The order of chaos
(Above: A set of floral offerings at the house blessing pooja, after my fathers passing. This ceremony was officiated by four high priests, and blessed the home and family for auspicious new beginnings.)
Maybe I’ve shared this story before. Maybe not. In my career as a landscape architect, I worked on a housing project (c. 2000) with the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians, a small Native American community that lives around Petoskey. This was supposed to be their first 'Government funded' housing project in generations. To start off, my colleagues did not like the fact that a very young rookie like me, was specially requested by the tribe, to lead the 'entire' design project. What my colleagues did not know that I was culturally closer to them and understood more about their ways than my colleagues gave me credit. (It was a predominantly Italian Catholic male office). I even lightly joked with the tribal elders during our first meeting: I was merely a different kind of Indian, from another part of the planet. It broke the ice. The lead tribal liaison was a middle-aged woman who managed most of the communications and coordinated visits etc. I can’t recall correctly but she introduced herself as Lisa – at least her American name was. When I first visited the wooded housing site, Lisa walked with me all over the property and showed me trees she wanted to save, spaces they wanted to preserve and such details. She and I were separated by about 20 years at the very least.
We bonded over the fact that we were both women, and she was glad that I understood and respected the concept of the energy of the earth, beneficial spirits, of powers beyond our comprehension and the place of Mother Nature in our lives. She was even more thrilled that I understood the concept of 'spirit of a place', something that often only receives lip service in the professional design practices like Architecture or Landscape Architecture. But this concept has deeper cultural and spiritual meaning for many communities. More importantly, she educated me about their beliefs in the Great Spirits, the Great Manitoba, the Northern Lights and what it meant to see them, to seek resolution in their unpredictable paths. Over the course of several months and over the many visits from Ann Arbor to Petoskey, I learned she had lost her baby many years ago but had saved a snippet of her daughters' hair and fingernails in a little Sweetgrass container, one she had woven out of sacred Sweetgrass that grew in a secret spot in the area. Normally the tribe does not show 'outsiders' where this place was but she drove me to it, trusting that I would not disclose the location. She told me about how they used Sage, Sweetgrass and other fragrant woods to cleanse spaces that were harmed by ill-will or when they were looking for new beginnings, for the sinuous curling wisps of smoke would carry their prayers to their ancestors in the sky, to then shower them with blessings. They were looking forward to a ceremony led by the elders whenever the housing project completed. Sadly, I don't think the housing project was every finished, and I discovered a few years after I had left that Lisa passed away. But the few months I interacted with them proved to be the most rewarding experience of that career. ‘Lisa’ was a kind, caring, and wise woman.
The making of a place into a home is not merely moving from one set of walls into another and occupying it. We have lived in this country for 20+ years, in shared apartments, in sublets, in a condominium, and in a freestanding house. Each place came with its own baggage and energies. It took me 6 months to find this house – my first realtor will attest that I made a difficult client. But when I switched realtors and found a house in 3 days, the first thing we did when we moved in, was a cleanse, as I have done in every space we called home over the years and all our families have, before us in the many homes they have lived in. It has been four weeks since the break-in. Our disheveled house seems to be in limbo, some things are moving ahead, others are not. People used to think our house looked like a little museum, filled with curios and knick-nacks, art samples and ‘cute’ things from India. But each artifact in my house had a story, a memory, a reason to exist. Nothing was there as décor, or because it looked pretty. It was part of our chaos. And these pieces of chaos shaped and protected the most precious thing in the house, it was invisible – it was the peace of mind, of security and calm that came from being in a space that was devoid of ill-will and discord and gave us to freedom to ‘be’, because those objects represented happy thoughts, happy memories and positive energies. I understand that not everyone believes in these things. I know that some associate a 'cleanse' with a diet. Which may be as far as they want to go. Each person's spiritual center is different, it stems from different beliefs, practices, from different versions of God & creator. Fair. We practice a trimmed down form of Hinduism. It is a lived religion, known as ‘the way of life’ because it celebrates each human experience, each positive virtue, season, occurrence, and event in its own way. Some people see it as a polytheistic faith, idol worship and ritualistic. Fair. But besides that, I find that Hinduism includes a subtle, non-linear, personalized path to ‘balance’, spiritual growth, and faith, mental clarity and towards peace and eternal contentment. The way I see it, Hinduism, and Confucianism also share similar principles – where reverence to human virtue and harmony with the universe are essential to the divine order – the essence of existence, the order of chaos. And this begins at home because the most important spaces to us are our private spaces, our homes, and living spaces. We rely on it to offer peace and calm, positivity and a sense of spiritual ‘wholeness’ within it. A happy home does not harbor negativity – towards each other, towards the shared space or towards others outside it. I am looking forward to when many of the physical pieces disturbed last month fall back in place again and the house gets fixed-up again. I will be doing some version of a cleanse to rid it of any latent negative energies. I am waiting for the priest to return my call (yes, he still has not called back in 3 weeks). If nothing else it will include traditional methods and some adapted ones. My cleanse goes beyond the paint, the floor, and furniture. My cleanse may not mean a visible or ordered placement, it won’t be the cover of A+D magazine. It will mean a dust free space, but perhaps not as neat or an organized as some I’ve have seen. But it will restore our ‘order of chaos’. Our ‘order of chaos’ represents the freedom to be whoever that moment requires our family to be. It means being unrestrained, to be the joyful human energies that are content and free-flowing through the house and unrestricted as they exercise their own free will, sharing goodwill and concern, sharing compassion and care towards each other. It means being able to respect each others’ sense of chaos, harmony towards each other. It means creating a ‘custom’ chaos that is harmonious also with our internal chaos – of thoughts, ideas, goals, and missions, so we can be our truest selves, like tandem objects that are free to embody and express the kinetic energy derived from a healthy relationship to all the elements of Nature around us. Yes, there is an order in our chaos, as there can be room for nothing else. An interesting article about using white sage: https://www.healthyway.com/content/bring-the-ancient-art-of-sage-cleansing-into-your-home/