May 7 Returning to Our True Home


On Monday, Miles will facilitate. He shares:


Home is both a physical place and an abstract notion. For some of us, home was a mostly happy place where we were born and raised. It formed our identity, our customs and habits, our ideas of what's right and wrong. For others, home can evoke many unpleasant experiences that were not only uncomfortable but also painful. And for yet others, home is a mixture of both or perhaps an elusive notion as we've moved from one home to another, sometimes multiple times. Later, as adults we may have been fortunate to create harmonious homes in a chosen location with loved ones.


My home of origin had some major challenges. My father was killed in an accidental mid-air collision of two commercial airplanes when I was four years old. My mother was understandably deeply grieved by this shocking event. Nonetheless, at first she seemed to manage well, carrying on as a homemaker. With my sister who was five years older, we moved from the suburbs to New York City. A couple years later, when a romantic relationship that appeared headed for marriage did not work out, my mother fell into a deep and prolonged depression that lasted, with some remissions, for my entire childhood (and the rest of her life, despite treatment). Too young to know how to help her, I found refuge in sports, friends, books and television. Sometimes, though, I sensed that aspects of a happy home life were missing, but then also wondered whether a harmonious and mutually supportive home was some fictional creation of television writers.   Fast forward many years and wife, who played a major role, and I managed to create-with the help of community and contemplative practice--a mostly happy home with our two children (and dog) that remedied many of the lacks of my home of origin.  


In a 1996 dharma talk at Plum Village*, "Returning To Our True Home" Thich Nhat Hanh discusses a more abstract notion of home. As a way to find our true home, Thay essentially asks us to practice putting lyrics to the subtle soundtrack of our lives since birth--the uninterrupted sequence of breaths. He says:


There is a very simple gatha, a simple verse for you to practice. You might like to learn it today. When you breathe in, you say, "I have arrived," and when you breathe out, you say, "I am home." According to this practice, your true home is in the here and the now, and our practice is the practice of arriving every second into our true home, which is the present moment, the only moment when life is available. We have been running all our lives to the past, to the future, to our projects. Now it is time to go home. And if you go home and look and touch deeply, you'll be surprised to see that what you are looking for is already there. Peace is available.


This is a practice. Paradoxically loss, even catastrophic loss, can allow a practice to flower and suffuse ourselves and our lives. A major loss in Thay's life was being exiled from his native Vietnam. For him, losing his physical, concrete home provided the impetus to find his true home:


It was precisely because I did not have a country of my own that I had the opportunity to find my true home. This is very important. It was because I didn't belong to any particular country that I had to make an effort to break through and find my true home. The feeling that we are not accepted, that we do not belong anywhere and have no national identity, can provoke the breakthrough necessary for us to find our true home.


From Thich Nhat Hanh, "At Home in the World"


When we know how to take care of our [body and] feelings-when we know how to generate joy and happiness, and how to handle a painful feeling-we can cultivate and restore a happy home in the present moment. And when we know how to generate the energies of understanding and compassion, our home will be a very cozy, pleasant place to come back to. But if we're not able to do these things, we won't want to go home. Home is not something to hope for, but to cultivate. There is no way home; home is the way.


This Monday, you're invited to share your experiences of home. Has home been an important part of your life-a joy, a sorrow, a conundrum? What role, if any, does your practice have or do you hope it to have? What does home mean to you now? What kind of home do you hope to build for you and yours?

I hope you can join us,



A deep bow to Scott Schang of the Stillwater sangha for some of the text and quotes from Thay. The personal story is mine.

Note that this is a newcomers week. Please come at 6:15pm for a brief introduction to our sitting.