Photos by Lesley Nowlin Blessing
With all the responsibilities of the modern woman, wouldn’t it be nice to escape to our own serene haven away from the noise and clutter? Mother of two, Writer, and Austin Seminary Associate Martha Lynn Coon finds focus and comfort in her woman cave and shares intuitive insight on why it is important to have a quiet space.
1. What inspired you to create this woman cave? Life in Austin has gotten extremely hectic over the past six years as the city has experience astronomical growth. That adds up to more traffic, more crowded restaurants, and more expensive property! On top of that, these have been our “small children” years which roughly translates to “total chaos” in our world. We haven’t felt like we had the time and/or resources (financially and mentally) to do an addition to our tiny house, but the roughly 750 square feet we share has gotten tight for the four of us. I was dreaming of a sanctuary outside our domestic life but close by, a place with a tiny remove but that I could outfit just as I wanted, and that was the advent of the tent idea.
2. Why do you think it is so important for us to get away from the noise? I can’t speak for other parents, but I know for myself that sometimes even a short break can do great things for keeping me sane and grounded. I always hate it when “mean mommy” shows up, that is, the stressed, anxious, yelling, in-a-hurry version of my mommy self. I find that without some quiet and space built in my day, that version of myself as a mother shows up more often. I also think we are living in an era of total stimulation overload, and it’s difficult to process anything. Couple that with all the day-to-day motion of work, family and personal life, and I feel like it can be an almost constant onslaught. Taking time out for quiet, particularly in nature, can be so restorative and essential for keeping us connected to our core.
My husband is an absolute minimalist, and I grew up in a quite opposite environment, so it’s been a journey learning how to let go of things and live as simply as possible. But on the whole it’s been incredibly empowering.
3. What was important to you in creating your quiet space? The connection to nature was important to me. Something about the outdoors really balances me personally. It was also important that I was the author of that space and could build and create it as I saw fit. I wanted something durable, which sounds odd since I built a tent, but if you work with the right people and the materials are quality, these little structures can stay around a long time! I also wanted it to be minimal enough not to be distracting, and nothing that would require massive upkeep. I want it to be a space that I am comfortable being quiet in, but is also comfortable for welcoming others.
4. Do you think clutter increases our stress levels? How so? YES! Like many Americans, I’ve been slightly obsessed with the KonMari Method over the past few years. I think she really gets into the spirituality of stuff, and it’s very powerful. My husband is an absolute minimalist, and I grew up in a quite opposite environment, so it’s been a journey learning how to let go of things and live as simply as possible. But on the whole it’s been incredibly empowering. At the end of the day when (if!) I am picking up things around the house and trying to tidy my kids’ room, I often still feel frustrated at the amount we have. I would much rather spend that 30 minutes relaxing than managing stuff, but so it goes. On the whole, I think clear spaces help to clear minds, and that sort of sanity and clarity is something I put a real premium on these days.
5. Do you find yourself able to focus better in your quiet space? Absolutely. When I’m there alone, and it’s in order, and I can look out onto our yard and the sky beyond, I can sometimes feel my body relax and my chest open up. There is a great sense of calm and contentment.
Women are so insanely busy these days, with so many roles thrust upon them and often given little support, so I think anything we can do to stake a claim in our lives to ensure our well being is important- whether that’s making time to go for a walk, or work out, or hang with friends.
6. How do you think people can benefit from having a quiet space of their own? I think the introspection involved in creating that space (what would it look like? where would it be? what are the things that add grounding and peace to my life?) as well as the intentionality of following through both go a long way to foster a sense of self and well being. Women are so insanely busy these days, with so many roles thrust upon them and often given little support, so I think anything we can do to stake a claim in our lives to ensure our well being is important- whether that’s making time to go for a walk, or work out, or hang with friends. I have a very introverted side, so creating a quiet space where I could be alone and recharge felt right and important to me, but I know it would look and feel different for everyone. I think the most important thing is to figure out where and how you nurture and re-charge your best self, and then go for it.
After I wake up, and before I get out of bed, I give the day over as I know there will be many things that are out of my control.
7. What are 3 spiritual things you do daily to ensure a more focused and balanced day?
-After I wake up, and before I get out of bed, I give the day over as I know there will be many things that are out of my control. For me, that’s giving it over to God, but I think the idea translates regardless of one’s faith or spirituality. Mainly, it’s just a momentary flash of gratitude for the day and also an acknowledgement that the day will be what it will be, and I commit to being present and living into that.
-On the way to drop my kids at school, we do a gratitude check. I come up with five things for which I’m thankful, and I ask them to do the same, which is often difficult to pull out of them, but can be insightful and often hilarious.
-On my best days, I take time out to meditate or do centering prayer. Right now, I’m trying to build a centering prayer practice and the folks that shared the practice with me say the gold standard is to sit twice a day for 20 minutes. That is not happening for me yet, but I’m holding it as an aspiration for 2017. So some days it’s centering prayer, and if not, then I listen to a Meditation Mini by Chel Hamilton before I go to bed. She is an amazing hypnotherapist and her 10 to 12 minute guided meditations are available free on Spotify or through her website.
8. What is your favorite quote? Gosh- hard one to pull out of my head- one that feels relevant is by Rose Kennedy, and goes something to the effect that “Life is not made up of milestones, but of moments.” I think it’s a real call to presence, and when I think back on the relationships I cherish the most, the times that stand out are definitely the small moments you share over time, and less the big occasions.
Blue Nights by Joan Didion
Far from the Tree by Andrew Soloman (a huge book but so worth it)
Adam by Henri Nouwen
They all have to do with parenting, love, and presence in totally different ways. Maybe there is a theme here!
10. In the past few years we have seen more and more people seeking a more simple life versus one filled with more and more material gain? Do you think this represents a shift in our society to seek fulfillment within instead of from the outside? If so, why this shift? Yes, I do believe we are in the midst of a cultural shift in terms of how people view materiality, and I think in some ways this represents a shift in values. There seem to be a couple of factors at play. One is the overwhelming information and technology driven times, which have taxed many of us to breaking points and I think we are experiencing a bit of a pendulum shift back into presence, mindfulness, and the importance of community and togetherness. I also think this age of information has connected us beyond what would normally be our normal or usual social or material milieu, and in this we actually have more experience and insight into the old maxim that money and possessions do not, in fact, make us happy. I think the third thing is an amalgam of many factors but has much to do with how millennials are seeking to live their lives, that is, with true authenticity and in line with their social beliefs which acknowledge the gigantic disparity of wealth in our country and the world. With this in mind, it changes how we approach what is “enough.” I also think practically speaking, millennials are the first generation across the board to be absolutely racked with student debt, and this is changing the way they approach economics and what they need to get by and still live out their version of the American Dream.
Balance, health, a connection to things in my life that are a consistent source of joy. It’s a moving target, but I have been much happier after accepting that I can’t always “have it all” but I can have pieces of success in different things at different times.
11. What defines success for you? Balance, health, a connection to things in my life that are a consistent source of joy. It’s a moving target, but I have been much happier after accepting that I can’t always “have it all” but I can have pieces of success in different things at different times. The key for me has been picking my priorities, knowing them, and sticking to them, so when I get into a difficult situation or have to make choices, I’ve made peace with failing in some areas because I know they are less important. If I miss a big meeting to take care of a sick child, for instance, I might feel disappointed but less stressed, because I’ve made peace with the fact that my kids are my priority and the two people who I dislike failing the most.
12. If you could be anywhere in the world where would you be and why? North Alabama! There is nothing like the Tennessee River Valley. In all honesty- there are so many places I would love to go and things I would love to see. I lived in Berlin for many years and miss it often, but Alabama is my home and North Alabama is the place that my body and heart long for the most. Everything from the soil to the people just seem like home to me, and the beauty of the place feels so balanced and on point. And I love the weather. Just enough of everything!