my writers’ circle, they said it has a cadence like hip-hop! That often happens when I write directly from my heart and experience.

      We’re living in the relative world so of course we are going to be doing things like traveling. It’s not necessarily a ‘false’ refuge, I would say. It just depends upon how we perceive it. I trust you are taking refuge in your self – your best self and your highest self. I know that’s your intention!

  9. interesting.. in the Buddhist tradition, “taking refuge” means that you accept the buddha and dharma as your path to enlightenment and you agree to practice the four precepts.. or something like that. I just took refuge for the first time. I guess my “religion” is closest to Buddhism but I’m really a new-agey pantheist. 😀 I never thought of refuge as ‘false refuge’, but I guess we do take refuge in a lot of dysfunctional ways!

    • Hi Janet,

      I’ve taken refuge as a Buddhist too, which is why this post is colored by the view of going beyond the material and seeing reality as it is. At the same time though, on a relative level, I’m also talking about how we look for validation in the external.

      I wish you the best on your new spiritual path. May it unfold perfectly and bring you true happiness and freedom.

  10. jean sampson

    Hi Sandra—-this one made me do some thinking. Most of my life has been spent dealing with eating disorders/ over-exercising which has been the main refuge. I mostly don’t have to deal with that anymore, eat healthily and miss exercise sessions several days in a row and still feel ok about myself. I think my refuge now is myself, strengthened by the very hard things that I have survived in the last 15 years. Of course, things do come and go (at least for me) so I think that healthy eating could be a refuge, although there are REAL physical reasons why I eat well. I do think, mostly, it is my self, being aware of my centeredness and strength.

    Good post!

    • Hi Jean,

      Self reliance is incredibly important and it seems that you have won this through all the hard things you have survived and learned from over the years. I admire that so much! Healthy eating is sensible, especially when it comes from being aware of your centeredness and strength. Thanks for sharing your process with us!

  11. Thanks Sandra, I appreciated how you said that being a “giver” can be just as much of a strategy for avoiding the truth as alcohol or one of the more recognized approaches. I sometimes find myself “giving” in order to avoid guilt, as opposed to out of genuine love for the person I’m giving to, and that creates resentment that isn’t healthy for me.

    • Chris,

      Giving is an interesting topic and it’s one I would like to write about more. When giving comes from neurosis, it’s not healthy. When it comes from love and clarity, it’s beautiful. Your example is a perfect one.

  12. “Staying present and awake in this very moment is a challenge indeed.”

    Too true Sandra. It is very challenging indeed. I feel like it is an art in and of itself just to stay present. For me, it has become a spiritual experience to simply try and be present. I don’t ask anything, I just try and listen. In my best moments I am able to do this for maybe 5 or 10 seconds.

    Though, when I first startred practicing this, I could barely last for 2 seconds. I am hoping in time, as I practice more, to become better able to really be present.

    Good post, I enjoyed it.

    • Hi Izzy,

      It is an art and one to practice for a lifetime! Being present for 5 or 10 seconds is fantastic. The key is to keep returning to the present moment when we find ourselves distracted. Those “oops” moments (as Mingyur Rinpoche calls them) are split seconds of a more pure awareness. My own teacher says that in one sense it’s not about how long we can remain in the present moment but how we can return, which will naturally build up to our being in the present moment more often.

      I admire your diligence. Soon you will be up to 20 seconds! The sky’s the limit.

  13. How amusing! My list of false refuges was nearly identical to yours. Aside from practices that do nurture centering and contemplation, I guess my permanent refuge is humor. It is the punchline after pain, and there’s little in the world more “enlightening” than a good laugh.

  14. Great post Sandra. I used to take refuge in many unhealthy ways but now, while I try to make time to meditate as often as possible, my greatest refuge is writing. I guess its always has been but it’s only more recently I’ve been doing so with awareness. Other than spending time outdoors (preferably in the sun!) or underwater, writing is the fastest way of bringing me back to myself and finding peace within.

    • Writing is a positive refuge for me too, Rachael. It brings clarity to my mind. I’m happy you’ve found this way to bring your mind home and find peace within. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  15. jesinalbuquerque

    Janet, above, mentions the refuges of Buddhism. to me, it boil down to staying in the present moment, putting one foot mindfully in front of the other, and breathing with awareness. Easier said than done, for sure, but I find if I can follow these precepts event for moments at a time, the mind and heart are calmed. Namaste.


  16. Hi Jes,

    I agree with you! Staying in the present moment is key. Easier said than done, but it becomes easier with practice. I’m glad you have found this way to a calm mind and heart. Namaste!

  17. This post really resonated with me Sandra. Beautifully written and said.
    I’ve been have a series of ‘lucid’ dreams – some seven in the past couple of weeks – a record for me. And there’s a common thread running through them all ~ it’s all a dream. Asleep or awake, we’re the dreamers of it all – and we are always at choice as to which direction the dream takes. The refuge we seek is part and parcel of the dream.
    And as you put it so well “There is a safe haven. You’ll find it by looking within.”

    • Hi Elle,

      A beautiful response! You are having such deep insight. In my spiritual tradition, it is said that life and everything that arises is like a dream, a magic show, a mirage, an echo, a reflection. At the same time, that doesn’t mean they are non-existent. It is said “neither non-existent nor permanent”. It’s the middle way that doesn’t fall into extremes of either nihilism or eternalism. Intention, as you say, is very important in the dream! Thanks for sharing this deep insight.

  18. I’ve done it all, Sandra – the relationships, the helping, religion, food…. More recently, I’m conscious that my relationship with my husband and my writing too although good, can become a refuge – I’m seeking to be constantly aware of my motivations and like you said, living in the present moment is the key.

    • Corinne,

      Having done it all really gives perspective, doesn’t it! You seem in a very good place. As long as we are evolving, there will be some tendency to take refuge, but we can be aware of it, as you suggest, with humor and space and keep coming back to the moment. I appreciate your insight!

  19. Carol Walberg

    Great post. Although I know you are not the same person I used to know so long ago I see a a continuity in the clarity of your thinking and writing that spans the years.

    • Thank you, Carol! That means so much to me. Funny how within all my emotional chaos, I am finding clarity. Thank you for being my friend then and now!

  20. Ouch, this really hit home Sandra. Been examining my own places of refuge lately, although that’s not how I was thinking of it. This concept of refuge has really hammered it home for me, thank you for that. I know what I must do. Now I must just do it. Not easy, indeed.

    • Sorry for the ouch! You’re an amazing woman. I have full confidence in you! There may be hills and valleys, but you will conqueror all!

  21. Hi Sandra,

    False refuges may seem comforting, but they can quickly become prisons as you have rightly pointed out.

    Funnily enough, I don’t take refuge in food since I eat to live anyway.

    I do take refuge in material possessions to fill the void. It could be books, toys or even the grand strategy games I play on PC to distract myself. In moderation, my grand strategy games help to keep my mind sharp and active when it comes to problem solving. But taken to extremes when I am brooding over a real world problem, it is not good.

    The one refuge I have come to rely on in recent years is the I-Ching. Because of my love for history, I was pondering at one stage how empires or even family businesses die out after a few generations. Or how founders of large companies grow from innovative to reactive. I realized that with the I-Ching, I can never be complacent about anything in my life because I am so acutely aware of the changes that result from my actions or external factors.

    Being aware and warned early, I can take steps to ensure that I have good fortune instead of misfortune.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article!

    Irving the Vizier

    • Irving,

      I appreciate your clarity on how ‘false’ refuges are like a prison.

      On a relative level, there are certainly positive refuges like the I-Ching and other spiritual teachings. These I would definitely support as we walk along the path although ultimately we realize that everything relative is also transitory and changing. Nevertheless, they are helpful tools moving us closer to realizing the true nature of reality.

      I’m impressed by the clarity you’ve discovered in the I-Ching and find it a valuable resource for progressing with greater confidence and ease.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  22. Hi Sandra,
    I think I’ve been through them all as well! I love to go within using my journal as a tool. It just cuts to the chase for me!

    • Hi Tess,

      It appears that we are both highly experienced in delusion! That’s one way to see the other side. I’m a big fan of turning within and journaling has also been a helpful resource for me. Thanks so much for visiting! It’s great to “see” you.

  23. Hi Sandra,
    You so hit the nail on its head with your insight into the things in which we take refuge! I can relate…

    False refuges (alcohol, drugs, relations, etc.) are like comfort food – a temporary fix for an underlying need – [like hunger for a nutritional meal or the internal push to reveal your true self]. Only by being aware of our false refuges and using them to bring us into the present can we be who we really are.

    Thanks for sharing your insight and wisdom!

    • Hi Gladys,

      I like the way you connect this seeking refuge to our deeper internal hungers. Awareness is the key, isn’t it? Thanks for your insightful thoughts.

  24. Such a lyrical post, Sandra. I love the phrase “personal movie theater” because finally, the answers are within us to project and see in our mind’s eye. I’ve gone through the serial-refuge seeking too – and I am grateful I’ve had the practice of prayer throughout. Isn’t it great how life’s experiences allow us to learn? If we’re lucky, we learn from others’ experiences too. Looking within is a gift.

    Love, Vidya

    • Vidya,

      Exactly! This is how life experiences allow us to learn so nothing to be distressed about in that sense. Prayer is a supreme refuge! There’s so much wisdom in your word. I appreciate having connected with you.

  25. Though my visits feel too few and far between, I am always assured of being moved by your writing and insight. The message always resonates; the timing always just right. Thanks, Sandra. Wishing you well.

  26. It’s so nice to see you, Bill! Thank you for your kind words. They mean a lot to me. I’ll be by to visit you soon. All my love and best wishes to you!

Comments are closed.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén