Dispatches from a Many-Mansioned Room

by Yule Heibel on January 18, 2019

When I sat down to meditate this morning (Friday January 18, 2019), I saw what must have been a bird of prey, large, swoop low behind the houses that front E.-Street, then fly high to perch in the tallest tree. The start of each meditation begins sitting with eyes open, and I couldn’t help but glance continuously at this bird – it might have been an owl, still hunting this late in the morning – and I hoped it would fly off, perhaps towards me, before I had to close my eyes.

It didn’t. I closed my eyes to go deeper into the meditation, and for a few minutes I let myself be distracted by thoughts of the owl, which in my mind I now conflated for some reason with a cat, Schrödinger’s, to be precise. But I also always conflate Schrödinger’s cat with Lewis Carroll’s cheshire cat and its smile. Owls don’t smile, of course (nor do cats), and at any rate, I didn’t think of smiles. I thought about whether the cat – I mean owl! (see?) – would be there when I would open my eyes again in ~20 minutes. I knew with relative certainty – or assumed – it wouldn’t be, but hoped, at 50-50, that it might be. Uncertainty extends from cats to owls. At any rate (rate of change, of acceleration, of entropy), my owl was gone when I lifted the lid off my boxed-up eyes.

During meditation, I ceased to think about the owl. I pondered my reflection question, trying to sense if there was a feeling wanting to bubble up. There wasn’t. But I did extend the question (today it was, “does your happiness depend on you achieving your goal?”) to another query on just what my goal is – for that is actually the current problem. I have no goal, nothing I can point to, if I’m brutally honest. All my “goals” I deride before I even truly start. But I did recall the feeling that arose behind the thought from the previous day’s reflection question. It was the feeling around “home,” wanting a home, but how this “home” is more than just “House Beautiful.” That it should also be an intellectual and even spiritual home, and a home for communal effort, communal work. Which rather implies a communal goal… And that’s something hard to define when you’re like me (not interested in joining – anything). My previous mental examples had been a magazine (I thought specifically about how the magazine I used to write for could have played this role, but didn’t: its owners never made a home for the writers).

So, “home” is belonging, but it’s tricky because you don’t want to belong to just anything, especially when you’re like me.

Home is something you own, but it also owns you. Bloomsbury in London. Gertrude Stein in Paris, Edith Wharton in Paris and Hyères. Or at The Mount. The “home” owns you as much as you own it, which is why you have to choose carefully. By what or whom do you want to be owned? And can you “settle” for one thing? Maybe that’s the problem.

Then, just as I confused cat and owl, I confused rooms and mansions when the phrase about rooms and houses and mansions popped up as (garbled), “the mind is a many-mansioned room.”* So, the mind is a many-mansioned room. Is that it? That I want many mansions, in my one room (the mind)? I can’t for the life of me think of the correct phrase (or the source), but it’s obviously not many mansions stuffed into one room. It’s got to be the other way around. But I’ve always been odd, as in the other way around, so it makes sense I’d want mansions in my one room, my one mind. Portals. Maybe that’s it. A home would be a place (the “one room”) with many portals to other places (“mansions”). That would be a rich life. So, what works against it?

* (It’s actually, “In my father’s house there are many mansions,” John 14:2. But I wouldn’t know that. A subsequent online search told me.)

Yesterday I saw @wrathofgnon’s retweet re. Jünger’s musings on mental and social desertification, and I commented on it with a reference to homelessness (can you be at home in a desert?). He (?) responded to me by referencing rootlessness and Simone Weil.

But on further thought, I don’t think it’s quite that. Not rootlessness, but impoverishment, which drives us to seek portals elsewhere (outside our “rooms”), restlessly. It’s this which makes us rootless. The religious might say (like Weil, who converted to Catholicism) that it’s the absence of The One (True) Portal that pushes you out the door, alienates you from your home. I don’t have that faith.

But I do think there are forces at work that encourage, facilitate, and most of all profit from this, our self-alienation. We’re ancient brains coping with very new ways of commerce and especially technology. The evolutionarily familiar savannah gives way to growing desert, but that desert is manufactured. For profit. Alternately (or maybe it’s the same thing?), it’s also far too easy to wander aimlessly from room to room.

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