The Puzzle of Home


The following piece was written by Kathy Hartsell, a fellow yoga instructor and mind-body practitioner who studies alongside the Mind Body Dancer® community. She writes from Boston, MA.

For me, the notion of home takes the form of a puzzle. This puzzle teeters on a rickety shelf in my heart, cozied up next to a variety of other mysterious heart contents that ask for attention from time to time. A jolt to my chest has always been enough to shake this puzzle from its resting place and into my lap, where it has many times stumped me with pieces that wouldn’t quite fit together.

Having moved to boarding school at a young age, I’ve grown accustomed to the low ache that drifts in with homesickness now and again. As I am sure many people do, I sometimes even feel this ache arise in the very places and with the very people that I recognize as home. For a while, I tried on different zip codes, convinced that the right match would surely dissolve the disconcerting tug of longing that kept showing up uninvited in my gut. But as I searched for the “perfect place” to unpack my work and stretch out my soul, I couldn’t shove away the gradually growing awareness of chasing a kind of stability that our world does not offer. At tortoise pace, I began to register that my outward quest, while wonderful in its own way, would never satisfy the longing to move into my own being. Of course, I discovered that certain spots beneath particular skies built a welcoming space for my life, but it wasn’t until I was willing to inhabit my own housed experiences that I could understand the messages encoded in that longing. I’m sure that I am not alone in these mindful circles when I say that, despite this understanding, I forget said lessons often. I have found that the push-pull of life will quickly sweep away things I thought I had already learned, slyly granting me some kind of “insight amnesia.” Remembering requires not only that I practice on my mat often, but that I find ways to also practice beyond the safety of designated space, and in the context of real life.

The puzzle of home has landed in my lap quite a bit in recent months. As my husband and I search for a house with a little extra room for our growing family, it’s amusing to see the long list of conditions we have created for our supposedly simple abode. Every third day we consider whether laying thicker roots down in the city even makes sense, or whether “home” might actually be somewhere else entirely. Officially waiting to adopt, we fret over how our future child will adjust to the new home we offer, and how we will best help her learn to trust this home.

As we work through these steps, I have been grateful to have Ethan Nictern’s The Road Home: A Contemporary Exploration of the Buddhist Path for a companion. Thanks to Audible, Ethan has been reading his witty, compassionate and timely wisdom to me as I take long walks in Boston (and ironically resist the expression of impermanence provided by September’s air!) In the book’s introduction, Ethan relates a conversation between his father, David Nichtern, and the lama Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche:

My father (who loves small talk) decided not to ask a question about the Buddhist teachings. Instead, he asked Rinpoche a small-talk question: “Where do you live?” It was a simple enough question, a little dose of chitchat to blend with all that profundity. “Where do you live?” Dad asked. “When you aren’t on the road–traveling, moving around, teaching—where do you live, Rinpoche?
When he heard the question translated, Khenpo Rinpoche raised the brows above his wide eyes and said something in Tibetan to his translator… “Rinpoche says to tell you that he lives in the center of his awareness!”
In a million different ways, Ethan inspires me to return to the hammock in my own heart. From his teachings, for both the literal and figurative suitability, my meditation anchor these days has become “easing home.” I can’t say that I “live” at the center of my awareness (like the Tibetan monk in Ethan’s book), but I’m quite grateful to have become a frequent visitor who can find my way there.

-Kathy Hartsell

Photography by Kathy Hartsell.
3 Responses to “The Puzzle of Home”
  1. mary purdy says:

    I really resonate with your post, I am working at cultivating coming home to my own heart, to the sanctuary of my own heart, to the comfort, ease and love and settle there like sinking into a bed with arm covers that wrap around me, that creates resilience, courage, confidence…taking the time to go in to my home.

  2. Nicholas Jon says:

    This piece expresses a few important reminders for me. First off, the idea that one can always find a home on one’s mat. No matter where you are or how connected you feel to the space, a simple constant lies in the option to unroll your mat and experience something familiar in your practice. I am also really fond of Kathy’s notion that you may feel at home not only in a specific place, but also with specific people. This has been key for me over the past few years. As difficult as it was to transition from small town life to NYC life, finding a core group of people that I felt comfortable with made me feel at home before I realized it. And when I return to Southwest Virginia where I grew up, I never feel fully at home unless close friends from high school are around to connect with. As important as it is to remember the home that exists in your awareness, I think it’s equally important to remember who or what can make you feel grounded when a physical home may seem hundreds of miles away.

  3. Alex says:

    This was such a great read because it offers insight to what it was like to assemble an idea of home from the perspective of someone who has lived your kind of life Kathy. Growing up I yearned for experiences beyond my hometown of Houston, Texas. When this dream became a reality, my idea of home was forever changed. I, too, experienced having to grow accustomed to the dull ache of homesickness. New experience and places stimulated me, but I longed for the familiar faces and feelings of home. Luckily, I found myself in a community that embraced me. I pieced together a new family system until I decided to leave that home for another one here in the city. Then that whole process repeated itself. Now as this grad school experience is going to be over soon and I will have to do it all over again. It is comforting to know that even though my physical address may change, we can still find home in ourselves and through the love we get from those around us.

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