“You should go home to your hermitage; it is inside you. Close the doors, light the fire, and make it cozy again. That is what I call ‘taking refuge in the island of self.’ If you don’t go home to yourself, you continue to lose yourself. You destroy yourself and you destroy people around you, even if you have goodwill and want to do something to help. That is why the practice of going home to the island of self is so important. No one can take your true home away.”
~ Thich Nhat Hahn
I am such a homebody. I LOVE being in my house all day, all night; honestly, I could stay at home for weeks. Months, maybe.
I recently returned from a stay at my daughter’s new home in Salt Lake City. This is her third year living there, her first summer completely living away from home. Well, our home anyways.
We spent our days puttering around her new apartment, adjusting furniture, picking up little items that she needed to make it feel like home – things like an ironing board, some new spatulas, decorative baskets and cushions for her dining room chairs.
All the while, I was thinking about how I could make it cozy for her, how I could make it feel as much as possible like the home she left behind in California.
I certainly tread carefully. I respect the fact that she wants things the way that she wants them, and that if I rearrange while she’s at work she might come home a bit frustrated.
She didn’t seem too frustrated when I cleaned her bathroom, mopped her kitchen floors and vacuumed her living room. She didn’t get angry when I stocked her fridge and freezer with goodies from Trader Joes, or when I froze fresh scones or double chocolate espresso cookie balls, either.
We went on this way for a week; me trying to contain my frantic craziness about getting her set up before I knew I had to leave, and her checking off items on her to-do and to-buy lists. We had a familiar rhythm going, just like at home. I’d make the coffee and her breakfast, and she’d go off to one of her jobs most of the mornings. We’d have some afternoon time together, and then she’d head to her second job. In between seeing her, I’d walk the neighborhood, shop, read, cook, and tidy her home. It felt good to see her more and more settled every day. And for me, it comforted me to know that together we were creating a space for her to seek refuge.
All that time, I knew I would be leaving her alone for the first time in her life. Seriously alone. No roommate, no boyfriend. Most of her local friends are working or traveling all summer, leaving her with a huge amount of time to, as Thich Nhat Hahn says, “to go home to the island of self.”
I would have loved to scoop her up to drive across the desert with me, back to our home. I would know that she wouldn’t be lonely, or wondering what to cook for dinner-for-one. At home, I’d have my HGTV watching homie, my coffee drinking companion, and my constant walking companion. With her home, I wouldn’t lose the part of myself that I left in Salt Lake City, the part of myself that has been creating a home for her for twenty years.
This is one of the hard parts of parenting, the time when you have to let your child go it alone in order to learn about themselves. I know that if she doesn’t go home to herself, she will lose that part of her being that needs to learn that she is the one person she can always count on to take care of her.
I know that , as Thich Nhat Hahn says, without going home she will destroy herself and the people around you. I understand that even if I have goodwill and want to do something to help, the most beneficial act I can do is to close her front door behind me, throw my suitcase in the back of my car and drive away as the sun rises over the Wasatch Mountains.
No one can take her true home away; she’s learning that home is where the love is, and that love begins inside her own heart.