Holistic Living - Sacred Space
by Viraj Karnik
In dream psychology, one’s home is seen as a larger aspect of one’s identity. And indeed, our personality is unerringly imprinted on the spaces we inhabit. If we are chaotic and disorganised, so too will our house be; if we are neat and orderly, and detest messes of any kind, our homes will exude antiseptic cleanliness. If we are artistic, our homes will portray that quality, and if we are utilitarian, that too will show up. So what happens to our homes when we move into spirituality, and shake up the foundations of our lives and personality?
There’s no doubt about it. The home shifts too. Interestingly enough, the edges blur and soften. Confirmed neatniks find the ability to tolerate a bit of mess from less conscious family members, while former nihilists find that as they get inner clarity and peace, their homes reflect a new order and presence. Artistic folks might value a bit of space and emptiness, and the utilitarian sorts might find themselves blossoming into a new appreciation of colour and form. It all depends on where you are. Spirituality balances you, and pushes you to the next level.
Reflects management consultant and writer, Anita Vasudeva, “I was finicky earlier. Now I just need a clean, not too messy, warm, pleasant environment. I prefer simpler lines – less complicated.”
Chitra Jha, Shimla-based life skills coach, says the same thing, “I am not obsessed about my house being ‘spic and span’ any more. But I avoid clutter.”
One of my clients, Inakshi Sobti Singh, vice president of Citibank, talks of her own aesthetic and spiritual journey, “My parents’ home was basic, except for a collection of arts and crafts which could be packed and taken with them when they moved. Those days there was little awareness that fixed structures such as walls could ever be played with. There seem to have been standard concepts of colour, mostly white walls.
“My aesthetic and spiritual evolution stems distinctly from a trip my husband and I made to North East India where I was exposed to intense detailing, and the use of vibrant colour. We also met people who introduced us to Buddhism. The philosophy appealed to me, I could apply it to my everyday life. The Dalai Lama’s writings on transcending anger, and striving for happiness seemed to be more directly applicable to living than my usual repetition of prayers.
“Simultaneously, I began responding to colour. It made me come alive. I wanted to live with colour too, but at first was afraid to use it, slowly however,we introduced vibrant colour in our home. I also found myself gravitating toward Tibetan crafts. I have framed my doorway with painted wooden good-luck signs, and have also embellished my house with a stylised Dutta Bansode painting of Buddha, a crystal lotus, fat little wooden monks, and Tibetan prayer flags on my balcony. All these items became part of my life, and therefore a part of the interior space of my apartment.”
Less is more
As an interior decorator, it is my job to respond to the often subliminal needs of my clients and to give it expression. Of late, I find that more and more clients are experimenting with holistic and spiritual lifestyles. There is a greater appreciation for simplicity. ‘Less is more’ has re-emerged but with a new, and possibly more powerful meaning.
I would construe this streamlining partly to the need to escape the blitzkrieg of stimulation unleashed upon us by globalisation and the satellite revolution. Even avid consumers are finding their appetites waning, and searching instead for a release from the cacophony of the senses. Houses can become safe havens, where we can be ourselves, where we can feel at ease, where we can ‘be’.
The homes of such people are therefore either harmonious and minimal, or aesthetically enriched by the vast and glorious artistic heritage of this country.
Kumkum Nongrum, head of leadership and learning, ABN Amro, has an apartment that is rich with arts and crafts from across the country. Most of her furniture is composed of an interesting combination of wood and iron, both very dear to her heart. And her walls are alive with contemporary works of art.
Says she, “I have always loved natural wood and iron, having lived my childhood in Assam. Earlier, I only liked water colours; now I find myself open to various mediums of art, different genres of music. I have actually bought oil paintings and metal sculpture, not only for investment but because they appeal to my soul.”
The spiritual process is really nothing more than load-shedding. One drops baggage of all sorts, from the need for security to the need to show off, to make heads turn. The home ceases to be a status symbol, a face to show the world, and becomes an authentic expression of one’s state of being.
Manohar Arcot, an HR executive, has reproduced the austere simplicity of his student hostel, in his apartment in Mumbai’s elite Cuffe Parade. Except for a high-end music system, his living space is spartan. Says Arcot, “My table is my chair; it is my idea of a perfect piece of furniture. The basic square 3ft x 3ft is used to eat on, sit on, and work on. It even has a little drawer in which I can put away all my paraphernalia.”
Freedom from clutter
Once on the path, most de-cluttter their homes of the many possessions they may have padded their lives with. Greater consciousness, and a sense of greater inner fulfilment lead them to distil their outer lives to their essence.
Says Geeta Rao (beauty and health editor, Vogue India and an ardent practitioner of Vipassana), “I am often in transition, so my concept of space is very fluid. But as I look back, I can see how my own design aesthetic has changed. From cluttered boxed-in spaces where I did not want to throw away anything, I have moved to a space narrative that is minimal and yet warm. My space priorities changed as I went deeper on the spiritual path. So the design of a room depended largely around a space for meditation and a space for books. Once those two points were centred, all else fell into place.
“ I have a white sofa and beaten steel computer table designed by Ila Chatterji, a yellow bookshelf and odds and ends which have travelled with me. Two Buddhist monks carved in Burma have joined me on my travels.
“I now don’t like too much colour, except for books and art on the walls. I have two Sunil Padwals I bought before I knew who he was – I liked the expression on the faceless men he creates. And I have three Ratnakar Ojhas because I love the expression in the women’s eyes. I used to love having photographs and wonderful picture frames of family and friends. I no longer find these necessary. I have no music system or expensive gizmos and carry no other design burden. Earlier, I lived in a frenzy of planning. Now I am content with what I have. These pieces will probably last me a lifetime, and can fit into any space.”
Aekta Kapoor, deputy editor at the woman’s magazine, Marie Claire, also has experienced a scaling down of décor needs: “I think I like less clutter now. I like bare rooms! My old house was one big henhouse full of decorative stuff. My current room is empty, utilitarian.”
Others use their spiritual understanding to give a new direction to their homes.
The home of Vijaya Venkat, pioneering nutritionist, is a vivid reflection of her own rich presence, an amalgam of many influences, from being an activist with the Narmada Bachao Andolan, to her present occupation as a fiery spokesperson for a more natural and earth-based way of life and nutrition. Naturally, her house is a wonderful collection of arts and crafts from all over India, combined with furniture that is down-to-earth and basic, from low-slung swings to diwans on the floor, all put together with a flamboyance of colour, and a variety of textures.
She attributes the parameters governing her choice to three. First, that it reflects her own personal warmth; two, that it remains within the financial capacity of her family. She says, “If you love your man, you should make sure you do not burden him.” And three, it was inclusive of the whole family. “It had to reflect the family’s personality.”
Reflecting a commitment to recycling, she proudly claims that everything in her house has been re-used and recycled. A decorative element in the living room, bedecked with a patchwork quilt is actually the reincarnation of the headboard of a bed. “And the patchwork quilt is actually made of bits and pieces of my children’s clothes that I wanted to remember.”
Her love for the natural and for the basics, is reflected in her preference for rugs and throws rather than carpets. “I have a sensitivity for artisans, so I prefer decorating my house with crafts rather than paintings.”
One wall in their house is given over to images of angels, a particularly important spiritual emblem for her and the family. Says she, “When I have a tough decision to make, I tell the angels, “Angels, you know what is happening. I have complete faith that you will resolve it beautifully.”
Naini Setalvad, nutritionist, has recently created a tea bar in her house, a creative option to the hard drinks bar that many seekers wish to eschew. Stocked with herbal teas and other exotic brews, this cosy little nook is the centre of her vibrant social life.
Says she, “I wanted a corner that was away from work, and where I could chill with friends, soak in the sun, and watch the trees outside. My chair bar is therapeutic, cheergiving, and toxin-free.”
Many seekers too, tend to keep specific spaces for prayer and meditation. Those lucky enough to have spacious houses will devote a whole room to spiritual practices. Anand Tendulkar, a soft skills corporate consultant and reiki master, is one of them. Full of images of deities and spiritual masters that have a personal significance, the room exudes a vibrant spiritual energy.
Dinaz Dastur, artist and healer, has found her source of spiritual connection in intense prayer sessions at the Parsi agiary. Fire is central to her faith, and is an element that is personally meaningful. Her house reflects these priorities. She says, “My prayer place is the heart of our house, and I have created very pious and positive vibes here through reciting prayers, and burning a diya for 24 hours. I have written and pasted affirmations all over the place, especially where we cannot help but read them, such as above the wash basin whilst brushing teeth.
“My house has a feeling of calmness. White walls are enhanced with lacey white curtains, indoor plants, flowers, spiritual murals and paintings. Soft calming music plays all day long, and my house has a soothing, relaxed, happy atmosphere which we experience the moment we set foot in it.”
Gautam Sachdeva, founder of Yogi Impressions, a spiritual publishing house and website, has redefined the idea of an altar. His soaring wooden antique, the central point in his room, is stocked with deities and sages. He says, “People who come to my room always remark on the peace within it, even before seeing the altar, so I feel its vibes pervade the whole room.”
New Age design
My own home has evolved over the years. Earlier, it was an eclectic collection of things presented in an artistic, ethnic style and routinely featured in design magazines. It was important for me to have people tell me what a beautiful or unusual home it was. My collection of masks from my travels all over the world, were particularly appreciated. Now literally and metaphorically, the masks have dropped. Space for me has become a precious area reflecting inner contentment and peace. I have let go of obsessive collections. My current home has clean clear lines, that allow me to be at peace with myself, and the world around me. I no more need the clutter and security of being surrounded by objects and possessions.
Designing for me as I have grown in my own journey towards spirituality has changed in meaning. The basics of design remain the same. How I apply them for people and their needs has changed. I endeavour and encourage others to adapt space, to make it more open, more inclusive, with less partitions and dead walls, no more overbearing false ceilings or facades which have no function.
Use of natural light and power savers now available in the warm yellow colour of the incandescent bulb are recommended.
I also recommend textures of natural fabrics like mulmul, woven cottons together with wood laminates, dhurries, and chattais. They offer a mix and match of contrast to help bring about a mood, and an interesting tactile and visual experience.
Colour is by far the easiest and cheapest way to transform a room. It needs a balance of confidence and caution. One can daringly use the most brilliant colour palette, and be equally daring with shades of white, which again, is the sum of all colours.
Accessories can be collections of the clients creatively displayed or strategically placed.
Interior design itself should not add to the confusion. The structures, the lines, the colours, the furniture and objects should not call for attention. Design should just be there, in balance, in a most invisible and harmonious way. The user can live his moments of happiness, grow and reach a state of ‘being’ in his very own house. This style of design where ‘less is more’ is able to create a gentle, inclusive and vibrant living space.
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