A change of tone for this post. As I start it, I have little idea of where it’s going.
I’ve recently begun to make some connections between my desire for lightness and space in my house with a yearning for a mental and spiritual decluttering. Once I’d made the link, as so often happens, it seems so glaringly obvious that I can’t believe I didn’t see it sooner! One of the lights shone on this was Margaret Forster’s novel, Keeping the world away, which I recently reread, having been deeply affected by it on my first reading last year. In it, she gives an actual painting, A corner of the artist’s room, Paris, by Gwen John, a fictional history in which it passes from one woman to another, putting each of them in touch with the reality of their lives and creative longings. Amazingly, it turned out that the painting is actually in my local art gallery! I still find that quite hard to believe, and I’ve been so grateful for the privilege of being able to go and see it whenever I want.
Then on a recent visit to see my spiritual director, I found myself writing two poems – poetry is often the route to new revelations for me.
My room is clean and uncluttered
White and neutral, light, bright space.
Simple furniture, wood, wicker, white and cream.
Splashes of colour bringing energy and life.
My room invites quietness, peace, solitude,
calms me, soothes me,
is my haven, wrapping around me.
In my room I am myself –
happily solitary, at home, belonging here.
Oh that the room within
could be like this!
Crowded furniture, traditional and heavy,
Wallpaper, carpets, upholstery.
Cupboards, shelves, stuffed with stuff,
dust gatherers, never used.
Windows closed, air stuffy
No fresh air to disturb the dust.
The clock’s tick a lie,
time and life standing still.
A breeze ruffling light curtains,
Sun bright on white walls.
Light wood, cream, wicker
Set in the midst of space.
Bright splashes of colour
Enliven, a few pictures
And objects fascinate,
books wait to be read.
The space and peace lightly enfold.
And my inner room?
Slowly I move out the clutter.
Down come the heavy curtains,
The concealing wallpaper.
Out go the dust-collecting mementos,
The window opened to let in the breeze.
As I clear and clean and simplify, the light streams in,
My spirit expands in the new spaciousness,
Finding a place to be.
My spiritual journey over the past few years has mirrored my physical decluttering adventures: a process of gradually throwing out lots of unwanted clutter that was making life difficult and miserable, getting in the way of growth and creativity. That has included church-going; much of the weight of conventional Christianity’s (or, rather, Churchianity’s) dogma, expectations and stereotyping; acceptance of other people’s judgements and demands; refusal to be boxed in to a particular mould – and, as all that has been cleared out, a corresponding openness to new ideas and concepts; mindfulness – trying to live in the present moment; daring to recognise and voice my doubts and difficult questions; being willing to go where my mind, intuition and spirit lead me, even if that seems to be in the direction of “heresy” or towards a divine presence/mystery that is very different to the conventional presentation of “God”. As with clearing out and repainting the room, there’s a sense of lightness, brightness, space to breathe and to move. And there’s the challenge of what to allow into the newly-discovered space – just as I’m carefully selecting colours, objects and pictures for my room that reflect my tastes and creativity, so I want my spiritual room to have integrity, to be truly me, to contain the fruits of my exploration, reflection and prayer without censorship and uninfluenced by the approval of others. I’m putting back some of what I’d cleared out – it’s not a wholesale rejection of all that I’ve been taught, have read and have discovered for myself over the years, but rather a reassessment of its use, beauty, truth and relevance for me, just as I reassessed the contents of my room, disposing of some of it, but returning other pieces, maybe after some cleaning, repainting, repurposing or renovation, and maybe not to the same place in the room as it occupied before.
This is very much an ongoing project, and whereas there comes a point where the room is finished, at least for a while, I suspect that there will be continuing rearrangement and reassessment of the spiritual space as, hopefully, my practice and understanding deepen – this is a lifelong journey. But at least I increasingly feel that I have room to move, to think, to experience, unhampered by clutter, whether imposed from without or from my own wounds and vulnerabilities.