After my morning meditation practice, I take a cup of tea outside and sit on the bench in my front garden. At this time of the year, this ritual takes in the sun just as it is rising above the houses at the end of the street. I feel like a cat, bathing in the morning rays and enjoying the sensations of warmth on my face. This morning, I was taking in the September sun and watching the world waking up: dog walkers, commuters, and even a few school children. I had a real sense of the rhythm being set, another year ahead.
As I sat, I noticed how my feelings changed - all depending on the story I was telling myself. “Ah, September sun..its still warm…I love this time of year”; and then “Groan, September, the end of the summer, back to work”. Alternation. In the first I felt open, in the second I felt closed and defended.
Transitions are a great place to learn about the stories we tell ourselves - what is, what has been, what is going to be. I was watching my mind and body respond to leaving Normandy on Friday morning and making our way home after another wonderful holiday. I felt great sadness leaving what feels like a second “home” - we have been visiting this same spot for some 5 years now, often making more than one trip a year. I wrote my research dissertation there; and a place I have spent many hours meditating and “being”. I feel connected, I feel those roots go deep down…and its one reason we return again and again - a place I can truly resource myself. However, the deeper the roots the bigger the wrench: and my heart heavy as we drove back to Dieppe and the ferry. As I tuned in to the sadness, I did my best to stay open to that; it would have been very easy to contract against those feelings, to layer on the story of “back to work” and to take myself to small mind and irritable…and I don’t like who I become when I am when irritable.
Transitions also invite us to consider impermanence, how nothing stays the same. The “leaving Normandy” would soon become the “arrivinghome”, the leaving and arriving each with its own set of emotions mixed up and tangled. I put the key in the front door and I heard the running foot steps of our young cat. I opened the front door and there she was, rolling around in the hallway to greet us: there was NO doubt as to her emotions! My heart melted, it was GOOD to be “home”. For those of you who have pets, you might share my sense of how animals can contribute to that sense of “home”. The weekend became like a practice: allowing ourselves to slowly move in to the shape of “home” - unpacking, washing, cleaning, playing with the cat, gardening…taking our time, appreciating our “home”.
You might note I keep writing “home”. I’ve been wondering about the nature of “home” and what brings that felt sense. We have lived in this house a year - in fact it was this time last year that we came back from a holiday in France and spent our first days here, bonding with a house in a process that moved it from bricks and mortar to something more deeply felt. I love everything about this house, I always have - yet it took time to make it feel like “home”.
Undoubtedly, there is an external and environmental make-up to “home”. Over time, we get used to the way of how things are, how they look: familiarity. Even the smallest details like knowing which cupboard to go to for tea bags, extending to bigger things like the route we take to work, or the people we might see as we walk to the shops. Over time, those mini-routines become rituals. Sometimes I watch how my wife and I move around the kitchen in the morning as we get ready for the working day. Nothing needs speaking to, we almost ‘glide’ taking cups, bowls, cereal…a kind of synchronisation. There is shift from the external to a more internal experience of what “home” is.
In Normandy and in a little house I have come to know well, I felt “at home”. This was an internal sense of well-being, completeness, no lack - I imagine if you were to close your eyes now and conjure up a sense of “home” you would have your own words, but you would probably be able to feel it. Leaving our holiday location could have endangered those feelings of well-being; and this was what I was working with….
How do I feel AT home IN me, so that the external situation is not needed to feel okay in my life?
How do we continue to feel “at home” when we are back in to work after resourcing holidays?
The Buddhist path is often referred to as “the road home”, indeed one of my teachers Ethan Nichtern wrote about this very topic. How can we feel at home in our experience? How can we make our minds feel safe so that we can be open to everything life presents to us? How can we make a relationship with our bodies so that we can rest there? The practice of meditation helps us synchronise our mind and body so that we realise we are already complete. As Ethan describes:
“For a moment, we actually arrive in the present, feeling safe and belonging right here. A whole new realm of possibility emerges when it feels like we actually belong in our present experience; we start to appreciate life in a way that is impossible to express verbally. If we can learn to consciously reproduce the feeling of returning home to the present, we can start developing confidence that we belong here”.
External situations can often threaten our sense we ‘belong’. I know in my personal experience, whenever ‘responsibility’ arrives on the horizon, I take it on like a burden and I feel like I lose my freedom. Much of this is about boundaries, not letting the external and its demands encroach on my feelings of well-being and completeness; to trust we are already complete WITHOUT accomplishing or WITHOUT pleasing others (whatever our version of this outward search for ‘okayness’ is).
So, this is my focus these coming weeks as I take my time to arrive back “home”; to stay as open as I can, to relax mind and body…and to notice moments of contraction and closing down. Or, as I said to my wife this morning - “to stay light hearted”. I invite you to join me.