Home is something that has always meant a lot to me, mostly because I am not close to my parents, siblings, or extended family. Connection to blood ties, to land, to traditions, to culture are all part of personal identity and to the aspects of life that make us feel important, safe, and connected to our earthly existence. The meaning of a human life is so deeply tied to physical existence – to the necessities and purpose of living in a body. Bodies require sustenance, shelter, and love to survive and to thrive.
Modern life is changing the nature of community, of personal identity, and also of home. We can change location quickly and easily, and social, religious, or cultural alliances are fluid, as is sexual identity. So where do we find shelter today? In what are we anchored? What makes us feel safe, needed, loved?
These are questions to explore, and each person will find their own answers depending on personality, circumstances, cultural values, and geographic location. I observe my son not seeming to crave physical proximity with other people. His social network is virtual, and his physical companions are myself, his classmates when at school, and our dog. This seems sufficient to him. He does love being at home. For both of us, home is a safe haven, a harbor from the world. Home is a place where we can slow down the pace of life and be free from the judgment of others. It is a place where we can express our own tastes, dress up or down, and feel somewhat secure in the knowledge that we have a place to call our own.
For so many years, this was not the case for me. Freedom of movement, freedom from baggage, not needing identity support from career status, physical trophies such as cars, furniture, electronics…there is a great joy to be found as well in not having a fixed domicile. Nomadic peoples set priorities, choosing only the most important objects to transport from one site to another, releasing themselves from the sedentary tendancy to collect unneeded objects. For the nomad, home is in the body – both personal and collective. Home is in the tradition, to rebuild the campsite according to a long repeated plan. Home is a concept, not a specific place. Alliances to family, tribe, and tradition are what hold the people together, as well as weather, access to water, dry land, and necessary supplies. There is also a reliance on skills in which objects can be manufactured for trade with neighboring communities.
Mobility, flexibility, virtuality. Globalization, social networking, dependency on electronic media all work together to bind us by invisible cords independent of flesh. Bodily ties such as hugs seem to becoming obsolete. Connection to the earth becomes an enigma. Is there a place for sensuality, for earthiness, for the joys of grime, dough, and slow-paced rootedness in our restless, virtual world? Can we reconcile the old ways with the new?
I for one, do not feel a sense of fullness, repleteness, satisfaction from the meal of social media. I would much rather have a few select friends with whom I talk, face to face, at my kitchen table. I do partake of Facebook on occasion, but I leave feeling like I have met a social obligation, not enjoyed a social connection. At best, I feel that I have been allowed a small peak into an edited version of someone else’s daily fare. The attraction of social media is perhaps a human need to feel connected to others, and this quick fix allows for a window in our rushed, multi-tasking lives. Perhaps it is possible to reconcile mobility, flexibility and earthiness. Perhaps it is also possible to move around the world, physically, and truly connect with others, cherishing the small moments and experiences of life with many rather than with a smaller, closer-knit group.
I have mentioned the writings of James Hillman in previous posts, and the term he coined “growing down” into life. It would appear that to become fully human, we do need to enter the viscous underbelly and explore our own nature. This process indicates a messiness, an adventure into the unknown of ourselves that seems to counter-indicate the distant cleanliness of Internet socialization. Also, multi-tasking and superficiality counter-indicate the necessity that “growing down” requires: to slow down and truly take the time to examine ourselves, to truly inhabit our own bodies, and to allow our senses to absorb our inner and outer reality in real time.
Virtual life, while creating some kind of community, can easily take us away from our real lives, from the sometimes painful, but also joyful moments. If we share those moments directly with others, we need not take the time to report or document those moments for others.
We all must adapt to our times and to environment in order to survive and flourish. It can be foolish to try and deny the reality of virtual reality, since this is the meat and potatoes of contemporary life, communication, and relationship. I would like to find my way home in this world, and not just hide out in my own version of home, seeking myself with no one to share and to whom I can connect, converse, exchange meaningful dialogue.