Yesterday, in response to Lesson #1 in the Workbook for Students in A Course in Miracles, I got talking about chairs.

Today I’d like to talk more about “chairs,” and, in a broader sense, the importance of living in an environment that matches who you are as a soul.

The importance of living in an environment that matches who you are as a soul has been seriously underestimated by religious authorities as a source of both spiritual practice and spiritual healing.

In other words, the place where you eat and sleep and pray and live matters.

It matters a lot.

I’ve mentioned in my profile that my mother is a well-known Canadian watercolourist. But she wasn’t a watercolourist when I was growing up. When I was growing up, she was a professional interior designer, a graduate of the Ontario College of Art’s Architecture and Interior Design program. Everything in our house and everything in our small summer cottage was expected to work from a design point of view. Even the colour of the Kleenex box had to be right.

So I was raised to appreciate art and art history and fine furniture and also the museums that showcase said topics. Of course, the really expensive stuff could only be admired from afar, as my family was far from wealthy. But window-shopping at fine furniture galleries cost nothing. And if there was a piece my mother really wanted, she was prepared to save her money until she could afford to buy it. Or she would buy a piece of “junk” at an antique store and make my father refinish it, which he did often and well. (Both my parents carried the weight of Depression Era attitudes towards money and buying things.)

Still, for all my mother’s keen interest in art and design, she wasn’t really a spiritual person in a conscious sort of way, and it never occurred to her that her passion for creating balanced, harmonious environments could be considered a spiritual practice.

It was my own guardian angel who introduced me to this concept in 2002. At the time I was struggling mightily with questions about spirituality and money, asceticism and humility. I really believed I was supposed to be letting go of all my attachments to beauty, sentimentality, comfort, and safety in my own environment. Needless to say, as the daughter of an artist, and as an artist, art historian, and art conservator in my own right, I felt I was being asked to give up the very essence of my soul (which, in fact, I was being asked to do by various New Age idiot teachers).

In 2002, my ever-so-wise guardian angel conspired with other guardian angels to keep me in touch with my soul’s need for beauty and art by doing an end-run around my semi-ascetic beliefs. He told me that I would be opening a spiritual healing centre in partnership with my “spiritual mentor” Grace (of whom I’ve spoken before.) In the context of this spiritual healing centre, said he, beautiful and harmonious decor would not only be allowed by God but would be required by God as a necessary way to help put other spiritual seekers at ease.

This is how he talked me into buying the ornate piece of furniture pictured here:

Early 20th century oak cabinet (c) JAT

Early 20th century oak cabinet (c) JAT

Now, if ever there were a piece of furniture that would not qualify as ascetic, it’s this piece. It’s made of solid oak (so it weighs a friggin’ ton), and it’s covered in beautiful carving. The foliate carvings are done in a different wood (possibly walnut, which has a much finer grain than oak and is therefore easier to carve). There are also some burled panels (which I find utterly fascinating in pattern and texture). A previous owner of the piece had removed the original dark stain and covered most of the exterior surfaces in a white-wash finish that I just love. Even better, the cabinet has lots of good storage space, making it both practical and, to my eye, strikingly beautiful.

When I first saw this piece in the dark basement of a junk shop in 2002, I’ll admit that in the first few moments my heart literally leapt with joy and excitement. Why? Because this particular piece is a perfect match for me as a soul. (Among my favourite artists are Botticelli, Gustav Klimt, and Vermeer, which explains why I’m attracted to a piece of early 20th century Art Nouveau influenced furniture.)

About five seconds after my heart first leapt with joy, my mind took over. “You need this cabinet like a hole in the head,” said my logical mind. “It’s too big,” said my mind. “It’s too fancy,” said my mind. “What will other people say?” “It’s not modest. It’s . . . it’s too . . . ” My mind stopped to grope for the right word. “Too gorgeous?” supplied my heart before I could stop it from piping up.

“Okay,” said my logical mind. “The ticket price says $600. If we can talk the owner into selling it for $500, with free delivery, we can perhaps consider it. Possibly. Maybe. But only because we need it for the foyer of the spiritual centre we’re buying. Only because it makes sense from a business point of view.”

Yeah, right. From a business point of view.

Anyway, as you can see, the cabinet came home with me, and I love it every bit as much today as I did in the first moment I saw it. It’s an important part of the spiritual space I live in — a spiritual space that helps me live a balanced, holistic life where beauty and practicality and gratitude all blend seamlessly together in a way that’s right for me.

Since 2002, I’ve rarely had this strong a reaction to a piece of furniture, but when I do, I pay attention to the sense of connection that pops into my heart. Most often, this sense of connection is all I’m going to take home with me, because I live in a small apartment and I’m on a tight budget, so there’s no room and no money for more furniture. But the sense of connection tells me more about who I am as a soul. It tells me more about my unique “likes” and “dislikes” as a child of God. It tells me more about how I can live as a human being in full relationship with God and, well, with furniture designers and wood carvers!

Furniture designers and wood carvers are no less worthy of God’s love and devotion than all the saints who’ve ever been named. I thank these artists for the lasting gift they’ve given me. Their talents are much appreciated.