Thursday, March 4, 2010

Home from the Strange, Where the Dear and Antidotes Play

Home is one of those elephant words, whose meaning at any given time depends upon which part you’re touching. This is the fourth installment of a blog series where I unpack some of those meanings…

Essentially, I experience home as the familiar yet precious elements of our lives. Home is where we feel seen and connected. It is where we touch our roots and the place from where we fruit. It is at once a paradoxical touchstone that is both now and hopelessly distorted by a past that we can never really return to, nor ever truly free ourselves from.

Here's the outline of my series:
—Home as Family (Dec 24, 2009)
—Home as Place (Dec 27, 2009)
—Home as Culture (Jan 18, 2010)
—Home as Routine
—Home as Work

In this fourth entry, I'll focus on Home as Routine. This is about our comfort with the familiar; how we're at ease most with what we know best. Some of us, of course, are more willing the others to plow new ground, to attempt a thing for the first time. Adventure and the unknown can exhilarate and promote growth. It can also exhaust and feel clunky.

It's been my observation that most us can only handle so much newness at a time, and even those who claim an affinity for working without a net prefer that it happen only within strict bounds (in the Big Top, two shows daily—at 4 & 8 pm, right after the dancing elephants and before the barking seals). In short, we all need a certain amount of routine, and the comfort of the familiar—even it is largely masked by moments of sheer terror as we whiz through the air on the flying trapeze of life.

Routine comes in many guises: when we get up, what we have for breakfast, the clothes we wear, how we drink our coffee (or tea), what we order at our favorite restaurant, how we shuffle cards, when we balance the checkbook, what pen we prefer, what triggers the need for a haircut, whether we read before bed or watch TV, what kind of dessert we like on our birthday, whether we sleep with the window open or closed. It's about managing life so that the new portions are manageable, affording you the psychic space to prepare for the unscripted parts (or to process them afterward) because your mind needn't focus on what's routine.

When you live with others, they will, over time, become familiar with what's routine for you, even if they consider your preferences are quirky (or even weird). One of the litmus tests of whether someone is a good candidate for group living is the degree of tolerance you have for other's routines. If you need others to do things your way—especially minor, everyday things such as the laundry list of routine possibilities I trotted out above—your life is going to be fraught with irritation and you aren't going to be much fun to live with, regardless of how well you match up on common values.

To the extent possible, you want your routines (and those of others you're in regular contact with) to be minimally distressing, so that when one person is acting within their comfort zone it's not pushing someone else out of theirs.

Another way to put this is that we all crave—albeit in varying degrees—feeling at home some non-trivial portion of our lives, and one important aspect of "home" is doing things that are familiar and nonthreatening (think of comforts acts, analogous to comfort food). It is the opposite of strange; it is where we are nurtured by and can relax in the presence of what is dear and familiar. It is, in a small yet important way, an antidote to anxiety and the ever-present potential for stimulation overload and tension overwhelm. Routine and play allow us to exhale, slow down, and integrate our experiences below the level of consciousness. It is the heart of Yin, and every bit is necessary to a healthy balance as the excitement of Yang.

For me, it's drinking strong coffee with cream first thing in the morning; it's looking out the train window while traveling en route to my next meeting or consulting gig; it's playing duplicate bridge every Wed night I'm not on the road; it's yoga before dinner; it's flossing my teeth every night. Lately, it's also been crafting a blog entry every three days.

No comments: