All houses have an emotional life.
This precept was first revealed to me as a child, in the same way that I have ever really come to know anything of value. I learned it from a storybook.
Growing up, our local public library had a hardbound copy of Virginia Lee Burton’s The Little House and this particular book was a favorite of mine to be borrowed. I adored this book for so many reasons: the interior illustrations, the sing-song meter of the prose, the story itself. My favorite part of the book was the picture of the tiny red house on the cover. I loved the sense of anticipation that, before I ever opened the book, I just knew that this blissful house had a very rich tale to tell.
The Little House was published in the early 1940s, not too long after EverAfter was built. Burton’s contemporaries were very concerned with World War II and, as it was mentioned in the documentary, Virginia Lee Burton: A Senses of Place, the themes of safety, solace, and comfort were being sought out by many a frightened heart.
In The Little House, the house itself is the protagonist. The Little House began her life in the country in a simpler time. Over the years, the city grew up around her, erasing her pastoral landscape, and engulfing her in chaos and confusion. Through time, she became shabby and forgotten. One day, the great-great-grandaughter of the man who built her, found her, and arranged to have her moved back to the country. There she was restored and was able to see the stars and watch the seasons pass once again.
As I child, I deeply identified with the Little House. I, too, often felt pushed out and drowned beneath the sheer volume of bustle and noise, a result of being a child so sensitive interacting with world so very big and so very loud. Yet, in this little book, what I was most enamored with was the fantastic notion that a house could feel.
In the same Virginia Burton: A Sense of Place documentary, it was expressed that, for Burton, “the sense of place was always critical in the books themselves. Those books where the art gives a sense of place have a tremendous power for the child. You want to be grounded in the world, you want to be somewhere”.
We all want a place of belonging. Still, how you live in that space matters. Author Jane Alexander wrote, “I have craved bigger and better houses—which were also inevitably much more expensive.” Having performed specific exercises to help build relationship with her current house she “realized that I had been projecting a false image of myself out into the world through the houses I desired.” Alexander goes on to later discuss that Clare Cooper Marcus “spoke to all kinds of people about their homes and reports—’Some were wealthy enough to own two houses but never felt at home in neither of them. Others lived in great contentment in a single room or an illegal self-built shack.'” A house is just a place to live until you learn how to be in relationship with it. Once you have done that, only then do you find your longed-for place of belonging.
In the Enneagram model, I am a “#4”, the Bohemian Individualist. As with any human, I have tremendous qualities and yet still possess some that are less than my ideal. I thrive creatively, am self-aware, and value emotional honesty. However, as a “4”, I also “feel [that I am] missing something in [myself], although [I] may have difficulty identifying exactly what that “something” is”. As such, I very much connect with Jane Alexander’s experience of craving the bigger and the better.
I love the architecture of my current home but I have also spent the past nine years that we’ve lived in it struggling to connect with my house. I have rearranged furniture, painted walls nearly every shade imaginable, bought things, donated others, drawn up plans for an addition, thrown those plans out, and then, frustrated, spent more hours than I care to admit on realtor.com.
Similarly, there is a lot that I love about myself and my life but feeling comfortable in my own skin is a challenge I regularly face. It has been a perpetual area of growth for me to find the virtue in exactly where I am at any given moment and to not spend my days day-dreaming of greener pastures–both for my sense of self and for my sense of place. Wanting to reconcile this dissonance for both myself and my home, I sat down one morning to engage with a reflective exercise.
I decided to talk to my house.
As a Spiritual Educator, I have offered many an adult enrichment course on self-awareness and mindfulness. In one particular program, I introduced my participants to a technique that I have used with much success in the past: reflecting on your questions by writing with your non-dominant hand.
Writing with your non-dominant hand can give you surprising answers to the questions you hold. It is really as simple as it sounds. With a question in mind, you just pick up an implement and begin to write with the hand you do not most often use, without judging or censoring the writing that emerges.
My question: “What does my home need to feel whole and complete?”
These are the words that came:
Was the answer to my woe that simple? My house wanted to have a party?!
As an introvert who values the Silent Sanctuary of my home, I was amazed, and slightly perplexed, that this was the answer that I received. I decided to talk with my house further.
I continued my dialogue with my home:
Me: You said something very interesting to me.
Me: Why is that important you?
EverAfter: NO ONE HAS BEEN OVER IN A LONG TIME
Me: But, I see you as a solitary, contemplative place
EverAfter: I AM. HOMES ARE HAPPY AND WARM BUT I MISS PEOPLE
Me: Why did you say “Tears” when I began this automatic writing exercise?
EverAfter: THE WHOLE HOUSE IS SAD RIGHT NOW
Me: And why did you say “Patience”?
EverAfter: YOU ALWAYS WANNA MOVE
(I was stunned into silence. My house was right. I was behaving horribly in my impatience. I inwardly admonished myself for my lack of gratitude.)
EverAfter continued while I was sitting quietly: I’M OLD AND I’M SLOW AND YOU HAVE TO WAIT FOR ME TO CATCH UP
Me: How do you see yourself?
EverAfter: I’M ME
Me: Yes, but what is one word to describe you?
Me: Very funny. But what makes you special?
EverAfter: I’M SMALL AND OLD AND HAPPY
Me: Sweet little house, what can we do for you?
EverAfter: HAPPY WARMTH
Me: What do you need?
EverAfter: FIRE AND COOKING AND CHATTING AND FUN
Me: You are reminding me of what we call you.
Me: Yes, we do call you EverAfter. Do you know why?
Me: Yes, happy.
I started to think back to the day I met my house.
In the same film on Virgina Burton’s life, Publisher Andrea Pinkney said, “All of us are seeking a sense of comfort and safety and what endures is that feeling of coming back to something you know, something that feels right to you, something that you’ve seen before that is a friend.”
This is what it felt like seeing EverAfter for the first time: something that I knew, that felt right.
It was like seeing an old friend after a very, very long time. EverAfter was the house from Burton’s storybook, only now this was my story.
When I sat down to connect with my home in that automatic writing session, I had been working nearly 60 hours a week on average. I was lonely, burnt out, and disconnected. Since our homes are reflections of our inner states, the state of my soul was directly proportional to the state of my home. My house was sad. I was sad. By engaging with the hunger of my home, I ultimately found the hunger of my heart.
Virginia Burton’s continued theme in her work was one of “an initial displacement and finding a new place in a world that is changing. The sense of place varies book to book. She is grounded in a particular locale–but then you have to find the story. [Virginia Burton: A Sense of Place]”. While it is true that I may have eventually become conscious of my own sense of displacement, it didn’t happen until I took a moment to contemplatively engage with my home. Only then did I discover my true story.
Houses have emotional lives whether or not we live in them. We have emotional lives whether or not we choose to address them contemplatively. Like us, houses have emotional lives because of who they are inherently, beings created by another with devoted intention. After talking with her own home via her own intuition, again Jane Alexander writes, “Clare Cooper Marcus has been persuading people to talk to their houses for ages–with incredible results. …I decided I had nothing to lose by talking…to the house and I tried to reassure it that…we would undertake to put right the house’s wrongs.” [pg 7, Spirit of the Home]. In order to have the best possible relationship with your home, and ultimately yourself, you must first find the story.
My husband and I are on a three year plan to heal our home. We have individually and collectively been on a spiritual journey and taking the next steps to bring that intention to our space feels like an organic continuation of the hard work we have done.
I invite you to consider joining us. Take time to connect to your home. Take time to uncover its story. Your story. Take time to find out how it really feels. When you do so, you may also discover how you truly feel.
Our responsibility as space-dwellers is to find a symbiotic relationship with our homes. It is our task to meet our dwelling spaces with the objective of honoring, and preserving, the physical and emotional well-being of our homes. Our own lives deserve the same. When we seek a harmonious relationship with our houses, we experience a greater chance of healing for both the space and ourselves.
“But you will need to allow your home some time, effort, and serious thought-along with a fair amount of elbow grease.”, Jean writes. This is really no different a suggestion than attempting to live an examined life. Obliviously drifting through life is easy. ‘Mining for Mindfulness’ takes a lot more participation on our part. But the results are so worth the effort.
“Your vision will be clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams, but who looks inside, awakens.”-Carl Jung
Jane Alexander has kept her promise and her own home was totally transformed in just three years. In her book, she notes that her house has an entirely different atmosphere from when she was first was introduced to its crumbling facade and cranktankerous demeanor.
Do remember that every house has its own personality. You may find that your house is exuberant and joyful or you may find that your house feels wounded and sad. Taking the time to engage with your space is the necessary first step in forming a harmonious relationship with it. But it won’t happen over night.
And yes, there may certainly come a time when your home and you decide to part ways because you both recognize that you no longer fit together. Still, while you are here in your space, consider how you can recognize the impact that your home and you have on each other. Taking time to notice this may be just the thing that turns both of your lives into ones of richer and deeper meaning.
Virginia Burton believed that everyone had the Godly force within them. I agree. And I believe the same can be said for our dwelling spaces.
May you come to find the divine spark in you both.
In the meantime, I have a party to plan.