Living in the 4 Rooms of Wellness
This is the third year that I’ve rerun this post.
Once again, it showed up in my top ten article views of the year and nearly every day there’s a search for “living in the four rooms.” Perhaps fans of this enduring work find their way to this blog. I hope so. There is clearly a draw to the wisdom captured by this simple, yet inspiring work by the late author, Rumer Godden and I hope I add something of value to it here.
More than ever we understand that life is more than the endless to-do lists we create and then relentlessly pursue to achieve “success.” As the poet Yeats said, “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived.” If we can aspire to live from all the parts of our lives – we may find deeper rewards in all we do. There’s a gentle quality to these simple words and humble advice. And for all that we want and must to in 2013 – resting gently in each room – every day – is a wonderful place to start.
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 Complete.
The turning of another year can be a perfect time to dive a little deeper into our multiple selves. A time to retrieve our personae and sit, quietly and without judgment – with our true self.
The Mental Room
“The ancestor of every action is a thought.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
The power of thought is one of the most creative forces in the Universe. Some would say – the most powerful. We don’t usually give a second thought to thinking, but our thoughts are constantly creating our experiences.
Science refers to this as “metacognition” and as author Debbie Hampton of the Best Brain Possible explains, “Instead of just unconsciously acting on feelings and thoughts, the trick is to become aware of them, observe them without judgement, sit with them, work with them and think about them. Where do they come from? What in your past might make you react this way? Are you reacting to the present situation or just playing out a pattern from the past?”
The language we use – to think and speak – is the narrative of our inner and outer world . Look around the room you are sitting in now; in the purest sense, everything in it is the product of someone’s thought. Our thoughts are the domain in which we can exercise our greatest control. Not rigid or authoritarian control, but choice. In the moment to moment choices we make, we demonstrate the power of our thought.
The scope of our control over thought continues to be understood through neuroscience. According to a recent study discussed in Nature, researchers stated,“Individuals can rapidly, consciously and voluntarily control neurons deep inside their head.” While it is important not to underestimate the challenge of controlling our thinking (especially where there is history of emotional or physical trauma) the news from science is very encouraging.
We’re entering an era where we understand that our thoughts need not be victims to external influence, but are the epicenter of our own life force and behavioral direction.
The Emotional Room
“The emotion that can break your heart is sometimes the very one that heals it.” Nicholas Sparks
There’s still a great deal of confusion and resistance to allowing ourselves to fully inhabit this room. In business, emotions are still viewed as – irrational, a nuisance, a sign of instability. But when I ask organizational leaders what they most want from “engaged” employees they often say: passion, confidence, enthusiasm and determination. These are all emotions.
While the introduction of emotional intelligence into the language of the workplace has raised awareness, most cultures have a long way to go towards embracing emotional life. According to Miriam Greenspan, author of the excellent book, Healing Through the Dark Emotions, “We’re all conditioned by emotion-phobic cultures and have internalized many ideas about the “negativity” of feelings.”
There are over 2000 words in the English language alone that refer to feelings, yet our personal emotional repertoires remain relatively tiny. We haven’t built a language and recognition of emotions as they arise in our bodies. Yes, our bodies. Talking about feelings is not the same as experiencing them . Emotions speak through our bodies – what neuroscientists call “embodied cognition.”
Sensuality is not a word we often associate with our emotional lives. It’s a word often reserved for sexuality or the enjoyment of certain tactile or taste pleasures. But it is, in fact, through our senses that we experience our feelings. If we’re not “in touch” with our bodies, except through the limited experiences of sex, physical exercise, eating and illness, it is difficult to listen to the emotions that are speaking through us all the time.
The way we breathe is an important clue to how we relate to our emotions. Feelings of anger, fear, jealousy, resentment and frustration are all emotions that contractus physically (and mentally). These feelings pull us in, forcing our breathing to become very shallow, even halting. Yet, when we experience feelings of contentment, calmness, elation and gratitude, we feel a sense of breathing out – of expansion. Even emotions that some might think of as sad, such as empathy and compassion – provide us with a feeling of release.
I have long contended that every emotion has the potential to be a resource in our lives. Feelings are an exquisite source of information about our experience. They do not lie. They are a blueprint of the truth of our experience. They reliably chart whether we are living our values or not. They brilliantly point to how we are meeting our needs or not.
The emotional room is a powerful place to reflect on your truth. Visit it with curiosity (one of the “neutral” emotions) and leave your judgment by the door. You are there to listen, learn and be humbled by your humanness.
The Physical Room
“It’s helpful to realize that this very body we have, that’s sitting right here and now..with its aches and its pleasures..is exactly what we need to be fully human, fully awake, fully alive.” Pema Chodron
Being awake and alive requires many of us to basically shift our relationship to our bodies. Most of us are spending too much time “in our heads,” cut off from our senses and the messages from our bodies. Most of the time, we’re not listening – we’re pushing. Our miraculous bodies often take a beating from us and deserve more TLC.
More rest. Better nutrition. More movement. Better posture. More hydration. Less criticism. Less stress. More self-love. It all counts. The body serves us over and over even when we deny its basics needs. How often do we “thank you?”
The core of our being is our breath or Prana in Sanskrit, Ha in Hawaiian and Chi in Chinese. In order to regain our natural connection to our body’s life force, we need to change our relationship to how we breathe. It is the key that unlocks the door between the mind and the body.
As we race from one task to the other, we rarely given our bodies a thought. Too many of our bodies are anesthetized by busyness. The reclamation of our relationships to our bodies should be one of our highest priorities. According to Dennis Lewis, author of Breathe into Being, “ In today’s noisy, high-stress world, many of us sit, stand, sleep, speak, act, and move in ways that undermine our breathing and our physical, emotional, and spiritual health. When we look at ourselves in action, when we actually sense and observe ourselves honestly for a moment, we see that we carry enormous amounts of unnecessary tension throughout our bodies. We may sense it in our hands, face, eyes, jaw, tongue, throat, belly, back, chest, and so on. These tensions impede the harmonious flow of the breath of life through our body/mind.”
Enter the physical room often. Bring your appreciation. Bring your respect. Celebrate this glorious temple of your life.
The Spiritual Room
“The 20th century was built never to allow room for reflection, only work.” Umair Haque
This room isn’t about doing – it’s about being. It’s doesn’t have to be about religion or ideology. It is the room where your spirit comes alive – where it feels free. It is the room that reflects and shares the immensity of YOU. So many wonderful gifts live in this room – too many untouched.
The gifts in this room don’t have to be marketable, branded, explained, justified or perfect. They simply need the space to go where your intuitive sense takes them.
Mining the infinite riches of this room just requires your willingness to explore the unknown and the new. It requires your care and your time.
I can’t think of a better way to pay tribute to this room than to share the beautiful words of poet David Whyte. David’s tribute to remembering who we are reminds us that “There is a small opening into the new day which closes the moment we begin our plans,” and that “what you can plan is too small for you to live.”
This is the essence of The Spiritual Room – and the essence of all four rooms – to live wholeheartedly.
In that first
to which you wake,
to this life
from the other
there is a small
into the new day
What you can plan
is too small
for you to live.
What you can live
will make plans
for the vitality
hidden in your sleep.
To be human
is to become visible
what is hidden
as a gift to others.
the other world
in this world
is to live in your
You are not
a troubled guest
on this earth,
you are not
amidst other accidents
you were invited
from another and greater
than the one
you have just emerged.
Now, looking through
the slanting light
of the morning
that can be,
calls you to your
one love? What shape
waits in the seed
of you to grow
against a future sky?
Is it waiting
in the fertile sea?
In the trees
beyond the house?
In the life
you can imagine
In the open
on the waiting desk?
~ David Whyte (The House of Belonging)
May you dwell well in all four rooms. Here’s to a compassionate, abundant and wholehearted 2013 for all.
A special thanks for your readership, support, subscriptions, tweets and shares.
Louise Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Partners