Playing with verbs while attempting to be arty, I first titled this post without commas only to realize that “Live Love Loft” looked like an advertisement for a porn site. Ah, the power of punctuation!
Yesterday I wrote about the technical details of how I constructed my loft. Today’s post is a little more ethereal, an attempt to weave together my somewhat lofty (cough) thoughts during that slow, methodical process. And also to acknowledge Valentine’s Day in my own ambivalent way (whoever got to my site by searching for the words “valentine skunks” totally made my day!).
It all starts with the books I’m reading…
I discovered this book recently on a friend’s shelf. Having just turned 50, quitting my job of over 20 years, giving in to the pull to return home, and trying to understand my motivations behind wanting to live in a tiny house, I was naturally drawn to it. Falling Upward explores what Rohr calls the two halves of life. The first half of life is characterized by “establishing an identity, a home, relationships, friends, community, security, and building a proper platform for our only life.” This first phase is essential for the development of our individual egos and we tend to be very protective, defensive even, about maintaining this “container” for our identity at all costs.
What is a normal goal to a young person becomes a neurotic hindrance in old age.
~ Carl Jung
While we would like to feel secure in the big, solid ego house we built for ourselves, inevitably life happens. We experience a death of a loved one, a loss of a job, an illness, a heartbreak. These threaten the foundations of the identity we so carefully forged. We see the limitations of the “container” we built and long for something more, a deeper meaning in life. We have to go through the experience of grief and loss – of falling down – to start to understand our place in the world, our connection and ability to give to others, and ultimately to find both our spiritual home and a sense of contentment.
A Franciscan priest, Rohr is broad and inclusive in his thinking, drawing on mythology, other religions, poets, psychologists, and scientists with equal ease. While remaining true to his faith, he questions modern day cultural, political and religious institutions as often being overly obsessed with the first half of life issues, defensively adhering to the protection of ego, focusing exclusively on fame and success, and rigid “us/them” dualities that do more to separate and isolate us not only from each other, but from within ourselves. It becomes a form of narcissism, characterized by our highly consumeristic, often classist, society.
The two halves of life don’t necessarily occur in chronological order. Some youth, particularly those who have terminal illnesses or have suffered trauma, have already progressed to their second half. Some elderly are still stuck in their first half (note: the passages in italics here and below are all taken from Falling Upward):
In the second half of life, we can give our energy to making even the painful parts and the formally excluded parts belong to the now unified field – especially people who are different, and those who have never had a chance. If you have forgiven yourself for being imperfect and falling, you can now do it for just about everybody else. If you have not done it for yourself, I am afraid you will likely pass on your sadness, absurdity, judgement, and futility to others. This is the tragic path of the many elderly people who have not become actual elders, probably because they were never eldered or mentored themselves.
So much of this resonates with where I am on my own journey, and I suspect with many of you. While I definitely still struggle with some first half issues, I sense that I’ve got one foot in the second half, and more and more I’m transferring my weight on to it, testing my balance, peering through the darkness. It explains why I felt the need to return home, why I wanted to pursue a more authentic calling (still to be identified!), what I find of interest now, and why I’m building the tiny house.
Most of us in the first half of life suspect that all is not fully working, and we are probably right! It was not meant to stand alone. We were just told to build a nice basement and some kind of foundation for our house, but not given any plans or even a hint that we also needed to build an actual “living” room upstairs, let alone a nutritious kitchen or an erotic bedroom, and much less our own chapel. So many, if not most, of us settle for the brick and mortar of first-stage survival, and never get to what we will be calling “the unified field” of life itself.
This new coherence, a unified field inclusive of the paradoxes, is precisely what gradually characterizes a second-half-of-life person. It feels like a return to simplicity after having learned from all the complexity. Finally, at last, one has lived long enough to see that “everything belongs,” even the sad, absurd, and futile parts.
So many of the passages of Falling Upward parallel what I read in tiny house blogs about what motivates people to pursue such an alternative lifestyle. There is the same sense that the materialistic, individualistic concerns of the first half of life are no longer sufficient or satisfying. They reject the idea that bigger is better, that we are defined by our perceived “success” in life as determined by the size of our house, the number of cars, the rung on the career ladder. There is the search for what “home” really means, and discovering it is more about people, connections and a sense of belonging than it is about a physical structure or material possessions.
A tiny house on wheels can move where it is needed, a tool to further our seeking of community, calling, or love interests. My conversations with other tiny housers often focus around the search for more meaning in our lives, finding happiness by having less, a craving for a more simple life, a connection to something greater than ourselves. Many tiny housers are reducing their living expenses so that they can have more time to volunteer or to be able to offer low-cost services to others.
The lessons of my loft
Just remember this much consciously: the whole story [Homer’s The Odyssey] is set in the matrix of seeking to find home and then to return there, and thus refining and defining what home really is. Home is both the beginning and the end. Home is not a sentimental concept at all, but an inner compass and a North Star at the same time. It is a metaphor for the soul.
As I laid down my loft, I thought about much of this. Whether it will be a place for meditation and contemplation, for the intertwining of bodies, or where books are read and sleep taken, the time and care I put into creating it makes it feel already like a special place, a sacred space.
As I struggled with my warped boards, I had to give kudos that even after it is no longer living, wood still has a life of it’s own. Coaxing each piece to lay seamlessly against each other did not feel so much like forcing them to conform, as encouraging them to be part of the whole, the unified field that Rohr (and Einstein) explore. While a tiny part of me wanted to have perfect clear vertical grain fir flooring, I worked with what I had and came to appreciate all of the knots and irregular places, the distinctive colors and grains. For these told the story of the trees from whence they came.
As I’ve spent the last week dealing with multiple doctor appointments for those pesky aging body things, I keep thinking about the rings of growth on a tree, how they are thinner or thicker depending on various stressors during different years, how they get pushed in and distorted with severe events, and the more time and more rings, the taller and stronger the tree. And when that wood is milled, those are the very anomalies that make the distinctive grain and beautiful patterns we value so much. Why are we so much harder on ourselves?
The act of building my tiny house has made me confront my limitations of age and a body no longer as spry as it once was, but also how to work within those limitations and to appreciate the health I have. It’s made me question what is important to me, realizing that I need more of family, community and nature in my life, and time to enjoy them. It’s helped me to get back to being creative again, working with my hands, stretching my artistic and technical sides. I’ve discovered I like to write and teach and pass on what I’ve learned to others. It’s made me more open to the lessons of repetitive work, of slowing down, of just being, of accepting myself and others for how we are.
Whole people see and create a wholeness wherever they go; split people see and create splits in everything and everybody. By the second half of our lives, we are meant to see in wholes and no longer just in parts. Yet we get to the whole by falling down into the messy parts – so many times, in fact, that we long and thirst for the wholeness and fullness of all things, including ourselves. I promise you this unified field in the only and lasting meaning of up.
Introverts in Love
Those of you read my The Introvert and the Tiny House post, know that I see these two parts of my journey as intimately linked. The more I understand my introvert self and what I need, the better I have designed my tiny house to be a sanctuary, a vital place to recharge, think, and create. I loved Sophia Dembling’s book, The Introvert’s Way. I was delighted to see that she has a new one out, Introverts in Love. Of course I had to have it!
Introverts in Love looks at the issues involved in both introvert/introvert and introvert/extrovert relationships. It addresses those looking for a relationship and those already in one, how to identify what you need most and how to communicate those needs to your partner. And, much like tiny housers choosing alternative lifestyles, Dembling discusses alternative relationship strategies that might appeal to introverts, such as being together but living apart (maybe living in separate tiny houses?). Like with her first book, it is refreshing to hear how much you have in common with other introverts and how to design a life in keeping with your nature.
In her chapter, “Extroverts Sparkle, Introverts Glow,” she discusses what introverts bring to a relationship: good listeners; take time to pause and reflect; create deep, thoughtful connections; know when to step back and let others shine; provide a quiet refuge to recharge; and have a low-key resoluteness to dealing with problems. There are many other insights, but this gives you a flavor of what’s in the book.
On one hand, introverts looking for love is part of Rohr’s first half of life development – finding a mate, establishing a family, a home. But being able to successfully find someone who truly understands you, requires you to first understand yourself and know what you are looking for, perhaps to be willing to explore alternative ways of being together. If you’re lucky enough to find such a person, someone who genuinely is a “soul mate,” you have the opportunity to have what Rohr calls mirroring – allowing you to see yourself as you really are through someone else’s eyes, someone who is not trying to project their own issues on to you. This type of validation helps to satisfy some of those gaping holes left over from our childhood and allows you to finally accept your ego, your identity, so that you can move on and leave it behind – one of the paradoxes of our full-life journey.
Tying it all together
We all tend to move toward a happy and needed introversion as we get older. Such introversion is necessary to unpack all that life has given us and taken from us. We engage in what is now a necessary and somewhat natural contemplation. We should not be surprised that most older people do not choose loud music, needless diversions, or large crowds. We move toward understimulation, if we are on the schedule of soul. Life has stimulated us enough and now we have to process it and integrate it, however unconsciously. Silence and poetry start being our more natural voice and our more beautiful ear at this stage. Much of life starts becoming highly symbolic and “connecting,” and little things become significant metaphors for everythting else. Silence is the only language spacious enough to include everthing and to keep us from slipping back into dualtistic judgements and divisive words.
Poets like Gerard Manley Hopkins, Mary Oliver, David whyte, Denise Levertov, Naomi Shihab Nye, Rainer Maria Rilke, and T.S. Eliot now name your own inner experience, even if you have never read poetry before. Mystics like Rumi, Hafiz, Kabir, John of the Cross, Therese of Lisieux, Baal Shem Tov, Lady Julian of Norwich, and Rabia will speak to you perhaps more than people from your own tradition – whereas before you did not know, or did not care, what they were talking about.
This morning I was reading more of Falling Upward and yelped in glee when I read the paragraphs above. Yes!!! I had already written to Dian Sousa, one of my favorite poets I introduced you to in On poetry and tiny houses, to see if I could use the poem below since I felt like it so captured what I was trying to say. She very graciously agreed. To read Rohr’s words above today was total resonance.
Thank you, Richard, for your quiet roar; Sophia, for helping us understand our natures; and Dian, for making a sometimes dark world beautiful.
When the meek inherit the earth,
neon signs and bullhorns
will, of course be the first things to go.
A public announcement will be too embarrassing
so a couple of people will gingerly raise their hands,
quietly volunteering to turn off all the lights
and disconnect the last screeching vocal chords
from all the obsolete, insane machinery.
Maybe one of the volunteers
will be a retired dentist
who has witnessed for years
how the overuse of bullhorns
in coup d’etats and carnival barking
have pushed the teeth
into slightly off-human alignments.
And perhaps the other volunteer
will be a kindergarten teacher
who has always believed that neon
would be more useful molded
into poppies and sweet peas
and used as night lights in terminal wards.
These two people, meek,
but convicted, of course, as lions,
will walk into every lonely strip bar,
and turn everything silently off.
They will do this quickly
and without complaint,
though they will get very tired in Las Vegas.
When the dentist and teacher are finished
filling every bullhorn cavity with cotton,
when they have stilled the pop and buzz
of every screaming sign
and reshaped the X’s and arrows
into poppies and sweet peas,
the meek will eat some manna
which will of course be abundant then.
And they will fill their thermos cups
with wine from the nearest drinking fountain
and clank them together, shaking their heads in awe,
amazed by how fiercely they love their sky
which will spread itself over them
a wild plain wide, backlit deep blue by infinity.
And marveling at the ferocity with which they love
their deserts and their mountains and their oceans
which will hold them and feed them and cool them forever,
the meek will again clank their little cups together
with so much exuberance, the cups will crack and break
and their clothes will tear and fall away, and the meek,
smiling at the divinity of the grass on their bare legs,
will follow the jubilant roar of their fine bodies
down to the clear river to drink.
~ Dian Sousa
from The Marvels Recorded in My Private Closet