Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Home is... By Shannon Lough.

I’ve called many places my home. A two-story home in a small-town subdivision; a single flat for staff housing sandwiched between a petrol station and bar in a glacier tourist town; a trailer adjacent a raging river, and within the facilities of a popular backpacker hostel; a holiday-home in a popular extreme sports tourist town, at the base of mountain; a tent, in my hobo days; the first story of a duplex; an ex-communist student dorm; a tatami-floored Japanese apartment in a mountain village between Fuji-san and Tokyo; and recently, at the Yogi-Nomad’s home in Kathmandu valley full of budding yogis. I use my grandfather’s expression, that “home is where you hang your hat.” It could be in the back of a car, a beach along the Sea of Japan, or a 200Rs monsoon-sodden bed. But is this home? 

A forest dweller's home
Home is a concept that many of us get attached to. It’s a place where you store your stuff, and your memories. It gives one a sense of security, that after the day there is a place where you belong. A place where loved ones can greet you. A place where you can unwind and feel protected from the world out there. This is the tangible ‘home’ that many people associate with. 

This material place called home also becomes a nest of insecurities, as all attachments do. It’s full of possessions. Expensive or invaluable items that for years have been collected and arranged in your space, and create your sense of identity. With attachment comes fear, that you may lose one of these items, or someone may steal them, or the house could burn down. But you go on vacation and pick up another souvenir that will look great on your shelf, so when people come to visit they think how amazing your life is, and how beautiful your collections are. The ego stays ever present, and grows with each new piece of clothing, or decoration in your home. You build and build this material world around you and call it home. Until, you have to move. 

Nepali homes
Last year, one night I was sitting in meditation, I realized that my time in Japan was coming to an end in less than six months. I had too much stuff. I tried to find my concentration, and I ended up with stress about how I was going to take my snowboard with me. Where could I send it, if I didn’t know where I was going to be? I filled my head with worries over all that winter clothing, jackets and my closets packed with more clothing. Then I realized that I was stressed about stuff that had defined me somehow. I was a snowboarder. I was a hiker. I was teacher. Yet, I knew I had to let it go. I couldn’t admit it to myself. A special person said to me, “remember that a tool is only good when you are in need of it, if you carry it unnecessarily with you all over it will become a burden and keep you attached to this world.” I knew that he was right, and I was set on letting go of my attachments. I sold or gave away all my gear and clothing. Steadily, the burden lifted, and I felt freer. 

It is a process. I traveled to India and Nepal with a 60L backpack, that I crammed till it bulged and spilled out from the top. I had given up my so-called sense of security by ending my contract, leaving my apartment, and sending half my things to Canada, half to Thailand. I had minimized my home to a backpack, which I still managed to overburden myself with. I felt awkward every time I left a new place, and had to swing it precariously up over my shoulders, and waddle to the bus stop, or shove it into an auto-rickshaw. I met a guy who was traveling the boundaries of India with only a school-sized backpack. He inspired me. He was so light, and carefree. He probably only had one outfit, and a few accessories to change up his style from daytime to nighttime outings, like a scarf or a hat. He didn’t have a lot to worry about, and he seemed happier because of it. While I sweat, and toiled with my pack, he strolled effortlessly as we both walked the streets of Dharamkot looking for accommodation after we left the Tushita meditation centre. Again, I had to rethink the concept of home. 

My backpack home

While we had been in the ten day Tibetan Buddhist retreat, we watched The Nature of Mind the teachings of Tenzin Palmo, a female monk who had spent twelve years living in a cave up in the Himalayas. Whatever she had discovered while living in the ten by six-foot cave, was apparent in the spark in her eyes and the command of her words. I wrote in my notes in brackets “(blowing my mind)” because she did. She said: “the mind is our true home, but we don’t clean it, get rid of the junk, exercise it, or air it out” I had never considered my mind as my home before. As a wanderer, a global nomad, I had always considered my home to be the place where I hung my hat, not inside the place where I wore my hat. 
Once you realize that your home, your true home, is your own mind, then you begin to feel a sense of relief. Everything that you need is right here. We are capable of complete happiness, if we know that we already have that light inside of us. Once we embrace that concept, then we let go of our fears of losing the external home. Whether you’re crawling into a sleeping bag, in a one-man tent, under a starry sky, or you’re nuzzling next to your partner in a king-sized bed, in a prefabricated home in the suburbs, you take that moment for what it is and enjoy it fully, without the worry of losing it tomorrow. 

My school-sized backpack friend told me to read Jon Kabat-Zinn, a Professor and author of discovering mindfulness in the West. While I was trekking in the Annapurna region, I read his book Wherever You Go, There You Are. I found nuggets of wisdom throughout the text. Especially in his concept of home. Let me share with you what I discovered during intimate moments of reading in the freezing cold guesthouses that I stayed at along the route.
So why not let go and admit that you might as well be at home wherever you are? Right in that moment, you touch the core of your being and invite mindfulness to enter and heal. If you understand this, then and only then will the cave, the monastery, the beach, the retreat center, offer up their true richness to you. But so will all other moments and places.

Somehow, through all the places I’ve called home in my past, I have arrived back in the place that I called home while I was growing up. From childhood to young adulthood, I was in this place that I had so many different emotions and feelings in. I have felt a welcoming, a familial love, warmth, protection, but also dread, disappointment, the feeling of being trapped and lost. How can one place harbour all these opposing emotions? The answer is that it was never my childhood home, the tangible one in a small suburban country town that fostered these forces, it was my mind. I am capable of creating all these conundrums. But I am also capable of contentment, of finding that place of acceptance and awareness in the present moment, and to embrace it fully. 

On a January day, in the beauty of the snow melting under heavy rain, birds seem unaware 
of the elements as they perch on a feeder, and children play outside in the slush with rubber 
Yogi home
boots under soggy snow pants. We have the power to chose how we see the world. I now clean my home daily. I give it a time to unwind, to rest. I guide it towards those I love, those I don’t, and those I don’t know. I send my compassion to them all. This morning I did a guided meditation with Yin yoga guru, Bernie Clark. He finished off the session with: “Breathing in, breathing out. Right here, right now, I am alive, I am breathing, I am home.”

Take a moment, and consider, where is your home?

Shannon Lough is a 200RYT, who completed her yoga and Thai massage training with Yogi-Nomad in Nepal.  She practices daily, and follows the principles of Tibetan and Zen Buddhism, after traveling to India and living in Japan for three years.  She is a marathon runner, a hardy backpacker, and an avid writer.  If you have any questions or comments please email her at 

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