Someone asked me where I live the other day. Well, that’s not necessarily entirely accurate to say it quite that way now is it? I get asked this question quite a bit. Living in a tourist town such as Camden the odds are about two out of three that any particular receiver of this question does not, in fact, live in Camden. The particular incident I am referring to, however, was at a semi-private gathering (being the home of a dance instructor in the area who opens her dance space to blues dancing on Wednesday evenings. Never heard of blues dancing? Yeah, neither had I) which afforded people of the mid-coast Maine dance circuit a place to boogie mid-week. Was the question intended as a friendly conversation starter? An attempt to be on more familiar terms than we already found ourselves? We were already spending time in physical contact, swaying to music easing out of the sound system, and had seen each other enough to reach the point of extending greetings when spotting each other in random public places. It made sense we would expand the understanding we had over each other’s lives.
Now, the accuracy of the question can fully come out. It was not, in fact, where I lived that the person was, politely or genuinely, interested in. Those types of details and my initial draw to Maine having already been recited at previous encounters. The full statement of inquiry dealt more entirely with where it is that I call home. In response, I pointed dutifully to my heart. Yes, a seemingly cliche response yet, when travelling and with one’s possessions in various locations in multiple provinces across the continent in a different country than one finds oneself, a cliche that nonetheless becomes startlingly accurate.
Perhaps it is necessary to point out that the whole concept of living in one’s heart has only become possible for me through the dedicated and systematic application of the science of yoga. Because really, what the heck does living in the heart mean exactly? Is it some airy-fairy way of justifying a callous and whimsical responsibility-free lifestyle? Or is it an opening to clear and direct interactions with others through knowing one’s self to the best of one’s ability? (On a side note, I’ve been out of the ashram for over three months now can you tell? One of the starkest indicators is my inclusion of the word “one” in subjective reference to a possible experience. I’m not taking ownership of it and saying “me” or “I” but hey, it’s a step from saying “you” the way I’ve tended to in the past giving broad, sweeping generalizations for thoughts and ideas that, for whatever reason be it lack of confidence or insecurity, I was unable to take personal responsibility for in the past.) Living in the heart invokes, in my experience, both a terrifying and freeing feeling. It’s what makes me go into small caves when the thought and opportunity strikes, and what urges me to finish the thought I’ve half vocalized before stopping in paralyzed fear of how it would be received. It’s the trail of expansion and openness I follow when, in moments of quiet reverie or devotion, I can pause and feel connected to something greater than myself.
And so in response to a question of where it is I call home I feel as though I can honestly and joyfully point to my heart. This being despite the fact it requires me to break form in dancing and bring a hand in towards me rather than leaving it open and available should my partner choose to spin me ’round. Though this is blues dancing and separate of the fact that it being ridicules if any dance form prevented such a fluidity of movement, blues dancing certainly does not.
That, however, was not a satisfactory response for the question-bearer prompting my subsequent question, as we languished for a fraction of a second in his unspoken yet not intangible hesitation, of “what is home?” Ah, what is home? Ironically, as I’m thinking about it now I’m remembering a still more recent conversation I’d had about this very topic. Home, in that interlude, being described as a place that is familiar, where one knows the streets and pathways or landscape and geography. I didn’t have the heart to mention how that definition simply wasn’t enough. I can know the space of a place and not have that feeling of home. So what is home? To the first conversationalist in question, home was subsequently defined to me as, “the place where your family lives” which obviously opens a whole new slew of seemingly unanswerable questions. The first being, of course, “what is family?” Rather than bore the poor gentleman with my incessant drive for clarity I allowed my internal mental landscape to silently house the thoughts and associations that danced around the topic for a moment. We continued our own dance, here this well versed and proficient partner’s dancer who, in a self-described way, found every opportunity to dance almost every night of the week, and me. It was my third night ever blues dancing. Luckily I’m a fast learner.
Well, family are those that I grew up with in the same home. It’s my parents and brothers, those that have known me for a long period of time and in the kind of intimate setting that only living in close quarters can provide. Yet what about other forms of family. As quickly as the topic included the word “family” my mind inadvertently jumped to the people I know through the Ashram and not only that, but a particular conversation I’d had at one of my usual wonderful conversation spots. No, this wasn’t in the copy room, with its barrage of comings and goings of ashram folk centering in on the hub of the Ashram, the office, and where personal and private conversations seemed paradoxically to easily flow causing confused faces to open and peek through curiously closed doors. No, this spot was my usual post at the front reception desk in the bookstore. I was speaking with a long-time ashram teacher who brought up the word family. In her understanding it became clear that the connections forged at the Ashram were decidedly not similar to that of family. It’s as if we can be tempted to think that the people with whom we are sharing our lives, reflections, and home with at the Ashram are comparable to the crew that we’ve been born into. While I see her point, I’m partial to think that family is something that can retain fluidity in its definition. Words themselves are like that, able to morph and flow in contexts as needed. They come from culture and therefore are able to respond to the kinds of changes that humans, as the makers of culture, are subject to in what is hopefully an endless stream of growth and evolution.
Family means those that I am biologically connected to and also means so much more. While I can see this long-term teacher’s point, how family simply doesn’t have the same intention behind their interactions that Ashram folk share with one another, my mind immediately encompassed these connections with the mere mention of the word. An Ashram family challenges each other in areas each have space for growth in, either expressed areas or those that are simply understood. This dynamic of relationships is implicitly expected and, while it may seem difficult at times, is actually one part that makes the connection so potent. My experience of my Ashram family is of being known and of all those parts of me being held. There’s an acceptance there that surpasses the amount of acceptance I’m able to extend to my own self at times. Acceptance that can wrap around the personality aspects that are coming to life and trust with patience that everything is happening for a reason.
The phrase that comes to me for these kinds of interactions with other humans is emotional maturity. Having the wisdom to see beyond what is being presented by another person and extend understanding to just why someone behaves the way they do comes with it a call to bring forward compassion. I certainly hope that whatever definition of the word “family” people develop for themselves, it also includes this concept.
These thoughts mulled around in my head as I danced to sultry blues music and, while I didn’t voice all of them, I was able to understand myself a little bit more. “I have family in BC and Alberta” didn’t quite pinpoint just exactly where it is that I call home but was the best I could come up with at the time.