And why it’s vital now more than ever.
In conversation with a dear friend the other day, we shared some personal pandemic ruminations. He said there are some things he is in no rush to do once restrictions lift. Like drinking in a bar.
I understand that, I said. That particular activity isn’t one I indulged in often so I haven’t missed it. I’ve missed being able to throw parties and have people over; I’ve missed rummaging through thrift shops for treasures. I have missed most having a sense of freedom and being able to go somewhere and travel.
Despite not even having a budget for travel, there is still something of a ceiling on even my imagination that I have felt. The right word to describe it is probably ‘depressing’. As in this stark reality, pressing down upon me: you are trapped here, you can’t go anywhere.
Yet, to be honest now, I am not feeling in a hurry to travel.
Home has been Toronto (Tkaranto, the traditional land of the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, and the Mississaugas of the Credit) and during this time, due to poor leadership and mismanagement, we have had one of the longest lock-downs in North America. I am fortunate and privileged in having a place to live and food to eat and still it has not been without challenges.
I have taken myself out for daily walks in my neighbourhood. I have reminded myself of my fortune and privilege in living both close to the city’s largest park and the waterfront — which has always factored into my decisions when choosing where to live. I will gladly sacrifice some comforts for nature and beauty at my doorstep.
I prepared myself mentally for a long-haul winter but the early spring, as per usual, was the challenge. Especially with no prospect of escape. Here I was walking the same old streets like a crazed mouse in a maze. Where was the reward? When, freedom?
We are still locked down being taunted with things slowly re-opening. Soon. Soon. I, like many others, like my friend, are watching places from afar opening up again. It’s unsurprising to read of flights selling out as travel resumes in some of these places. While obviously I understand this, I’ve come around to feeling disappointed about it.
What is it about our ‘homes’ — cities for most of us — that we relate to as pit stops or perhaps just ‘good enough’ that we have to escape from as soon as the ticket queue opens up?
Is it possible or desirable to begin to relate to ‘home’ differently?
Has it become clear that cities are difficult places for humans to live in happily and healthily for extended periods of time? Here in Toronto, we have seen one of the largest condominium booms in the world. On and off for the past decade, I have worked in one of the most condo-dense areas in the city. There has never been a single time in these past 10 years that at least one hasn’t been construction surrounding the building I work in.
(Meanwhile, the number of people pitching tents they call home in the city’s parks grows.)
I have watched and felt how these condo-dense downtown areas have become darker and shadier as more of the sun is blocked out. I have noticed how the green and open spaces have disappeared to be replaced with scraggy random token trees not given enough soil and space to grow so they die after a few, sad years.
I understand that if you live in such a dense area, you are likely experiencing more of this itch to escape. I would be too, I don’t blame you. But it highlights why it is important to look at where we are living and how our environments may support or harm us. I also understand not all of us have a lot of choice in the matter. It’s complicated.
Once upon a time not so long ago, commercial travel was expensive and it was rare. People did (and many still do based on ability) live their lives in one relative space without ever traveling very far at all in their entire lifetimes. Travel was a luxury and a privilege. It’s disappointing, though again unsurprising, that many of us want to pretend that everything was great and okay before pandemic times and that we can seamlessly go back to cheap travel and the way things were.
Pandemic times have not erased the reality of climate change and the cost of cheap travel to our environment.
So in good faith I am not in a hurry to travel. I will not be first out of the gate in booking a flight out. Part of what has been illuminated in this time for me is how important and possible it actually is to see where I live with ever new and appreciative eyes.
So we come back to how I titled this piece. How to find the temple, and the sacred holy ground in the place where we call home, where we lay roots, the place where we spend most of our lives. Ask:
- Where is the holiness to be found here?
- Is there more to be seen and known beneath the surface of this familiar and ‘known’ space?
- What have I not opened my eyes and heart to?
- Should it be that I’m never able to travel anywhere again, can I be happy and content here?
- What can I create?
What I increasingly know to be true is that, while it is special and wonderful to be able to travel and experience different climates and cultures, it can be borne of a restlessness and search for meaning that will never be quenched. If I can’t be happy and fulfilled and whole in the place I call home then I will not find it by roaming elsewhere. I will, at best, distract myself for a time.
I keep at it. It isn’t always simple or easy. I step out from my house and it can feel as though there is nowhere new to go, nothing new to see. So I search. The sky is always different, the way the breeze feels on my skin. Every day brings new growth to the plants and the flowers, the trees. In the park there are so many, how could I have ever thought to know them all?
Walking this familiar maze of streets, I’ve been able to open my eyes and melt my heart into seeing the pulsating life, the ever-changing yet eternal renewal, growth, and decay of the earth. It moves me to deep reverie and a growing connection to this place.
I have seen in the Bosnian mountains shades of Oahu. There are times here in Toronto, in the park, where I’m brought back to the feeling of being in Sedona. I gaze at the vast pines, their crowns high in the distance of the sky and I sense that I’m in British Columbia.
It is all one Earth and the holiness and divinity of this place can’t but be everywhere if we allow ourselves to soften and see. We don’t have to go anywhere to find it, it is already always where we are.
As the world begins to open up, many of us will like, or expect to, jump right back into the familiar ways of living (and let’s face it, consuming) we’ve known before. This may be possible for at time but for how long? The reality is that many places in the world are still struggling to contain this virus. Nothing is assured for any of us.
Which is why it makes the most sense to cultivate this connection with ‘home,’ wherever it may be. To touch and commune with the ground underneath our feet. We don’t know what awaits around the corner. Most of us could never have conceived of enduring the situation of the past year. Anything is possible.
But to feel connected, nourished, and held exactly where you are without need to escape…that is an immense gift. It needs nothing added, nor can anything be taken away.
Will you try it today?