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Breaking Up (With an Old House) Is Hard to Do

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Breaking up is hard to do, especially when you and your loved one have been together for a quarter century. That the object of your affection is a house doesn't make it any easier.

Though the circumstances of my decision to sell are happy ones, I hate to leave my 90-year-old Laurel Canyon treehouse, where I can meditate for an hour to the rhythmic cooing of an owl and then hit Greenblatt's Deli in five minutes flat; where I know my neighbors are close but I can't see them; where cool breezes float through even the most stifling afternoons.


It was tough enough to explain to my nonagenarian friend, a year ago, that I'd leased the house. My tenant was a fine person, but when I gave him the keys I felt like I was handing over my favorite dog to a stranger. For the house, it was even worse -- having all that strange furniture and those unfamiliar books everywhere was jarring, if not traumatizing.

Now the tenant is gone and the house is empty. With a For Sale sign about to go up, how to make a clean break?

I have far too much respect for my treehouse's intelligence to try the "it's not you, it's me" shtick. And the house will laugh me out of the house if I play the victim card with the "this hurts me more than it hurts you" gambit.

As I sit quietly on the hardwood floor and stare at the bare bookshelves and the barren garden, I realize that acceptance lies in the very emptiness of the house.

Indian Buddhist master Nagarjuna (ca. 150-250 CE) said, "Emptiness wrongly grasped is like picking up a poisonous snake by the wrong end." Westerners are likely to point out that when it comes to poisonous snakes there's unlikely a right end, that emptiness offers only loneliness and suffering.

But emptiness doesn't have to mean nothingness or separateness. Quite the opposite: Buddhism teaches that our minds, our bodies -- and our physical possessions -- actually have no independent existence, a concept once mocked by rationalists but that's been borne out by a century of quantum physics. Philosopher Alan Watts said, "You and I are all as much continuous with the physical universe as a wave is continuous with the ocean." Or as a house is continuous with another house!


Today, as my empty house and I sat quietly together amid the shifting shadows at the spot where the piano had resided for those 25 years, there were some tears. How could there not be? But there was also the contentment that comes from the knowledge that, emptiness-wise, my magical house and I will always be connected.

On the other hand, as they might say down at Greenblatt's, a little clinging couldn't hoit...

Next time: The Selling Process -- To Stage or Not To Stage