Creating Sanctuaries

Dr Margaretha Montagu
Oct 12 · 5 min read

Fleeing From Disorientating Distractions

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Sometimes we find ourselves in situations so disturbing that no matter how hard we have worked at self-development, no matter how many self-help books we have read, no matter how many courses we took about effective stress management, we feel overwhelmed.


Those times when you feel as if you are being tossed about like a life-raft on a stormy sea, when you feel as if you are trapped on an emotional rollercoaster, when the end of the tunnel remains pitch-black for days, weeks and months — those are the times when you need a haven, a sanctuary.

Sanctuaries come in many different guises. There is no one size fits all. That is why it is essential to identify suitable sanctuaries well before the storms break.

It is also useful to have more than one sanctuary, and different types of sanctuaries so that if one is not available you have other options. Just knowing that you have sanctuaries where you can shelter during the storms of life is remarkably empowering.

I am profoundly grateful for the sanctuaries I have been able to identify, especially during the last two years, when I had to cope with losing one of my eyes and the continuing threat of losing my sight. Most people think of a sanctuary as a place, far removed from the demands of their daily lives, but a refuge can be anything, anywhere or anyone that you choose.


To most people, a sanctuary is a place where they feel safe. It can be somewhere where they have been happy in the past or a place that makes them feel good, like a blue or a green space. I have a variety of places where I feel safe, where I can go to recharge my batteries. My favourite must be on a deserted beach where I can sit and watch the sea for hours, undisturbed.


A sanctuary doesn’t need to be a place; it can also be a person. A friend, a significant other or a member of your family can make you feel as safe as any physical hideaway can make you feel. I cannot imagine how I would have gotten through the last two years without my friends. My friends are my most precious resource. So many people find it difficult to make friends that I have decided to create an online course about how to make and keep friends, using the dynamics of my small herd of horses to illustrate my advice. If you would like to be informed when the course is ready, please subscribe to my mailing list below.


Not just a person, but a pet can also offer you an escape from the threatening reality of your life. I spend a lot of time with my horses and my cats when life gets me down. Their unmitigated devotion grounds me in the here and now, offering me a safe space in time.


For millions of people, religion is the ultimate refuge. If you are religious, this is probably your chosen destination when times get tough. Or maybe you are like me: you first try to sort everything out yourself, and it is only when you realise that you cannot cope with the enormity of what is happening to you that you are forced onto your knees.


Our own mind can be your safest sanctuary. Closing your eyes and ears to what is going on around you and withdrawing into your head is sometimes to only option available. Meditation, especially a gratitude meditation, works best for me. I have taught myself in the last two years to find something to be grateful for in most circumstances (I say “most,” because there are times when my brain feels like it is stuffed cotton wool and I need to retreat to one of my other sanctuaries) and making a list of 10, 20 or 100 things that I am thankful for provides me with sanctuary even while in the midst of the most trying situations.


Can Time itself be a sanctuary? In my experience, yes, it can. It is possible to escape into a more bearable past or future when you feel unbearably stressed, but I have found that actually concentration on staying present in the current moment is even more effective. Focussing on the here and now, instead of fretting about what went wrong in the past or worrying about what might go wrong in the future can be the safest place in time, during a storm.


When I am seriously stressed, I can lose myself in a variety of activities: a physical activity like running — on my treadmill, these days — or something creative like writing, singing or reading, as in escaping into an imaginary world, offers me hours of sanctuary from my thoughts of impending disaster.

Now would be a good time to make a list of 10 possible sanctuaries, under the above headings. You never know when you are going to need one of the items on your list.

Accepting sanctuary is an excellent way to manage stress. Offering sanctuary can be a way of paying it forward and that is one of the reasons I have created my Connect with Horses Mindfulness and Meditation Retreats. I tend to agree with R.N. Remen who said, “Perhaps the most important thing we bring to another person is the silence in us, not the sort of silence that is filled with unspoken criticism or hard withdrawal. The sort of silence that is a place of refuge, of rest, of acceptance of someone as they are… Silence is a place of great power and healing.”

Dr Margaretha Montagu is a recycled medical doctor, a rogue writer of self-help books and passable presenter of mindfulness and meditation retreats. She lives on a small farm in the not-always sun-blessed south of France with five opinionated horses and two battle-scarred dragons. All her books are horse-inspired, subtly French- flavoured and hopefully life-enriching. To connect with Margaretha, her horses and her dragons, follow her here on Medium or subscribe to her blog.

Embracing Change

How to cope with unexpected and unavoidable change.

Dr Margaretha Montagu

Written by

Recycled medical doctor, rogue writer of five self-help books and horse-guided mindfulness meditation retreat host in the south of France

Embracing Change

How to cope with unexpected and unavoidable change.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade