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Home: Living with the Reality of Uncertainty
Graffiti-covered concrete highway pillars and the roar of traffic beleaguer my senses as I stand at the bus stop waiting for the 60A to carry me home. Home! After a few hours of traversing Glasgow on various errands, including viewing a potential new home, my weary body can’t wait to unwind in a safe place—lie down and recuperate. I love our home; it’s in a quiet street close to the River Kelvin and the Botanic Garden and breathes a relaxed, spacious, and creative vibe. It is filled with yoga mats, meditation cushions, musical instruments, children’s toys, Buddha figures, artwork, books, and more books, art materials, pebbles, shells, and other natural objects and some of it is properly displayed or tidied away, and some of it isn’t. There are several items of vague and/or infrequent use that claim their right to fill corners and adorn ledges with their visible presence: a fist-size stone covered in green felt; a one-meter-long piece of ribbed plastic piping that makes a whistling sound when whirled fast in a circle; about a dozen wooden (walking?) sticks, spread over three different corners, next to rolled up, used flip-chart paper, roles of gift-wrapping paper, and empty(?) cardboard tubes. This is not a piece about de-cluttering, however (although, there’s an idea!). Perhaps it is about how to practice mindfulness at home. How to make the most of good conditions for relaxation while cultivating an edge, being alert, and not taking things for granted.
These reflections have been sparked by the prospect of moving out of our current home. For the first time my husband and I find ourselves in a position to buy a place of our own. There is a lot to get our heads around. The Scottish property sales system involves a process of blind, competitive bidding based on a home report evaluation. We have only put in an offer once so far, and in a bidding frenzy the property went to someone who paid 140 per cent above the home report figure. However uncomfortable we feel with the system, we have to play the game it seems, if we want to enjoy the basic security of knowing that nobody can turn us out of our home. Staying where we are is not an option as the landlady wants to move back in, eventually. I have had the experience of being forced out of a beloved home several times before for the same reason. As anyone who has been in a similar situation will testify, it is highly stressful. On top of the general hassle of moving house, there are difficult feelings to deal with related to the lack of agency and continuity. It is vexing that someone else should have the power to throw you out of your home. Mindful observation of such states of mind is always an option and perhaps I could write about spiritual freedom and homelessness as an inner attitude of non-attachment? The Buddha was a homeless wanderer, after all . . . Mmmhh . . .
We have seen quite a number of places, which helps to clarify our respective priorities and what kinds of houses are available in our price range. We had intriguing glimpses into other people’s lives on the way. If not the dozen pictures of dogs, certainly the smell that hit us upon opening the front door of a lovely suburban villa gave a strong hint about the passion of the owners. Both my husband and I are readily drawn into conversations with people about their plans and hobbies while forgetting to ask questions about damp treatment and roof insulation. We have viewed flats with TV screens in every room, or fashioned in metal and black throughout, or brimming with family photos and cute porcelain figures on every surface. I was touched to hear the story of the youngest son of a large Irish family who moved in with his mother to care for her after her cancer diagnosis; the rawness around his eyes when he told us she only lasted a few weeks. She was “quite a character,” had been working behind the bar in one of the big Glasgow theaters well into her 70s, and kept beautiful roses in her front garden. But why am I telling you all this? Perhaps to find, in the midst of uncertainty, an anchor in detailed, concrete observations and a sense of shared humanity. All of the homeowners we have met are in a similar position to ourselves: in the process of moving house, with all the unknowns that entails.
So far, most of the places we have seen were either the wrong size (where to fit in the piano?), or had too many bathrooms (the thought of cleaning them all!), or too near a busy road or motorway, or too far away from work, or didn’t have a garden or at least some trees to look at. And the couple of properties that ticked most of the boxes went in the blink of an eye to people who were able to “throw money at it.” So maybe this piece is about not being too choosy and accepting that life just isn’t perfect? Or about gratitude—at least we don’t have to sleep on cardboard in some shop entrance?
To be honest, I am not sure what this piece is about but it seemed a good idea to write about the process of searching for a new home. I had a feeling that it might touch a chord in my readers, as shelter, having a roof above one’s head, rates among the top human needs together with food, water, and clothing. The topic can elicit strong feelings, can’t it? How do you cope when your home security and privacy are threatened in some way: by hackers, burglars, natural disaster, unpleasant neighbors, or money worries?
Another reason for choosing this subject was that I had stopped writing (I am working on a book about mindfulness). Life seemed to be on hold to some extent, while checking property websites, studying home reports, imagining living in various places, discussing pros and cons, arranging viewing times, traveling to and viewing properties, and subsequently answering telephone calls from keen estate agents; all that had come to tie up a lot of my creative energy. Then I remembered an insight that had arisen out of previous, similar experiences of frustration: if you want release, turn toward the very thing that seems to be the blockage! In Rumi’s famous words in his poem “The Guest House”:
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture.
When people ask me how the house search is going I sometimes answer that I feel unsettled and resentful that it is taking so long and that I’d rather be doing other things in my life, such as writing and developing my teaching work. People usually empathize with that. But when I look a little deeper, I find that I don’t really mind so much and it is helpful to recognize that. The uncertainty about where to live and when we will move invites me to find refuge in a larger place than one constructed of bricks and mortar: life itself as it unfolds moment by moment. The body is key to entering that expanded domain. I recommend regularly interrupting the compulsion to getting things done, the habitual fretting and drive to perfection, and asking the question: where in my body do I feel at home? In the belly? The chest? The feet? Be off-guard for a moment. Rest. Breathe easy. Enjoy that relaxed, sweet, at-home feeling. It takes a little courage to surrender into it, to let go of the need to first have everything fixed and sorted in order to feel safe.
Learning to be at home in the body is becoming more vital as our continued safety on this Earth is endangered. We are the recipients of an intensifying stream of information about the precarious state of our home planet, which can draw us into an anxious, thinking-based existence that becomes increasingly fragmented. Mindfulness practice reminds us to stop, sit still, and sense the points of connection with the Earth through the body, the connection with a ground of being that is larger than the small, driven, everyday “me.” Being at home in ourselves allows us to relax and feel whole, while embracing a sense of uncertainty and even enjoying it. Out of not-knowing, moment by moment, the next course of action shapes itself, inspired by the felt sense of relationship with the family of beings we share our home with. At home in not-knowing, word by word, sentence by sentence, an article gets written.
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