Life

creating a bit of nowhere to know where you are

Know-Where Man

Location is a funny thing these days. Many of our devices are location-aware, so I can tell my phone “Remind me to take in the car seat when I get home” and it will actually wait until I’m near my apartment to let me know! My volunteer login code for the VA Hospital is stored in my Evernote application, and much to my surprise it popped up before I even knew I needed it just because it knew The last time Gray looked at this note, he was in this location; he’s there again, so he probably wants to see it again! It’s pretty awesome and a little creepy at the same time.

At the same time, as someone who travels a lot, I have to create my own little “homes” in order to keep my focus and sanity while on the road. There are specific pictures of my family that play on my phone like a digital photo frame. There is particular music that keeps me centered, and my iPad and Netflix provide me with familiar escapes no matter how unfamiliar my surroundings. A good friend of mine who travels even more gave me the power-travel tip of incorporating scent into the mix, though I’ve still not quite managed it.

Is home where the hearth is? Is it where you’re born? Where you grew up? Is it where your family lives, or where you carve out your own space?

These are all questions posed by Pico Iyer in his TED Talk “Where is Home?“, and I highly recommend you watch it at the end of this post. Among other things, he describes the way “home” has changed for the new generation:

…they have one home associated with their parents, but another associated with their partners, a third connected maybe with the place where they happen to be, a fourth connected with the place they dream of being, and many more besides… Home for them is really a work in progress. It’s like a project on which they’re constantly adding upgrades and improvements and corrections.

Interestingly, Pico suggests in his book The Art of Stillness that one of the best ways to learn more about your home – the place(s) that you spend your life – is to create little trips to Nowhere. He uses examples like Leonard Cohen and Thomas Merton, people who left their bon vivant lifestyles to join monastic lifestyles. Of course, we can’t all do that – but he points out that the busiest of people can carve out a tiny piece of time when their only job is to do nothing.

The Fruits of Your Rest

If you need an example of what can be accomplished by turning your attention inward, perhaps another of his examples, Emily Dickinson, will suffice. A reclusive woman who didn’t reach fame, fortune, or even really love during her life – but from her solitude rose verses that are passionate, deep, and unforgettable.

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee.
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

Longtime readers of this blog will remember my own exploration in creating times of “revery” – the “Simple Time of Peace“. It’s a very privileged and luxurious thing to be able to do, however. Perhaps it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Perhaps it’s more like one of John Cage’s musical pieces, where instead of filling the brain with distracting instruments and beats and harmonies he simply created a space for people to listen to their world.

Pico Iyer learned from Mathieu Ricard, the alleged “happiest man on earth”, that one of the mini-sanctuaries for the monk was airplane flights. It’s a literal interpretation of “rising above the clouds into the sky”, a common metaphor in Buddhism for clearing the mind.

It’s a crazy hard idea. Even while writing this blog post I have headphones on, listening to Celtic music to “help focus”. But really, what am I being distracted by? The life in the world around me? How amusing is it that while writing a post about life I’m trying to hide from it?

Where are your Sabbaths? Where do you find your revery when “bees are few”? I’m starting to look in my life for these little islands of Nowhere, in the hopes they will help me know where I am, as well as where I am going.

Where are you?

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