“Because of war and instability, we have been afraid to feel the basic goodness of society…. Society does not simply run on greed and aggression, but on an invisible network of love and goodwill. It is within this context that my father considered the simple act of sharing a meal and conversing to be the most advanced spiritual training. As we eat and talk, we relax our senses and touch the goodness that is omnipresent. This underlying force is the beating heart of humanity, and in this heart lies our future. What allows us to relax is our confidence in it.” —Sakyong Mipham, The Shambhala Principle
For years I’ve felt like a woman without a home.
My own home was the thing I most wanted in the world, from the time I was a child.
After dinner sometimes, my mother and I would walk around our neighborhood and look at the lights, and look in people’s windows, and admire their gardens. In the winter it was better, because you could peek into a house from outside in the darkness, and the lights would show people moving around, and you could wonder about them. I am a dreamer, and a visionary, and I loved imagining the people behind closed doors—what they talked about, what motivated them, if they had other interests aside from watching a flickering TV. I always came up with stories about people who inspired me and wrote them down.
There was one house my mother and I always passed when we were driving to a nearby town, white with a big porch, and a kitchen you could see through the French doors. “That’s your house,” she would always say, because it was the one I’d picked out above the others, the one I imagined I would live in one day.
The perfect life. It was going to be mine.
And so I married my first real boyfriend (can you believe that? The first?), and he and I bought a house when I was 26, and the day that deal came through, boy did I have a knot in my stomach. Stability, adulthood, a mortgage. That house felt more concrete than anything I’d done up to that point. But family was everything to me, and I wanted the house in order to have the family, because there was no way I wanted to be washing clothes in a shared washer and dryer in an apartment building. (Which is, um, what I do now.)
And so, little by little, that house became ours. Mine, mostly. I’m the one who created the home. Other people just live in my space because it exudes my energy. Just sayin’. I make a place nice. I’m like a bird. I go in, I nest, I get everything real cozy.
But then, you know, I lost that house 10 years later with divorce and foreclosure and all kinds of other stuff. Damn, that was rough! Poof, all those dreams gone, vanished.
But I did have gains, you know. More gains than anything lost. Because all those material things can be recouped at some point. The big gain, from all that destruction, has been me.
When you lose your home, no matter how you lose your home, and even if it’s your choice to move away from your home, there’s a natural spiraling that occurs. You go from land to sea, and riding in a boat is a nice experience, but it’s not the same as sitting around a campfire. And so I wandered, trying to find my grounding again. Instead of being a wife and mother full-time, with a career on the side, I was now a nomad, unmoored for half my life, raising children alone, trying to uncover my new identity with all my alone time. I made a new place my home, even though that place always felt sort of temporary. I spent a lot of time meditating, writing, praying, traveling, sitting in bars. I discovered that grounding was not going to be found in other people. I discovered that my true home is inside of me.
When I travel, the reality of home being inside is more potent than ever. Outside surroundings matter, of course. Everyone wants a roof over her head. But there is something magical about stepping into a new space and having the comfort level inside you—a comfort about who you are, where you come from, what you’re made of—that makes you feel at home no matter where you go. And it’s pretty nice to live out of a suitcase, as long as you’re not doing that for too long. You know where everything is. There’s a lot less laundry to do. Life stays pretty simple.
Now, I pretty much always feel at home, because I am at home in being me.
I don’t know that many people feel that way about themselves.
So my reason for telling you this, and for including the quote above from Sakyong Mipham, who is the son of famed Buddhist spiritual leader Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, is that when you feel homeless, when you’re wandering, when you’re unsteady, the kindest thing a person can do is invite you in.
I can tell you as a divorcee, not enough people did that for me. I’ll tell you that straight-up. I managed through it okay. I handled it all just fine. I made friends, I connected with other kinds of people, I have no regrets about the whole thing. But more people should have offered me a dinner invitation. More people should say, when they find someone newly homeless in some way, Hey. Come over. We’d love to have you.
The way to feel at home in society, and the way to practice greater and greater faith, is to start talking to people and uncovering each person’s humanity. It’s getting out of your own head and your own schedule, and seeing someone new (or old), and reaching out in hospitality.
The most beautiful thing you can do in this life is reach out.
I reach out all the time. It’s just how I’m made. People have invited me, a stranger, in. And I invite others over, because there is nothing better than sitting around a plate of food and talking to people. It’s what Jesus did at the last supper, and what he meant when he held up the bread and the wine, saying, We are all one.
It’s what Jews do on Shabbat, when they sit around and celebrate family. (Man, I just love Jewish families. They know the real deal.)
It’s what Shambhala Buddhist Rinpoche says is the way to create an enlightened society.
It’s what my Hindu friend Rudri did for me, years ago, when I visited her in Arizona, and she treated me to several meals because I was her guest.
It’s what Cecile did for me in the south of France, when she found me in a parking lot and I told her I was too tired to drive and needed a place to stay, and she offered me her home, and a plate full of pasta.
It’s what Jean Luc offered me in Paris, after we met at a cafe and talked about dreams.
This is holiness. This is love. And the way you find out the whole world is your family, the way you know the truth of this big word we always hear but can’t quite make sense of—Christ (can we get a new word that lifts us up better?)—is through opportunities to sit down with strangers and talk about life. To learn about humanity. To see that what connects you is always so much bigger than what could ever divide you.
This beauty, this truth, spreads like a mustard seed, one dollop at a time.
Damn, I really love mustard. Especially with a little cheese.
(Please Lord, bring me my own personal Ray LaMontagne. You heard it here.)