What is sacred space, and why is it healing?
The theory of healing that I gravitate to starts from the idea that the place we long for is the place we start from, in wholeness.
This is even reflected in language: heil, in German, from which we derive our English word heal, is the same root as the word heilig, or holy. Both are about integration; neither holy nor wholly is a state special or different to the human being’s original nature.
In this theory of innate wholeness, the primary role of the healer is to remind the client that separation is an illusion and connection is the truth of our being. In traditional cultures the shaman performs soul and spirit repair for the person experiencing illness through rituals that reconnect them to their ancestors and the land where they live.
Most healers also make sacred space part of their practice. What does this mean, and how does it relate to healing?
The most concise definition of sacred space that I have been able to come up with for myself is a place or environment that has three qualities:
1. Time is not linear. Instead of being “on the clock”, activities have a circularity or recurring rhythm, whether it’s the prayers and rituals of a place of worship or the seasons of the year outdoors.
2. The world of commerce is kept outside. Inside a sacred space, the model of behaviour is devotional rather than transactional: as in gardening or friendship, to give of oneself without the calculations of ego, or the mercenary logic of capitalism.
3. Relationships are based upon being rather than a social or cultural doing. Sacred spaces are intentional spaces, consecrated to a higher purpose. Unlike a bar or a bus station, they are not open to just anyone walking in off the street. At the same time, a model of relationship based on the inherent value and dignity of all life offers inclusion and acceptance to those who so often find themselves shut out by our global monoculture, whether that is chronically ill or poor people, or wild plants and animals.
It's on these terms that I consider many community gardens to be sacred spaces. It is also part of the way they provide critical "ecosystem services", in the form of biodiversity and habitat refuges for plants and animals as well as mental health benefits for people. The role of community gardens as therapeutic spaces deserves to be better recognised.