There is an Indian proverb or axiom that says that everyone is a house with four rooms, a physical, a mental, an emotional, and a spiritual. Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time but, unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person.
Rumer Godden. A House with Four Rooms
This quote from the marvelous Anglo/Indian writer Rumer Godden has become a guidepost that I offer to many of my clients in recovery from addictions and other issues. It is a metaphor for a type of holistic heath and balance in our lives that few of us are able to maintain on a daily basis.
In which room do you spend most of your time – mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual?
How would it enrich your life if you visited the others more often?
How would your work, relationships and wellness benefit from it?
The Room of the Mental
To really explore the mental room we need to become more self-aware and mindful of our thoughts. It is in the mental room we find the beliefs, assumptions and expectations that drive our experience. Becoming more aware of these beliefs, assumptions and expectations with how they impact and motivate us is the reason behind visiting this room. From this awareness comes agency over our unconscious motivations. Having agency helps us to to grow and to change.
An aid to mindfully visiting this room could include journaling and asking yourself:
- When are you most content?
- When are you least content?
- What makes you happy?
- What makes you angry?
- What gets on your nerves and pushes your buttons?
- What scares you?
- What do you believe in?
- What do you believe about yourself?
- What are your dreams? Aspirations?
- What would you do if you had all the skill, money and time you needed to create the life of your dreams starting today?
The Room of Emotions
This is the room where our feelings reside. Neuroscience has shown that our feelings do not only emanate from one part of our brain (the limbic system) rather, they encompasses our entire body. It is worth knowing that you have more neural networks for feeling in your stomach and heart than anywhere else in your body!
Some of us try to ignore this room of emotions while some are trapped in it and are desperately trying to escape. Still others spend way too much time in the emotional room, reacting on autopilot to life’s events, rather than using the knowledge of the mental room for balance.
Many of us tend to think of this room as a messy place filled with anger, anxiety, resentment, impatience and frustration. Perhaps instead, we can place a welcome sign on this room’s door for all of our feelings. This is also the room where calmness, confidence, contentment, satisfaction, love, joy, empathy and compassion live. There is room for all.
Instead of ‘turning away’ from pain in avoidance we can learn to gently ‘turn towards’ what we’re experiencing. We can bring a caring open attention toward the wounded parts of ourselves and make wise choices about how to respond to ourselves and to life.
Here are some tools when encountering difficult emotions in this room:
- Stop, Turn Towards – Once you have become aware of the feeling, stop for a moment. Take a deep breath and then ‘sit with’ the anger, shame, guilt, anxiety, frustration and fear. Don’t inhibit it, suppress it, ignore it or try to conquer it. Just be with it with an attitude of open curiosity and acceptance. (And also try the same attitude of open curiosity and acceptance when you are aware of other sorts of emotions like calmness, confidence, contentment, satisfaction, love, joy, empathy and compassion!)
- Identify The Emotion – Acknowledge the emotion is there. If you are embarrassed, you can specifically recognize that feeling. You can mentally say to yourself, for example, “I know there is embarrassment in me.”
- Acceptance Of What Is – When you are embarrassed, or feeling another difficult emotion, you don’t need to deny it. You can accept what is present. In his book Peace is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hahn suggest we actually mentally acknowledge to ourselves… “I can accept that I am experiencing intense embarrassment right now…”
- Realize The Impermanence Of All Emotions – Acknowledge that all emotions are impermanent. They arise, stay for a while and then disappear. They come and go in you like waves in the sea, cresting and receding. Your task is simply to allow this current wave to be and to witness, with patience, as it continuously changes form and eventually disappears. Say to yourself “While this is a temporary feeling, it is here right now, how can I care for it, what do I need?”
- Investigation & Response – When you are calm enough, you can look deeply into your emotion to understand what has brought it about, and what is causing your discomfort. You may then reflect on how you want to respond to what is happening. This may be take the form of simply realizing that your thoughts are not reality and therefore not taking them seriously. It could be that the simple embracing of the emotion is all you need to do for now, or it could be that a response is needed to a situation that has arisen in your daily life.
- Trust yourself to choose the appropriate response – Your feelings are your feelings and valid. And, you do have agency over how you react and respond.
- Be Open To Outcome – you cannot control outcomes – you can control what you do about it!
The Room of the Physical
This is the room where the physical body lives, our precious vehicle for experiencing life through our senses. Our focus in the physical room is about developing a much deeper relationship with our bodies as the source for our experience of being fully alive.
To accomplish this, most of us need to make greater connections between our mind and our body. We tend to think of stress as the inevitable culprit that attacks us from the outside, describing it in almost “viral” terms. While stress can definitely be felt in the body and can wreak real havoc there, its trigger source is in the mental room. External events happen constantly that can be experienced as stress, but it’s the mental room that opens the door for stress to take up residence in the body.
Ideas for embodying the room of the physical:
- Meditate/try mindfulness and relaxation techniques
- Rest often/get the sleep you really need
- Get in touch with the messages of your body
- Eat consciously/drink enough water
- Move, dance, play, exercise, laugh
- Focus on your breathing as a critical support system for your body awareness
The Room of the Spirit
This room is not about religion, ideology, or dogma (but it can encompass those for some). Visiting this room is about identifying what makes us come alive, how our “spirit” (regardless of how we define it) expresses our deepest values and helps us discover the meaning and purpose of our life. Finding ways to ways to embody and inhabit this might be to:
- Be in silence
- Serve others
- Practice self-compassion and loving kindness
- Spend time in beauty
- Practice gratitude
- Do what you love to do
- Stop judging yourself & others
The room of the Spirit is where we find what inspires and brings us joy. Whether it is being in nature, working with passion, being with those we love, sharing ideas, caring for those in need, painting a picture, dancing a dance, making music, creating a wonderful meal, traveling to places we love – all of these bring us into alignment with the spiritual room.
Whenever we visit this room, we integrate all four rooms in harmony. In this room, we find new sources of creativity, energy and peace. Here we discover what truly feeds us – the source of the real needs behind the endless quest for self-expression.
Living in the four rooms does not require a great deal of your time. It does however require your presence and awareness of their existence. To visit each room daily, and mindfully, is to acknowledge your greatness, complexity and simplicity. Visiting the four rooms can be a source of perpetual wonder. It is when our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual selves are in alignment – then we can more fully manifest life’s richness and meaning.