Your mind is way too small for you to live in
Imagine that you live in a world where each of us has their own house. In the house, there are 4 rooms: a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom and a living room. You, yourself, have your personal house.
But because this is kind of a strange world, everyone has decided that instead of using all the different rooms of their house, they’d live in just one.
Because that’s all that you’ve ever known, you of course also restrain yourself from living in more than one room of your house. It’s been this way for such a long time that people don’t even question it anymore, they see no utility to living in their whole house. The few who do buck the tradition are considered pure eccentrics by everyone else.
Obviously, none of this is at all practical. The room is too small for all the things you need to do. You either exhaust yourself cleaning and keeping things organized, or you give up and live in a chaotic, dirty place.
Hey, this world is not that different from ours. Look, the house I’ve been talking about is yourself. And the room that everyone has decided to lock themselves in is their mind, of course!
Read again this little mental experiment by imagining that disorganized room as your mind. Sounds pretty accurate, right?
So, what are the 3 other rooms we gave up on? They are the physical, emotional, and spiritual realms.
We are designed with these 4 spaces. Yet most of us are stuck in our mind, and don’t even realize the amplitude and the comfort of using the other ones. The thing is, we also created a whole system – our society – that rewards us only when we spend time in our minds.
You can live this way; many people have and do. In the end, it’s really about what you aspire to. I aspire to be healthy, physically and mentally, and to be at my smartest (I mean, who wouldn’t want that, lol!?). Therefore, I try to nurture each of these rooms as much as possible. It comes at the cost of looking eccentric to those in the mainstream, and in my opinion, it’s completely worth it.
This framing and little story is my creation, but the understanding of the self as 4 identifiable parts has been around for thousands of years, across numerous cultures. More recently, it has also been explored by psychologists like the pioneer Carl Jung himself.
Let’s explore its various roots and then I’ll also note my best tips to help find your way back to the other rooms of your own self.
~4000 years of wisdom
Knowing the roots of ideas gives them substance. In the case of the 4 rooms of the self, we could wonder, why 4? Why not 5, or 12?
When having a look at it, we can easily identify that 4 is a very important number for multiple ancestral cultures.
Across the world, this number is used to describe phenomena present in the natural world: the 4 seasons, the 4 ages of a human…
It is also used in many foundational Native American myths: “an origin from four brothers, to have at some time been led by four leaders ... or in some manner to have connected the appearance and action of four important personages with its earliest traditional histories.” 
For the Mayans, the soul is made of four parts.
But one of the most potent uses of the number 4 is to define the 4 cardinal directions. This is the idea I want you to keep in mind: the 4, according to ancestral cultures, help you to orient yourself. In a lot of traditions, each cardinal direction is associated with a color, an animal, an essence and a myth. We need our 4 directions to move toward our full potential, as we need different energies to go through life.
Jung brought the power of this number back to the present and associated it with a psychological description of these different energies, or cognitive functions. He was heavily influenced by ancient cultures and their spiritual and cultural traditions, which he believed were connected to a universal collective unconscious.
The 4 psychological functions Jung describes are:
You get it: they are the same as the 4 rooms of the body!
Later on, Jung added more complexity into this concept, but in my opinion the most important takeaways lie here.
This concept has been used in many psychological schools; here is my own interpretation and use of it.
Using the 4 rooms of the self
I’ll explain the wisdom of each room and their particularities, giving plenty of examples, so you can hopefully connect to them better:
The physical room:
The physical room is the room of the sensations and observations. In that room, we describe things that are facts.
- “The sky is blue,” is a factual description that’s pretty close to what others will observe, too.
- “The sun is burning my skin,” is a factual description of an internal sensation.
The emotional room:
The emotional room is the room for feelings. In that room, we describe the emotions that an experience has on us.
- "Seeing the blue sky makes me feel joyous,” is the description of my emotional experience in relation to an event.
The mind room:
The mind room is the room of imagination, opinion, judgment. In that room we make sense of things and interpret them.
- “This cloud looks like a sad unicorn,” is the interpretation of a factual observation.
The spiritual room:
The spiritual room is the room of creation and connection with ideas that give meaning to your existence. In that room, we speak about our understanding of the universe, even though it’s not a scientific one.
- “Looking at the sky connects me to the cosmic power of the universe,” is the expression of a belief system.
To have clarity in which room you find yourself when looking at reality matters. Here’s what it allows me to do:
Understand myself better: For example, if I feel lonely, I always wonder on what level, in which room am I lacking companionship. If it’s in the physical room, I might need a hug buddy. If it’s in the mind one that I’m underfed, I need to find a new intellectual peer.
Understand the world better: Oftentimes, people will be interpreting things even if it sounds like they are making a factual observation. Learning to identify the room from which someone is speaking allows me to have more empathy and communicate better.
Be more creative: When I create, I can decide to explore the same topic in the different rooms. If I paint a blue sky, it will then look very different depending on where I place myself! It allows me to have a larger inspiration palette.
Learning to identify in which room you are and to stimulate that room is not easy. As a muscle, it requires training. And before even doing so, you might also need to reconnect to the rooms in which you locked yourself away for a long time.
For the physical room I recommend trying somatic practices: anything that puts your body in motion without the main goal of making you fit. For example, Hatha yoga, free dance (like Ecstatic Dance or 5 rhythms) or Qigong.
For the emotional room, try developing your emotional’ vocabulary & journaling. Encourage your writing by asking yourself “how does that situation make me feel?” and finding the right word on the vocabulary list.
For the mental room, it’s over-used for most of us. I recommend a few minutes of breathwork or meditation everyday, it will give a nice “cleaning” effect.
For the spiritual room, I recommend creating a small altar. It doesn’t have to be directed to any “bigger forces” or divinity in particular. Choose a physical space where you’ll put a few pictures of your closed ones, a candle, and some objects that have a special significance for you. You could also add natural elements collected during walks like a stick of wood. From time to time, have a look at it, sit next to it, maybe even talk to it. That’s it.
I know, this isn’t the kind of competence you can show off on a CV.
But it will show on your face and energy!
Self-awareness is the most attractive skill, because it develops your joy, empathy, and ability to grow.
Questions to ponder: Which of my rooms is lacking most in my attention at the moment? In my family, is there a pattern of shutting off one of the 4 rooms? What activity can I decide to commit to in order to reconnect with myself?
Be a cool ancestor, teach the younger generations by modeling it to them, that taking up space within the entire house they’ve inherited is great!
This article was born after a conversation with one of my readers on loneliness, and how I use this framing to help me find peers. I’m always happy to read your thoughts and writing suggestions in the comment section or in my mailbox.
Until next week,
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My altar is set up, I found an Ecstatic Dance class, I’m doing breathwork everyday and journaling a few minutes at night. Officially installed in Oaxaca, Mexico!
- Ancestral teachings from María Islas