Place. Friends enjoying the food and wine deeply rooted in their place.

Home is Where the Heart Is—Our Sense of Place

Wherever you go, there you are

~Jon Kabat-Zinn

Where is the place you call home?

When we think of home, we might think of the place we were born or the place we spent our childhood. For some, home might be where their extended family is. When they go to see their family, they’re going home. Some might think of their home in terms of their current life: where their spouse and children live. Some feel at home anywhere—they are able to bring their sense of home with them wherever they go.

Place is a complicated concept

People’s sense of place is often a significant component of their perspective, their emotional context, and their worldview. But place is a hard concept to nail down. Is it the land? The people? The culture? If all the people left that place, would the place still have the same significance? Place is hard to define. For one thing, a given place is always in a different place—any particular place is always moving. Fun facts: We’re moving on the Earth (tectonic plates are moving 2–3 cm/year), the Earth is revolving (at 806 mph in Maryland), the Earth is orbiting the sun (at 67,000 mph), and the solar system is orbiting the center of the galaxy (at 448,000 mph). Of course, it’s all about perspective. When we’re in our place, we feel a sense of permanence and stability.

A moveable feast—your personal place

In the famous song Papa was a Rollin’ Stone by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, there is a line, “… wherever he laid his hat was his home.” It’s not meant to be a desirable condition in the song, but with the proper perspective, it can be something to aspire to. It can be interpreted as “your home is wherever you are.” Your home is within you.

Whenever I’d ask my father whether we “were there yet” when traveling, he’d say “no, son, we are always here”. Thanks, dad.

~numquamsolus, Reddit

I love this idea, and to me, it suggests that we have a personal energy of some kind. Some might call it a soul, others an aura, but however we interpret it, it’s part of our home. It’s our personal place that goes wherever we do.

When people say “home is where the heart is,” they likely mean that they are emotionally attached to their home. But this phrase can be interpreted in the reverse way—home is wherever your heart happens to be. From this perspective, we are always home.

Get up and go—travel and discover your sense of place

When I was new to traveling, waking up in a different place seemed strange. I didn’t quite feel comfortable, and a little part of me looked forward to going home—to my place. When I was traveling in a different country, this feeling was especially pronounced. The food was different, the language was different, and even the bathrooms took some getting used to. It seemed… foreign (I’ll get back to that word in a moment). As I traveled more and visited a lot of different places, my comfort level with things being different rose, and I grew to like the idea of expanding my comfort zone (see Comfort) and my horizons. Now when I travel and am in an area where there are a lot of Americans, I get antsy to get out of the touristy areas and find a way to experience the place I’m in an authentic way, to meet people and interact with them on their terms and with their cultural norms.

I find that I look for elements of travel that are foreign. I generally have disliked the word “foreign.” It seemed dismissive of anything that isn’t American (or, originally, English). But I’ve tried to turn the word around and use it to mean something new to me, something I can learn about. Like many words that have taken on a negative connotation, “foreign” is a perfectly good word if used in the right context.

The bottom line is that I’ve come to love going to foreign places—places that are not my place, that are new to me, that are exciting to me because of their differences.

Place and emotional stability—establishing a home within ourselves

People’s sense of place is strongly tied to their emotional landscape. They look to external factors for emotional stability. This may be certain people, comforting surroundings, or familiar activities. But if we don’t have the foundation for emotional health, “going home” is not going to provide what we are looking for. There’s nothing wrong with taking comfort from “our place” and all its attributes, but any emotional benefit we receive from these people and surroundings will be insufficient for long-term emotional health. We must do what is necessary to establish and maintain our emotional health within ourselves. Our surroundings may be part of that, but ultimately, our happiness, confidence, self-worth, and sense of meaning have to come from within us. Once we have that, our special places can enhance and strengthen that emotional health. We have to be home within ourselves before we can truly find our home in the world.

If you can find a home within yourself, you will always be home.

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