Financial uncertainty, a physical move to an unfamiliar area or to a new house, a health crisis, a divorce or relationship breakup, middle age, and a death can all create a longing for home…a sense of belonging, of the familiar, of claiming a place that is ours, of feeling comforted and comfortable, of feeling safe, and a place we can truly be ourselves.
This is what Barbara Gates, author of the exquisite book Already Home: A Topography of Spirit and Place, writes about. She struggles to understand her new home in Berkeley, California after a move from New York and to understand the body she calls home as she goes through treatments for breast cancer and strives to live while being mother to a five-year-old daughter and wife to her lawyer husband.
Barbara does extensive research on the house she and her husband remodel limb by limb and on the colorful Ocean View neighborhood she lives in. She wants to know who lived there before she and her neighbors did and what home was like for those people. At first the search is about the physicality of the place, but “home” and “inhabit” take on much bigger…and yet much simpler…meaning.
In an interview with Shambhala Publications, Barbara is asked about finding home right we are and she replies:
Already Home tells a story of neighborliness, about finding connection — with one’s family, oneself, and the folks next door, with whatever presents itself, no matter how off-putting or surprising. I find connection with a homeless woman who sleeps in our family car, a rat in our refrigerator, the bay, trees and streets, and, learning the vast history of my home place, with generations of neighborhood ancestors. In contrast to our global ethic of opposition and reprisal, Already Home offers a much-needed taste of underlying commonality grounded in a sense of home, always available right here and now.
In that same interview, Barbara (who is a Buddhist) talks of interviewing Buddhist monks, who call themselves the “Homeless Ones” because they leave behind their homes. Barbara tells of how that homelessness showed her a different meaning of home:
I was reminded that a house is not a home. No house of bricks or boards could offer me the enduring safety and sustenance I yearned for. As I became intimate with the place where I lived and settled more fully into a wide sense of myself, I began to glimpse an inner sense of home. No matter who we are, through a shift in perception, we can see it. We are already home.
In reading this book, I connect with Barbara’s search for home. I, too, recently left behind an area (Austin, Texas), which I had called home for 20 years, to move to the Berkeley area to live near my daughter, son-in-law, and almost one-year-old grandson. This area is so different from my birth home area of east Tennessee and my adopted home area of central Texas. It is much cooler here, the yards are lush with flowers and greenery, and the homes are
charming. People I pass on the streets often say “Isn’t it beautiful here? I feel so lucky to live here.” There is a relaxation, comfort, and sense of gratitude that comes with these perfect temperatures and beauty every where you look. If you walk up into the Berkeley hills, you get gorgeous views of the San Francisco Bay.
Almost anywhere you can hear the whoosh of the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) trains zipping through the community and offering easy transportation to most anywhere you’d like to go. I sold my car before I moved out here and walk or take the BART (or the occasional bus) everywhere and the worries and expense of gas, car payments, car repairs, car insurance, parking, and traffic are gone for me.
Besides a freedom and sense of adventure in getting around, home takes on additional new meaning for me here. It is being a grandmother who gets to really be a part of my grandson’s life. It is being able to walk over to my daughter’s home after yoga at the YMCA or to the local farmer’s market with her and to have conversations in person that used to be months apart. It is cool air blowing through open windows in the summer and walks at any time of day and never breaking a sweat. It is exploring downtown San Francisco and new neighborhoods…each with their own charm. Home here is a scaling down of things and an expansion of sensual delight, new experiences, and sense of awe and possibility.
I’ve moved enough times in my life to not feel an attachment to any one building as “home”. Instead, I am developing the sense of home that noted Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh speaks of (and Barbara Gates quotes in her book):
In East Asia, we speak of the human body as a mini-cosmos. The cosmos is our home, and we can touch it by being aware of our body. Meditation is to be still: to sit still, to stand still, and to walk with stillness. Meditation means to look deeply, to touch deeply so we can realize we are already home.
I did a slow, walking meditation through the Berkeley hills this morning and connected with all the outward beauty I saw. The beauty inside me, which has always been, yearns for deep recognition and reconnection. It is that place that calls out to me and reminds me that I am already home…no matter where I go.