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Sarah Susanka

A Sacred Space: Home
by Sarah Susanka

As I prepared to attend an intensive on the subject of Sacred Service a couple of years ago, I was in the midst of some major soul searching. I was trying to understand the nature and essence of my "true voice." For nine months I had been working hard on a book. Embodying both the wisdom I had gleaned as a residential architect, and my belief that our homes can be our own sacred space, I had felt joyful throughout the process of the book's making. Now I had run across a significant obstacle. My publisher, upon reading the completed manuscript, wanted a rewrite. He told me that he recognized the power of the message it embodied--building smaller, better designed homes, that reflect the personalities of their inhabitants--but felt that in its present form it was intelligible only to readers with some existing architectural understanding, and some esoteric interest. He wanted me to reconfigure it to speak clearly to a much larger segment of the American public.

Creating The Not So Big House by Sarah Susanka

The response that arose within me was one of deep distress. I felt that my message was somehow going to be corrupted. For days I sat in deep meditation. I felt as though I were spiraling into the Earth, in the hope that through this deep falling I would somehow find guidance. How could I maintain my true voice and write a less mystical, less personal book? This was my state of awareness as I went to the workshop on Sacred Service, consumed by this great sense of powerlessness.

For three days we had been discussing the ways in which opportunities for service can appear. I had felt the powerlessness transform into surrender. Then came the epiphany. I was dancing in front of the altar, alone, on the last afternoon of the intensive when suddenly I was filled to overflowing with an aching sadness. I found myself dancing, singing and weeping as though my life depended upon it...until all the souls of the oppressed feminine energies of millennia came pouring forth through me into the world. I danced their tears, I sobbed their anguish and their repression, and I KNEW inexplicably, that my role in this life is to help reawaken this knowing of the feminine principle, and to rebalance the division between masculine and feminine energies in the planet and her peoples. Until this moment, such a thought had never even crossed my mind. I would have thought it arrogant beyond words. I felt humbled and unworthy. Yet somewhere inside a resonance struck loud and clear.

Sarah Susanka's Sacred Place
Sarah's Own Sacred Space in her Attic

The pain and sadness were gone then. I saw that my real mission in the writing of this book was to bring our homes into harmony by giving credence to intuition, to the need for comfort, and to the home's ability to nurture the lives within--all aspects of the neglected feminine. Our houses can be places of beauty and inspiration, they can be the still point and the place of the heart. And I saw too that my publisher was exactly right, that without a rewriting, the book could only affect very few, most of whom would already be on the path to consciousness. What I needed to do was translate my message down an octave, to entice all those with a longing for more meaning in their lives to look at their homes as the first place for the befriending and expression of the inner self.

As the second version of the book evolved, its message became much clearer. There are many places in our homes today that rarely get used, and can be disposed of or made smaller without great loss, as we strive to make them more gracefully accommodate the way we live today. But there are also places missing, the most important of which is a small "place of one's own" for each adult. Children have their own rooms typically, but, once coupled, adults share their private space, leaving no place for what I like to term "inner listening" and self discovery. By making such places, and giving them importance in our lives, we can on an individual level give ourselves the gift of connection to the greater mystical universe, and we can learn to hear the voice of the true Self.

The Not So Big House by Sarah Susanka

Joseph Campbell wrote of the need for such a place. He said, "You must have a room or a certain hour of the day or so where you do not know what is in the morning paper. A place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. At first you may think nothing's happening. But if you have a sacred space and take advantage of it and use it everyday, something will happen". Such a place does not need to be large. It can be an alcove off a bedroom, an unused corner of the basement, or an attic, as in my own home. Take time to make it beautiful, make it an expression of who you are, whether simple and unadorned, or filled with treasures collected over a lifetime. And make it a pattern of your daily routine to spend time there each day, in meditation, in contemplation, or in creative exploration. We are amazing creatures, every one of us, but we forget so easily, when we don't take the time to listen to our inner being.

With the completion of the book, I made a pledge to myself. If this book was successful, I wanted the profits to go towards my original intention, by transcribing its message back to a higher level. With a number of friends, we formed a non-profit corporation, named Maitrhea (pronounced May'-tree-a) to do just this. The name evolved from a composition of many words, names and concepts that have taken on meaning for me over the years.... Ma-at, Eight, Rhea, Maria, Mare, Earth, Heart. Just as in our homes, we need to move to a new model of sufficiency, sustainability, beauty, and balance, so there exists such a need in almost everything we do today, at every level. But until we can attune to the needs of our planet with our inner ear, such changes will be difficult if not impossible to effect.

Through the medium of sacred space, Maitrhea's mission is to make places for the individual, the group, and the culture to hear its own inner voice.

At the individual level this place is the "place of one's own" mentioned above.  At the family level this place is the home. At the societal level this place is the retreat center. At the planetary level, this place is the sacred land form, more than a few of which exist still from times past. And beyond planetary scale, for our solar system at least, and perhaps much more, this place is the Earth itself.

At all levels we are sorely lacking places for such inner work--especially non-denominational sacred space. We still seem to hold to the idea that if one is not part of a specific organized religion, one must not need sacred space. Many groups of seekers today are not affiliated with any particular religious discipline. They find places for their gatherings that are adequate, but often ill suited to their purposes. We are in need of a new sort of sacred gathering place--one that encourages inner-listening, whether this be for a corporation searching for its greater vision, for a solstice gathering, or for a spiritual teacher to work with students. Although there are a few such places in our world today, we need many, many more. It is our hope that we can help bring them into reality by naming the need, and offering services to assist in their making.

As a first step in this mission of creating sacred space, we have developed a web site that lists and links to retreat centers around the country. The web offers such an extraordinary tool for bringing people of similar vision together. As I travel in my work, I am amazed at how many people today hold in their hearts a vision of a retreat center that they long to bring into reality. But often resources are limited, and there's no clear path for how to get from here to there. Maitrhea aims initially to offer its web site as an information network, bringing together those with such a vision, and those who are in a position to offer financial support. In the long term, Maitrhea will provide architectural design assistance, so that the sacred spaces that are created truly resonate with the spirit. We need places that are not only functional, but also beautiful, and serene. By making sacred space with consciousness, craft, and creativity, the experience of being in the space will magnify whatever spirit is brought to it. Just like the cathedrals, pyramids and henges of our past, sacred space can harmonize with the inner voice, and so make it more audible.

The rebalancing of our lives and of our planet is not something that can be done by massive planning. But through actions like the making of such sacred spaces, it will happen of its own accord. All that is required of us is to tune in and listen to Earth's requests of each of us, and to act accordingly. It sounds like such a simple thing, but it requires clarity, compassion, and collaboration from all those who can already hear her voice.

My search for my own true voice has led me on an extraordinary path. By letting go of my original vision and desire to control the outcome, my inner ear heard not only my own voice, but also the voice of the pulse, the power, and the poise that is our planet, and our universe. I know that in this moment, like the Fool of the Tarot deck, I step off the precipice. None of us is alone as we step. We fall into a myriad rocking arms, singing the one true song, dancing the only dance there is, to awaken us from our sleep.

© Copyright Sarah Susanka 2000. All Rights Reserved.

Sarah Susanka is an architect in Minnesota, and the author of the book The Not So Big House. She also writes a regular column entitled Drawing Board, for Fine Homebuilding Magazine. You can contact her at her website: www.notsobighouse.com, and you can read more about Maitrhea, and exchange ideas with others by visiting their website: www.maitrhea.org.


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