Cats crawl into boxes and kids make cardboard forts, but we older human folk have truly perfected the art of the self-made sanctuary.
Ours may or may not be figurative but are certainly no less fanciful. Fandoms of course, theater, sports, philosophies, religions, even relationships can make up the walls and ceilings of a mini-world that doesn’t explain it all, but at least makes a little sense to us temporarily.
We finite creatures can hardly be blamed. After all, the seemingly infinite universe is dizzying. I get vertigo just thinking about it. All of space and time, full of who knows what, bigger and tinier than we can imagine.
Then, too, there is the depth of horror, despair, and sadness that seems to have no end – and a corresponding joy and love that reaches us up to the heavens, leaving us quivering with what’s possible.
It makes a lot of sense to try to distill all that crazy into a nice little box of understandable. There, things are workable, manageable, relatable. They are inspiring to us personally. We fit in that sort of space, a space where we know we belong. We long to realize it more and more.
That space might be our room, full of trinkets that speak to us. Or it could be our act of allying ourselves with groups or philosophies that seem to have it all figured it out – while they are really only working with the shadows of Plato’s cave. Say what you will about theater, its participants are very open about what they are doing: condensing the wild world into one small relatable stage.
As far as coping mechanisms go, these self-made sanctuaries aren’t too bad. I fault no child their fort nor no grown up their fandom – as long they don’t forget that there’s more out there, which is a real danger. Also you don’t want to go imposing your sanctuary on others (unless they want to watch Doctor Who too. Which you really should!! ;)).
That said, I would venture to say that our longing to belong, our longing to truly be part of a world we understand, might just be more than that – it might be revelatory as well. CS Lewis, the inimitable writer of the Narnia books, found meaning in his own longings for understanding. He felt drawn to a degree of goodness that this world hardly seemed able to produce, and so he concludes that perhaps this is because this world is not where we ultimately belong:
“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”
Now, of course, CS Lewis was speaking from a Christian perspective, which was his lens for understanding the universe. But you don’t have to espouse that world view to agree that there might just be more to us, to the universe, than what’s on the surface – and maybe we’re working towards understanding that. In yoga we acknowledge that idea by talking about the third eye and honoring each other’s inner light, and humming in vibration with everything else.
Maybe, if Lewis is onto something, then we crave belonging because we ultimately belong in some fundamental way. Maybe we crave understanding because understanding is possible. Maybe, like the child with her fort, we can one day emerge out into the bigger house, and then the bigger neighborhood, and feel like that we fit into it all.
If that is so, then what we use to build our little figurative forts here have significance – our fandoms can illuminate who we are and maybe even how we start to fit in.
When it comes to having a fort within a fort, no art form says it better, I think, than the 1998 movie The Truman Show, starring Jim Carrey. In it he plays Truman, a man who unbeknownst to him has been the star of a tv show since he was born. The island where he lives is a set and everyone around him is an actor – placing him in a sanctuary made not by himself, but in the more nefarious kind made by others. They all try to keep him satisfied and ignorant on the eerily-wholesome island in an effort to keep the show going, but Truman always longs for more far-off adventure. He pines away for one actress posing as a high school friend, who fleetingly tried to tell him the truth. She even has a button he likes which says “How’s it going to end?”
Using bits and pieces of faces in the magazines he buys, he tries to recreate her image to reconnect with her memory. He longs for her and he longs for Fiji, where he thinks that she went – without ever having been there, he longs for the real world that he has never experienced. He knows he does not belong on that island.
And so I think our little fandoms, our little theaters and our carefully-curated homes, even our social media accounts, are like Truman’s magazine clippings. They are of this world, they are the tools we have at hand. But from these simple elements, we can build meaning towards something beyond what we can see – refining and honing our vision and our understanding until we’re ready to act on it. Maybe it is then that we not only can cope with the infinite, but we can start to be part of it, as well.
To remember all that, I get into Sphinx pose. You lay on your belly and place your elbows under your shoulders, with forehands and hands flat on the floor. Lifting up your torso, you feel like you are one of the Sphinx in Egypt, made of ancient stone, touching both the far past and the eventual future. You rest with dignity, knowing you are making a touchpoint for meaning in an ever-changing world.