“I long, as does every human, to be at home wherever I find myself.” ~ Maya Angelou
Went back to my childhood home for Christmas. Slept in the same seaside bungalow I slept in as a kid and ate Grandma’s rum cake with my loving family ’round the same mahogany table. Then drove down to Georgia and spent New Year’s at Dhamma Patapa with a bunch of folks on their way out of suffering. When I finally got back to the city I’ve lived in for some five months now—Greensboro—and sunk deeply into my cherished love seat, I felt…homesick.
Not for my childhood home, because I felt it there, too. Not even for Georgia, ‘cause the feeling definitely persisted as I crossed the state line into peach territory. But it was somewhere down there that I put my finger on this fact:
I’ve felt homesick for years.
Pretty much incessantly, save a few fleeting moments.
Sometimes I feel it more than other times. I’ll just be sitting there, making small talk with a friend, poking the teabag in my mug, and will suddenly feel like something’s horribly wrong. Like I’m in the wrong place, surrounded by the wrong people, doing the wrong things, and all I want to do is go to some place called home.
Reminds me of that archetypal story about a person travelling far from home, discovering something, and then returning home, somehow changed and somehow the same. Every story has a beginning, middle, and end. And the best stories seem to end where they begin: with home. The saddest ones are those that lack the tearful homecoming we all, in some sense, seem to want and need.
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploration will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” ~T.S. Eliot
I’ve unpacked my suitcases enough by now to know that home is not my newest apartment. I’ve had my heart broken enough to know that home is not another human being. I’ve breathed deeply enough to know that even this body, which is surely my precious vessel, is not a home. I’ve even rooted myself in the earth itself, immersed myself in the energies of nature and still, somehow, felt like a vagabond.
During unusually intense bouts of homesickness, I often ask myself something along the lines of: Where could I go to feel more at home?
And often, I answer myself: Georgia.
I long for Georgia the way people long for lost lovers. The very name Georgia makes my heart swell. Anything that reminds me of it—like a song—makes my heart swell, too. And as I crossed that state line into Georgia last week, my homesickness may have persisted but, still, my heart felt like it could burst.
“I have heard that if you pull a bent breath through the second hole of a harmonica, tuned to the key of Georgia, while a train rolls by at the tail end of dusk, there is a good chance you will finally know what it means to rest.” ~ Buddy Wakefield
By the second day of my stay at Dhamma Patapa, after sitting for some time in what would’ve been silence if it weren’t for the room’s fascinating chorus of stomach growls, hiccups, and knuckle pops, Goenka’s gentle suggestion to “take rest”, which comes at the end of every sit, struck me with a much more profound meaning than ever before. You know those moments when the whole practice seems to culminate—not because you see a bright light or hear angels, but because you no longer desire talk or food or bed or…anything? Like, you’ve settled into your own completeness, just sitting there observing how things change is enough, and that old itch to move physically in space or mentally in time is no longer compelling enough to scratch?
Well, the moments I’ve felt that way can be counted on my fingers, and each of ’em passed quick as any other sensation, but all seemed to have this in common: my mind and body came to rest in the way a Sisyphean boulder comes to rest at the bottom of a hill. Or, if you prefer, in the way the moon’s reflection comes to rest on the surface of calm water.
Any given place can be the setting for these moments, I know, but Georgia has been the context of my greatest ones. When I long for Georgia, I believe I actually long for the utter repose that place has come to symbolize in my mind. No wonder that at its root, the word home means ‘rest’ or ‘lie down’. Maybe home’s not a place, a thing, or a person – maybe home is rest itself.
And maybe the cure to homesickness requires we master this paradox: remaining at rest even while moving through life.
Now, when I hear Goenka’s peaceful voice say “take rest”, it no longer seems like permission to take a break or go to sleep. It seems more like encouragement to take the rest I’ve discovered within the Dhamma Hall beyond the Dhamma Hall, and with me wherever I go.