Finding Our Way Home

Is it possible to feel a nostalgia for a home we have never known?  This is the paradoxical feeling that can hit when you sit down to meditate.   Turning towards ourselves, sinking into the stillness under the thoughts and the endless pressure to act, you can feel an unmistakable longing to go home to your true nature.  First comes a feeling of physical fatigue, like you have been caught up in a battle you don’t really believe in, like you’ve been armored by attitudes that aren’t really you.  Then comes the deep longing, a deep ache, to find your way to your true home.

I recently learned from a book called Word Catcher that “nostalgia” was coined in 1688 by Johannes Hofer, an Austrian medical student, who joined two Greek words, nostois, return, and algos, pain, to describe the longing for home of Swiss soldiers stationed in the mountains.   I find the detail of Swiss people in the mountains poignant because it suggests a longing for something vast, something beyond.  But Homer uses a version of the word, nostos, the homecoming stories, and even before Homer there were nostoi, the tales that sailors told of their homecoming journeys.  Some scholars say that ancient Greek epics can be divided into stories seeking glory in war (the Illiad) and stories of seeking the way home (the Odyssey).  Perhaps our ordinary lives–even our days–can be divided the same way:  we long to go out and get things done (sometimes big things, sometimes at least the laundry).  And then we ache to find our true home.  Odysseus went through a years-long, well, odyssey to get home again after war against Troy–the pull of duty and the possibility of glory gave way to that deep, deep ache to be where he was meant to be.  I wonder if this is the natural rhythm of life–to go out and to return, the out breath and the in breathe.

Often run down as sentimental, a feeling triggered by a song or a scent or a season, the ache of nostalgia can sometimes lead us to something unknown.  That extremely unsentimental physicist Stephen Hawking says that we can feel nostalgia for the future, which is his definition of synchronicity.  I think I know what he means.  Sometimes, usually when you are more quiet and receptive, there can be the feeling that there is a larger pattern and a larger life that we are meant to be a part of.  But how to break through?

Larger ideas can help (at least until we get attached to them and start confusing the map for the territory).  One large idea handed down from the days of Buddha is that there are inner attitudes or postures or mental formations, call them what you will, that lead us away from our true nature.   Among these postures are the “five hindrances”:  1) desire or greed, 2) anger or aversion, 3) sloth, torpor or boredom (and this can include compulsive doing, which pushes away boredom), 4) restlessness and worry, 5) doubt.  Lately, I’ve been trying to see how often I am carried away by this attitude or that.  Sometimes it really does seem as if a mechanical habit that has nothing to do with who I really am or what I really deeply long for is picking me up and running away with me, speaking words that have nothing to do with my essential wish, engaged in actions that feel hollow.  How amazing it is to catch myself before I speak in anger, before I walk out to the kitchen.  How amazing it is to just sit down and be still…and feel that ache for a life I haven’t yet known.




  1. Hi Tracy

    Well since I’m stuck here today with a nasty cold, I may as well take advantage of the situation.

    Our trouble is that we have sick horses. Plato describes our dual nature quite well that keeps everything as it is. How to deal with a sick horse?

    A more elaborate “chariot allegory” is found in the much older Indian work Katha Upanishad, and another in the story of Vajira.

    Plato in his dialogue Phaedrus (sections 246a – 254e), uses the Chariot Allegory to explain his view of the human soul. He does this in the dialogue through the character of Socrates, who uses it in a discussion of the merit of Love as “divine madness”.

    Plato paints the picture of a Charioteer driving a chariot pulled by two winged horses:

    “First the charioteer of the human soul drives a pair, and secondly one of the horses is noble and of noble breed, but the other quite the opposite in breed and character. Therefore in our case the driving is necessarily difficult and troublesome.” [1]

    The Charioteer represents intellect, reason, or the part of the soul that must guide the soul to truth; one horse represents rational or moral impulse or the positive part of passionate nature (e.g., righteous indignation); while the other represents the soul’s irrational passions, appetites, or concupiscent nature. The Charioteer directs the entire chariot/soul, trying to stop the horses from going different ways, and to proceed towards enlightenment.

    Sometimes I wonder if I am a charioteer or a horses ass. :)


  2. I have to say, that I like the Buddhist approach to these attitudes or postures or mental formations, as oppose to the concept of Mortal Sins and Capital Sins that are spoken of in Christianity.

    The currently recognized version of the Christian list is given as anger, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.

    While there does seem to be some alignment to the “five hindrances” in Buddhism: 1) desire or greed, 2) anger or aversion, 3) sloth, torpor or boredom (and this can include compulsive doing, which pushes away boredom), 4) restlessness and worry, 5) doubt.

    Just for fun, you might want to see what is said about both on wikipedia.

    Seven Dealy Sins –

    to the

    Five Hindrances –

    In either case, many of these are of course driven by our desires, i.e., I just have to have that extra scoop of ice cream. ;-)

    And that, it I were to confess, is one of my greatest weakness, ice cream or anything sweet.

    I find it much easier to let go of my anger and other venial sins, than my attraction to good food. Let’s face it, some of these things are really hard to resist.

    When I was in my twenties and someone asked me how old I was, I used to smile and say that, “I’m old enough to know better and too young to resist.”

    Now that I’m older, many of those desires and temptations are not quite so intense. Still, I haven’t made up my mind yet, if that is a good thing or a bad thing. ;-)

    I do take some delight in being able to let go of certain desires or anger; I enjoy the moment when I can catch a thought process in motion, and then just let it go very gently. That was an important life lesson to learn.

    Still, it hasn’t change the fact that I like ice cream and all the other good things that we may find in this life.

    Certain things are good to desire it seems.




  3. As is obvious Tracy, yours is a hard question to respond to. It is easy to use the normal clichés but getting beyond the clichés is not so easy at least for me.

    I experience resistance I do not understand:

    “We don’t understand the importance of our attitude. My attitude at any point is like the sunken part of the iceberg. I start out from the conscious affirmative part which is like the tip. I’m quite surprised—and unprepared—to meet resistance from this unconscious part. Yet my attitude is largely governed by this resistance. You have to see the resistance. You have to be more aware of the wish to not work—at the same time as you are holding the wish to work.” John Pentland

    I’ve experienced that my resistance doesn’t want to be seen. I’m convinced that there are only a rare few that are willing to experience below the tip. So regardless of my experiences, water seeks its own level and this level is partially determined by this unknown resistance.

    This is another reason why I think so highly of Simone Weil. She had such a dedication to truth and to the home it may lead to that her life was dedicated to it. She wrote.

    Excerpts from a letter Simone Weil wrote on May 15, 1942 in Marseilles, France to her close friend Father Perrin:

    At fourteen I fell into one of those fits of bottomless despair that come with adolescence, and I seriously thought of dying because of the mediocrity of my natural faculties. The exceptional gifts of my brother, who had a childhood and youth comparable to those of Pascal, brought my own inferiority home to me. I did not mind having no visible successes, but what did grieve me was the idea of being excluded from that transcendent kingdom to which only the truly great have access and wherein truth abides. I preferred to die rather than live without that truth. After months of inward darkness, I suddenly had the everlasting conviction that any human being, even though practically devoid of natural faculties, can penetrate to the kingdom of truth reserved for genius, if only he longs for truth and perpetually concentrates all his attention upon its attainment. He thus becomes a genius too, even though for lack of talent his genius cannot be visible from outside. Later on, when the strain of headaches caused the feeble faculties I possess to be invaded by a paralysis, which I was quick to imagine as probably incurable, the same conviction led me to persevere for ten years in an effort of concentrated attention that was practically unsupported by any hope of results………………………………………..

    She was called to the home you refer to by not getting caught up in the superficial (false gods) and was willing to endure anything to experience it.

    If everything goes as planned, there will be a day for Simone Weil in Westchester on 11/5. The topic of the day will be “Simone Weil: The Need for Truth.”

    I want to bring people together that have felt this need and sacrificed for to whatever extent. This is not so easy to organize. It requires some willing to speak in public. Yet I believe there are people especially during these times that feel this question more because of society as it is that makes the loss of “meaning” obvious.

    Is she normal for feeling the importance of the search that she was willing to sacrifice for the pearl of great worth or am I normal for not feeling it with her purity and becoming more content with imagination?

    Perhaps it is better to worry about home tomorrow and just enjoy today with good scotch? But for those like Simone that cannot be content with the imagination necessary to enjoy today, how do we value them? Are they just a nuisance or do they add an important influence in pursuit of “truth?” How can we profit from their influence?

    I was told we would start to publicize it over the summer when the fall catalogue comes out.. When that happens I will make it known here and those interested can join in a day honestly sharing on “The need for Truth” under the look from above of a very special woman who experienced the need for truth, for home, with as great an emotional purity as anyone I’ve ever known of.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.