Last month, my husband of twenty years and I separated, and I have been in the process of making the home we shared for most of those years my own ever since he left. I started, symbolically enough, with the bedroom and, with the help of my parents and friends, had new carpet installed, repainted, built new furniture from Ikea, and added new bedding, with plans to add new art for the walls and curtains and other lovely things as I can afford them. It feels good, claiming the space and making it a space that I feel comfortable in, and the process of cleaning, rearranging, repairing, and redecorating my house on a shoestring, piece by piece from the salvage shed and the thrift shop and the generosity of friends, got me to thinking…
Our heart and spirit — our soul, if you will — is also a house. And it is a house that was built by some combination of our genetic inheritance, our parents, our early childhood experiences, and maybe even our past lives. It is the house we come into consciousness with and it is what it is. Just like some houses have a pool or a deck or a basement and other houses don’t, different Soul Houses have different kinds of rooms and different floor plans, depending on how they were built and by whom. Some people might have rooms in their house that are labeled Unworthiness or Jealousy or Anger. One might come into awareness with rooms labeled Insecurity or Resentment, or perhaps an enormous room labeled Self-Doubt. Hopefully, all of us have rooms labeled Love and Gratitude and Compassion. But our Soul House comes to us set up with certain rooms that are pre-determined by our inheritance and our very early experiences, and we get to decide how we want to live in them.
And, as we go through our lives, we furnish those rooms that we are given. And the rooms we focus on…we really spend a lot of time there and fix them up really nice. For example, let’s say I have a tendency toward going to a place of resentment when someone does something that harms me or when things don’t go my way. When I resent someone or something, I am painting the walls of my Resentment room, and I am putting up curtains and rearranging the furniture and making that room SUPER inviting. Hell, sometimes I am even turning down the down comforter and putting chocolates on the pillow. So, naturally, lots of things that belong in the space of Resentment want to come to my house. It is a good place to be if you are Resentment or something that gets along well with Resentment. I have opened the door to that room of my Soul House wide and, naturally, since I have spent so much time making that room comfortable and nice with my attention, it is the room in which I feel comfortable spending a lot of time.
And it’s also the room that when something new shows up in my life, I’m inclined to want to direct it there. So an unexpected expense shows up at the worst possible time? Rather than directing that experience to the room of the Soul House that has Equanimity or Wisdom over the door, which might be seldom used and sparsely furnished, I might direct that right to the lovely room labeled Resentment where I feel comfortable and where everything is familiar. If someone I know has something great happen for them that I had been hoping would happen for me, rather than direct that knowledge to the rooms labeled Joy or Love, I might find myself, again and again, steering that experience to the very lovely Resentment room before settling in for coffee with it in the expansive and smartly decorated Self-Doubt room that takes up half the house. Using a room — spending time in it, fixing it up — makes that room a more and more powerful draw, and makes it more and more likely that the room will be used an even greater percentage of the time in the future.
And I know this to be true from decorating my physical house. I find myself, now, going into my redecorated bedroom for no reason, to read a book or dust or meditate, because I have put time and attention there and made it in to a place where I want to be. And the more time I spend in there, the more little things I want to do to make it even nicer and more comfortable. When a friend calls me, I am more apt to flop on my new bed to talk than to sit at my kitchen table or in the living room or the study. So while the spaces I have cared for and made nice with my attention become more and more used and that reinforces itself in a cyclical way, the spaces that are seldom used stay cluttered and neglected.
And I think that the universe may be in the business of directing experiences and people to our Soul Houses to see where we take them. Where do we linger on our grand tour of the house? What do we want to show off, and what doors we keep locked, not shared with company? And perhaps the universe sends different kinds of experiences and people as it sees that, no, the Resentment room or the Anger room is really not getting much use. So just like you don’t send someone to the home of the town cat lady when they are asthmatically allergic to felines, the universe probably doesn’t send easily resentable moments to the house where the door of Resentment has grown creaky because the hinges are rusting with disuse. It does not send rage-inducing experiences to the soul house where the room of Anger has been gathering dust for some time. It, instead, sends experiences and people who will find a place to feel welcome in that home…where the universe knows they will have a place to be and to feel comfortable.
And so the trick, I think, is to shut the door of the rooms you no longer want to have guests in. And no longer wish to inhabit. And even though your attention has made those the most comfortable, nicest rooms of your Soul House, you have to make it a daily practice to just not go in there…to, instead, find the keys to the doors that have been closed and locked for a long time. So if you no longer wish to have those experiences in your life that make you resentful, you need to find another room to spend your time. When you feel yourself turning toward that familiar and inviting Resentment door with a new experience, say to yourself, “No, I don’t think that’s really the place for you…let’s go over here, to Gratitude.” Or “You’ve seen Resentment so many times before…why not follow me, over here to Compassion — it’s a room I haven’t used so much, so it’s a little dusty, but I think you’ll find that it’s more comfortable here.”
And as you make that a habit, you discover that, while you’re in there finding Gratitude for something you had initially though about directing toward Resentment, you might dust off a bookshelf. And maybe the next time, you notice that the carpet really could use some sprucing up and do something about that. And maybe one weekend you read something really great about gratitude or a friend says something about gratitude that resonates for you in a deep way, and that inspires you to go in, unbidden, and paint that room or maybe rearrange the furniture. Maybe you even get to a place that you are in that room so often that you put fresh flowers in it every day. And the nicer the room becomes, the more you want to be there. And the more you want to direct new experiences and new people there. And slowly, the Resentment room becomes the one that is dusty and out of date, with cracks in the plaster and spiders taking up residence in the corners of the ceiling. And the universe just stops sending things that you might resent your way…because they will have no place to stay.
And, just as new parents turn their home gym into a nursery at some point, or older parents remodel their kids’ bedrooms some time after they move out, or people convert an unused guest room into a home office when they start their own business…maybe eventually some of those rooms become so unused and neglected that, even though they have been part of your Soul House for your whole life, you wind up turning them into something completely new. Because you just don’t need them anymore.
Maybe, too, you get to add on to your House. You may have been born with a pretty small one, with rooms that don’t meet your needs, but maybe as you grow and learn and welcome new experiences, you make your Soul House bigger to accommodate the different rooms that you realize you need so that one day, all that’s left are rooms that make you feel good to be in, that meet your needs, and that reflect the life and the spirit that you have crafted with the tools that you have. And then, you are really home.