Yesterday, I happened to come across an essay written in 1987 that documents my experience living within a cabin’s four walls versus living within a yurt’s round space. I leave it to the Mongolians to tell me if I got it right! Certainly, there was absolutely no way I could ignore the larger universe from within my little round enclave. As there is no way the nomadic Mongolians can ignore their larger universe where sky meets earth in endless procession.
In this essay, I have just purchased a nearby yurt, and am wondering whether or not I shall leave my small cabin to live in it.
P.S. I did, and remained there until I left Jackson Hole, in 2002. Here’s the yurt.
I don’t have a picture of the cabin. Just imagine a little hut, actually much like and much the same size as wooden huts in Siberian villages.
Both are wondrous in their simplicity, though to me, at least, they inspire radically dissimilar states of awareness — the square, the circle — which, ultimately, need to be integrated. I am reminded of architect Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language, which, in part, aims to show the effects of various patterns in construction of buildings and towns on the human psyche.
Excerpt from a 1987 essay, We Are the Me Generation: Pluto in Leo, Part I
I live in an ancient, one-room cabin, solid, four-square. Thick wooden beams cross west to east above. An old enameled cook stove stands out from the center of the east wall, dominating the space below. She is my central altar. She gleams. I feed her wood. I chop wood and carry water. Life is simple, elemental.
The cabin grounds me. It is my cocoon. Inside it, no matter how much the wind howls, I feel protected, safe. Too safe; resistant to the changes now taking place within. My energies are rising. I need more room. I sense my upsurging power, and its attraction. My body hums.
Very soon after [Harmonic] Convergence my energies began this latest rise. But I didn’t recognize it, and refused to allow them passage. Daily, the internal dynamic grew more intense. As time went on, I began to feel torn in two, tossed from one side to another. Bouncing off the walls.
Then, a few weeks ago, I was suddenly offered a 20-foot diameter yurt for sale, at an absurdly low price. Impulsively, I surprised myself by buying it. This move was not in character. While I may have quickly in mind and spirit, I normally conduct transactions on the physical plane with deliberation. Given what I now understand about my inner process during that time, however, the yurt was purchased to create more inner room.
As soon as the dust settled, I sat down to think about what I had done: Does this mean I’m to leave the cabin for the yurt? But I love the cabin, too. . . What to do? Thus did I lapse into the usual dualistic, either/or thinking pattern. Assuming that in order to have one I must give up the other.
Before moving into the cabin I had spent a year living in a yurt. The experience was profound — and unsettling. This was the first time I had ever lived in a small one-room space. I was not accustomed to the need for continuous centering to inhabit such a space restfully. And the circular nature of the space impacted my being in a way that four walls had never done. The circle moves around in the same way forever — there are no points which stick out or recede. Everything merges into everything else. Any attempt to attach to one point or another diffuses and widens automatically. As a result, I became spacey, unfocused; joining the circle of continuous motion, I tended to spin around in circles, faster and faster, mind and spirit spiraling clear through the plexiglass skylight bubble at the top.
It is no wonder that after one year in a yurt, I moved into a square-sided cabin. I needed to ground and stabilize myself. The yurt wasn’t doing it. Yet, safe as I feel now, during all these months in the cabin I have also longed for yurt life. It speaks to my spirit’s need. That year awakened something in me that refuses to ever be locked up again.
The yurt’s walls are made of canvas, transparent to both light and sound. My inner eye opened to the brilliance of sun by day, it drank in the moon’s mysteries by night. Ears caught whisperings of spring breezes, the roar of Wyoming winter winds, the whoosh of raven wings, or hawk, overhead. Directly west, across the sagebrush-covered valley, shimmered the Tetons, their mood sometimes glowering, sometimes heavenly, depending upon my mood and the weather.
Instead of thick, log walls, a mere membrane divided me from the natural surround. Instead of feeling protected from external reality, I felt expectant, expanded into space, where all is possible and anything goes. Eerie coyote callings filled the air at dusk, or midnight, or dawn. My heart swelled to fill the air they breathed. I was coyote howling back and forth from all directions the mournful sound.
Outside, wind and rain and snow beat against the canvas surfaces. I hear every drop, every soft plop. Inside, another log goes on the fire. Snug and warm inside a structure so light that if it wasn’t for its round form, and the lines anchoring the roof to the ground, it would simply blow away. Yurts rest lightly on the land. They feel temporary, much as an animal’s lair is temporary, for this season, or this year.
And now I have both yurt and tiny cabin. Both are small, simple spaces, requiring continuous centering. Though contrary in their psychological effects, both are deeply satisfying. And I don’t have to choose between them. I can acknowledge both spirit/mind and body, together, integrated.
The cabin grounds me, places me here and now, in this specific place. The yurt extends me into a greater reality, stretching in all directions endlessly, no boundaries, no limits.
The cabin is dark with shadows. I root into it, sinking down into the deep recesses of my unconscious mind. The yurt is light, bright sun light, haunted moon light, icy star light; all of them in continuous motion, continuous change.
The new yurt sits just 300 yards from my cabin. An overgrown path connects them. I’m about to enter another experiment, co-inhabiting both light and dark. The great beyond and the deep inside. The four-square is to join with the circling. I am to work with this polarity, stretching to receive them both.
I ask to open myself to the mystic boundless, I ask to focus precisely on the exact here and now. I ask to receive energy raining down from above, surging up from below — and to merge these two streams within. I ask that my heart open wide, that it be pierced with love, and that this love become a bubbling spring for others to drink, for thirst, for solace, forever.
I ask to stand at the center of the universe. Head grazing the sky, feet digging into the ground; arms reaching in all directions, sweeping the horizon, energy streaming through a thousand hands blessed with gracious abundance.