Minimalism and Sacred Spaces
The Intersection of Light and Silence
Sacred spaces are not exclusively places of worship, but they are places where we are more keenly aware of an existence outside the mundane, the temporal, the profane. They can be found in nature and in manmade structures, and surely they can be found in other parts of the universe. Yoga and meditation can even help us find such spaces within the infinity of our own minds and bodies. Sacred spaces can be collectively recognized, such as Mecca, or recognized by only ourselves, such as a spot in a garden, or in a room of one’s own. It’s the place where we just know.
A common experience among those who have decluttered is a heightened awareness of the value of space and time. By facing the collected detritus of shopping, waste, and distractions, we give ourselves a chance to restore harmony with what is most important in our brief lives, and to improve the quality of our lives by making much more of what time and space we have. Space and time take on such value that they can be considered sacred concepts. Both are needed, I think, to properly experience the other.
There are many ways of selecting or arranging spaces for ultimate benefit, such as feng shui, and other traditional methods. Consciousness of the spirit of a place, the genius loci, is part of Western pre-Christian belief, bits and pieces of which have hung on and found their way into philosophy and even landscape architecture. Sometimes the spiritual is emphasized, and sometimes the rational–the genius loci seldom refers to a local deity anymore, but to the natural and logical way any given space is used, its traditions and history, and the physical particulars, such as the lay of the land, the water, rocks, trees, native species, and the quality of the light. Capturing this sense helps to create well-loved parks and public gardens, within which many people can find “their” spots.
Personal sacred spaces are those which speak to our specific needs, whether spiritual, psychological, or physical. I’ve had several in my life, often stumbling across them without realizing I even needed them, only knowing that they were “my” spots: among them were a copse of trees on the farm where I grew up, the end of a pier on the gulf side of Florida, the end of a long table in the reference room of a university library. They are long gone, these spots, but seem as real as yesterday in my memory. I did some good work and thinking in those places, and they helped restore me when times were difficult.
The idea of sacred spaces came up because we have just rearranged the living room for the first time in about a year and a half, and I’m once again sitting in the spot where I sat when I first started this blog and a few other creative projects. The difference between the feel of this spot and where I have been sitting for the past 18 months is striking. Within an hour of enjoying the rearrangement, I could feel my mental energy shifting gears, feeling simultaneously calmer, clearer, and more energized. Obviously this was a better spot for me to sit than the other one. I didn’t realize it, however, until I returned to it, bringing with it the sensation of being “my” spot that I recognized from having had “my” spots in the past.
From here I considered if there were other special spots in the house, and realized that the whole house could be considered a sacred space to a certain extent, but only since we went minimalist. Excavating the excessive stuff of life literally carved out the space for the sense of sacredness to occur. Even when a room gets messy and cluttered again, it retains a certain sensibility because the mess and clutter are not overwhelming the space, not smothering the life out of it. There’s no longer enough stuff left to take over a space in that dangerous manner, and the amount of time needed to restore its harmony is rarely more than the amount of time one would give to a period of contemplation. This might be why housework itself has taken on a much different sensibility than it had before–it now has more in common with devotions than chores.
Two things stand out: sacredness of space is fragile, and sacredness of space can be restored. One needn’t live so minimally that no activity beyond sipping a cup of tea or meditating can occur within our homes–laundry can accumulate, sloppy meals can be made and eaten, parties can be thrown, crafts or fix-it projects can hang around for a bit, and drawers can get packed pretty tight again. But proportions are what’s crucial, the balance between space, time, and the stuff of ordinary life.
There needs to be enough stillness, enough emptiness, for the sense of sacred space to emerge and re-emerge. In those spaces we are most likely to grow into our best selves, to be happy, to be creative, to be generous, and to make the most of our precious time.