Commonweal, June 2007, part 6

Last night we had salmon for dinner, cooked until it was barely, perfectly tender, more lush heirloom tomatoes with fresh mint, corn, potato salad. Another perfect meal.

Our evening program last night was with Jenepher Stowell, the lovely, graceful and elegant director of the retreat center, whose life work has been to study healing spaces, healing environments.

The evening was focused on the question, “What constitutes a genuinely healing environment for me—both internally and externally?” “What does it take for us to have a place of refuge?” “What makes a space a healing space.”

“Space is consecrated,” Jenepher said, “first and foremost, by our intention.”

When we have a life-threatening illness, it can be particularly difficult to find a place of refuge—a place where we feel safe. It is hard to find that place inside our body and in our lives. Jenepher made the point that this issue is often forgotten in the scurry to find treatment.

The night’s discussion was far-ranging and fascinating—geared to spark interest in the subject. We touched on architecture, humanizing hospital rooms, the natural world, the power of place and community, and our own homes.

We talked about the ways we created safe spaces for ourselves in childhood and asked ourselves if we had a corresponding space as adults.

Then we talked about psychological space—how we see ourselves, how much space we allow ourselves to take. Jenepher said that every relationship creates a space around us. When we’re healthy and well, we can put up with a lot of negative energy, but when we’re ill, we’re more vulnerable and may need to set clearer boundaries.

Jenepher talked about the fact that many of the spaces that served us before cancer may not serve us as well anymore. We looked at the questions, “Are our own homes life enhancing and inspiring to us?” “Are our dwelling places and the places we go to life-affirming to us?” “Are we connected to the earth as a source of healing?” “Are our communities as supportive as they could be?” “How can we protect ourselves physically and emotionally when we have to be in the hospital?” “If we were to have a choice, what kind of space do we want to be in when we’re dying?”

It is an area I have not given much thought to, but when I think about the room I lay in for the months when my bed was my home, I remember the beauty..the beaded figure hanging from my window, the free flying streamers Karyn put outside for my pleasure, my view of the natural world, the gifts from loved ones surrounding me. Yes, it was a safe nest to heal in.

Listening to everyone’s feedback last night, it was clear that people have very different sensitivities and needs in relation to their environment. Within my own immediate family, that is abundantly clear. The challenge is—with four different people with four different levels of sensitivity to cleanliness, clutter, design, aesthetics, comfort, how do we all live in peace?

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