|Nuns at Gaia House, when it was West Ogwell House|
Housework is just a chore for most of us. At Gaia House it is many things: it's an opportunity for mindfulness - to practise being fully with the task in the present moment, however seemingly mundane; it is also a way of contributing, of clearing up after oneself, for a centre that works hard to keep its costs to retreatants low and the old house ticking over. Yet there's a particular sense of discovery when these things come together, as they did for me this December, as in silence I cleaned, wiped, and dusted the intimate spaces of the old house. I noticed the window shutters, now painted over and pinned back, which used to close up the house in the wartime blackouts of the 1940s, and from which wisps of cavity wall insulation now poke; I spotted the hideyhole in the strangely-shaped tiny cleaning closet, where I could imagine evacuees hiding from their teachers. I found that what I'd taken to be a tiled floor was in fact a cunning linoleum. I discovered the old taps in incongruent places, where pipes had once led, and where now there were none; I noted the antique marble fireplaces, once expensive, now disused. I noticed the bumps and scrapes on the paintwork where previous retreatants had trailed their luggage, and witnessed myself adding to them involuntarily with Henry the Hoover as he took corners with a gallant thud. I was discovering a house that was made up of layers of history, some quieter and darker than others, and which continues to accrue its scrapes and stories as visitors come and go, however silently.
|The spiral staircase, Denbury Wing|