To me, home is a concept that’s about as elusive and complicated as it should be simple. I don’t mean “home” in the purely physical sense of the word, but rather in that more wholesome way that few people seem to truly have and those who don’t tend to write whole novels around. I think of home as being where we build our lives – what we attach to as our primary source of comfort and stability – but I’m cautious to assume that it’s a physical place.
As humans, we’re built to seek connection, to seek things that we can hold onto, and it seems that our natural default is to look outside of ourselves for these things. We attach to our homes and the things we put in our homes and our cars and the people we care about. But in doing so, do we neglect the most important thing that we could ever build home in? What if “home” is really in ourselves?
Most of us first try to build home in a house. It is, after all, the most tangible thing we can hold onto. Many of us, once we’re in said house, then spend our lives working to change it and update it and make it more beautiful. Because something about us believes that if we can make the space that surrounds us more perfect, that it will make something about our lives more perfect. At the very least, it’ll indicate something about us – that we’ve been successful, that our work and accomplishments have precipitated tangible payoffs. This is where the trap starts.
The search “dream house” on Pinterest brings up images of castle-like homes with actual turrets, rolling lawns, resort-style pools, room-sized showers with 18 heads shooting across the thing, a spiral staircase with an attached slide that wraps around it, a restaurant-like fountain soda station as part of your kitchen, bookshelves that double as secret doors, iPod docking stations built into the wall, a playroom entirely made out of Legos (yes, the walls are literally Legos). The majority of you is looking at this stuff and saying, This is ridiculous. Who needs that? But here’s the problem: there’s another part of you that can’t deny that it’s sort of appealing, that’s at the very least intrigued. Because we’re a society that’s very much overworked, secretly unhappy and searching desperately for meaning. And while there may be a part of us deep down that knows we won’t find that true meaning in a pool the size of a parking lot, what else is there? Where else is happiness if not in the things that we can come to own? If a kitchen island, hardwood floors or a deck aren’t the answer to long-sought contentment, where do we ever feel home?
When I was around 10, my parents’ marriage started to fall apart and we began to look to the material world of “fix it, change it, make it new” to rescue us, save us, make us new. Our lives became a series of houses that we moved into and tried to build home in and moved out of before moving on to the next place to try to build home in. We lived in rentals between renovations, at one point packing all four of us into a single bedroom. We moved into more beautiful spaces and lived around our problems, hoping that they might go away. And when we came up empty every time, we’d start to pack again.
It seems that it’s when you do get that kitchen island, those hardwood floors or that deck and yet the issues remain (and they will) that things can get really dangerous. At that point, I think you have two choices. You can ignore your ever-growing emptiness and look to the next thing to own to try to fill that void, your list becoming more and more outlandish, or you can break the cycle. You can start to confront why there’s a part of you that’s always on the run – start to ask why what you have is never enough, what it is that you’re really afraid of – or you can forever keep running.
We ran and ran until we couldn’t run anymore, until our issues were too loud for granite countertops to fix. That was when the scale tipped and the last piece of us broke: my mom kicked my dad out, then my mom kicked me out – then my uncle’s wife kicked him out – and all three of us packed into a rental townhouse.
To me, this all came down to connection. All the houses – the things we put in them, the constant to-do lists of fixes and changes – were an eternal attempt to not have to deal with our lack of connection with each other. It was why we kept trying to buy our way to happiness. It was why I felt so confused about what “home” really meant, what I could really hold onto.
Perhaps it’s once we realize that we can’t fully find home in a place that the next thing we try to attach to is people. Maybe it’s when we feel starved for real connection that we look for anyone who understands us to stick around, to build home in us and let us build home in them. But this comes with its own set of dangers.
I’m not going to write off interpersonal attachment as abnormal or bad; connection is much of what gives our lives meaning, and there is absolutely such thing as healthy attachment. But when we’re looking for home in anything outside of ourselves, our attachment to others often comes out of a place of pain and desperation and need, with an “I am totally fine” front. Not surprisingly, it tends to start to strain a lot of those relationships, and it leaves us questioning ourselves, wondering if we’re genuine about our caring for others. I remember the first time I told someone I loved them, my voice went up at the end; it was a plea, a question. What followed was a lot of self-doubt over whether I had meant it – whether I was even capable of meaning it – and all kinds of crazy self-consolation to make myself feel that I really had.
In college, I started experiencing a new phenomenon: I often found myself restless when I was by myself, feeling an almost terrifying need to be around others, but somehow after I’d call someone and go wherever they were, I’d feel even more alone in that room full of people. How does that even happen? If it’s not in material things and if it’s not something that we can take and get from others, where is it that we ever feel home?
I think that once we’ve exhausted our options of where to find home, we hit a sort of rock bottom. And maybe it’s at this point that we find one place that’s unexplored for us to attach to. For me, it was the place that held the answers I’d been seeking all along and it was the place I’d most avoided building home in. It was the place that would be exactly as strong and stable as I worked for it to be. It was almost all too cliché to accept as true.
Try this: stand on your two feet, flat on the floor with your toes touching, balancing your weight evenly between them. Stand straight, your arms at your sides, total symmetry. Now close your eyes. This is what we were told to do in yoga recently. And if you’re anything like me, you immediately start to feel as if you’re tipping over, as if the ground is rolling underneath you in waves, like an earthquake. If you’re anything like me, the only thing you’ll want to do is open your eyes, almost frantically. You’ll want to reattach to something outside of yourself, anything that’s external.
This is how badly we don’t want to go inward, how badly we don’t want to attach to ourselves or believe that we could find a sense of enough in our own bodies. These are the lengths we’ll go to in order to avoid that challenge.
As Robert Frost once said, “The best way out is always through.” I have this sneaking suspicion that we free ourselves from the things that come to bury us – that we learn our way out – by learning to go in and attach to ourselves. Because if we treated not the material, physical things that we buy but instead our bodies as home – if we made every present moment “home” – then we’d never be seeking, frantically or otherwise, because we’d know in every moment that we were home and alive and enough. We would know exactly who we are; we would look for what we have when we find ourselves in need; we might never feel restless when we’re alone. And maybe we’d find that it’s only once we learn to build home in ourselves that we’re able to really share our lives with others, that we can want people rather than need them.
At one point, all I knew how to ask was “where in the world is that I can build home?” Now I feel like I’m able to ask myself some more important questions, and the one that I’ve most felt left with I want to turn back on you:
What might you be unafraid to do or try – where might you be unafraid to go – if you weren’t so attached to the external things that you’ve surrounded yourself with? What might you lose if you started to find more comfort in yourself? Perhaps more substantial a question, just what might you gain?