“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
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