“Home” is such a powerful and evocative word – in the realm of the psyche, and in spirituality and religion as well. Before you read any further, I invite you to sit with this word for a few moments: what memories, feelings, sensations, or images does it evoke for you? There may be a range of connections, perhaps even an experience of longing.
Home is often associated with safety and comfort – a welcome refuge. Some of us feel as if we never want to leave home, while others are eager to venture beyond the familiar, to explore, travel far and wide. But even some explorers, arriving home after a journey, may feel relieved that they can finally rest. “Welcome home.” We may find ourselves relaxing into a sense of belonging. For some, home means no longer feeling lost or alone – perhaps even experiencing being cherished and cared for. What a relief. Returning home may invite joy and celebration. I think of the Odyssey – a classic story, Homer’s epic of a ten-year struggle to return home after the Trojan war. At last.
Of course, we all know there is another reality: sometimes home is hell, and the struggle is to escape as soon as possible. Home may be where all the dark secrets are hidden – where alcohol and physical/sexual abuse fester and harm. Or where a perfectionist and stern religious life is experienced as abusive and frightening. But still…those who manage to escape from this kind of home often carry with them a dream of a safe haven that is embracing and nurturing, an archetypal/mythic vision of a place where love embraces, cherishes and heals..
The Journey Home
Home implies the beginning or end of a journey: where we start from and where we may hope to return. Between the two, there may be an exploration, a search, a quest, or perhaps a banishment, a sense of wandering off and losing one’s way. In the words of the song “Amazing Grace,” “I once was lost but now am found.” (I recently learned that this song was written by slave trader John Newton, remembering his experience of landing safely in Donegal, Ireland, after being caught in a fierce storm at sea. While the lyrics were written years later, he credited this experience as being the beginning of his shift away from the slave trade to becoming an Anglican priest.) His “I am found” expresses the relief of “I am home.” I talk at some length in my book about the metaphor of the spiritual journey, so I will not repeat that here except to say that the journey may be long and challenging.
Some food for thought: the journey out into the world may feel like a more masculine metaphor – the adventure and “quest” – while “home” (being home, deepening the relationship with home, caring for home) may hold a more feminine flavor of spirituality. What if “home” suggests “dwelling” more than, or at least as much as, adventuring out and eventually “arriving” where one started? Perhaps T.S. Eliot’s words evoke this more “masculine” image?
“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.” (Four Quartets, Little Gidding)
In some faith traditions, true “home” is heaven: after the death of the earthly body, the soul or spirit goes home to the heavenly realms or the spirit realm. Sometimes this journey home is believed to be contingent on faith or righteous living, or to be postponed until the final resurrection of the body. If reincarnation is assumed, the visit home may be temporary, until the soul takes birth again or the final enlightenment takes place. Home is often felt to be elsewhere – not in this earthly plane of suffering – but for some nature traditions, home may be the earth. Mystical traditions often point to home as the essence of one’s being: one is already part of the Whole, the Mystery/Godhead/Ground of Being, so the journey home is awakening to the recognition of this Truth. I am “always already” home – I am Home itself.
Why does this sense of home carry such significance? Of course, it doesn’t matter to everyone. This longing for home may be more characteristic of certain personality types (Enneagram Fours, for instance?). The significance of home may also depend on one’s path/tradition. But the sense of having lost one’s way or longing for home has an archetypal flavor, and I suggest that it runs deep in our psyches.
Home and the Heart
Home is where the heart is. What is the heart that we are speaking of here? Let’s imagine, in keeping with some psychospiritual traditions, that the heart has layers. We are most familiar with the level of personal love and hurt (we might call this the level of the ego): warmth, connection, attachment, perhaps a deep ache or sense of feeling wounded. When we say “my heart is broken,” we all know what that feels like – as an actual sensation in the body. “My heart goes out to you” suggests a loving outreach, connection. There’s also a kind of knowing that comes from the heart: “in my heart I know….” This speaks of a perception that does not originate in the mind, but from somewhere deeper inside. Depth is often associated with heart-knowing.
So the more we can feel into the heart, the closer we may feel to “home.” In the depths, the perspective is not really personal: this is what we might call the subtle level of the soul, which is a focus of Jungian psychology. In the mystical traditions, there is an even deeper level of the heart which is sometimes called the Universal Heart (non-personal, no-self). Sufism and Eastern Orthodox traditions are pointing to this depth when they speak of the “eye of the heart.”
Listening for the Longing
For both counselors and spiritual companions (or for ourselves), I invite giving quiet attention to tears, a pause, a closing of the eyes or touching of the heart (often in the center of the chest) as hints that the longing for or experience of home is not far away. We may gently ask, “longing for home?” or “where is home?” The word may not be used at first, so we need to listen for hints and watch for signs that the sense of home is present, or that the absence of home is being felt. Connection with home can bring comfort, reassurance of one’s essential worthiness: one has not been exiled/banished, or if one has wandered away, one is always welcome home (like the prodigal son/daughter). The longing that has settled for searching in shallower places (alcohol, drugs, financial success, romance) may find these ultimately unsatisfying and even destructive. We can acknowledge this “unsatisfied” longing and gently explore deeper associations and possibilities.
I invite you to contemplate your own longing-for or experiences of home. And to imagine/feel your heart’s response to the words, “Welcome home.”
Recommendations: Connie Zweig’s The Holy Longing, and for an exploration of the heart from psychological/spiritual perspectives, John Prendergast, The Deep Heart: Our Portal to Presence.