“Home…is not just the place where you happen to be born. It’s the place where you become yourself.”
I really wonder how all this travelling will affect our baby.
In the span of three months, we’ve taken Gabriel on 12 airplanes across three continents, slept in about two dozen different beds, exposed him to frigid Icelandic winds as well as tropical Thai breezes, and placed him in the arms of countless friends, family, and strangers. He has been in more places in five months than most people will see in a lifetime.
After all this stimulation, will he ever want to abide in a single physical location? Will he, like his parents, become hopelessly addicted to travel?
Or will all this motion lead him to long for a single physical location he can rely on night after night?
It’s very stimulating and exciting to have no fixed abode, where the walls around you change every night. It reminds us that we are simply visitors here on earth. But if we’re not careful, being on the road, without routine or address, week after week, can be incredibly tiring and draining.
This is why Pico Iyer said that movement is “only as good as the sense of stillness that you could bring to it to put it into perspective.” Without inner stillness, we can easily come to resent motion.
I hope that we will transmit to Gabriel not only our love for foreign places, but also the possibility of finding the “still point of the turning world” (as TS Eliot described). I hope that he will learn to be at home on the ground beneath his feet, regardless of where he’s at.
Home is a metaphor used by all religious traditions. We’re all familiar with the feeling of belonging and comfort that walking into our physical home after a long journey provides. Similarly, spiritual traditions describe the journey we undertake to find our true Self as a process of coming home.
Each tradition teaches that there is one essential Self (or Tao, Atman, God- choose your metaphor) and that we are That. The trouble is that we don’t usually identify ourselves with That. Instead, we cling to the illusion that we are somehow a separate, independent entity. The result of this misperception is what the Buddha described as dukkha (suffering, dissatisfaction, being ‘stuck’).
But if we examine and investigate this sense of being ‘me’, we soon realize that we’re not who we thought we were.
Body? Decays over time; dying and being reborn in every moment.
Thoughts? Constantly changing. What’s in your head now is only there for a second.
Personality? Also subject to change.
So the question naturally arises: who am I, really? Is there a ground that I can stand on where I can say, there, I have found my home?
The paradox is that the more we journey to the center of ourselves, the more we realize there is no concrete center to be found, no fixed point we can point to and say ‘that’s me.’
Thinking that we are truly our bodies, mind, or personality is like building a house on quicksand: it will slowly slip away from us no matter how much maintenance we put into it.
Instead, perhaps the ‘home’ we truly long for is to be fully present in the mystery of God (Self, Tao, etc.), which is “closer to me than I am to myself,” as Meister Eckhart described.
Is being home knowing we are this ineffable, ungraspable, eternal mystery? Listening to the silence out of which all creation arises? Knowing that we are That which absorbs and witnesses all arising without judgment or reaction?
Is home the pure presence that Moses encountered in the burning bush with a God who defined Him/Herself as “I am what I am”? And dancing with the mystery of forms emerging out of emptiness, moment after moment?
Or perhaps home is realizing that despite the fact that we are constantly in motion, we can learn to ride and accept this. Instead of fearing and resisting our lack of ground, we can creatively engage with the perpetual unfolding.
There is peace, wisdom, and freedom in knowing that we are That, and not the ephemeral personality we thought we were.
This is expressed in the Biblical parable of the Prodigal Son, who squanders his inheritance in foreign lands and then is welcomed back home. We find in that story a profound message: no matter how far we may stray, no matter what trouble we may get ourselves into, the gate is always open to return home (to the place we never actually left).
This is also reflected in the final stage of the hero’s journey (as described by Joseph Campbell). Odysseus, Abraham, Jesus, Ram, the Buddha, the Zen oxherder: their journeys all conclude by returning home. The people and places they left are the same, but the person looking out at all this has been transformed. The wisdom they discover is always the same: the importance of living mindfully and compassionately, without fear, and for the benefit of others.
The wandering is an essential part of the experience. Often times, in order to discover a place where we can truly abide, we need first to travel around. Similarly, to refind our inner ground, it helps to feel the pain and confusion of thinking we are separate from it.
As Gabriel’s life journey continues, I hope he will be able to find the stillness in his motion through time and space. All that we as parents can do is give him the tools he’ll need to be able to find his own balance.
I’m certainly looking forward to sharing this journey with him, to realize that we’re actually always at home in every moment and every place if only we open our eyes to seeing this way.