Photo: The Aloo Baba Temple, Pushkar, India.
I truly believe that spaces have energy that is created by what happens in those spaces. I will admit that I get super weird feeling in cemeteries and mausoleums; you may think that’s nuts. I’m not going to waste time talking about negative spaces, it’s not Halloween. Today, I want to share positive experiences in the hopes that you will take whatever space you have and create positivity there.
I was thinking about it because in 2020, a lot of us spent A LOT of time in our homes, and that space is really important. For those that were working the frontlines, that space was their relief from that work; their refuge, which also makes it super important. My job provides my apartment, so it is really nice, but it is also a bit cold aesthetically. The space is larger than I need, and the furniture is very formal, not to my taste, and not terribly comfortable, although it is all very nice. However, my friend and neighbor came in it recently for the first time since March and commented how much she loved my home because of how cozy it was. (The footprints of our apartments are identical.) I don’t have a lot of stuff, but I have photos hung, little treasures purchased from my travels displayed, and Indian and African cloths adorning walls and tables. I have created a dedicated yoga and workout space as well as a lovely little meditation spot. The walls are a drab off-white, but each bedroom has a theme color, and mine is purple with aqua accents, so I am immediately happy when I am in there. Nothing I own is very expensive. Much of it was second hand or from an artisan.
Your space matters. It does not matter how big, grand, expensive, or stuff-filled it is. What matters is the energy you put into it. I would like to think my friend felt the energy from my new daily meditation practice, the many hours of Zoom yoga I have lead from here, the photos of the people dear to me on the walls, and the memories of places dear to my heart all around, which lead her to call my home “cozy,” despite the fact that it is not really that in architecture or design. I know nothing about feng shui, except that it has to do with the arrangement of the room. I am referring less to that, not to say that it is not important, and more to the energy that gets infused into a space by what happens in in. “If these walls could talk,” if you will. It is like the expression, “The home is where the heart is.” If you fill a space with love, positive energy and good vibes, it can feel like home no matter how small or humble the space, and even if, like me, you live alone. Fill a beautiful space with greed, hate, anger, jealousy, and negative energy, and it will never fill you will joy no matter how grand and how expensive.
I wanted to share with you three experiences that were quite cathartic for me in very simple places and encourage ways of creating positive energy in your own space no matter how humble or grand.
The very first time I meditated was with a group. I was in a bad way in those days, and a friend invited me to this meditation group. The group met in a small, stark room in a very simple, small, square home. The walls were concrete as was the floor. About ten mismatched chairs formed a circle in the middle of the room, and there was a small, round table in the middle with a single candle on it. On the walls were just two paintings. One was of Jesus, the other of Mary. The man who lead the group was a priest of some Christian denomination. I am not Christian and paintings of a bloody Christ on the cross always make me a bit uneasy. I always found it particularly disconcerting there because I was in a Christian African nation and the very white Jesus is so inaccurate and troubling in a post-colonial country.
I was wary about meditating. I was open to the experience, but I was not really expecting much. As Father Michael began to talk in his gentle voice, we sat in our chairs with our eyes closed. The room where we sat had been used as a place of prayer, meditation, and contemplation for many years. Many people had come to sit in that simple space to find peace and quiet. I don’ remember now, so many years later, what the focus on our meditation was, but what I do remember is feeling like I was being washed over by waves of energy. I know that sounds very woo-woo, but I mean that literally. I felt on my skin and in my bones…something. I was seeing very clear images in my head of people for whom I cared. I particularly remember seeing one friend I was worried about because she had just enlisted in the army. I remember tears flowing down my cheeks, but I wasn’t crying actively. I remember feeling warm (and I am almost always physically freezing). When we finished, I can remember feeling this overwhelming sense of peace. I was still in a bad way, so while I was not suddenly happy and out of my depressed state, in that moment, I felt a tremendous sense of love and peace. I have meditated plenty of times since, but never again have I had such an experience, and I truly believe the energy of that room is why. I believe various people of various faiths have come together and shared their energy with one another, and I think the space has remembered and retained that energy. The room did not look special at all, but it felt very special. It was a place of prayer and worship, but not in the way one normally thinks of a church. I did not feel like I was in the presence of god; I felt like I was in the presence of joy and communion.
The second experience was in England. I went to an ashram in the English countryside in December. It was sooooo cold and so bleak. I was miserable in the UK in the winter, which is why after three of them, I left and headed to the tropics. Glastonbury is said to be the heart chakra of the world, and I was told that people often feel very emotional and in touch with their own heart chakra when they are there. Glastonbury was a very important place for the Druids; there is a well of high-mineral content water said to heal; and the High Street is lined with shops selling crystals and other mystical objects. I was there for a few days practicing karma yoga, so I was working at the ashram in exchange for basic room and board. I was there over New Year’s Eve and to ring it in, the ashram featured 12-hours of chanting and bhakti yoga. It was such an energetic and beautiful time! From 12pm on the 31st through 12am midnight on New Year’s Day, the temple room was filled with music, drums, dancing, singing, chanting, praying, joy, and ecstasy (no, not the drug). The temple room was the place in the ashram that served as a place of prayer, but also served as a gathering place, a meeting room, a yoga space, and, in this case, a NYE celebration.
When it all ended, and the last of the revelers had left, I vacuumed and tidied up the space. The previous nights, I had slept in a bunk bed in a shared room, but those had all been booked for the night by paying guests, so I was to make my sleeping space on a mat on the floor of the temple room. After I blew out the last of the candles, I lay down on my mat. There was a little bit of light filtering in through the single, round, stained glass window and the candles seemed to leave an afterglow around the altar adorned with flowers. I closed my eyes. What I felt kind of blew my mind. I felt as if I was lying on top of giant speaker, but it was making no noise. I could just feel the vibrations pulsating through my entire body. It was cold and damp, but I felt warm and energized. I have never believed in god, and I still do not, but I do believe in energy, and that night is part of why I do. I don’t think I was manifesting those vibrations. It was like the sound of the voices and the instruments was still lingering in the space, and while it was not audible, the lasting vibrations were still echoing around the room. I slept so soundly and so peacefully that night. Very early the next morning, a cleansing fire ceremony was conducted in that room and we all went forward in to the New Year cleansed and light. This room had been created as a place to pray among other things, and what it created, in the shadow of a Druid tower, was a place that fills hearts with love and energy.
The final experience I wish to share with you happened while I was in India. India is bursting at the seams with holy places, and I visited plenty. Near Rishikesh on the bank of the Ganges, I was in a cave carved into a temple where monks sat at all hours of the day meditating. I bathed in the Ganges. I visited Hindu temples and Sikh Gurdwaras. I listened to the call to prayer from the Muslim temples. I meditated in many places during my nine weeks in the country, but my most memorable experience came, as one might expect, in the most unexpected of places.
I really enjoyed the small town of Pushkar. It was safe and while bustling, it was not quite as chaotic as many of the cities in the country. I spent the better part of my days there hanging around near the entrance of one of the temples chatting with some of the vendors. I became friendly with them and enjoyed drinking chai, taking pictures, and engaging with the other passersby. One of them was telling me about the Aloo Baba. “Aloo” means “potato” in Hindi and “Baba” is a term of endearment for a father, an older man, or a monk. This was a monk who had been dubbed the “Aloo Baba” because he apparently ate only potatoes. My new friend told me that he lived in a temple outside of town and that it was a very important holy site. He offered to lend me his motorbike to go visit if I just paid for gas, but I had never ridden a motorbike, so I was scared to do that. He offered to drive me, and I happily accepted.
As soon as we left town, we were in open desert with large rock outcroppings and the occasional house dotting the landscape. When we arrived at the “temple,” it was not like the gilded temples I was used to seeing. The temple could have been missed completely because it was just carved into and out of the rock that rose up from the Earth. The Aloo Baba was there. Apparently, he subsists on potatoes and marihuana and I was offered a puff. A couple of other men sat with him in the shade of the tree. They offered me cool water from a series of stone jugs that hung in a line on the fence.
My friend lead me up to the heart of the temple. I have to tell you that I truly hate caves. I get very claustrophobic, and I normally find them very eerie. This was not the case here. I climbed into the small door, ducking my head, and then carefully walked down to or three steps to a space only big enough for one or maybe two people to sit; I could not stand up. On the wall of the rough stone cave was a small carving of a cow’s head, and from her mouth, dripped water from a natural well in the earth. The water dripped down to a a small bowl on a stand on the floor below, which was surrounded by candles. The bowl was filled with water that was gently flowing over, and the drops trickled down to the floor, where they were absorbed back into the earth. It was probably 100 degrees Fahrenheit or more outside, but in that cave, it was as if the air conditioning was on at full blast. Light filtered in from the entrance, and there candles, so while dim, it was not dark. It was cool and the cold stone floor was quite refreshing. The silence was deep, broken only by the slow but steady, gentle dripping of the water that has gone on for thousands of years and will continue to drip for thousands more. I sat in that cave, one of the oldest temple caves in the country and probably the world, and felt the peaceful energy of all of those who had sat in that space before me over many centuries. I didn’t have long, but I remember thinking that I would have been quite happy to sit there for ages. It felt like I had been transported to another place altogether. It was the most quiet and peaceful space I found the whole time I was in India, which is not a terribly quiet and peaceful country! The ride back on the motorcycle, with the hot desert wind in my hair, was exhilarating and energizing. It was the most spiritual moment of many spiritual moments during my time there.
Most of us don’t live in thousands of years old temples, but I believe what happens in a space fills that space with the energy of what happens there. We always moved around growing up, so my childhood did not take place in one home. Where my parents live now has been the family home since my senior year of high school, but I haven’t spent a lot of time there and there are few family moments that happened there.
On the other hand, one of my aunts and her husband moved into their first home some years after they got married but before she was pregnant with the first of my three youngest cousins. They still live there today. My aunt does yoga and her own meditation practice daily. The family is Catholic, but practices a very liberal, socially-conscious type of Catholicism. Each night before eating, a simple prayer of gratitude is offered for the food about to be eaten. Much of that food my aunt has grown in her prolific garden that takes up the better part of the yard. She participates in a women’s group that often meets for prayer and conversation in her living room. She is part of a singing group that fills the home with music. I was there when there was a tragic loss in their community, and many of her neighbors gathered in the home to lean on one another. My uncle sometimes hosts his men’s group there, often outside by a fire. My aunt and uncle both sing and play more than one musical instrument, as do my cousins, who are now grown and out of the house, but the home has often been filled with the music they make as a family. The walls of the modest home are adorned with small pieces of art created by the people in the Latin American countries where they have visited and lived. Photos of the family are scattered about. The décor is decidedly indigenous and Latin American, but it is random, without a plan or design; it just happened organically over the years. My uncle and cousins and friends have built much of the additions to the house and some of the furniture themselves. My aunt and uncle raised my cousins there in a family that valued communication, kindness and love over rules, arguments and anger. It is not to say that there have not been moments of anger. There have been fights, conflicts, tempers lost, and feelings hurt, but those moments are resolved with compassion. It really is a small home for parents and three large sons, but perhaps that physical closeness created an emotional one too. My cousins always shared sleeping areas, and today two of them still live in a home together with the third nearby. My aunt’s cooking is often simple, but made from fresh ingredients and bursting with love and wholesomeness. The smells and tastes from her kitchen are beautiful and the food is often served up on ceramic platters made by a friend. I always look forward to meals created in her kitchen. As a result, I have often found myself wanting to go there when I am in need of peace. I have a close relationship with all of my aunts, but beyond the love I have for my aunt and uncle, their home has become a place of peace. It offers an energy that I believe, regardless of what may have happened there before they bought it, 30 years of life, love, joy, tears, laughter, song, family, and community have manifested a temple of sorts right in the middle of an urban neighborhood on the outskirts of Washington, D.C.
When I came home from having lived overseas for the first time for over three years. I was prepared for a reverse culture shock and recognized that I was going to have to take time to ease back in to life in my home country and to be gentle with myself through the process. I also realized that my parents’ home was not going to give me space to do that. I asked my aunt and uncle if I could spend a few days with them before going to my parents as a sort of decompression chamber. My father was mad and hurt that I was doing this, but I knew I needed to take care of myself and the place to do that was my aunt and uncle’s home.
Our home is our sanctuary. It is where we spend so much of our time, especially in 2020. Whether this is a mansion, a modest home, a studio apartment, or a room or a bed in a shared space, having a space of your own that is a place of peace and comfort filled with positive energy can be a part of being happy.
If you have a space of your own, make it yours. I am not an advocate of an excess of stuff, but items that as Marie Kondo say “spark joy” are worth having in your space. People with money can fill their home with expensive gadgets, but there is no love, no warmth, no joy to be found. Think about the emotional energy that is created in your space. I was recently in my sister’s new home, and she had just brought home her new baby. She and her husband are recent home owners, and they do not claim to be interior decorators. They will get there, but right now, the small home is a work in progress. However, she has told our parents that she does not want to have negative conversations around her child, which are common in our family. They came over to visit their new granddaughter and within minutes, the yelling had started. My sister asked my parents to leave because she did not want that negative energy around her child and in her home. Our father rolled his eyes and vocally scoffed at the notion that “energy” good or bad was being created. My sister, her husband, her new baby and I had all been sealed up in the home since we had returned from the hospital, and the nest was bursting with love. I was cooking for and caring for my sister, who was nursing her child, while her husband was busy falling in love with his daughter, working, and making sure his wife had everything she needed. They are creating a space and a home for their daughter that will be filled with positive energy from the first moments she lives there. It doesn’t matter that Southern Living has no plans to feature their home on an upcoming cover.
I have always moved around, so I may never live in a place where I will create years of energy, but I replicate that by putting the objects that I have that bear positive energy in that space. I have the mala beads made from my birth stone and blessed in the Ganges. I have a few stuffed animal friends from my childhood. I have photos of my family. I have little objects bought in my travels that remind me of that time. I believe that by meditating in my space, by listening to music, by sharing yoga with others, I can add to the energy of my space and perhaps the next person who lives here will feel it when they move in.
I also think that if you work from home, it is important to separate your work from your home in a physical way. Even if you LOVE your job, there is stress and other elements of “work” that should no be the energy of your home. If you don’t love your job, this is especially true. Don’t let the space where you have tense phone calls, write difficult emails and do stressful work be the same as the space where you need to relax and feel loved and safe. Let you computer, desk, phone, etc. occupy a space that is separate from your bed, your yoga spot, the place where you sit to eat, so that your work energy does not negatively impact your living space. Maybe you have the luxury of an office, but if not, try to set up a designated work area that is NOT your bed, your quiet space, your fun space, or any other space that you need to be full of positive energy. Leave work at work. Log out, sign off, hang up, shut down, and move to your home space at the end of your work day.
Try it. Create a space for you that fills you with joy. It isn’t about objects, it’s about energy. Breathe into the room what you want to breathe out of it. And if that sounds silly, try it just to prove me wrong!