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Sanctuary: The discovery of wonder - Book Review

Sanctuary: The discovery of wonder

Leibrich, J. (2015) Dunedin: Otago University Press.

 “I felt as if I did not belong to myself any longer: I had locked myself out of myself.” So began Julie Leibrich’s pilgrimage within, to find and cultivate a safe, sacred inner space, and to recover after an overwhelming experience of depression. Finding a way to reconnect with herself and nurture her wellbeing is understood through the idea of sanctuary:

“I call it the space within my heart. It’s the place where I meet myself. It’s where I belong. It is where I find a sense of deeper connection – with myself, and with something beyond myself – a spirit greater than myself.”

Sanctuary: The discovery of wonder is an exploration of this spiritual relationship with herself and the world, and how it has supported her to live well. It is part conceptual framework, part spiritual memoir, part poetic contemplation and part self-help guidebook.

Though the book is deeply, generously personal, it’s not at all self-absorbed – the specificity and depth of Leibrich’s individual story illustrate ideas that have broad relevance. In sharing her own path, the author illuminates the way for others travelling similar routes.

The book shares multiple ways in to thinking about sanctuary: through poetry, personal stories, structured lists, photographs, journal entries, etymology, metaphor, theory and theology. It dances between styles, like a brain following tangents and making connections around a central idea. Based on personal history and experiences, the book is a profoundly individual reflection on sanctuary, but not exclusively so – it’s woven through with reflections from friends and other writers about how the ideas relate to their own lives. And while Leibrich's own spiritual path has connected with Judaism and a Trappist monastery which has provided physical sanctuary, the book’s lessons are not specific to a religion or spiritual path.

I read the book in an eager rush over a long weekend, but it’s structured so that it can be read slowly and quietly, with time between short chapters for contemplation. Since hurrying through the book a second time, I’ve found myself dipping back into specific sections to revisit ideas or concepts.

The book’s structure offers a poetic and practical framework for creating, protecting and enjoying sanctuary. The introduction explores ideas of sanctuary, and shares some of how Liebrich came to realise the need to have access to quiet inner space.

“Illuminating sanctuary” offers clues for connecting with experiences of sanctuary, through finding places to belong, people to love, time for oneself, and connection with mind, body and spirit. “Protecting sanctuary” shares tools for nurturing the sense of sanctuary, through cultivating space, solitude, silence, simplicity, slowness and stillness. The fourth section names some of the treasures that might be found within: mystery, meaning and miracles. Finally, an appendix compiles definitions and experiences of sanctuary shared by Leibrich’s friends.

Sanctuary: The discovery of wonder is generous, beautiful and rich with wisdom. Personally, it left me with a deep craving for quiet (translated the next day into a booking for a silent meditation retreat!) and a strong sense of the value of prioritising my relationship with myself.

Reviewed by Moira Clunie, previous MHF employee.

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Taha Whānau

Family and social wellbeing 

Recharge with others / Whiria te muka tangata

Today’s whakataukī: Ehara taku toa i te toa taki tahi, engari he toa taki tini. My strength is not that of one but that of many.


What is taha whānau?

Taha whānau is the people we care about, who recharge us and make us feel we belong. Whānau isn’t just our immediate relatives. It includes our friends, hoamahi/colleagues, iwi or community – the people who are close to our hearts.

Why is taha whānau an important way to wellbeing?

Spending time with whānau, doing things for them and getting involved gives you a feeling of purpose, connection and wellbeing. It benefits you and builds the strength of your whole whānau. As a core source of strength, support, security and identity, whānau plays a central role in your wellbeing.

Reimagining wellbeing through taha whānau

Schools and kura
  • Ask tauira/students to sit with someone they don’t usually hang out with for the duration of the class.
  • Think of five people you're grateful to be connected to and why. This can be your biological whānau, the whānau you live with, caregivers or whāngai/foster whānau, circle of friends, school or wider community, or even your fur whānau!
  • Run the Fruit Salad icebreaker game, which encourages diversity, with tauira. 
  • Share your favourite recipes to make a cookbook with your hoamahi/colleagues!
  • Ask staff to talk about someone they feel a connection to outside of work. Draw a tree and add photos of everyone’s connections to it. Share it online with #MHAWConnectionTree
  • Hold a DIY sandwich competition kanohi ki te kanohi/face to face (or over Zoom).
Whānau, community and individuals
  • Reconnect with whānau you haven’t talked to in awhile via text or by kanohi ki te kanohi/face to face.
  • Offer your time to help whānau in need of tautoko/support. It could be looking after their tamariki or taking their rubbish bins out.

whanau 1

Photo Credit: Toni Touche


Taha Wairua

Spiritual Wellbeing 

Rediscover everyday wonder / Whāia ngā mīharotanga o ia rā

Today’s whakataukī: He oranga ngākau, he hikinga wairua. When it touches your heart, it lifts your spirit.


What is taha wairua?

Wairua is about taking notice and appreciating the beauty around us. It’s about rediscovering things that make you feel awe, hope, strength, unity and connection. Wairua is your relationship with the environment, people and your heritage. For some, wairua is faith or a higher power. There’s no wrong way to think of or experience wairua.

Why is taha wairua an important way to wellbeing?

Feeling comfortable in your identity, values and beliefs helps you feel secure in who you are and what you stand for. When you are content with yourself it is easier to cope with challenges, build strong whānau relationships and discover the things that uplift you.

Reimagining wellbeing through taha wairua

Schools and kura
  • Start your day with mindfulness – check out these Māori mindfulness or videos on YouTube.
  • Make and share a playlist of songs that make you feel good. 
  • Identify someone or something that has helped you through the last six months and find a way to express appreciation.
  • Ask your team to share a song that makes them feel good to create a playlist that uplifts and inspires! Share a link so you can listen through headphones.
Whānau, communities and individuals
  • Go for a walk in nature and take notice of your surroundings – the birds singing, leaves rustling and clouds moving.
  • Sing a waiata/song that makes you feel good.
  • Set some goals and think about the things you are proud of, challenges you’ve overcome, people who are important to you and what you hope to achieve in the future.

wairua 2

Photo Credit: Chaney Manuel 


Connection to the land and roots 

Return to nature / Hono ki te taiao

Today’s whakataukī: Ko te whenua ko au, ko au ko te whenua. I am the land and the land is me.

What is whenua?

Whenua is our connection to the land. It’s soil, plants, animals and people – tangata whenua. It’s the earth through which you are connected to your tūpuna/ancestors. Whenua is a place of belonging and it’s comforting that it is never too far away.

Why is whenua an important way to wellbeing?

Everything in the Māori world has a life force, the mauri, and when our natural resources are not looked after, this life force is weakened. This has a direct impact on mental health and wellbeing.

Reimagining wellbeing through the whenua:

School and kura
  • Start the class with a karakia acknowledging the whenua. Here’s an example:

Korihi te manu - The bird sings 

Tākiri mai i te ata - The morning has dawned 

Ka ao, ka ao, ka awatea - The day has broken

Tihei mauri ora -  Behold there is life

  • Ask tauira/students to take care of the whenua by picking up rubbish each day.
  • Spend time in your own backyard with your tamariki, and remind them that the whenua is where our kai comes from! Find activity ideas here.
  • Ask your team to bring in a photo of a place they are connected to that gives them strength. Put the pictures up on a wall or create an online space where you share the photos.
  • Go outside and see how many native plants you notice! Can you spot any harakeke/flax, pūriri, tōtara or rengarenga/native lily?
  • Get your team to draw a ‘must see taonga’: a local map of places that make them feel good!
Whānau, communities and individuals
  • Sit in your backyard and watch the world go by. Take your shoes off and feel the grass under your feet.
  • If you’re not from where you live, discover the name of the local iwi/tribe, hapū/sub-tribe, maunga/mountain, awa/river and moana/sea.
  • Cook and share kai you love or you’ve grown in your garden with your whānau.

whenua 5

 Photo Credit: @the.mint.trip



Taha Tinana

Physical Wellbeing

Refuel your body / Whakamarohi i tō tinana

Today’s whakataukī: Mauri tū, Mauri ora. An active soul for your wellbeing.


What is taha tinana?

Taha tinana is about how your body feels and how you care for it. Refueling your body helps you to feel mentally well. Sometimes your tinana might not be where you’d like it to be and this might be beyond your control. What’s important is that you do what you can to nurture it.

Why is taha tinana an important way to wellbeing?

Trying to nourish and strengthen your physical wellbeing will help you to cope with the ups and downs of life. Having strong taha tinana means we can be there for our whānau and take leadership in helping our loved ones live longer, healthier lives too.

Reimagining wellbeing through taha tinana

Schools and kura
  • Be grateful for your tinana. Ask tauira/students to write a letter to your body (e.g. thank you arms for helping me hug!).
  • Adjust your classroom with books, mindful colouring and beanbags so it's a calmer space for tauira. Sensory activities can help to reduce anxiety and stress.  
  • Challenge tauira to set a goal related to their tinana. It could be to do with mindful breathing, swimming, or waka ama – whatever makes them feel their best.
  • As a team, design a wellbeing space that will help people relax. If you work remotely, discuss what this looks like at home, and how you balance work and lifestyle in a confined area.
  • Take five and check-in with yourself to see what your body needs – stretching, mindful breathing or a walk around the block. Challenge your colleagues!
Whānau, communities and individuals
  • Been to the doctor lately? Consider visiting your local GP or hauora for a general check–up.
  • Kai nourishes your body. Why not cook one of your favourite meals this week? You could hold a whānau MasterChef competition!
  • Make a commitment with your whānau to improve your physical wellbeing. E.g. Support one another to quit smoking or drink more water.

 Credit fleuresqueandco

Photo Credit: @fleuresqueandco


Taha Hinengaro

Mental and emotional wellbeing

Refresh your mind / Whāngaia tō hinengaro

Today's whakataukī: Ki te wātea te hinengaro, me te kaha rere o te wairua, ka tāea ngā mea katoa / When the mind is free and the spirit is willing, anything is possible. 

What is taha hinengaro?

Taha hinengaro is your mind, heart, conscience, thoughts and feelings. Just like your physical health, your hinengaro needs to be nurtured. Hinengaro is what you do to stimulate and refresh your mind so you can better cope with the ups and downs of life.

Why is taha hinengaro an important way to wellbeing?

Taking care of taha hinengaro is important for everyone, regardless of whether or not you’ve experienced mental illness or distress. When your taha hinengaro is strong, you can express your feelings and reach out for support from friends, whānau and hoamahi/colleagues if you need to.

Reimagining wellbeing through taha hinengaro

Schools and kura
  • Ask tauira/students to take five to think of five positive thoughts or good things that have happened this week.
  • Create a compliments jar and ask tauira to write compliments or notes of aroha to their classmates. Kaiako/teachers and other staff can do this too! It’s a nice idea to read these aloud at the end of the day or week.
  • If tamariki or tauira are feeling restless or over–energised, head outside for five minutes and encourage them to take deep, slow breaths and listen to the sounds of nature.
  • Reflect on the challenges you overcame as a team and what what strengths you discovered.
  • Map your daily energy levels – when do you feel most energy? Morning or afternoon? 
  • Try something new or rediscover an old interest (e.g. the guitar!).
Whānau, communities and individuals
  • Share your thoughts and feelings with someone you trust. Expressing our emotions can help us to understand them better, and to feel less alone in what we're going through.

  •  Practice gratitude and write down three things you’re grateful for.
  • Read books that talk about feelings and emotions. Buy them online or head to the library!

hinengaro 1

Photo Credit:@britmuminnz