Bless This House: Creating Sacred Space Where You Live, Work & Travel

Bless This House: Creating Sacred Space Where You Live, Work & Travel

by Donna Henes

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486818450
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 05/16/2018
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 777,662
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Since 1972, "Mama Donna" Henes has designed and led multicultural, nondenominational celebrations, bringing the power of ancient, traditional rituals to contemporary ceremonies. Henes leads New York City's annual Village Halloween Parade and performs at outdoor equinox and solstice celebrations throughout the Big Apple. She maintains a ceremonial center, ritual practice, and consultancy in Brooklyn, Mama Donna's Tea Garden and Healing Haven, and is the author of The Queen of My Self, The Moon Watcher's Companion, and Celestially Auspicious Occasions.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

There's No Place Like Home

I am a homebody. I have been a devoted dyed-in-the-wool homebody since my very first home of my own, an extremely raw and slightly scary storefront loft in a tenement building on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I loved that place and especially loved that it was a large empty space just waiting for my creative expression. I was an art teacher, after all. What fun! I took great pride and pleasure in taming some of the most deplorable aspects of this ugly barn and creating an environment that was quirky and funky and mine, all mine. This was my exciting grand adventure Maiden Loft. I would probably never have left this living project-in-process, had it not been for the fire in that decrepit building that left me homeless.

That first exuberant experience of loft living was followed by a two-year period of having to live in furnished rooms, because I had lost everything I owned in the fire, and of course at twenty-two years of age I had no insurance. Then I lucked out by being able to sublet a loft in the Garment District from an artist who was in England for a couple of years. I could not make any permanent changes to her living environment, but her huge workspace was empty and available for temporary transformation. Having this much space to create in was my dream come true and led to my early forays into the art world. Alas, the owner returned home one day unannounced, six months early, and again I had to move on a dime.

The only place I could find on such short notice was a five-thousand-square-foot loft with no heat and no hot water in an old factory building in downtown Brooklyn. There were two remaining factories in the building and the other five floors were empty. The building owner was so nonplussed that I wanted to move in and actually live there, he gave me the first three months' rent for free. Imagine: fifty feet by one hundred feet totally empty, with fourteen windows on three sides. Since I still owned nothing, I moved into this abyss with a hibachi for cooking and heat and a foam mattress for furniture. Period.

The first few years were a true hands-on hard-hat experience, but eventually the space was made livable. Little by little, with a lot of help from my friends, I created an environment that was fluid and flexible, serving as playground, studio, office, laboratory, disco, classroom, meditation room, bathtub room, ritual space, and performance space, as needed. This loft, and the eclectic community of creatives who eventually moved in and became family, stimulated my artistic growth and spiritual transformation. Here I raised cats, dogs, and birds; art, spirit, and consciousness; and a dear young boy. This was my Mothering Loft, where I lived for seventeen fabulous fruitful fun years, and I probably would be there still, had the building not been taken over by a developer who evicted all of us by rule of eminent domain.

The next, and hopefully the last, move brought me to a loft under the eaves in an old Victorian school building deeper into Brooklyn, near Prospect Park. I have been here for nearly thirty years now and pray to never have to leave it. This is my mature Queen Loft, the expression of all I have learned about having, losing, leaving, and staying home. I know who I am and what I like and want and need to surround me. I have it, because I have created it. And I created it, because I needed it. This House of Many Altars is the self-portrait of my soul. Here is my heart. Here is my spirit. Here is my home. Here is my life. It offers me everything I need to be centered and productive, serene and happy. It suits me, inspires me, soothes me, and pleasures me with beauty, sanctity, reverence, and gratitude. And because it holds three decades of blessings, the aura that it exudes is powerfully palpable to everyone who enters. It just feels really good here. That's the goal, isn't it?

Home is the nicest word there is.

— Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie

In the beloved children's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, when the homesick farm girl Dorothy Gale closes her eyes and chants, "There's no place like home. There's no place like home," she's not thinking about the actual structure that she grew up in, its architectural form, decorative details, or how many rooms it has. She's recalling the haven of safety and cheer that it provided for her. Her nostalgia is fueled by happy memories of Auntie Em's home-grown, home-cooked meals and home-made quilts, Uncle Henry's protective husbandry, the toasty house-bound winter nights they shared, and all the other cozy comforts that made her feel loved and secure. That modest Kansas abode, along with the family, farmhands, and animals that lived there, is home to her soul.

The idea of home is as old as humanity itself. Our most ancient ancestors were mostly nomadic, finding or creating shelter as they roamed in search of food. Like burrowing animals, they took cover in caves and under overhangs, and like nest-building birds they made leantos and dugouts for protection from the elements. These temporary domiciles offered a certain amount of physical safety and comfort, but primarily they provided a focus for communal connection. Even a small campfire in the vast dark wilderness can feel like home when it reflects the faces of the people you love.

While today we often think of a home as a physical place, a specific edifice and geographic location, it remains, more than anything else, an emotional refuge. Homer's epic eighth-century BCE poem, The Odyssey, chronicles the decade-long journey of Odysseus as he makes his way home from the Trojan War. The weary, homesick soldier opines, "There is nothing more admirable than when two people who see eye to eye keep house as man and wife, confounding their enemies and delighting their friends." Pliny the Elder, a first-century Roman naturalist, philosopher, and naval commander, also suffered long, sad separations from the comforts, community, and conviviality of home. He penned the famous proverb "Home is where the heart is."

Eighteen hundred years later, Lord Byron echoed that thought when he wrote, "Without hearts, a home is not a home." The English word "home," itself, reflects the connection between heart and home. Home is derived from the Middle English word ham, which means "village, hamlet, manor, estate, dwelling, house, region, country." "Home" referred mainly to a gathering of people, and only secondarily to the actual place where people gather. An early definition of the word "house" referred to "family, ancestors, and descendants." Home is where your heart is, surrounded by the hearts of those you know and love and trust. As Oliver Wendell Holmes put it, "Where we love is home — home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts."

The term "home" still elicits a profound archetypal emotion that expresses the universal human need to belong. Home is an expansive concept, bigger, broader than the boundaries of our personal domiciles. Home includes the people, buildings, and nature that surround us — our neighborhood, our community, city, state, and country. Home extends ever outward in a complex matrix of concentric circles rooted in mutual recognition of connection, identification, and allegiance. In urban parlance, fellows who share the same familiar turf, experiences, and ethos refer to each other as "homeboys," "homies," or "homes." They are members of the same home team that offer comradely understanding and support.

To dwell means to belong to a given place.

— Christian Norberg-Schulz, The Concept of Dwelling

In Japan, the members of Yakuza societies are also bonded by their connection and allegiance to the same home area. The literal meaning of yakuza is "rooted in a territory, taking care of that territory." The Yakuza refer to themselves as ninkyo dantai, meaning "chivalrous organizations," with a centuries-old ethic of looking after their local communities. Despite the violence they wield in the course of their mafialike crime business, they are valiant in their sense of responsibility for the welfare of the home front. They were the first responders in both the 1995 Kobe earthquake and the tsunami of 2011, arriving with supplies and aid well before the government emergency services were mobilized.

That feeling of belonging also holds true for those who live alone. In the United States, where there are more than 33 million single households, 28 percent of the population lives alone, but they inhabit homes nonetheless. In Sweden, where 47 percent of people live singly, a study of "The Multiple Meanings of Home as Experienced by Very Old Swedish People," published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, found that for people eighty to eighty-nine years old and living alone, home represents both security and freedom. To have one's own home is to retain one's independence. As someone who loves living alone, this rings very true to me even though I am not yet in my eighties!

Home means security because it is where we feel we belong. It is familiar, functional, and filled with layers of memories and personal belongings that both reflect and define us. It is ours as we have made it. Home is our protective place where we can prepare to go out into society, and the safe, private place where we can return to our own personal world for repose, reflection, restoration, and personal expression. Home feels safe, because we make the rules and the decisions that affect us. We can decide whether and when we want privacy, solitude, and quiet or if we would welcome the company of others, and if so, who and for how long.

There is safety in that autonomy, and great freedom, as well, to really live as we choose. In our changing society, where so many people live alone, our home does not house our family; rather, it becomes our family, generating intimate, almost personified welcome, acceptance, refuge, warmth, and emotional support. The poet Patti Smith lives a very private solo life. In her memoir, L Train, she writes, "Home is a desk. The amalgam of a dream. Home is the cats, my books, my work never done."

When people are asked to define home, they do not generally speak in terms of architectural style, building materials, comfortable amenities, or even location. They talk about how they feel there. Home refers to a place that is safe, that offers nurturance, hospitality, and communion, and that supports self-confidence, self-development, and personal expression. This applies to all ages, even young people, who we often think of as living in the private virtual reality of their own personal electronic devices. In an article published on theodysseyonline .com, college students listed their feelings about returning home for a visit during a break in the school year, and they all focused on home as a secure source of nurturing, cushy comfort, and organized order after having lived in disorderly, uncomfortable, and unpalatable dormitories:

• "Good-bye cafeteria. At home you have a full-size refrigerator filled with more than just beverages and frozen dinners, a pantry housing your favorite snacks, and a complete kitchen that doesn't smell like the one in the dorm's basement."

• "The bed is softer, the couches softer, the carpet is softer, the towels are softer, even the toiletries are softer! After living the conventional-over-comfort style of dorm life, home feels like a pillow palace."

• "No alarm to set. The only other thing that can wake a college kid up in the morning is the smell of food made specially for me by Chef Parent."

• "Those few days and nights go by in the blink of an eye. While you're excited to go back to see your friends, it's bittersweet to leave your loved ones and the comforts of home. You just have to get through the horrors of Finals Week and you'll be back before you know it. Dorothy had it right though, 'There's no place like home'."

Many of these young millennials come out of college with no job and an enormous student debt, making it impossible to establish a home for themselves as a newly minted adult. The American dream of finishing school, moving out of the family home, and getting a house or apartment of your own is now indefinitely deferred. This situation has created a mass migration of kids returning to their parents' home to live once again with their families while they work and save enough money to finally fledge the nest. This is a practical solution, to be sure; however, it is a significant intrusion on the life plan of the parents as well as the child, rife with potential problems and irritations for both.

The child is no longer a child and chafes at having parental rules again after experiencing the relative freedom of a student. The parents have gotten used to having an empty nest and find that they like it just fine now that it is their turn to attend to their own needs and desires. Perhaps the old childhood bedroom has been converted to a space for their own enjoyment, which could make the returning progeny feel unwelcome in what had always been their home. And if the childhood bedroom is still intact, living there can be infantilizing for the kid, and create a care-giving burden for a parent who had been enjoying more freedom than in decades. Although a certain mutual resentment, expressed or repressed, is understandable, it has the potential to create discomfort for all concerned. But then again, some families adapt admirably to the current reality by being flexible and adjusting their habits and attitudes to accommodate each other in a new way that assures that everyone's needs are being met. In this way, they are reclaiming the family home as a place of safe haven, welcome, and mutual respect.

Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.

— James Baldwin, Giovanni's Room

The wonderful Spanish word querencia captures this metaphysical concept. The querencia is the safe place in the bullring where a wounded bull will retreat to gather his strength and gear up for a fresh charge. Querencia is defined as "a place where one feels safe, a place from which one's strength of character is drawn, a place where one feels at home." In his touching piece for the New York Times, "Where is Cuba Going?," the writer John Jeremiah Sullivan defines querencia as "an untranslatable Spanish word that means something like 'the place where you are your most authentic self'." Home is where you know who you are.

Querencia, home, provides a supportive atmosphere that is at once soothing and energizing, enriching, inspiring, and healing. It is the embracing nest that comforts and nurtures the well-being of our body, mind, and spirit, where we can develop and grow. It is a chrysalis-like spiritual shelter, a cozy cocoon in which to think and dream, plan, create, and evolve. Where we can truly inhabit our best selves. And it is the durable shell, the protective refuge where we can retreat, recharge and rejuvenate, repair our psyche and restore our balance. Our querencia is the welcoming port in the storm, offering shelter, warmth, and comfort. The fiercer the storm, the more comforting it is to be home. Ideally, our home is like the carapace of a snail or a turtle that we carry on our back and in our soul wherever we go. When we feel nourished, peaceful, and safe at home, it is so much easier to feel the same way when we are out in the world.

Whatever else home is, it is the starting point of how we define ourselves. It is the center of our world and the axis mundi of our reality. Home is where our most personal lives happen and where we are most authentically our truest self. Home is home base, home plate, homeroom, hometown, homeland, homestead, "home, home on the range." Without a home, we are not only without shelter, we are without connection, rootless. No longer grounded, we are like poor little lost E.T. riding his bike through space, pitifully keening "Home. Home. Home," unfettered, uncentered, unhitched and unhinged, lost in a turbulent cloud of unreality with no light signal to guide us to port.

DREAM HOUSE

Because they constitute such a large part of our waking lives, dreams of houses are a common theme for the unconscious mind. House dreams are nearly universal, experienced regardless of gender, culture, geography, religious or spiritual beliefs, and time and place. According to Carl Jung's system of dream analysis, the home is a primal symbol for the Self, composed of your mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual parts, just like your house is divided into rooms that each serve a different purpose. Quite an apt metaphor. Your body houses your soul, after all. "Home is like a house inside your head where your thoughts gather," writes Marcus Eriksen in My River Home, his memoir of returning from war. Dreams of home offer rich insights to help us discover and integrate hidden and underused parts of our Self. A Chernobyl refugee evacuated from the region explained, "During the day we lived in the new place, and at night we lived at home — in our dreams."

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Bless This House"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Donna Henes.
Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION: HOUSE MAMA

1 THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME

2 HOMING IN

3 HOME MAKING

4 WELCOME HOME

5 HOMEMADE BLESSINGS

6 HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS

7 OUT OF HOUSE AND HOME

8 HOME AWAY FROM HOME

9 HOMEWORK

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