Shelter for the
by Victoria Moran
A Loving Foundation
A house can reveal the extent of your assets, but a home reveals the expanse of your heart. Surely some dwellings are grander than others and some neighborhoods more desirable, but a home is judged by different standards than a house is. A house or apartment gets points for being spacious and well groomed, a home for being relaxed and well loved.
Under ideal circumstances, everybody would have a home like this. We would all realize that as unique representations of life itself, we have no choice but to express this identity in creative work, exuberant play, satisfying relationships, and inviting homes. But because most of us are not convinced that we are quite this splendid, we look around to see how other people construct their homes and their
lives--assuming that they know what they're doing, even if we don't. It's like a schoolchild copying from someone else's test paper: She sacrifices her integrity and may get the wrong answer anyhow.
In reality, we all have within ourselves a blueprint for just the home that will shelter our spirit. This blueprint doesn't deal in design and dimensions; it is the plan for home as a spiritual construct, or that homey sense of safety and belonging that can come with us from house to house and from one phase of life to the next.
Home by this definition needn't be confined to a specific building or set of circumstances. It is less a location than an intention. This is an important concept to grasp: When one or two or several human beings inhabit a place, it takes on an added dimension. It is still a brick house or a two-bedroom condo, but it is also someone's home. On the physical level, when a building is left to its own devices the natural principle of entropy, gradual decay, takes over. When people live there, this can be reversed; the structure can be preserved, altered, improved upon. In a more subtle way, people put energy into a place, an energy that can be felt and identified. When this energy is warm and welcoming, you can't help but want to pull up a chair and stay a while, whether you're sitting in your own living room or visiting someone else's.
The desire for this kind of environment is pervasive. Manufacturers of furniture and household fixtures count on it to sell their products, and decorating magazines depend on it to sell subscriptions. When we move from one place to another, we expect to find this ambience in the new residence, or bring it with us.
In addition, most of us have some mental image of the "perfect" home and its inhabitants. When this ideal is truly our own, a faithful replica of our inner blueprint, it gives us something to strive for in creating and maintaining homes that both serve and express us best. In many cases however, too much of our model comes from outside ourselves, from society and media, and we end up with a prepackaged image, a sort of clip art archetype that most real-life homes have no chance of matching. My adopted image of home and family was the generic model, including two parents, two kids, a white picket fence, and a Border collie in the weed-free front yard. It's picturesque, but I don't live there. To favor the fantasy over my actual home was to sell short
both my home and the life I live in it.
The happiness of home is not reserved for only one kind of person, one type of family, or one time of life, as the vignettes at the end of this chapter attest. The people in these households live different lifestyles and see the world in different ways, but they all understand that home is not the sole province of architects and other professionals; it is, rather, a design of nature. Even wild animals construct homes for themselves. Making a home isn't a matter of passing muster and following someone else's rules. It is declaring who we are in the place that is ours to do it.
What is the ideal home in your imagination? Do you live in a home like that? Does anybody? If something in your actual home seems missing, what is
it--a partner, a child, a house instead of an apartment, a big house instead of a small one? There's nothing wrong with wanting any of these, but between desire and fulfillment there may be days or years of living. If you believe that having a "real home" depends on someone or something you don't have, you deny yourself much of the joy available to you in the home you have today. Wherever it is and whoever, if anyone, shares it with you, you do have a real home, and the option of making it even more fulfilling.
I struggled a lot with the "real home" concept after my husband died when our daughter was four. The word "family" didn't seem to apply to just Rachael and me, even when I factored in the three cats. But in the Chinese language the word
jia is used to mean both home and family: Every home is a family, and every family is a
home--including those comprised of a single parent, single kid, and feline foundlings. I liked that notion better than feeling domestically disadvantaged.
Now my daughter is fourteen and we have
a dog as well as cats. Our home is quite real and our
family, although not traditional, is vital and viable. I
work at home and Rachael does home-schooling. I write
books; she writes music. In the past year, we've hosted
a cat funeral in all seriousness, a dog wedding in all
frivolity, and a memorable weekend with houseguests from
Arkansas, Florida, and China all at once. This sense of
"open house," this availability to friends and
fun and inspiration, is how my home serves my spirit.
This is how I thrive. Your demographics may be different,
but your need to unearth joy from the specifics of life
is the same. The necessity to know ourselves, express
our selves, have a base from which to go forth into the
world, feel loved, and give love is shared.
Love is an amazing commodity; it spreads
to fill the space available. Home can be a splendid site
for the healing activity of love, but it is also the
place where love can be generated for dispersion
elsewhere. It starts with loving ourselves through attending
to our needs, treating ourselves to some blissful
indulgence every now and then, and acknowledging our
divine essence every day. Love's healing activity
spreads outward as we care for the place we live and for
the plants, animals, and very special people who inhabit
it with us. It can expand to encompass our neighborhood,
community, and world, and at the same time help us stay
focused on what is genuinely important.
So much of life deals with the externals
of what we do for a living, what we produce, how we
look, and what we own. Externals even intrude at home:
having emerald green grass or unchipped china can, some
days, seem really necessary. But when you set out to
satisfy your inner self instead of some invisible panel
of judges, you'll find yourself making a home in which
the externals are quite pleasing, even though they're no
longer your primary focus. Their value lies in how they
depict who you are, and in how you feel when you're around
them. When you operate from the assumption that home is
indeed a spiritual entity, mundane activities, from purchasing
a pot holder to hanging a picture, will at times be inexplicably
This concept of home as a special, even
sacred, place is not new--it's in our collective
consciousness already. Many early religions featured
deities who protected dwelling places. Followers of
the European earth religions devised charms and spells
to sanctify and protect their households. Similar rites
exist today: the house-warming and the increasingly
popular "house blessing." In the Jewish
tradition, after the destruction of the Temple in
Jerusalem, regulations that formerly applied only to
that rarefied center of divine presence were extended to
the everyday world; and rabbis encouraged their
followers to make holy places of their homes and godly
statements of their lives. In China, Confucius taught
that home, with its atmosphere of love and respect,
should be the model for the world at large; and the
Chinese mystical tradition of Taoism suggests that the
body, the home, and the planet are similar organisms
reflecting the Way of holiness, the Way of
Holiness and balance don't necessarily
come to mind when life is overflowing with demands and
the sink is overflowing with dishes. But when you can
strike a personal balance in the midst of these, you
catch a glimmer that holiness is here, too. "In the
mud and scum of things," wrote Emerson,
"always, something sings." When your home is
to your soul's liking, you'll find something to sing
about more often.
Figuring out what a soul fancies is not
difficult. Your soul wants what you want--not
necessarily what you're supposed to want or what you've
been told you want, but what touches you at your core.
Maybe it's watching your child sleep, or digging in your
flower beds, or renting classic movies on Saturday
night. Whatever makes you think, "Life doesn't get
any better than this," is food for your soul.
A Soul Symposium
A technique for overcoming the obstacles
that make these experiences less frequent than we'd like
is the soul symposium. Its purpose is to help you
get in touch with your inner self and create a richer,
more contented home. Although there is certainly a time
for family meetings, discussions with your roommate, and
the like, this event is private. To conduct the symposium,
sit down early in the day and lay your concerns on the
table. Mentally put into words or write down any
problems or situations you would take to an expert home
management committee if you had one. The truth is, you
do. It is comprised of your own inner wisdom, intuition,
and good sense, working in peak form because you're
committing this day to paying attention to them. You
have within your self already either the answer you're
looking for or some direction on where to go for
additional guidance. When you do a soul symposium, you temporarily
stop trying to figure out what to do and instead
allow existing solutions to surface.
Whatever is on your mind, bring it
before your invisible committee and resolve to follow
the two rules of soul symposium: (1) Leave your concerns
with the committee. Fretting over them and discussing
them are not allowed today. You're welcome to worry
again tomorrow, but for now put the problem or the
decision you have to make out of your mind. Let the
committee handle things. (2) Expect useful insights and
commit to noticing them when they nudge you. Your soul committee
is not a strong-arm gang--its suggestions will come quietly
and delicately. Promise yourself that for this one day, featherweight
cues will be sufficient.
After doing this exercise one morning
last year, I went to breakfast at my favorite bookstore
coffee shop. One of the concerns I'd put on my soul's
conference table was that our family dinners had become
increasingly catch-as-catch-can, because of my
daughter's early evening music and drama classes.
Although I wasn't thinking about dinner as I ate my
blueberry bagel, I did feel the urge to stop in the
cookbook section on the way out of the store. Ordinarily,
my logic would have jumped in with, "Cookbooks! Are
you crazy? You don't have enough time to cook as it
is--the last thing you need is another cookbook."
But because I'd given my critical faculty the day off
and was open instead to inklings from my soul committee,
I went to that department and found a book called The
Fifteen-Minute Vegetarian Gourmet. I bought it and
that evening made a three-course supper of stuffed
shells, French bread with pesto, and a maple-orange
ambrosia--all in the promised fifteen minutes. Making a presentable
meal in no time one night convinced me that I could do
it other nights, and I have.
Finding that cookbook was a small thing.
If you're struggling with some serious predicament, my
example may seem trivial. Nevertheless, it is
illustrative of how a soul symposium works. Whether you're
dealing with a crisis or simply needing to choose
between a good option and a better one, put the concern
on the table and listen for your committee's
recommendation. It is amazing how dependably the right
people, information, and ideas present themselves when
you allow your committee--your own wisdom, intuition,
and common sense--to work unhindered.
Certainly a soul symposium can focus on
some aspect of your life other than home, and you can
hold an informal one on short notice any time you need
it. Just remember that those things that get attention
flourish. If you want your home to make you happy, make
it the topic of a symposium every once in a while--and
show it respect, admiration, and gratitude the rest of
This is your home, whether you
own it, rent it, or were born into it. Home is where you
go to refuel--physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
You no more need to own a house for this personal refueling
than you need to own the service station to get gas.
When your soul claims an address as its own, it doesn't
matter if you stay there six months or the rest of your
life. While you occupy the space, it is undeniably
Sometimes it is difficult to feel really
at home is a place you don't think you'll stay at long.
People keep cherished objects stashed way until they buy a house, or buy the next house, the better one. But
this is your home today, even if it isn't where you plan
to be ten years from now. For some, the obvious
impermanence of renting may be disconcerting, but in
reality, everything is impermanent. According to
Buddhist teachings, we can only know peace after we
understand that impermanence is the very nature of life
on earth. When we accept that nothing lasts forever, we don't
have to frantically hold on, fighting change like Don
Quixote battled windmills.
No one has absolute security in a house
or in a life. Lease-free renters are said to live month
to month, yet we all live just moment to moment by a
genuinely amazing Grace that deals in hope, promise, and
synchronicity. We need a place to consciously connect
with this Grace as surely as a carpenter needs a shop or
an artist needs a studio. We can worship in a church or
temple or mosque. We can go away on retreat. We can tour
the world's sacred sites. But the lion's share of our
personal and spiritual growth takes place at home. It
happens in the midst of the telephone ringing and the
teakettle whistling and a student selling magazine
subscriptions who is knocking on the door. It happens
both in spite of the distractions and because of them.
Away on retreat, it's easy to be lofty. Hanging on to
your halo some Monday morning when the car won't start
is another matter.
Someone asked noted psychic Edgar Cayce,
"Am I growing spiritually?" Cayce's reply was.
"Ask your family." Home offers unparalleled
opportunities for growth. It is amazing how seldom our
polished public persona even makes it through the front
door. At home, degrees and titles and vitae don't mean a
thing. Home deals with basics: whipping up something to
eat, finding your keys, turning from what you're doing
to listen to someone who needs to talk. These basics boil
down to three realities of home that, once assimilated,
make its sheltering of your spirit a matter of course.
Home reality #1: There are always things
to do. My grandmother used to say, "A man must work
from sun to sun, but a woman's work is never done."
What used to be woman's work is still never done. It's
just that now everybody is supposed to do it.
Home reality #2: Somebody always needs
something. When I got up this morning, the dog needed to
be let out, the cats needed to be fed, my daughter
needed a ride to her art class, and my neighbor needed a
jump-start. That's how it is at home. If I were staying
at a hotel, I wouldn't have to do anything except open
the door for room service.
Home reality #3: Home is life in its
most fundamental distillation. Seemingly humdrum
occupations like making your bed in the morning and
checking the doors at night link you with the passage of
time and the rhythms of humanity. The rituals that
surround waking and sleeping, as well as those related
to eating, washing, worship, and family life, bear striking
similarities wherever on earth your find them. These homespun
habits are as human as having an opposing thumb. Although
they are routinely disregarded, they deserve to be
We live in a place and time when it
takes courage and determination to give home priority
status, or even realize that it might be a good idea to
do so. Most of us are gone a lot, and when we do come
home, we're often tired--weary from a variety of
activities and torn by conflicting commitments. Sometimes we actually seek
these activities out because they don't ask as much of us as the demands at home.
Besides, achievement in the outer world is often
accompanied by a level of fanfare that domestic
accomplishments seldom receive.
Even so, there are pioneers among us who
are engaged in a sort of homesteading of the heart.
These are young people who are redefining home for themselves
after experiencing familial environment that was
frightening or belittling. They include moms and dads
who sacrifice the extras so one parent can be available
for the kids, and divorced couples who make creative
custody agreements that give their children not only the
love of two parents, but the security of one primary
home. They are adults in midlife who find the strength, patience,
and resources to care for aged parents at home, where
elders can make a contribution and remain an important part
of the family. These pioneers include all the people who
are making day-to-day, domestic choices based on loving
Although the call for a simpler, more
heart-centered and home-centered way of living is coming
from both religious and secular pulpits, it is the
people who are transforming their own lives, in their
own homes, in their own ways, who are quietly and unobtrusively
changing the mores of our culture. Their diversity
confirms that there is no single way of relating to home
and family that is right, making all other ways wrong. A
home is a signature, distinct and recognizable, Out of
available circumstances, and often in spite of them, a
warm, welcoming home can grow. The love put into it may
be the greatest accomplishment of a lifetime. Those who
believe there is nothing beyond this life say that the
love we give here is all we really leave behind. Those
who believe we go from this world to another say that
this love is all we take. Either way, it forms the
foundation of a home, as solid as stone and as deep as memory.
Excerpted from Shelter for the
Spirit by Victoria Moran, Harper Collins, 1998. All Rights Reserved.
Victoria Moran is the author of the new book, Fit from Within: 101 Simple Secrets to Change Your Body and Your Life--Starting Today and Lasting Forever,
from which this essay is an excerpt, and other books
including Lit From Within, Creating a Charmed
Life, Shelter for
the Spirit, and Love Yourself Thin. She is a
national speaker, has appeared on Oprah! twice, and has
written articles for magazines including Ladies' Home
Journal, Woman's Day, Yoga Journal, Vegetarian Times,
and New Age Journal. For more information, please visit
her website, www.victoriamoran.com.
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