My friend Patti Digh pointed me yesterday to an exercise proffered by Beth Patterson, to write an essay of no more than 750 words that answers the question: Where is home, to you?
I have written articles all around this question, from my long, ponderous article about The Importance of Place and my lament that we are all Homeless and Addicted, to my review of Melissa Holbrook Pierson’s book The Place You Love is Gone (“we are a generation weighed down by a sadness we don’t know we feel”) and my more recent Big Question: Where Do I Belong?
Home is the place where you are yourself, the place you were meant to be who you were meant to be.
I have often thought I knew where my home was. Places of shelter, wild places, rainforests, warm, inviting places, places untouched by human construction or alteration. Places that called to me, welcomed me, enfolded me in their embrace. Places I just felt, instinctively, that I belonged. That I was a part of, not apart from, connected to everything in that place and though it to all-life-on-Earth.
I sympathize with the Procol Harum song whose protagonist sought to explore the world but at every turn “only saw how far he was from home”. For some, the fearful, home is the only place we are not afraid.
While I sense, instinctively, that the definition of home above, in italics, is correct, I am still not quite sure what it means.
For most of us, including me, I have never found a place where I am myself, perhaps because I am not yet sure who that self is, or is meant to be. At least not in the nobody-but-yourself ee cummings sense. I have argued that the work we are meant to do is that which lies at the sweet spot where your Gifts (what you do uniquely well), your Passions (what you love doing) and your Purpose (what greatly needs doing, that you care to do) intersect. I have called such work Natural Enterprise and although it is rare it is magic.
Perhaps, by analogy, home, the place we are meant to be, lies at the sweet spot where our Capacities (what we offer to place and community, what we are good at being), our Joys (what fills us with love and happiness in a place and community, what we love being), and our Intention (what we need ourselves to be, and others need us to be). That is, perhaps, our place — not our place to do, but our place to be, the place where we be-long. When we have found our place, is that place our home, our Natural Community?
The challenge here is not only discovering such a place in this staggeringly complex world, it’s knowing ourselves — most of us, I suspect, don’t really know our capacities, what we’re capable of, or what we really love being, if we’ve only experienced being a few different things in a few different places. We probably don’t know what we need ourselves to be, unless we’ve been really tested, and what others need us to be depends on their own ever-changing circumstances, and how those many ‘others’ revolve, as they will, in and out of our lives.
I wonder if this challenge is not due, for the most part, to having so many choices. In indigenous communities, and among wild creatures, there are fewer different capacities that can be developed, fewer capacities in demand, fewer different ways to find love and fewer people to find it with. There is less opportunity to visit or learn about other places, so one’s search is limited to what is at hand or described by those one encounters personally. And there is more time to reflect, to ponder one’s options, to learn who one really is, and less cultural indoctrination (necessary in modern civilization to keep us in order in our horrifically overcrowded world) to become everybody-else.
We have become so used to defining ourselves by what we do, that we often cease to distinguish that from who we are.
My Gifts include imagining and provoking; that is what I do uniquely well. But what am I uniquely good at being? What reflective (as opposed to active) capacity defines me, comprises my unique offering to my place, wherever that may be?
My Passions include writing and working collaboratively on complex problems; these are things I love doing. But what do I most love being, that might help me identify my place, the place where I can be this?
My Purpose, what I am needed to do, is to enable people to change themselves for the better. But what do people (people in my community, people I love) need me to be? And how can I be more completely and authentically nobody-but-myself?
Home is the place that realizes these three ‘existentials’: It is where one can be what one is good at being, where one can be what one loves being, and where one can be what one is needed to be. The ducklings in the photo above, studied so carefully by biologist Bernd Heinrich, will know their home instinctively, even though it will change (from wetland to meadow to tundra, in cycles) many times throughout their lives. Each time they will migrate home as precisely and unhesitantly as a guided missile. They know where is home, for them.
For us, discovery of home is harder. It requires us to know who we are. When we became disconnected from all-life-on-Earth, and preoccupiedwith what we had to do, and began living inside our heads, we forgot who we were. Until we remember, we will never know where is home, for us.
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Hi Dave–Thank you so much for this thoughtful piece on ‘where’s home’. I had come across your blog before, but I’m now going to spend more time here and digest some of what you are putting out for this banquet! You obviously feel the importance of the little exercise I’m inviting people to participate in (and they are doing so!). How might you and I collaborate to find a way to deepen this dialogue? I think it is one of the most important complex systemic problems that western culture has: we don’t know where we belong. And we’re made to belong. In the tradition of which I am a practictioner (sacred fire community) there’s a concept from our teachers the Huichol shamans of Mexico, called ‘tonali’. This concept is that originally all humans were part of the eco-system in which they evolved, and had special affinity for and adaptations to their place. As humans began to move about, they began to lose their deep connection to the roots of their being. There are a few groups that have been able to stay connected, mostly indigenous peoples, but also the connections by both Jews, Lebanese and Palestinians to their homeland goes back to these ancient connections. So, the teaching goes, tonali is the ancient roots that our souls have–it is to groups of people and to place. We won’t rest until we find those connections. We are now so inter-mixed with tonalis (some of us have 3 or more) that we are complex beyond belief. Like your essay implies, our anxiety is huge, directly related to our sense of disconnection.I would love to build a dialogue between our 2 websites about this issue (and who knows how many others). How might we do this?With a deep-bow of gratitude,Beth, Virtual Tea House host
It requires us to know who we areSo true … not to be trite, and as I am sure you have heard many times, it has often been said “Wherever you go, there you are”;-)
Isn’t that a goose in the picture? There may be ducklings in the picture as well but aren’t ducklings famous for ‘imprinting’ on the first creature they see as being their mother? Is this how they ‘know’ home – they don’t question anything that happens to them?Here’s how I see the problem; as soon as we developed full consciousness we inevitably became disconnected from everything else because that’s what consciousness does. In an effort to become re-connected, we create art as a palliative.Thus, here is my healing balm. Partake, share, and soothe your aching soul. No charge.
I think you know this poem, David.Wild Geeseby Mary OliverYou do not have to be good.You do not have to walk on your kneesfor a hundred miles through the desert repenting.You only have to let the soft animal of your bodylove what it loves.Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.Meanwhile the world goes on.Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rainare moving across the landscapes,over the prairies and the deep trees,the mountains and the rivers.Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,are heading home again.Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,the world offers itself to your imagination,calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
“But what am I uniquely good at being?” No, Dave, as soon as you use comparisons or quantification (“uniquely good at”) you are talking about doing, not being. “What is X good at doing” is a fine utilitarian question for an IC to ask of its members, and especially candidates for membership, in order to decide how to best use their talents and capacities. One may be good at farming, or parenting, or leading, or planning, etc. The English language is wonderfully loose, but let’s not confuse that with “being”, as in being genuine, being compassionate, being a friend, being aware–which are each aspects/modes of being yourself. Being yourself is not an activity, or a set of capacities for action (talents, skills, knowledge, etc.) Being yourself (“authentically nobody-but-myself”) is, perhaps, resting in your true nature (once you have managed to see through the conditioning that generates personality along with its biases, defenses, beliefs and rationalizations). In that position I suspect you might feel at home wherever you are, and from that position you will do what you know is appropriate.Where can you call “home”? What you do uniquely well, and love doing, which enables others to change for the better, might not belong in any land-based intentional community. (It seems that the ICs we discuss are land-based, such as farms and ecovillages–with the exception of the IC being created in Second Life.) Instead I see you serving a large number of communities and organizations, and in return receiving material support from them. This is analogous to an itinerant preacher or circuit judge, except you may be able to do a large portion of your travelling through cyberspace rather than across the land.I suspect that, even as you help others identify and live well with the land, you will identify with something much larger (Gaia?). Your home may be merely a home base, from which you will travel in service, and to which you will return to take pleasure in dear friends and familiar surroundings. In that case you will not be tied to a particular habitat like a farmer, or a hunter, or a bear, or a salmon. (This idea of “home” reminds me of the short story you wrote not long ago, about the six(?) people in the future who lived and loved together.)
I question what you write about indigenous people’s lack of home-angst being about limited choices and less indoctrination (hope my paraphrase catches it).For the indigenous group I have a little outsider’s knowledge of, it seems to me that home was ancestry, genealogy;
Better, “act into that realisation”
Oops…I meant goslings of course. And Judith, thanks for the wonderful poem. I would agree that perhaps for most creatures home is remembered (even through part of our DNA, since butterflies and some birds ‘home in’ on their destinations without ever having been there before…they just ‘know’. A perhaps excessive analogy would be between modern humans and those born in concentration camps or prisons, who can’t remember home because they never had one worth remembering. They need to discover where they were ‘meant’ to live, not by personal remembering but by intuiting, subconsciously realizing through what they know of their history, where they instinctively belong. That’s perhaps what most of us today are trying to do.
PS personal responses sent to Beth and Paul offline.
Hi Dave! I just wanted to tell you again that I enjoyed this post so much. It really got my juices flowing, so to speak. I have enjoyed meeting up with you on the 37 days group on Facebook as well. I finally got around to sending Beth Patterson an entry and I posted it on my blog, and referenced and linked to this page of yours. I’ll keep coming back, so I’ll see you soon!
There used to be a Grateful Dead bumpersticker that said, “Home is where the Dead is”, a poignant in-joke about a place becoming home because the heart, “the people”, and growthful experiences were there.