I recently listened to a fascinating TED (Technology, Education, and Design) talk by Elizabeth Gilbert-- author of the best-selling book, Eat, Pray, Love-- about her lifelong desire to be a writer. In this book, Gilbert’s journey to wholeness and love after a devastating breakup of her first marriage literally takes her on a year-long writing journey of her body and spirit all around the world until she is able to come home again.
What did it mean to come home?
Of her early struggle to become a writer, Gilbert says: “I failed at getting published for almost six years . . . I had nothing but rejection letters . . . and every single time, I had to ask myself if I should just quit . . . and give up and spare myself this pain. But then, I would find my resolve . . . by saying, ‘I’m not going to quit, I’m going home.’ And you have to understand that for me, going home did not mean returning to my family's farm. For me, going home meant returning to the work of writing because writing was my home, because I loved writing....”
In her life and her writing, Gilbert faced and overcame time and again, her worst fears of rejection and failure. What she came to understand is that “you have got to find your way back home again as swiftly and smoothly as you can, and if you're wondering what your home is, here's a hint: it might be invention, adventure, faith, service, it might be raising corgis, I don't know, your home is that thing to which you can dedicate your energies with such singular devotion that the ultimate results become inconsequential.”
What are the gifts we can bring back from our journeys?
Coming home, as I see it, means coming back to who we truly are-- back from our failures and successes, back from our journeys of discovery of what’s out there and what we are to do in the world to the deeper, inner journey of who we really are and what our purpose is in being here. And being here, in this case, means acknowledging the gifts that we have found where we have journeyed-- and integrating them into the next stage of our lives.
A simple, but profound, journey that I made once was from where I was living in Washington, D.C., to the home of friends in a remote, Quaker landholding an hour up in the Appalachian mountains from Asheville, North Carolina, over a Thanksgiving weekend in November.
I remember the simplicity of life there-- living in a house banked into a hill whose elements of rock and wood were reflections of the woods right outside. Elemental-- that was its quality. Also, wholesome in the sense of healthy and complete. It was a place where meditation, cooking together, and sharing ideas all were part of the whole.
When I returned to D.C., I knew in a deeper sense that I wanted to live in some way where I was connected with my aliveness-- in my body, heart, and mind. Ultimately, this feeling took me back to California where I’d grown up-- but with the gift of a new awareness of that area being the best place in the United States for me to develop--where I could imagine having more possibilities to integrate the way I worked with who I really was.
As William Bridges, author of the eloquently personal book, The Way of Transitions, notes: “That journeys carry us along to their destination, not ours, helps to make sense out of the experience . . . It is the experience of “homing in” on something, or being tuned in to something, some inner thing.” This is the gift of the traveler as she finds her way back-- to herself.
Consider an important journey you’ve taken-- from a trip to Mongolia to a meditation retreat.
What did you learn on your journey?
What did you learn that became a gift, or gifts, for your whole life?
What does “home” mean to you now that you’ve returned from your journey?