The Places We Don't Call Home

Heading home after a week on the road didn’t feel so much like going home as it did simply the promise of a hot shower and a full meal. After an adventurous week exploring California, Utah and Arizona, our final night in Tuolomne Meadows was quiet. Maybe everyone was tired or cold or upset about the terrible rice we forced ourselves to eat for dinner, but I think the heaviness of the drive home the next day was starting to set in. The excitement that we all built up in our heads leading up to the trip was over and even the trip itself was drawing to an end. As we sat watching our wet fire wood try to burn, we were all hit with the reality that by this exact time the next night, we would be weaved back into the nets of our everyday lives. In our tiny apartments, planning out our weeks and thinking about the stress of another month paying rent. None of us were stoked.

I don’t think happiness and the feeling of home are synonymous but I think they can be. Being on the road, being with your best friends, being outside, feeling connected to the world and the people are you, are all recipes for feeling content and at ease. That’s the feeling I think of when I think of home. I think of feeling comfortable, free of stress. I think of feeling loved. I think of feeling like I can be me.

For a long time, many of us think of home as the place we grew up. The place where our childhood friends are, the place where our parents live. Over time, this idea dissolves. We find a new home, in a place or in people. Or this childhood home becomes a detached reality of who we really are. The home our parents built for us might still be their home but it’s no longer ours.

So we start seeking our own idea of home. This sometimes leads to having a mortgage, starting a family and working a high paying job in search for a sense of security to feel at home. But if you look hard enough, if you are awake to your senses and what makes you feel alive and well then you may find home elsewhere.

Rebecca Solnit writes, “home has to mean something more than a house; it has to mean a place, so that going out the door can be going home as much as going in.”

A lot of us find home in going places.

My first sense that home wasn’t a fixed place but a feeling was when I discovered yoga. I realized that I could feel at home in my own body if I could turn off my thoughts long enough to feel my body and my breath; when I tapped into this connection I tapped into a feeling of connectedness to something bigger. People find this in all different ways; yoga, running, rock climbing, cycling, swimming, painting, writing, cooking. I don’t know if this connection between body and mind feels like home for everyone but it feels like home for me.

So began the journey to discover the things in the life that make me feel most at ease and most like me. Traveling, being on the road, exploring, I discovered that many people call this spontaneous and ever-changing life home. Like me, these people feel stifled and stuck when they are forced into a “traditional home”. Like Solnit says, we find home as we go out the door.

And so that’s how I find myself sitting around a dying fire with three friends who I suspect also feel most at home sleeping on the ground. We don’t talk about it, this idea of home. We do talk about the next time we are all going to be able to finagle a similar trip. We talk about how we are going to manage getting off of work even for a weekend. We talk about the places we would like to go. We talk about when we will all four be in the same place at the same time again.

Even the heaviness that comes with returning to reality feels a bit like home. All trips have to come to end at some point. There is money to be made, there are obligations and responsibilities and no matter how much you build your life to be sustainable on the road, life is never without its hard work and suffering.

Jack Kornfield uses the phrase 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows. The Buddhist philosophy is that there is always suffering, no matter how much time we spend running from it on the road, it will always be there. Without suffering, there is no joy. If you ride the bliss of being on the road long enough, suffering will catch up with you eventually. It will start nagging at the edges of your naive happiness. Life has a way of balancing out like that.

So home, sometimes, is in the suffering. The suffering that comes with returning to the routines of everyday life after a week on the road where the only suffering came in the form of no showers and bad rice.

When your home isn’t a fixed place then home is the feeling of walking out the door knowing the only plan is to sleep under the stars that night. It is the feeling of arriving in a place after a long drive or a strenuous hike. It is the feeling of waking up on the ground in the morning to the earliest light. It’s the smell of campfire that still lingers in your clothes a week later.

Home is in the not knowing and the unexpected. Setting up camp in the pitch black and waking up to a magnificent landscape. Getting lost somewhere without cell phone service. Home is in the boring and crappy moments in between the beautiful ones. The time spent sitting in the car for hours on end, peeing at rest stops in places in Nevada you didn’t even know could exist. Home is the moments you get to yourself, when you sit on a rock and stare out at the world and feel small. The moments when you feel connected to the earth around you.  The moment you feel your priorities come into clear focus.

Home is watching city life slowly fade into suburbs and then a couple lonely gas stations and then nothing but mountains on the horizon. Home is the beating of your heart in your chest as you look up from the bottom of the huge face of rock, the feeling of looking out at vast desert that may never end, the feeling of losing yourself in the sound of the ocean. Home is a series of places and the feelings they give you.

Home is in the people you share all of these moments with. The people who share your wanderlust. The people who you wake up next to in the morning and who lay out their sleeping bag next to yours no matter how bad you smell. The people who drink whiskey with you around campfires. The people who stand next to you in silence and stare into beauty. The people who push you to your limits.  The people who look up at the milky way and count shooting stars with you.

Home is in moments of connectedness. Connectedness to nature and connectedness to people; simply the feeling of being exactly where you are meant to be. Home is constantly evolving and moving and we are constantly seeking it. We search for it in the people we choose to love, the places we choose to go and the places we choose to stay. If we are lucky, if we are awake enough and if we keep chasing the right things, we find our sense of home all around us.