Home. What does that word conjure for you? I’ve been contemplating this word since we moved into a new house at the end of September. Merriam Webster is of no help. Their definition of home is “one’s place of residence; a social unit formed by a family living together; a familiar or usual setting.” While these definitions are true, the word home as I see it, is more complex.
There are many ways to feel at home, but for the purpose of this blog, I’m going to to focus on three: your community, your physical residence, and with yourself. Optimally, we’re at home at all these levels.
What type of community feels like home to you? For over 20 years I lived in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area of North Carolina and enjoyed it immensely, but the connection was not strong enough for it to be home in the fullest sense of the word. In contrast, after our first weekend visit to Oriental, I knew this was home. Like Adelaide in Calling the Circle, “being here feels like finding the piece of a puzzle you’ve been searching for and pressing it into place.”
My connection to Oriental was deep and immediate and at that point mostly based on intuition and the pull of the water. Now that I’ve lived here, I can say Oriental is home because of the beautiful natural surroundings, the slower pace of life, the creative, spiritual and kind people, and because I rarely have to dress in anything that doesn’t go with flip flops.
What makes your residence feel like home? In the best circumstances, home is a place you feel safe, peaceful, and loved, a sanctuary from the stressors of life. The physical surroundings contribute to the feeling of home, the amount of space, the light, how you chose to decorate. An heirloom dining room set, the morning light in my writing space, pine, oak and sweet gum trees in the backyard, and sitting on the screened porch with my husband and cat, all make my new house feel like home.
Your community and residence may contain all you need to make it home, but if you’re not at home within yourself, there’s a restlessness and disconnection that no change in the external environment can fix. So, how do you know when you’re at home with yourself?
You express rather than repress. In childhood you may have been taught to repress parts of yourself like anger, sadness, creativity, and individuality. Later in life you may also stifle who you are after a trauma or trying to make a relationship work. It’s difficult to feel at home when parts of your authentic self are scattered across your life. To feel at home, you must claim these lost parts by noticing your emotions, opinions and desires, and expressing them in a healthy way. This is a complex process that requires mindfulness, self awareness, solitude for journaling and meditation, and time with a trusted friend/counselor/family member.
A good way to reconnect with yourself is to take time alone, preferably several days. With no-one else to consider, where do you choose to go? How do you spend your time? What are you feeling? Notice when something comes to mind and you immediately discount it as not realistic, silly, a waste of time. This is how we repress. Telling ourselves we shouldn’t feel whatever emotion we’re experiencing is a common way we repress our feelings. I often hear clients say, “I shouldn’t be mad; I shouldn’t be sad because others have it worse,” etc. Be aware of this tendency, and allow yourself to feel whatever emotion arises without judgement. I encourage you to take small steps to follow through on your emotions or desires and see how it feels. If you feel more alive, you’re headed in the right direction.
In a previous blog I’ve discussed this, but for me, creativity was something I’d repressed. Until I allowed myself to devote time to writing, I felt unsettled and that something was missing in my life. John O’Donohue says that restlessness is the expression of desire and I found this to be true. When I put time and energy into my desire to create, my restlessness diminished.
You accept rather than ignore. It’s human nature to ignore negative traits, because let’s be honest, who really wants to go there? But to feel at home with yourself, you must acknowledge and accept the less attractive parts so they don’t subconsciously manifest. For example, because of anxiety, I want to control things. This often results in me telling my husband what to do, which does not contribute to a harmonious relationship. Now that I’m aware of this negative trait, I notice the desire to direct him, remind myself I don’t need to control everything for things to turn out well, and I stay quiet, most of the time. As a result, I’m being the person I want to be and am at peace, which is a component of feeling at home. When there is dissonance between who you are and who you want to be, it’s difficult be home.
Other’s opinions carry less weight. If you’re authentically expressing your values, interests, and emotions, then other’s critiques are not as important. If someone from New York City came to my physical home and gave me ten reasons why they didn’t like it, it wouldn’t upset me. In fact I would smile to myself and think, they just don’t know what they’re missing. So, if someone critiques who you are when you’re fully at home with yourself, you should feel the same way, that they just don’t know what they’re missing:)
You don’t compare yourself to others. When you’re at home with yourself, you don’t feel jealous or resentful of how others are living their lives, because you’re content with your choices. You may occasionally be envious of someone, but hopefully use this as inspiration to make changes in your life, rather than proof they are better than you.
You feel safe to explore who you are and to make mistakes. You are not a static being. Who you are may shift and change with age and experience. It feels safe to try something new when you have a stable home base to return to. When you’re free to take risks, and fail without self criticism, then you are home.
With the winter solstice a month away, the shorter days and longer nights provide an excellent opportunity for introspection, and to assess if you’re living authentically. I encourage you to make small changes to feel more at home with yourself, thus creating the foundation for building a community and residence that truly reflects who you are.
As I write this blog, I’m aware of the millions of people around the world that don’t have the privilege of choosing their community and residence, much less the time and safety to journal, seek council or reflect deeply on their emotions and desires. The UN refugee agency reports that right now, 108.4 million people around the world are forcibly displaced, and this doesn’t include homeless populations due to poverty, mental health, substance abuse. I’m sharing this not to generate guilt, but to create awareness of the choices we may take for granted. It’s our responsibility to live the lives we’re given with authenticity and gratitude. If we cannot create home for ourselves, how can we help others around the world do the same?
The concept of home is fascinating because the specifics are diverse and unique to each individual. I’d love to continue this discussion and hear from you. Please share in the comments what feels like home to you.