“I think therefore I am home.” Descartes never said these words, my friend, Stefan did. That doesn’t make them any less profound though. Many an author have penned works eliciting the romantic notion of home yet none so far has fully encapsulated the true essence of the word.
Ask people what home means to them, and you are assured never to receive the same answer twice. And though we may speak in terms of home being a physical place, psychologically, we don’t think of it that way at all. Like so many aspects of this illusory and temporal life, “home” is more a mental construct of the human mind than it is a place to hang your hat.
What brought this dichotomy to the forefront of my mind was a short hike I recently undertook. Adjacent to my house but not my home, run several miles of crisscrossing pathways, cutting through vast expanses of boreal forest. I am fortunate enough to live in a pretty special place. Even though I have a bit of city boy in me, it’s offset with an equal part country bumpkin. Having found a balance between the two, I am not able to live entirely in one or the other.
What I did feel was out of balance this day was my exercise routine, so I threw on a pair of winter boots and headed outside. Shortly thereafter, I could be found snaking my way along the banks and shores of several small lakes that dot the area. They aren’t big lakes mind you and for the most part, are well hidden from city view. No cottages or camps line their shorelines as the lakes themselves are too shallow and weedy to attract any serious real estate developers.
I think that’s a good thing though as wild animals, be they land or aquatic, need homes too. They must undoubtedly consider their homes to be physical domains or at least I am assuming so. One can never really know for sure given panpsychism and all. Maybe they too long to return home to another place and time. Perhaps the beavers I stroll past in summer aren’t at all that excited about building those dams. Perchance, they damn those damn dams every single day wishing they could just high tail it out of there.
Not only does the fresh outdoor air bring with it some obvious physical health benefits, it also serves to germinate seeds of original thought. The singular focus required to safely navigate twisting trails frees the rest of the mind, allowing it to drift off into a meditative state. Any philosopher worth his weight in, well whatever philosophers value, knows that a pleasant walk in the woods is like going home. Maybe that’s it. Being that we are animals perhaps nature is the home for which we all find ourselves instinctively hoping and longing.
When not wholly lost in thought, it’s equally pleasant to happen upon intriguing discoveries as you meander back and forth along intersecting trails. Low lying marshes silently slumber in deep winter sleep. Old fallen oaks and hollowed out maples speak of what was and what will never be again. Fungi, large and small, intertwining with local flora and fauna in their symbiotic love affair.
For someone who hasn’t had much guidance in his life, I do find that I am pretty darn good with directions. The terra firma kind anyway. As long as one knows the essential cardinal points, they at least can gauge with some degree of accuracy which route will take them home.
Taking note of the sinking sun flickering in and out of view from behind the thickening woods. I reckoned that I should start retracing my steps given that I wasn’t quite sure where I was in relation to where it was I wanted to be. Someone had left boot prints, in the newly fallen snow, heading in the same direction I was walking. I was confident that the trail exited somewhere up ahead, but with the sun retreating into a darkening western sky I thought it best not take the chance.
I engaged my inner GPS and headed back to whence I came. After a half hour or so I saw some familiar landmarks begin to appear in my periphery. The frozen lake that I had earlier crossed now appeared on my right-hand side. I smiled inwardly, proudly acknowledging the acuteness and accuracy of my mental homing skills. I made my way back over the lake and climbed up the steep embankment that led to the main artery known as Sage Road.
Here and there I had stopped to pull my cell out in an attempt to photograph what I hoped would be some interesting pics for my social media. I reached into my jacket pocket one last time and raised my phone to eye level. I tapped the screen to bring the surrounding birch trees into focus. A small patch of sparse ground lying between the road and the lake was their home.
I could somehow imagine that these trees were all related to one another having been first birthed then grown up side by side. Generation upon generation-spanning eons of time. Most likely thousands of years. Well before the urban sprawl of subdivisions, factories, and mini-malls blighted the land, they were.
Years on in my life, I resonate on a much deeper level with trees than I ever did in my youth. They are the carriers of Earth’s innate wisdom, storytellers of the distant and not so distant past, fathomless reservoirs of deeply-seated knowledge. Having been witness to all, they quietly remain, for those who know do not say. Unselfishly they share of what little they have, asking nothing in return, for aware are they of the power of giving. Firmly rooted, deeply entrenched, they bend yet never break, for deep and broad are the ways of their learning and lessons.
I felt a sense of physical accomplishment; my feet now returning to the hard asphalt surface of the main road. Up until that point, my thoughts hadn’t been focused on much, other than getting those pics for my social media accounts. Often though, it’s when the mind is calm and serene that the most profound thoughts rise to the surface. Quietly walking, a moving meditation.
Cresting the small knoll our street runs up over my house finally came into view. That’s when the self-realization hit me. Not like a brick to the face or an arrow to the heart but more in the form of a curious notion. It was at that very moment; I realized that I did not feel any emotional or sentimental attachment to my place. It wasn’t only this particular house that I lacked any affinity for but my entire hometown. In fact, any town for that matter. It dawned on me then and there, that at no time or no place had I ever felt a sense of being home.
It all felt a bit foreign, at that moment, although I suppose I always did have some cursory awareness of this fact. There was just something about this time this moment that it hit me more so than it ever had before.
I did the mental math and figured fast enough that I had resided in 18 different locations over the span of the past 38 years. That’s an average of only two years in each domain. I never intended to live this wayward nomadic lifestyle, life just sort of took me along for the ride.
I did mention that I was never great at laser focusing my life in one direction or another. It’s almost as if I subconsciously chose the randomness of a smorgasbord life over the methodicalness of an a la carte. Only this meal consisted of appetizer towns, main course cities, and aperitif provinces. All these places, nineteen in all if I am to include my birthplace, and not one of them has ever felt like home. Not surprising, I suppose, when I take into consideration a particular childhood memory of mine.
At the time, it made little sense to me. Metaphysics was to become my muse later in life. Not as a result of any specific calling or event that catalyzed although I suspect this memory played a role. I can still recall it to this day given that my father would often tease me about it back then.
Thus, even though my recollection is only of a singular event, it surely must have been a recurring theme in my youth seeing as my father was fully aware. Though sporadic and vague in the recesses of my mind, it was poignant enough to commit itself to memory for an entire lifetime. Striking in its simplicity yet sophisticated in its foreshadowing of many things yet to come in my life.
As is with any youngster, I would often play in and about my backyard. Two large maple trees stood almost astride of one another. Though they were the same species, their appearances were marketably different. I did then and still do think of them in terms of husband and wife.
Being a daydreamer, it was not uncommon for my mind to drift along like the cumulous clouds floating overhead. One reoccurring thought came about in the form of a wish of sorts or more so a strong desire. I aspired to construct a rocket ship. Not just any rocket ship mind you. My longing was more straightforward than that of walking on the dark side of the moon or traversing the innumerable stars.
No, my dream was to build a rocket ship that would be capable of bringing me home. Thinking back on this memory, as I have from time to time, I ponder its significance. First and foremost, why would a toddler of three or four conceptualize of any place being home other than that of his terrestrial house with his mom, dad, and siblings? Further to this, where and what exactly was this “home” that I pined for so dearly?
Well, I am 58 years old now, and I still do not have a satisfactory answer to either question. I think that perhaps everyone has asked themselves similar type questions at one time or another. In essence, what is the exact nature and root of the word home and precisely what does it mean to each of us individually? Is it where we find ourselves now living and working or, then again, the place of our birth and ancestry?
More recently, there has been a push around the world toward nationalism. More and more people are identifying with home being the country in which they were born and raised. Increasingly, people are resonating with the idea of being a proud Canadian, a patriotic American or any number of European ethnicities.
Even though this notion of a homeland is being bandied about more often these days, I still think of myself as human first and foremost. A native from and resident of the planet Earth, third rock from the sun. It is human history in fact that has created these invisible boundaries and imaginary borders we all find ourselves falsely imprisoned within. They aren’t natural. You won’t see them on Google maps satellite view. Personally, I feel more a part of the whole than I do one specific locale.
When I am hiking about, I listen, and I hear, I touch, and I feel, and when I breathe, I smell. In doing so, I feel a connection to all of the Earth not just parts of it. There are no confines within which my five senses do not feel this connection to the whole world. Is this home then? If so, then it too is only temporal. Afterall, we are only on the planet for a short period. Just a quick stopover, not unlike the 18 other places I found myself living.
It struck me, as I rounded those same birch trees a few days later, that so many quotes and memes I’ve glanced at online deal directly with this subject of home. Philosophers, both past, and present speak of our home as being more conceptual than tangible. A place outside of space and time as opposed to a physical abode in which we reside.
Many peoples, including myself, have felt that home was somewhere “out there” rather than right here. An ethereal world of many dimensions where our true selves mill about in between incarnations on this earthly plane. Others still see life as a one-off wherein after fulfillment we hopefully head home to some eternal bliss. To do what exactly, I have never been quite sure. Eternity, after all, is a pretty long time.
My understanding is that life is more or less an exploratory journey that we each embark on to facilitate our continuous spiritual growth. The Christopher Columbuses of the metaphysical world set off on adventures of Self-discovery. Sailing our flesh and bone ships back to port, each time, with a cargo hold of inner wisdom and a treasure trove of self-awareness.
Eventually, though, even Christopher Columbus had to hang up his quadrant when he finally turned over that sandglass one last time. So what then? Again, we are left with the notion of heaven or some other fanciful place where we seemingly reside for eternity. Is that home? Something within me tells me not.
All this back and forth from dimensional planes to Earth then back again to some other dimension plane. It could be exhausting. Once retired in this physical life we trust that it would lovely to travel the whole world over. Even then though, there comes a time when we finally say enough is enough. Wouldn’t the same be so for some seemingly neverending series of reincarnations from the spirit world?
Yet, even beyond this esoteric nature of dimensions and planes, there is the possibility of something further still. I suppose, if it is true, as Quantum Physicists postulate, that reality is actually holographic then there must be some place from whence this holograph is projected. What and where am I there? Would I finally feel home then or would I still feel that my home lay somehow outside of whatever this too might be? Perhaps it is as Zen masters proclaim when they state,”When you finally get there, there isn’t any there-there.”
And what of this “there?” Do I come from this place or am I from many places? Am I the whole or merely a part? Is my true home beyond even there, that and then the next and even the next? Where does it all begin and end? No philosopher knows or has ever known. Not even Descartes dare take this query on.
One thing is for sure; home is not a physical place where we warm our bodies next to some blazing hearth. Friends that replied to a question I posted about home were all too clear about this.
Some responded that home revolved around the security and comfort of friends and family. Others described varying mental states of contentment, happiness, and joy. Most replies wove through them a thin thread of inclusive of others. Maybe it does all harken back to some fundamental source. Perhaps that’s all it is. Home is us. It’s all of us.
Sitting here, I am thankful and appreciative that a simple hike spurred within me a more profound sense of clarity and self-awareness. We are home. Not the “we are home” your father would express so jubilantly as he pulled into the driveway, a long, exhausting trip having finally come to its conclusion. It’s much simpler than that. It always has been. It is us, ourselves. We are THAT for which we would search. We ARE home.
Leave us a comment on what home means to you.