from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Monday 6 June 2011

home is a sweet wild strawberry on the sunny side of the street (lane)

breakfast –
these sweet wild strawberries
a little sweet talk, and
this meandering walk
bunking off work

... which is, once again, trying to wrest meaning, content and order out of my disarrayed website with next-to-no techie knowledge.

So I am distracting myself for a moment, but cheating by posting for you an old piece from my MsLexia columnist days (oh happy times to be paid for a piece of writing!).

The Journey Home
Natalie Goldberg has an exercise in one of her books that I’ve found very fruitful, and often surprising: write about home without ever mentioning any house you’ve lived in.
By nature, I’m restless. As I’ve aged I’ve started to allow my journeys to be metaphorical as often as literal; but still I want to go everywhere, live everywhere, experience everything (well, maybe not everything). I guess as a writer that’s also a useful characteristic; and it’s certainly better for the environment if it’s metaphorical, the journeying.
            Given that restlessness, it surprises me that I have started to think so much about the nature of ‘home’. But I don't think I mean bricks and mortar.

Simplistically speaking, there are places in which we feel at home, even if we don’t live there; and people with whom we feel at home; and ideas, too. Ultimately, of course, what we hope to find is a way of feeling truly at home in this world, in our own skin, with who we are; and with, spiritually speaking, our essential nature. If we push this far enough, then ‘home’ means being at peace in every moment, in any place.

With poet and author Ken Steven I used to lead a writing retreat on the Isle of Iona each year.  Now I lead it alone (see my website. Ha ha. Maybe in a week or month's time, that is.). We/I use silence quite a lot; and the silence of the island’s many voices too. Within these silences we also talk about the notion of pilgrimage: what it might mean in the C21; what it might offer; how to ‘do’ it if one is not religious in the usual sense.
            The notion of ‘home’ and the idea of ‘pilgrimage’ are intimately linked. Certain places hold the ability to soothe, to uplift, to reorder a state of confusion: to bring us back to ourselves. As writers rather than tourists, if we choose to bring mindfulness to our travelling, our journey to such places – and Iona is traditionally one of these – is to a place where we might bring ourselves home, gather together the scattered fragments of ourselves, find a resting place out of the whirlwind of our habitual accelerated lives. Albert Camus said: ‘We travel for years without much idea of what we are seeking. We wander in the tumult, entangled in desires and fears. Then suddenly we arrive at one of those two or three places that are waiting for us patiently in the world. We arrive there and the heart is at last at peace – we discover that we have arrived.’1

If you would like to explore this as a practice, then I invite you, every morning for the next week, to spend a few minutes writing, without too much forethought, about ‘home’. Without, of course, mentioning any house you’ve ever lived in. If you would like to post a little of that in the Comments box below this blog I should be delighted to at least to choose an excerpt.

I’d like to leave you with these words from the inspiring poet and philosopher John O’Donohue, who died a year or two ago: ‘No journey is too long when you are coming home.’

1 Quoted in Phil Cousineau: The Art of Pilgrimage, Conari Press, Berkeley, California 1998. (This is a beautiful book. It was a gift to me from a participant.)


  1. First thought -

    Home is what I feel when the pain of a migraine is so bad that I let go.

  2. Poetically, that's neat, Belinda. Personally, though, what a drag that it's a migraine that takes you to that place... but it's interesting...

  3. This is not from me but from Beatrice Grundbacher in Switzerland:

    'One of the absurdities of home in this country is that so many people have got ‘second homes’ – holiday and weekend houses and places that stand empty and gape into the mountain and lake scapes with their shutters closed during vast parts of the year. It has got to do with our TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday) mentality – we split up our lives into a working and a resting, or rather fun part of the week, in each craving for the other, and our home usually is where we are not. Not only does this gulp large stretches of beautiful and untouched landscape, it also disconnects us from our true home, that, which is not a room, a house or a place, but our true belonging. Could we but live and be with and in the present moment and place – we wouldn’t need any fake homes. The pilgrimage is not our flight from one roofed and walled-in place to another, but our proceeding full heartedly in what we are doing at the present moment in the present place, our opening up to outsides and insides and not our imprisoning ourselves in miniature and luxurious gaols.'

  4. That is very profound. But isn't freedom frightening (or at least it is for me).

  5. Hello Beatrice

    I'm pleased to have your comment there - and I like the Zenness!

    Hi Belinda

    It seems to me that freedom, like everything else, is an attitude, isn't it? The Buddha suggested, as I expect you know, that much of our suffering comes from clinging to that which because of its nature can only be transient... And if the only time we truly have is this moment, right now, and the only place right here, then freedom must be about being OK with that, surely? I love what Viktor Frankl, who survived a Nazi concentration camp, said:

    'Everything can be taken away from a man (sic) except the final freedom: the ability to choose one's attitude to any set of circumstances, the ability to choose one's way...' (That's a paraphrase from memory and you probably know it anyway.) I find that so heartening.

    And then I think about Rousseau's words (was it Rousseau??): 'Man (sic again!) was born free, and everywhere he is in chains.'

    It's an interesting concept, freedom. I think about the long term inmates of institutions, and the many stories about their being given their freedom - and rejecting it, walking right back in to their prison.


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