Living Small, Living Large.
I’ve lived in an ashram for the past 35 years.
I came here when I was 35. There were about 120 of us, and we lived in only a few houses on the ashram at that time, so we had to either share space with someone or live in some very downsized spaces—small rooms, dorms, and for those who wished more privacy, closets of varying sizes.
Always loving privacy, I chose a 2 ½ x 5-foot closet. I remember going to a rug store and asking this poor salesman for his most expensive rug. I’m ashamed to say that I gave that man real hope until I told him the size of what I dared to call a room.
I was full of feelings of proprietorship. I had a carpenter actually put in a closet within that closet, and a tiny desk which also served as a base for a pillow for my head when I slept.
I shared a belief, along with other ashram dwellers, that when you changed your space you changed something very basic about yourself. Therefore, at one point, believing I had progressed in some way, I moved out of my small closet into an 8 x 8 room.
My nephews—little private school progeny living in Miami, around 12 and 14—would say to their friends, “My aunt has come out of the closet.” They thought that was very funny. I did too, more so because I realized you don’t have to be gay to come out of any small, confined place, inside or outside.
After about 10 years in that small room, and other similar spaces, I moved into a 10 x 10 room where I have resided for the past 15 years. I tell people that it is my condominium. I try to laugh when I say that, because otherwise they might think I’m crazy.
I know that sometimes people, who live in big houses, find it hard to understand that I enjoy my little space so much. My sister once called me Captain Kirk because she thought I had everything under control from my chair.
I feel similar to Captain Kirk in that, from our chairs, we both have large vistas to explore and visit.
In the morning I open my door to a dark green, tree-populated vista. I am lucky to have this lush verdant view. I alternate looking through my outside door and gazing at the sunlight shining through my window on its right. Both views bring such a feeling of peace and wonderment to my heart. The window casts light on the spiritual pictures I have placed on the sill. As I sit in my green chair meditating and doing some yogic breath, I sometimes open my eyes to enjoy watching the newly planted trees swaying in the wind.
I recently changed the colors in my room to indicate a kind of change in my life. I chose a very light warm yellow together with a very light lavender trim. The lavender trim reflects the wisdom, which I am hoping at 70, is starting to enmesh itself into my life. The light yellow is enough to lend a soft feeling of warmth to these aging bones and yet still inspire. Yellow is the color for the mind, and writing occupies my mind a lot at this time in my life.
I splurged and bought a white chair at Pier One for $150; it has a ’40s feeling and it also matches the lamp with the crystals hanging from it. When I am not gazing outside or meditating, I appreciate that Neo Art Deco feeling that I receive from both the lamp and chair.
From my bed, I see this wonderful sculpture of a young woman on the wall that seems to really blend in with the light lavender cabinets. My sister reluctantly parted with it when she thought I might die from heart surgery. Now that I am very much alive, I think she would like it back. I told her I would return it in my next life.
I received a gift of an interesting looking cabinet that represents the kitchen in my condominium. It stands next to another cabinet on which I have my hot plate. Here is where I have a cup of decaf in the morning.
I love looking at my bed from my green chair (another gift). I love the purity of the white bedspread together with the green, purple and pink pillows, and the way all those colors blend in with my teacher’s paintings above the bed.
When I’m writing, I walk over to this wonderful antique looking cabinet ($89 from Good Will) which holds my 13-inch TV, VCR, laptop and telephone. I call this my office. My sister will sometimes call me and ask, “Where are you? Are you in the office or your living room?” I always laugh when she says that.
In my living room—which I get by turning my Art Deco white chair so that it faces my meditating green chair—I do spiritual counseling, tarot reading and reflexology. As my client reclines in the green chair, I carry in a water bowl in which I have placed wonderful smells, and exfoliate their feet. I give them a great hour long foot treatment while I put the alternative music channel on my TV.
One time my sister brought a friend of hers to the ashram and I was very complimentary of her friend’s wonderful necklace, a combination of amethyst and turquoise stones. It was such an exquisite piece that my eyes kept returning to it. She took my sister aside and expressed her amazement that I was so rhapsodic about her beautiful jewelry and still lived a rather austere life. She felt it to be inconsistent.
My sister told her that if it were a choice between luxuries of any kind, including this woman’s jewelry, and the life I had chosen, that there was no choice. She also informed her that I had always been someone who appreciated aesthetics. I still am. My sister always knows how to tell people off—in a nice way.
Today is a different world. Some of us are, as Carolyn Myss said, “monks without monasteries.”
We live in some very posh spaces, and lead a spiritual life even in the presence of great wealth. I was more of a pre- or post-generational hippy. In my time, there was nothing more that I wished for than to live a quiet monastic life with a guru or spiritual teacher to remind me of what is truly important in life.
At that time we considered celibacy, vegetarianism and sometimes fasting as the sine qua non of spirituality. At 35, I was grateful not to be out there in the world looking for my “true love.” The sexual thing was no longer compelling to me. It was a relief to consider men as friends and brothers on a spiritual path.
Not that I didn’t fall in love sometimes. Just because I entered a monastery existence, doesn’t mean that my hormones stopped flashing or that I transmigrated to angel status.
One has only to remember that we came from a whole different time, pre-AIDS world when free love had been practiced very indiscriminately. There were many of us who had been, to use an old phrase, “several times around that block.”
As to fasting, if you hadn’t gone on some detoxification program or had not fasted at least twice, you were not even considered in the running as a spiritual aspirant. It seemed like we were always cleansing or being cleansed of our “impurities” of the soul or body through celibacy or fasting. I no longer feel that’s necessary. I think that purity is an inside job now.
Yet I still think of being cleansed. But now I feel it’s more my mind that needs to be cleansed rather than the body. When I first came to the ashram 31 years ago, I heard about this prayer recited by the Hindu monkey God Hanuman to his Lord Ram, “Help me to cleanse the mirror or my mind.” That’s my prayer now.
Sometimes I’d like to take my mind in for some major repairs.
In the meantime though, I think the best thing I can do is just to look out at my garden from my condo, do a little mantra, and appreciate the wonderful view I am privileged to have.
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Assistant Ed: Ben Neal/Ed: Brianna Bemel