Make Room for Nothing

My teenage daughter screeches into my bedroom on two wheels while I’m changing.

“Do you mind?” I say.

“No, actually,” she says, then heads straight to my make-up drawer to help herself.

“Isn’t any place sacred in this house?” I ask, echoing a line my dad used to say whenever we’d barge in on him.

“Nope,” she says, and exits with my ten-dollar mascara.

Ahh, for that little sacred spot at home. That private corner where you can escape, rejuvenate, and focus on your inner life, which in my case has been shrink-wrapped and set on a shelf till I can get to it. But inner lives need rooms, too.

“Having a place at home where you can spend some time out of your mind is essential,” said one sacred space expert.

“Check that box. I’m out of my mind all the time.”

“You need a place you can connect to your higher self.”

“Done! We have a stocked bar.”

“A place you can get centered.”

“Seriously, who has time to sit in the child’s pose, while burning a gardenia-scented candle and writing reflective thoughts in a sea-grass journal?”

“You must make finding time for nothing a priority.”

“I’ll get on that.”

Of course, souls matter, so we should probably feed them. How is a personal choice. Some people set out Tibetan singing bowls or meditation tingas. Others focus on their seven chakras, or set up shrines with Buddha figures, or altars with Lady of Fatima statues. Some pray, meditate or practice yoga. (If my family saw me flowing from downward dog to nuclear pigeon, they’d have me committed.) Reading regenerates me. And though I have the perfect sacred place for it, a reading loft, I don’t use it. When I designed it, I envisioned a place where my kids wouldn’t ask me to untangle their Slinky, where my emails and work piles wouldn’t tug at me like a leash, where I could get lost in lofty thoughts about who would be the next Mother Theresa, and, yes, read. I lined two walls of the 8 x 10 loft with bookcases, and filled them with books acquired like friends over a lifetime. I planned to curl up there regularly in a soft chair, with good light, a dog on my lap, a cup of tea, and a Russian novel.

Four years after I set the room up, I actually tried that. I found a slice of time in between making lunches, meeting deadlines, driving kids from soccer to gymnastics, getting groceries, exfoliating, paying bills, combating cellulite, pumping gas, and taking the dogs to the groomers, and just seized it. Just as I got rolling on Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and was up to page 7, I heard my daughter calling.

“Mo-om.”

I stayed silent.

Mooo-ooom!” She raised the knell 10 decibels. I thought maybe I should answer.

“She’s not here!” I called back.

“Where are you?”

“Out of the country.”

Next, she was in the sacred space. “What are you doing here? You’re never in here.”

“I’m changing that.”

“Don’t you have anything to do?”

“I’m doing it.”

“You’re still making dinner, right?”

“I’m making time for my inner life.”

“I was hoping you’d make tacos.”

So much for sacred.

To help me better nurture my inner life, I called Riv Lynch, owner of Sacred Spaces, an organizing company in Highland Park, Illinois, who offered these practical insights. “Because we’re overly scheduled, and outwardly focused on jobs and others, we need to carve out a place where we can look inward, rejuvenate, and find some solitude, or we’ll go nuts.” Lynch also has kids ages 11, 9 and 6, so knows. “Sacred spaces don’t have to be holy,” she adds. Here are some ideas for creating one at your place.

  • Know their roots. Sacred spaces in homes aren’t a new idea. They were found in rural medieval European homes where people lived too far from communal churches to attend them. Centuries ago, Mexicans also began making altars in their homes for worship.
  • Define your purpose. That sounds heavy, but it just means figure out how you want to chill. Through yoga, meditation, prayer, reading, navel gazing or journal writing. Then make sure the space accommodates that purpose. For instance, if you want to practice yoga, be sure you can kneel on all fours and jut your leg out without breaking a window.
  • Find your spot. Consider creating a sequestered place in your garden, an altar in your entry, a devotional corner in your bedroom. Wherever it is, the space should feel serene. You should not see your bill pile, your unwashed dishes, your dirty laundry, or other worldly distractions. Consider sectioning it off with a screen.
  • Make it minimal. Include only items that support your activity. Bring in mats or pillows for meditation or yoga, and candles and religious icons for worship. Bring in any object that inspires you, such as a shell from a beach where you made a promise. If your space is for reading, have a comfortable chair, good light and a side table. If you’ll be journaling, have a small writing desk. If you want to listen to music or nature sounds, add a CD player.
  • Exclude the outside world. Ban phones, televisions, computers and anything work related. Now find the time to get there.

Marni Jameson is the author of six home and lifestyle books, including Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go and Downsizing the Blended Home – When Two Households Become One, and coming in June What to Do With Everything You Own to Leave the Legacy You Want. You may reach her at www.marnijameson.com.

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