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I’ve been having a bit of a rough time lately. I won’t bore you with the details, but a series of frustrating experiences in quick succession left me feeling a bit unhinged. I was exhausted, emotional, and 120% done with everything. I wanted to lock myself in my apartment, throw away the key, and forget the world even existed.
But then the sun came out—literally, if not at all figuratively—and I decided to unlock that locked door and go for a walk. Back in January, when I did the post about the dress with pockets, I discovered a little park just around the corner from my home. I had grown quite fond of it in the time I was there to take photos for the post, but I hadn’t made it back since then. Donning boots and a light jacket, I headed back for a second look.
Most of the park was still covered with snow from a winter storm a few weeks ago, but I didn’t mind. I slid down muddy slopes, knelt in snow drifts to duck under low branches, and sat ever so carefully on the edge of a bench where my bum wouldn’t get wet. I listened to the creaking branches above my head, the squabbling of crows and magpies, and the gentle murmur of the river below me. I sat for a long time. I breathed. I pondered and prayed, and I found some measure of peace.
Things didn’t get better when I went home. If anything, the next few days were even worse. But those few moments spent in a place that brought me comfort kept coming back to mind and were just the anchor I needed. Together with my wonderfully wise and patient husband, they helped me find balance.
I had found my haven.
What is a Haven and Why Do You Need One?
Everywhere I’ve lived since becoming an adult has been accompanied by a haven—a place away from home and work that brings me joy, peace, comfort, and yes, balance. When I lived in Provo, it was the BYU botany pond. In New Mexico, it was the Pony Barn. In England, it was Leazes Park. When I first moved to eastern Idaho, it was Jensen Grove Park in Blackfoot. Each of these places provided a refuge for me on bad days, added to my joy on good days, or gave me a space for quiet reflection and creativity.
The celebrated psychologist Anthony Storr wrote:
Not only can havens provide a space for mental and spiritual healing, but they can also aid in physical healing. Health geographer Wilber M. Gesler wrote an entire book on the idea of healing places and how health professionals can tap into extra-biomedical resources for helping their patients find healing and recovery. A study done in Sweden in 2011 showed that “forest visits had significant positive effects on the participants’ mental state” and suggested that using quiet places of solitude could be useful in rehabilitation and recovery programs.
So whether you have a bad day or a bad knee, finding your own haven can be a marvelous way to help speed your return to a balanced, joyful life.
The Makings of a Haven
Since no two people are alike, it would be impossible to create a definitive list of characteristics that every haven must fit. What works for me might not work for you, and vice verse. But here are some things that I think are relatively universal, provided that there is some wiggle room for personal preference and logistics.
Away from Home, School, Work, etc.
To be an effective refuge, your haven should be isolated from responsibility. I’m not suggesting that you should shirk your responsibilities and spend all of your time in this refuge (as tempting as that may be sometimes), but when you need some mental, spiritual, or physical relief, it helps to get away from normal, every day worries and concerns. Leave the kids with a sitter, the dishes in the sink, and the projects on the desk. It is 100% okay to let them go for a few minutes.
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said,
I know I just said that your haven should be a place isolated from daily responsibilities, but I also recognize that that’s a luxury some people just don’t have. Maybe you have four kids under 5—in which case, bless you—and getting a sitter in the middle of the day is impractical. But you might be able to find a park nearby that has a playground where you can let your kids play while you soak up some sunshine and read a book.
Another idea is to enlist the help of a Haven Buddy—a spouse, a trusted neighbor, a BFF who lives nearby, someone who can hold the fort at a moment’s notice if you just need to take 15 minutes for yourself. Just be sure to reciprocate when they need their own moments of refuge.
When I was in grad school, I had a membership to the university gym. Sometimes, I was really good about going, but there were also times when I found it really difficult to motivate myself—not because I didn’t want to work out, but because I didn’t want to spend the time it would take to get there.
Likewise, your haven should be close to the places you frequent (home, school, work, etc.) so that it’s easy to just stop in for a few minutes of breathing time. It’s okay if your haven provides you with a sense of adventure once you’re there (I love exploring uncultivated wooded areas, for example), but it shouldn’t take an adventure to get you there. If it’s a hassle, you won’t go. Guaranteed.
You also want it to be a place you can get to in a hurry if you need some emergency solitude. If you live in Chicago, you can’t make Yellowstone your haven because you can’t get there quickly.
Feeds your Soul
For me, a good haven is where I can see or interact with animals. I love parks that have ponds or rivers frequented by ducks and geese, or barns full of horses. I also find that getting away from other people recharges my little introvert heart.
But if you’re an extrovert, you might need a little more society to recharge your batteries. Or maybe you don’t like animals, but you love books. Your haven might be a library or a bookstore. Maybe you enjoy driving, or music, or art. Whatever it is that nourishes your soul, make sure your haven has it.
Natural (Optional. Sort of.)
Like I said earlier, everyone is different and what works for me might not work for you. But while I have “natural” listed as an optional qualification for good havens, I strongly believe that it’s important not to overlook this even if you’re not normally one to venture outdoors in your spare time. There is a reason that so many rehabilitation programs are wilderness based. Scads of research and experience has shown that immersing ourselves in nature can be critical for building self-efficacy, rewarding positive behavior, and helping injured souls find healing.
I also don’t think it’s any coincidence that the scriptures are full of stories of people going to natural places to meet God. Whether it’s Moses on Mt. Sinai, Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, Enos hunting in the woods, or Joseph Smith in the grove of trees, these men all seemed to know that God often uses quiet, secluded places in nature as the backdrop for life-changing spiritual experiences.
As I sat in my haven the other day and ruminated on my worries, I happened to look over and notice that there was a wood duck sitting no more than 10 feet from me. This may not seem like a big deal, but wood ducks are one of my favorite birds. I had only seen one once before, and it was way on the other side of a pond where I couldn’t see it clearly. To have one this close—and a drake in full breeding plumage, no less!—made my heart stop, and I could not believe my good fortune. A little voice gently told me that it was a tender mercy, sent from a loving Heavenly Father to let me know that He is aware of me and wants me to be happy. Anyone else might have just seen a duck, but I saw a symbol of God’s love. Being in nature allowed me to feel close to Him when I needed it most.
As you look for a haven in your life, here are some last little tidbits that I hope will help you find the perfect spot for you:
- Be Flexible – If you live in New York City, for example, it might be hard to find a mountain to climb if that’s your thing. But Central Park is a lovely refuge in the middle of the city. If you need some natural space but also need more solitude than a popular park provides, find a spot that’s a little more hidden and take some music and a pair of headphones to help drive out the noise of other people.
- Explore – You might read to this point and think, “But Jess, I don’t know anywhere that can be a haven for me!” To that I say, “Then you need an adventure, my friend.” Looking for a haven can be the perfect opportunity to get to know your community better. Pull out a map and pay attention to where the parks are. Go for a walk or a drive and see what you can find. Heck, even just walking or driving can be a haven, so you don’t even need one specific place.
- Worship – Many religions have places of worship that can provide a perfect haven for you. Chapels, sanctuaries, shrines, temples, etc., can all provide you with solitude and peace. Even if you can’t leave your home, you can carve out a space and time for quiet reflection and meditation.
I’d love to hear about your haven! Share your favorite places in the comments below.
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 Okay, so this one wasn’t away from work, exactly. But it was still where I’d go to get away for a little alone time, so I’m counting it.
 Yeah, I didn’t know that was a thing, either.