I have got up and just outside our bathroom window I can see and smell an old crimson climbing rose with rain drops on its leaves. A fragrant Jasminium is starting to climb into the rose.
A House with four Rooms
“There is an Indian proverb or axiom that says that everyone is a house with four rooms, a physical, a mental, an emotional and a spiritual. Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time but, unless we go into every room every day even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person”. Rumer Godden, author of A House with four Rooms.
The Mental Room If we follow this axiom we’ll do better at whatever we do. As a writer, I spend much time in my head, the mental room, thinking about what I am writing and sometimes several other things as well. Like so many people I find the news distressing, for instance the toxic behaviour of many politicians, the mass slaughter of men, women, children and babies in Syria and the denial of human rights. Yet I can’t close my eyes and ears. I need to know and research in order to write. I write to make sense of things and suggest to others what they can do to change things for the better. But to be able to do this, and for my own wellbeing, I need to dwell in or at least visit all the other rooms each day.
The Spiritual Room Lying in bed early in the morning at this time of the year I hear the birds singing. When I got up I this morning I opened the bathroom window and saw the red climbing rose with raindrops on it and fragrant Jasminium climbing into it. That raised my spirits. For me, the garden is a spiritual place with all its different fragrances of earth, different leaves, herbs and blossoms. I grow vegetables and fruit amongst the flowers, old roses and shrubs and a vine under our windows at the back of the house. We have fragrant shrubs like Philadelphus, known as mock orange. Cutting our own salad, sowing seeds planting, getting my hands into the earth, putting waste into the compost heap is simple healing work.
Eating outside on a warm evening in the midst of it all is healing. Yet I get caught in my mind when I see the multitude of jobs requiring attention – then I feel pressured and tired. I often find myself trying to do several tasks at once and in a hurry. I notice I am carrying several things upstairs to my study, all but one of which need to go somewhere else downstairs! When I am full of angst there is wisdom to hand. Like “just one thing at a time”. And I remember the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh
Life is not about getting to a certain place. Life is a path. Walking meditation is a way to practice walking without a goal or intention. Everything we are looking for is right here in the present moment. Thich Nhat Hanh.
Then, next morning, after sleeping well and having a good dream that I cannot remember, I find I am in the zone and I can write.
The Emotional or Heart Room Yesterday, what did me the most good, and gave me a good night’s sleep was visiting my little 22 month old grandson and his mum and dad. He gave me such a smiling welcome. He is just so funny, lively, happy when not teething, constantly learning, strengthening his body, discovering, sometimes falling over, pushing the boundaries, feeling frustrated if not allowed, all his emotions so spontaneous, and quickly recovering by crying and getting a cuddle. What a lesson to us more complicated adults. I have learnt that sometimes I too need a cry and a cuddle. This is where the four rooms get mixed up: being kind and compassionate is heart stuff but it is key for a leader, especially one who believes in servant leadership.
Humans are community animals. Not all but most. We are uniquely co-operative animals. That is the basis of civilisation. After four hours in my study I feel lonely. I go off into the town to shop or go to my favourite café to read. I have my head up, eyes looking forward and my lungs open, as I have been taught by my Alexander trainer . I catch myself if I am stooped. I do not have an I-Phone in my hand. Again one thing at a time: when I am walking I am walking. Invariably I get a lot of smiles and “hello” mostly from people I don’t know. In my older age I have grown cheekier, friendlier, kinder, more interested in people who disagree with me and bolder and I laugh a lot more. I’d have been a much better independent management consultant if I had been like that years ago. And not only have I made more friends, I sell a lot of books in the town too. I chat with all kinds of people in a friendly interested way; I am interested. My favourite café is Sicilian and the staff multinational. I feel as if I am in Continental Europe.
The Physical or Body Room I try to get exercise every day I can: walking, especially to the woods, going to the fitness room, doing the RCAF Exercise programme which I have done since I was thirty, or gardening. I do not use machines of any sort and I have always had a human driven Husqvarna lawn mower. The trouble with gardening is stooping – instead kneel on a mat – and digging are not good for the back. I walk at least once a day into the town, rarely using the car. I see stairs or escalators as opportunities for exercise unless I am very tired. Every Monday evening I go to a yoga class. From Yoga I have learned a simple meditation that gets me back to sleep if I wake up in the middle of the night and panic. Once a month I get a massage and go to a chiropractor. Like gardening, yoga, and walking to the woods are spiritual as well as physical.
I reflect that if everyone were offered the advantages of learning to live in these four rooms, there would be far fewer people suffering and requiring treatment for chronic illnesses physical or emotional. It would save an enormous amount of human suffering and cost to the National Health Service.