The Sanctuary Challenge: A Mental/Emotional Journey
At the end of 2020, Claudia looked to Dani (over Skype, of course as we continue to be in different countries) and proposed that we follow a sixty day challenge where the main purpose is to spend time caring for yourself. This challenge, called The Sanctuary Challenge, consists of five elements that participants aim to complete every day: morning meditation, healthy eating, exercise, goddess time, and eight hours of sleep every night. The idea of this challenge is that each person uses these sixty days to establish a sense of peace and sanctuary in our own lives, homes, minds, and bodies.
In addition, participants should create groups, called accountability crews, with three to six people where you talk about what it is that you have done (or aim to do) that day. When she first heard about it, one of the things Claudia loved most about the challenge was the idea of these groups because she heard the founder say that there would be no toxic positivity—the idea that you should always have a positive mindset and can-do attitude—but on days when you fall behind, your group is there just to say “I understand.”
When they were discussing, Dani turned to Claudia and confessed her concerns about committing to so many things for such a long period of time. They were valid concerns that Claudia felt herself and didn’t deny that it felt like a lot. Having heard the founder speak, she encouraged Dani to listen to what he was saying. Things like “start with today and only focus on today” and “if you cannot do more, only do one thing,” are things that he supports, which makes the whole challenge feel a bit more doable.
After a bit more reflection, we decided to embark on this journey together, with four other ladies who played different roles in our lives (two on Dani’s side, two on Claudia’s side). Now, more than halfway through, we want to bring you our reflections, from both a mental/emotional side as well as a logistical perspective—a post that will come out later this week. We had our doubts about the challenge as a whole but now we are grateful for the opportunity to focus a little bit more on ourselves, our own ups and downs, and creating sanctuary when and where we need it most.
We hope that you enjoy this little dive into what we are experimenting with at the beginning of 2021 and, if you so feel inclined, would encourage you to take on a similar adventure. The only thing that might happen is that you will feel a little extra connected with yourself every day.
I must confess the whole thing flowered in my mind as I heard Ryan Weiss, the founder of this challenge, speak at the end of last year on a podcast I like (That’s So Retrograde). I imagined getting a bunch of my friends together to have a go at what sounded like a great way to care for ourselves. However, life got in the way and I almost didn’t tell anyone about the challenge until a week or so before it was supposed to begin. As our friendship has developed, winding in and out of being co-owners of this blog, we have had many different conversations about lots of things and Dani was one of the first people I wanted to tell about this challenge. As it was, that turned out to be a really good choice and, once again, I am glad to be on an adventure with her.
The whole premise of the challenge is that you are creating time and space for yourself to feel safe and to flourish as a person. It is an interesting idea, especially for someone like me who considers myself to be a bit of a workaholic (and when it is not my paying job, with other things that I volunteer with) during these uncertain times. Here in Finland, over the winter, it gets really dark and I have to admit that my SAD has been hitting me hard. We will be diving into this a bit more in the coming month but I’ve definitely been feeling my productivity fall and it is really frustrating to want to do more but just not feel the energy for it.
Together with the Sanctuary Challenge, I have sort of put to one side all the things that I “should” be doing and am focusing on how I can slowly advance with things in a way that works for me. For example, while I downloaded the meditation that has been created by Ryan and the Sanctuary Challenge team, I don’t use it in the mornings when I am “supposed to” because morning time for me is when I usually do Yoga with Adriene and it just didn’t fit my routine. Instead, I use this meditation in the evenings to help me get my eight hours of sleep, helping me relax away whatever stress I may have accumulated during the day and drifting off peacefully.
In addition, instead of putting five or six things on my “to do” list every single day (which is something that I might do otherwise), I have been focusing on only putting one or two things on my list. It is amazing how when I get one out of one thing done I feel happy and motivated as compared to frustrated when I only complete three out of five things. Giving myself more space and learning how to be patient with myself has been essential during this learning journey, something I am truly grateful for!
One thing that has still been hard for me, however, is this idea of goddess time or the time when you are supposed to slow down for an extra minute (or twenty) and connect with yourself. Recommendations go from putting your feet up a wall to taking a bath. I’ve never really been good at pampering myself, even when I like it, but I am making sure to set aside time to light candles, read a book, bake cookies, or just cut my fingernails. Being conscious of the fact that I can be creating more space for myself in different ways has felt a bit game changing.
Another thing that has felt incredibly important has been the accountability crew. We didn’t make a massive group but, instead, a small group of people we know at different levels of knowingness. Now, I would say, the group has transformed into people who I may know more or less on many aspects of our lives but in the realm of self-care we are sharing something special. With everything that is going on this year, there is so much talk about a safe space but it is hard to know what is missing until you stumble upon it again. In that sense I am so grateful for the group of ladies that makes up our accountability crew because whether I post every day or once a week I know they are there to support me.
For the most part, Claudia has already explained how I came to participate in The Sanctuary Challenge and the worries I had at the beginning so I won’t wind through all of those again. However, I will say that my concerns before starting this 60-day journey have all but melted away over this first month. It’s incredible how much creating new habits (or re-prioritizing old ones) can change your outlook.
Back in December when Claudia proposed participating in this, I’ll admit that I had the thought: “Oh no, one more thing to stay on top of” and wondered if it would really be worthwhile. I already had my own morning routine and felt like I was in a decent rhythm for taking care of myself. In the end, committing to this challenge and having an accountability crew to check in with has been a beautiful reminder that we can always do more for ourselves.
Like Claudia, I have certainly personalized the five elements to best fit my current lifestyle and needs. Seeing as I already had a morning commitment to yoga (and this month’s 30-Day Yoga Journey with Adriene included some 40-minute long practices at the beginning of the month) Ryan’s 20-minute morning meditation felt too overwhelming for me. For the first week, I tried to honor this free gift by working it in at some point in the evening but it just wasn’t the right fit for me. At a friend’s recommendation, I’ve switched to doing shorter (anywhere from 5-12 minutes) non-guided meditations directly after my morning yoga and it’s working well for me.
Before starting, I thought I was really good at getting 8 hours of sleep and imagined that this was the daily commitment that would be easiest for me. The reality I’ve found, however, is that this one is the hardest for me to achieve consistently. I often go to bed and set an alarm within a window that would allow for 8 hours of sleep, but I can be a restless sleeper and usually spend at least an hour of that time awake. As a result, I decided to sometimes change my sleep intentions to something more attainable like going to bed 20 minutes earlier than the night before, avoiding use of my phone after 10:30 pm, etc.
Overall, this challenge has taught me to be more forgiving and accepting of myself and my journey. Much like Claudia’s less intense to-do lists, I have been getting better at managing my energy and pacing myself throughout the day. When I have a busy day, I take things one-task at a time and try to be as present as possible with that task during the time I allot for it (as opposed to having my mind on everything and therefore taking much longer to achieve anything).
I more regularly take breaks to refill my water bottle and actually do some brief movement (from stretching to leg lifts to “knocking on heaven’s door”) while I’m up. I count my morning yoga as my daily exercise and short meditation as my morning meditation commitment (two early wins most everyday!) but I’ve been making an effort to add in more later in the day whenever I can, which then feels like I’ve achieved even more than I set out to do.
Finally, I’ve personally found that my elements often overlap. I’ll listen to my audiobook (goddess time) while I go for a long walk (exercise), I’ll watch a favorite TV show (goddess time) as I eat a nutritious meal (healthy eating), or I’ll listen to relaxing music (meditation) while I put my feet up the wall (goddess time). In the first week or two of the challenge I had a lot of doubts and self-judgments about this.
I wondered if I was “allowed” to do this or if one activity could “really count” as both. While those kinds of thoughts still creep up from time to time, I’m getting better at not giving them my attention and reminding myself that the whole purpose is to create a sanctuary within myself. When something brings me solace, it is good and it really doesn’t matter which line I choose to check it off in.
The Sanctuary Challenge has a simple premise that might feel like it is hard to implement, but it is not really because the whole idea is that you do it for you. If it fits/works/feels good, then you do it but if not, that is okay too. This means that each day we are learning to fit time in for ourselves and that feels amazing to do. By caring for ourselves, we are also caring for others in our lives, something that we often forget about as a side effect of self care. We know that we are not doing this challenge perfectly in the sense that we don’t manage everything every day but, at least, we am confident that we am showing up for ourselves in the ways that we can.
Stay tuned for move about the Sanctuary Challenge in our logistics post, or how we are tracking what we are doing! And leave us your comments about the things you do on a regular basis to create sanctuary in your only life.
Dani and Claudia