We all need shelter, love, food, warmth, water, and touch. These are things we cannot live without. They are the things that allow us to survive and thrive as humans on planet Earth.
But sometimes we need something more. We need to know there is solace for us to rest in. We need to know we are safe. We need this—not just in our own internal world, but also in the one outside of ourselves. We require refuge.
Refuge is an interesting word and concept—one that has taken me 34 years to actually feel in my own body and life. Thank goodness that it is possible for us to find it here, for refuge might just be the one thing that allows us to grow the most. It is also the place in which we can seek consolation when things become tough or when the world seems increasingly frightening (as it may currently be).
Life will forever be filled with adversity. Refuge is something we can learn to count on during our stormy days.
What is refuge exactly? How do we get it, have it, hold it, or seek it? I think we first begin by realizing it is something that we all need.
The world we comprehend is so malleable that when we don’t acknowledge something, we often feel that it does not exist. So, we might believe refuge is lacking in our lives. But refuge exists and if we can find it, we can relax in a way that we likely never have before.
Knowing there is refuge also means we have confidence that we can survive whatever life throws at our hearts, hands, and minds.
The place I often move from in life is the position of Buddhism. This is because, for me, the Buddhist beliefs (as well as the yogic ones) lend me strength and teach me to navigate my world in a gentle way.
I was not always kind to myself, nor was I able to feel centered or safe in my world. I certainly don’t have everything figured out these days, but I do have a secret weapon in my back pocket that I know I can depend on. This is refuge. I know I am able to find shelter from any storm.
In Buddhism, refuge is a revered principle. What fully initiates us on the path of being a Buddhist is actually making the decision to pledge ourselves to refuge. But let’s be clear, we do not need to practice any one sort of belief system to contact refuge.
To Buddhists, the concept of taking refuge means that we find protection and comfort in three ways: we turn toward the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha. To others who are not connected to the Buddhist path, we can relate these words to some mutually understood meanings:
>> The Buddha represents an enlightened one. So refuge means that we look to truth as a vehicle to ease our suffering. When we are confused and disheartened, it is often because we have believed something that is not entirely true. Refuge, then, is found by looking deeply at the situations in our lives and understanding that there is a way to see them more clearly that could bring about less pain. Enlightenment means being awake. It means we shake ourselves out of our disillusionments.
Sit still for a moment, breathe, and just observe what is happening rather than reacting to it. This, too, is refuge.
>> The dharma is a Sanskrit word meaning “truth” or “teaching.” It is seen as the medicine we take to lessen our hardships. It is often what we name the offerings of the Buddha. In this sense, dharma means wisdom. Refuge is found in knowledge. When we are requiring solace, a good place to rest in is the wisdom of an established teacher.
This can look like us going and getting a book to help ourselves. It can mean reaching out to a knowing and loving friend. It can also look like finding faith that our lives are unfolding exactly as they are meant to. This, too, is refuge.
>> The sangha, in Buddhism, means our spiritual community. It can be forming a network, a tribe, or a connection with others we can count on. Community brings us peace in knowing we are not alone on our journeys. It is a fulfilling experience to understand that we have tactual support right here.
Take a minute to send a text, make a phone call, or grab a coffee with another when time allows. This, too, is refuge.
We all need this thing called refuge. It is something that enables us to be whole human beings.
There is no shame in requiring assistance on our paths, or a safe and warm place to land. In fact, to suffer less, refuge is a necessity.
Let’s find it right here—let’s allow refuge to lend us its sweet hand.
Author: Sarah Norrad
Image: Gerome Viavant/Unsplash
Editor: Leah Sugerman