Monday, 12 September 2016

Home, part 3

(This one may get a bit preachy for you; if so, just flee...It also rambles a bit, but one tried, one tries...)

So we are a restless species, looking for a home, and not just when we have to. I knew a man who had a good job - vice-principal of a nice college, in the days before things got a wee bit more challenging in the 90s. When I told him I was leaving to work abroad for a couple of years, he said that he'd often wished he'd chucked it all up and done something similar. Even he, who seemed very contented, could feel restless, wishing he'd tried a new home.

Americans (USA variety) have so many road books and films, so much space and distance. In "The Electric Muse" Rob Young contrasts the US road myth as a way of finding roots and belonging somewhere else - a horizontal journey - with an English inner and vertical journey. Back in the mind and in the music to the past as a state of mind.  Young moves on from this to write about the folk revival in terms of classical composers like Vaughan Williams and Moeran, who used folk tunes in sophisticated compositions, and then on to the folk-singer's revival we're still in the middle of. Looking for a musical home.

So maybe it's this:

vs this:

or this:

Looking for a home, on the road to LA if you're from midtown Illinois, amongst the travelling people and their songs if you're Sam Lee. (Forefront, above) In the uncertain but ancient past of the Horn Dance. (Dig the, it's too easy to laugh. They are in pursuit of something significant for them.)

I don't mean to suggest that folk singers and travellers on Route 66 are all wracked with uncertainty; I just want to move on from that idea of outer or inner journeying to find a home, to the psychological and spiritual dimension. The greater journey.

RD Laing talked about "ontological insecurity;" Buddhists talk about "Dukkha," perhaps too easily translated as "suffering." According to John Peacock, the root of the word is in something closer to discomfort and unease, the idea of a wheel that doesn't fit properly on its axle and gives you a queasy sort of ride.

Meditation can help us spend some time in the present, out of the stream of wanting and dreaming and planning, of wishing we were somewhere else, were something else, out of a state of recurrent unease. It is a training in reducing dukkha. It won't show us a new home - it's not so much a revelation of a new heaven and a new earth,  it helps us to be where we are. Ultimately, it refers I think to (another tricky word coming up) a mystical state, non-verbal -  both in time, as everything is, and out of it.

Eliot says it is:

"Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline."

He also tells us
"I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time."

It's not that we spend our meditation time entirely there, it is simply that meditating without striving; recalling the restless mind to the present (usually using the breath); moving our attention back to the present and what is happening now, can have a cumulative, slow but powerful effect. It can put us in a different relationship with the present, giving us a wider sense of what is real. It can make us feel more entirely at home in ourselves and where we are.

It's not stasis, it does not abolish conflicting impulses and pressures, we don't grind to a halt in some phoney self-willed pretend-nirvana. But we can feel, if we persevere, if we expect nothing and strive for nothing, we can feel less existential unease, less ontological insecurity.

Accepting our present state doesn't mean all is perfect in a perfect world. Nor does it mean we should simply give up trying to make material matters better for ourselves and others. But it surely means we are more fully in our world, not at a slight angle to it. We can feel of our world, not outside looking in and wondering if somewhere, down Route 66, there's somewhere else, more perfect for us.  

Eliot again:

"Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated 

Of dead and living."


"We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time."

I think the physical journeying, the mythical explorations, can merge with the mental, spiritual journey.

In "Learning to Fall," Philip Simmons writes:
"We seek that sure ground of our being and our doing, the home that withstands the vagaries of time and chance and change."  

I'd add that we cannot overcome time chance and change, we have to accept that we are exactly those things. The paradox is surely that we can only be at home by acknowledging it, by living in the understanding that home always changes with us.

Simmons agrees with Eliot, that "in the end we return home by recognising that we're already there. Indeed our true home is within." 

He quotes Marcus Aurelius: "Look within. Within is the fountain of good. And it will ever bubble up if thou wilt ever dig." 

Finding this fountain of good, adds Simmonds, "we discover that no land is foreign, no matter where we go we are never strangers. We return home to the place we never left."

So we aren't boll weevils. We can only feel at home if we are at home in ourselves. My route to that home is meditation, and some reading. What's yours?

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