The Meaning of Home

By Mark Matousek, author of Writing to Awaken

The quest for meaning includes finding your home in the world. This home may not be geographical. A friend of mine devotes her life to Doctors Without Borders. Though she’s fond of her suburban house in New Jersey, her deepest sense of home comes from being where the greatest need exists. When treating refugees in foreign countries, my friend feels she belongs. Being a doctor locates her in the world—for this generous, compassionate woman, home is an emotional state more than a swimming pool and circular driveway.

A few years back, I traveled around the United States doing research for an article about the epidemic of homelessness in our country. When I spoke to homeless individuals, I began to grasp the spiritual meaning of home and its impact on everyday human life, regardless of whether or not we have a permanent address. Homelessness is a state of mind many of us have experienced in times of transition and struggle, during intervals of heartache, confusion, and disappointment. Though we may have a roof over our head, we nonetheless feel homeless, dislocated, and abandoned. In such times, we discover that home has an existential importance that relates to our deepest insecurities about living on this mysterious planet in the first place. Through this spiritual lens, home is where you find your heart as much as where you hang your hat. It is connected to the idea of sanctuary, as we discussed in the lesson on finding an inner refuge. In Buddhist teachings, spiritual initiation is known as “taking refuge” and is related to this sense of home and sanctuary. As something we create for ourselves, we can feel more at home with a group of like-minded strangers than we do with biological family.

Catherine lived like a cat on a hot tin roof. Wherever she landed, Catherine would leave as fast as she could pack her suitcase. For twenty years, she traveled incessantly, looking for a place where she felt she belonged. But this perfect place eluded her because no matter where she was, Catherine invented a reason why it could never be her home. When she joined my course, she was exhausted and filled with rationales about why no place would satisfy her. I asked Catherine to write about a destination that might give her joy. What sort of home might feel right for reasons she couldn’t make logical sense of? Where did she feel her spirit belonged? Which place would be best for developing her gifts? Here is what Catherine wrote.

I’ve always felt called to live on a ranch. That’s crazy since I’m single without a lot of expendable income. But when I close my eyes and see myself somewhere, it’s always outdoors on a kind of plateau that’s surrounded by mountains and full of animals. Horses, goats, pigs, the lot. When I think about that, my heart sings. It feels like I could find something there that I’ve wanted but never found. A missing piece. But where would that be?

Catherine had opened a surprising new door. In order to move through it, she would need to look at home from the inside-out—rather than binge-shop external locations—and become aware of yearnings and images she’d long suppressed for the sake of practicality. As the class continued, I encouraged Catherine to flesh out her vision by exploring the feelings each element of her pastoral scene brought up: the animals, mountains, solitude, Western flavor, and outdoorsy lifestyle. What did each of these elements say about who she was and where she belonged? In the end, her love of animals let her know it didn’t really matter where she was, as long as she could have assorted pets. Catherine joked, “How can I make a major life choice based on moving somewhere I can have a goat?” I responded by asking her, “How could you not?” By the time the class ended, Catherine had decided to put down stakes in Arizona, where she became the caretaker of an estate where the owner allowed her to have as many animals as she wanted.

Where do you feel at home and why? What are the elements of home that matter to you? And how does home connect to your sense of purpose? These deepening practices will help you find out.

Core Insights

  • The quest for meaning always includes finding your home in the world.

  • Homelessness is a state of mind that many of us have experienced in times of transition and struggle.

  • Home is more than architecture. It is our source of balance, the central pivot point that connects us to the earth as we go about our life.

  • Home is connected to the idea of sanctuary and is where we find our heart as much as where we hang our hat.

Dive Deeper

By looking at your relationship to home, you touch on issues of safety, belonging, family, isolation, and self-worth. These can be tender feelings, so go slowly through these questions and pay attention to emotional and physical changes along the way.

  • Write about a homeless period in your life, a time when you didn’t know where you belonged, lacked refuge, and couldn’t take root.

  • Describe your ideal home and why it would suit you well. What would living there mean to you? What are the elements that would give you joy? In what ways might this ideal home defy logic?

  • What did home mean for you while growing up? Was it a comforting location or a danger zone? Did you feel that you belonged with your family of origin? Why and why not?

  • What can you do in your present circumstances to deepen feelings of home and belonging, on physical, emotional, and spiritual levels?

Until you understand what home means to you, it’s hard to know what to make of your life, or which direction to take. Without such an orientation, choice-making can feel like a game of chance. Having a sense of where you belong helps you decide what matters and what doesn’t. By learning to choose mindfully, attending to both mythos and logos, you cultivate a more meaningful life.

Writing to Awaken coverThis is an excerpt from Writing to Awaken: A Journey of Truth, Transformation, and Self-Discovery by Mark Matousek, published by New Harbinger Publications. Copyright 2017.

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