My house of spirits

The Philippine STAR 03/04/2007

Ihave been living practically alone in my Quezon City house for the past month. Since my family moved to Sydney, much of our furniture and other objects I used to see and use every day are no longer there. They have been shipped to Australia and now decorate our home there. It’s a new experience to see this once-bustling house that we lived in for 20 years so quiet and so Spartan. Gone are the cozy nooks for intimate conversations, the corner tables laden with picture frames, the dining sets and sofas where we sat to chat and while away the time.

In place of all that is missing are large open spaces between the few pieces of furniture that we left behind and which make the wide wooden slabs of the floor stand out more. Even the bed sheets and towels I use are few and frayed, practically discards. The TV sits quiet in its corner. I rarely turn it on these days.

Just less than a year ago, this house was bustling with life, with my grandchild Ananda’s gleeful squeals and boisterous shouts booming everywhere, her toys scattered all over the place, and the constant stream of visitors who used to drop by almost daily. Now all is quiet and still. The meals prepared for me by my solitary maid, Nita, are now simple affairs with only one or two viands.

While I occasionally miss my family and the sumptuous and varied meals that Lydia likes to have on the table and the little culinary extravagances she likes to surprise us with, I have to say I am enjoying the simplicity of my life these days. I wake up, do my Zen sits, fix my bed, do my morning ablutions and a little exercise before breakfast, open my e-mail, read and write on my blog, and do whatever needs to be done for the day.

Whenever there is a void, nature finds a way to fill it. In the absence of my family, I have noticed a lot of things about my house. I have a more heightened sense of awareness about everything. For one, where I live in Quezon City, and I suppose most parts of Manila, can be very noisy. It seems noisier now than I remember it being. There are the roaring tricycles and vehicles with drivers who toot their horns at all hours, even early in the morning. There are also people who talk loudly while walking on the street, even at 2 a.m.

In my room, I see my CDs, old books and magazines, statuettes and knick-knacks stacked neatly on the shelves, untouched for some months now and I recall lines from a poem by Eugene Field that I memorized as a child:

Time was when the little toy dog was new,

And the soldier was passing fair;

And that was the time when our Little Boy Blue

Kissed them and put them there.

I marvel at how loyal and accepting inanimate objects are of their role as mere possessions or toys for us to use in whatever way.

This house I live in is 36 years old and has been maintained quite well, and seems to like communicating with the people it shelters. I can tell because it makes occasional creaky noises as it stretches or contracts its wooden parts. Sometimes, the stairs make a sound like unintentionally overheard soft laughter. When the wind blows through my window, my shutters sound like they are complaining as they make bristling sounds. The sofa in the sala seems to hold its breath all night in anticipation of the morning sun that begins to bathe it at around 7 a.m. I know because the otherwise shabby couch looks positively radiant at that time.

My favorite spot for doing my Zen sits is the door to my bedroom. Its glossy whiteness helps me blank out all thoughts and desires as I attempt to simply and uncomplicatedly come to terms with whatever 25 minutes of sitting and doing nothing can bring. Simply put, I try to accommodate life as it is. I must have spent hundreds of hours by now in front of this “door to enlightenment” throughout my years of Zen practice.

When I am sitting, I often wonder about the history of this particular portal. What kind of tree was it cut from? Who cut it? What forest was it taken from? How did it get to be “my” door? Although my questions remain unanswered, I like to think I pay my door the respect it deserves when I ask them.

When I want to blow my mind, I look around and dwell on the thought that every object I see has an appointment to fulfill with me in this lifetime and that’s why it is here. In such moments, I can’t help but feel the Divine in everything. I am definitely on holy ground everywhere.

I think of a habitat like my house to be a living thing. It may have been assembled from 10,000 diverse parts (wood, tiles, nails, cement, mortar, bricks, linoleum, paint, steel bars and sheets, etc.) but I believe that something that has lasted this long without collapsing, imploding, exploding or disintegrating, is testimony to the fact that it is somehow alive.

Perhaps there are spirits that inhabit houses, that’s why they seem alive. My wife thinks there are spirits who inhabit our house and all my kids and the maids claim to sense spirits in the house and in the garden. Maybe I’m just dense or insensitive because I don’t feel what they feel and I have never seen or even sensed the presence of anything less than human here.

What I know is this house is alive and it remains in fine shape because of the years of nourishment, love and happiness that were exchanged within its walls by the people who have lived here.
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14 years ago

I wish I could do the same thing for my house back home which I haven’t seen for more than four years.
The only difference is that I have kept everything intact. All the pieces of furniture are still there. Almost all of my clothes are still hanging neatly in my closet. My shoes, CDs, DVDs, books, etc. are still neatly arranged. My pantry and ref were still full when I left (although I told my nephews and nieces to get them before they expire.) It’s really as if I am still living there, as if I am just taking a short walk out of the house and would be back soon.
I miss my house. I miss my bed. I hope to be back soon. But only for a brief visit.
And yes, there’s one more thing. I’m here with my family.
And that makes all the difference!

14 years ago

Yes, family is where the home, and eventually the heart,is.

14 years ago


Are you taking acid? Haha!
Just kidding. That’s what separates the artist from the layman. You see things other people don’t see. You’re a real poet.


14 years ago

Ray–Hmmm.. let me take up your suggestion!! ha ha