What are the qualities of refuge?

Credit: Kevin Cooley (http://www.kopeikingallery.com/exhibitions/view/take-refuge)
Credit: Kevin Cooley (http://www.kopeikingallery.com/exhibitions/view/take-refuge)

This question came to me some months back and has never really gone away, resurfacing at odd moments with quiet urgency.

The concept of “taking refuge” came to me from Buddhism. In the words of one teacher:

A refuge is a place where people go when they are distressed or when they need safety and security. There are many types of refuges. When people are unhappy, they take refuge with their friends, when they are worried and frightened, they may take refuge in false hopes and beliefs

Buddhists commit to taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma (the truth about what is), and the Sangha (the spiritual community)–the so-called Triple Jewel–the idea being that this is where true security and freedom lie.

All of this is background for the question that’s stayed with me: What are the qualities of refuge? In other words, what does refuge feel like?  And where are those feelings found?

What are the qualities of refuge?

6 thoughts on “What are the qualities of refuge?

  1. For me, refuge is quiet and has depth. It is not the same as escape, which feels like desperation and flurry. Refuge is a place or state of mind from which I emerge with a bigger, fuller perspective. Being able to find (or take) refuge, regardless of where I am, is a survival skill.

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  2. Thanks for these thoughts, Melissa–they definitely resonate with me. A word that keeps coming tom mind for me is “spaciousness” (another that, incidentally, is often used in Buddhist practice, though I’m adopting it for my own purposes). When I unpack it, I get the sense that (duh!) refuge means doing less, that when I feel exposed, depleted, and in need of refuge, one of the paths back is to do less.

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  3. Also, my writer friend M.G. Lord posts this on FB (reposted here with her permission): “First, the image of a remote mountain cabin in snow does not strike me as a “refuge.” It SCARES me. If power went out, you could easily freeze there. You are vulnerable to wild animals and criminals on the lam. I don’t understand remoteness as an aspect of safe haven. A safe haven has a guard and a security system. A safe haven contains my cats and enough food to feed them–not to mention a cozy sofa to cuddle with them. A safe haven has a place to get a good cappuccino at least a block away, if one should feel a need to walk or socialize. I suppose a safe haven should be out of reach for people in my work life, but getting work emails I can disregard seems less frightening than having no emails at all.
    “Isolated refuge” strikes fear in my heart.”

    My response: That’s so interesting to me–makes me wonder what it is about that image that strikes *me* as refuge. And I think what it may be is that it represents the opposite of being pushed and pulled by opinions, demands, wishes of other people (not a criticism! It’s sort of what happens when you have a community). So the challenge, then, is how to hold on to that grounded centered feeling with all the other stuff around me. Because I too need a cozy couch, lots of friends, and an espresso machine : )

    Also an addendum: MG’s thoughts are so interesting to me, in that they alert me to how out of balance I am. In macrobiotic cooking theory, when we eat extreme yin (sugar, alcohol) we are driven to eat extreme yang (meat, fat–I think I have that right), while the healthy non-reactive choices are at the middle. With food, so with life. (NB, theoretical observation–I am not, have never been, an acolyte of macrobiotics.)

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  4. Maybe your sense of “spaciousness” and doing less have something in common with my identification of quiet with refuge. I seek refuge when too many claims are being made on my time or space. It doesn’t have to be isolated, but a degree of anonymity is essential. Fascinating question.

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    1. Thanks again for your thoughts, Melissa! Love the Virginia Woolf quote on your blog, btw–just shared in on my @Pajamatown Tumblr, another new venture (w HT to you). Are you on Twitter by chance?

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