Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Tending the Hearth

Winter is always a time when I am thinking about home.  I love snow, and even like those mucky-grey days that often abound at this time of year, but part of my enjoyment of these days is the knowledge that I can go home, bundle up with blankets and be cozy.

I've done a lot of thinking about cozy, and really love the concept of Hygge (which is a Danish word that encompasses that energy of coziness, of being so into this moment right now that you don't want for anything)!  What I appreciate about Hygge is it's not just something that you notice in retrospection, but something that you actively seek.

When I think about tending the Hearth, I think about these ideas of Hygge and Home.  To me, Home isn't just the building you live in.  It is a sense of where you belong in the world.  Your place, the space in which you are most comfortable and most yourself.  Funny, I may live in Kentucky, but it is not my Home.  When I think of a larger place that is Home, it is still Hawaii.  But my house is Home, because I have built it to be Home.

Hearth contains the word heart, and I do think of Hearth as the heart of Home.  When thinking of a literal hearth, I think of a fire, just warm enough (but not too hot), with that lovely fire smell.  It lends that soft quality of light to the air, and you just want to sit around it and talk or stare at the flames.  It has a very laid back energy, it is accepting, but you don't feel the need to DO anything.

But in a non-physical sense, I think that hearth contains the spiritual heart of your home as well.  I struggled with hearth tending for a long time, trying to work in more spiritual and mindful cleansing (which I do feel tends the hearth and is a completely worthy thing to do).  But I have come to the realization that the heart of our homes is so much more than this.

What makes up your home?

There is the physical aspect, the house itself, the land you live on, the things in your house.  There are many different ways to tend to these, not only of course making sure things are tidy and clean, but also that they fit you.  From big things like the style of your house (some people like wide-open floor plans while others prefer lots of smaller and separate spaces) to the smallest details (like the type of silverware you use), the more things in your house that are aligned to your own personal style, the more of a home it will be.

We tend to not really think about this kind of thing, because we picked all our stuff right?  But did we really?  There are so many things that we compromise on, because we have to.  We may not have the money to live in the house we really want.  We may be renting, and not able to modify our house in ways we might like.  While some of this may remain out of our control, we can often make different changes, thinking outside the box, to help create the atmosphere that we want.

If you have a smaller house, but long for more open spaces, look for ways to make the space feel bigger.  Mirrors, pictures of natural spaces, colors of your furniture....these all change how open a room feels.  If you can't change the colors of your walls, you might find curtains or wall-hangings that can act as a color change for your room.

We also tend to accept gifts and then feel obligated to use them..and to continue using them until they are literally no longer usable.  Some things we might have also inherited, either when we moved out on our own (and family or friends gave us things for our first place) or when someone passed on (and now you feel obligated because it is a heirloom).  We may not actively dislike the items in question, but we also may not love them.

Think really long and hard about how much it is worth it to you to keep items you don't love, versus how much it would cost you to admit that they just aren't your style.  Perhaps you can find someone appropriate to pass the items along to, replacing them with things that really bring you joy.

There is a Japanese philosophy of minimalism that suggests we should only keep things that spark joy in our lives.  Yes, this extends to everything:  technology, books, clothes, display items...consumables!  This was a thought that was very hard for me to wrap my head around, but I think I'm starting to get a picture of it.  I will never be a minimalist, I am delighted by too many things, but thinking about a life where every thing I interacted with in a day was something I loved....that has a certain appeal to it!

And why not?  There is no rule that says that useful things can't also be fun.  In fact, I think that making useful things fun is a great way to make normally tedious tasks less onerous.  I have had a string of bells on my bright red kitchen broom for over a year now.  I don't like cleaning.  But I can't help but smile when I sweep and the bells tinkle (and hubby complains good-naturedly about the bells...)  I may not like cleaning, but my broom definitely brings me joy!

Beyond the physical, our home is also the people who live in it.  So tending the hearth, taking care of the heart of our home, includes doing our best to make sure all the beings in our house are happy, well and taken care of.  Not just the people.  Not just the physical.  I definitely feel that our houses have spirits.  If you are in an old home, it may be a spirit that has built up over generations, molded by all the people who have lived there.  But even if you are living in a brand new house, there is a spirit there that will be influenced by how you treat the house and the other occupants in it.

There are many ways to interact with your house spirit.  Some people like creating an altar to the house spirit, leaving offerings and such there.  I often talk to mine, especially when cleansing.  I like to ask it to watch over us.  I definitely do this when we leave for a vacation!

Tending the house spirit covers most of what I used to consider hearth magic.  When I light a candle just to send that energy to my home or when I burn incense outside of a specific ritual or spell, I see these things as feeding the house spirit.  I definitely think it's a good idea to check in with your house spirit anytime things feel off in the house.  I also work with my house spirit whenever there is a traumatic event or sickness in the house, to set our house energy back to normal.

I think that working with the spirits of your land is sort of an extension of working with the house spirits, especially if you have a decent amount of personal land.  Being in an apartment, we don't, we have a tiny patch of plants and rocks in front of our door. But our neighbor keeps a big, open field out back, which is what our back door window overlooks.  I feel connected to this land, I often sit on our little back porch and sing to the field.  If I am going to work outside, it's almost always out back.

I share my house with hubby, son and three cats.  Actually, one of the cats spawned my recent change of thoughts on hearth tending.  I was sitting in my living room, meditating on what to do to tend the hearth, as that was my weekly project (and sort of monthly project, though I wasn't doing so well on it), and one of our cats wouldn't leave me alone.  She was very lovey, and not just asking to be pet, but sort of tripping and sliding all over my lap!

Which made me laugh, as I kept stopping to pet her.  But I realized that spending time and focusing on her and giving her attention fed into the feeling of Home that I was trying to tend!  I get a similar feeling when I give hubby a foot massage after he has had a long day at work, or when I do something special for our son. 

And let's not forget self-care!  When we tend the heart, we need to make sure we are taking care of the needs of all the beings in the house, which includes yourself.  This is where I cycle back to Hygge, and making sure I not only take time to do things I enjoy, but to really set time aside for them.  I love to read, and I often read while doing other things (like eating or waiting on food to cook), but that is a very different activity from curling up under a blanket and giving myself permission to just sit and read.

Winter is a time to slow down, to turn inward and to tend our fires.  We can get so busy running around with holiday parties, gift giving and other obligations, it is easy to get frazzled and overwhelmed.  When we tend our hearth, we take time to make sure that not only is our home a sanctuary, but that we are giving ourselves time and room to enjoy that sanctuary...before we crash and burn!

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