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Victoria Moran

Shelter for the Spirit
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.

Shelter for the Spirit by Victoria Moran

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 delightful.

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 balance.

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 the time.

Staking Claim

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 yours.

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 honored.

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 convictions.

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.


Lit From Within by Victoria Moran Love Yourself Thin by Victoria Moran Creating a Charmed Life by Victoria Moran

Body Confident by Victoria Moran Fit from Within by Victoria Moran My Yoga Journal by Victoria Moran

Victoria Moran
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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