I wonder if everyone has one. That place of comfort, retreat, escape from time. It’s a very private place, protected by virtue of being disconnected, unreachable by anyone but its owner. It’s seductive, malleable, somehow always just right, somehow always enough, so that you never have to leave; you in fact have to fight against never wanting to leave. Because you know that this ‘never wanting to leave’ is an illusion, an illusion built into the very furnishings, the very walls of this room.
It’s an internal space I’m speaking of. When did I first discover it? No telling. I know that I was familiar with it by my mid teens. It is a place constructed out of sadness, lonliness, pain. And I think I first began to furnish it when I became aware of that essential aloneness that announces itself to each of us at some point in life. I don’t know that we all do it, but for me, a quiet kid who always felt a little different, a little set apart from my peers, and already comfortable with the life of the mind, it seemed a natural thing to begin to construct this little space, to decorate and furnish it. After awhile, it was a place characterized by its reliability: so long as I could put the world at bay to some necessary but not specified degree, I could retire to my furnished room and find contentment. Not happiness mind you, and peace isn’t quite the right word, either. But certainly a respite, a time away from pressures, from demanding problems that seemed unsolvable, a space or two removed from pain, or at least from its intensity.
The Furnished Room comes to mind because I’ve been visiting it a bit too often just lately. In the face of challenges that seem to have no clear answer, up against pressures and needs that haven’t submitted to my clumsy, solutions, that persist in demanding more than I know I can muster, the room becomes so tempting. I sometimes retreat there for minutes and find them stretched to hours. I sometimes stop in, intending to regroup, to collect myself, before tackling some ambitious goal designed to correct some imbalance in life, or to secure some long unsatisfied need. But the quick stop will become a stay that robs me of my ambition, my will, my clarity. And I exit my room placid, forgetful, half asleep.
At first, this Furnished Room of mine was a place I might stumble on from time to time, not a regular destination. But over time, I’ve discovered more and more of its doorways. Herb was perhaps the first grand entryway, to the point that I once mistook the high for the Room itself. A couple of tokes provided the instant antidote to boredom, to what could be a painful unease with self, and with consciousness. Smoke a joint and things were fine; pressing problems transformed themselves to mere inconveniences, to Rorshack blotches on the wall that could be seen in so many more interesting ways.
But when I put the overindulgence on herb aside, I soon discovered other doors. Or maybe it’s that I learned that anything could be such a door, really. Television could certainly do the trick – it too could put me in the state of mind of being pleasantly occupied, with nothing at risk; aroused and stimulated, but with no skin in the game. Similarly, crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, surfing the internet, porn, food...even books. Not that any of these things are or were problematic in themselves. It’s just that, engaged with in a particular way – in a particularly indulgent way – they became gateways to that Furnished Room, that place where pain, challenge, anxiety are all somehow muted, contained, softened, de-fanged.
(And what's wrong with a world without teeth? It's that only the bite of life can keep us fully awake. The Furnished Room is a place of sleep. Surprisingly, meditation brings me the sharp thrust to keep me from retiring there.) That method of quiet, purposeful focusing draws me more deeply and intently into the world, places me bare-skinned into the game, able and willing to feel all the nuances, the pressures, the hurts in all their personal specificity. The Furnished Room is a place where all that is dulled and smoothed over, made impersonal and vague.
Do you all have such places? Do you have your own such rooms? I imagine that most of us do, but that it’s the degree to which we visit them that varies. I don’t begrudge myself the occasional, short visit. But with me, drop-ins have a way of extending themselves. From inside the room, looking through the window outward – if I bother to look at all – it’s easy to say, “Cold out there. Better wait til Spring”. I can forget how stirring and enlivening the cold air can be; how much more life-embracing it is to use doorways for venturing out, instead of retreating within. I can forget how a person can expand into the big world, and conversely, how we can shrink into such narrow spaces as we allow. A room, after all, is an assembly of walls, and walls always keep out much more than they contain.