Sunday, July 10, 2011

How 'at home' do you feel?

On my very first acupuncture visit, one of the questions my acupuncturist asked me was, "What does 'home' mean to you?"
I was a little stumped, wondered what this had to do with anything acupuncture-related, and stumbled through an explanation of how I do feel 'at home' even though I don't own a home, have family closer than an hour away, have kids, pets, or feel very attached to much of anything in my place.

In the past few weeks, this question has been following me around like a cartoon thought bubble as I've been searching for a new place to call home. In an effort to live within our means, the hub and I are packing up and moving to a more affordable apartment (preferably with a man cave attached).
As I was visiting apartments, I felt like I was trying them on, like clothes in a store. Not only was I checking out the room sizes and the floors; I was also walking around noticing how I felt inside these walls. How did I feel with the sunlight streaming through these windows at this time of day? Did I feel closed in by the layout or able to spread out? How fun or frustrating would it be to cook in this kitchen? Did the bathroom make me cringe or smile? When looking these spaces over I must have looked a little dazed as I was staring at the empty rooms while imagining scenes passing through them. I imagined furniture laid out in about 10 different ways, including a place where I could study, an area where people could sit when they come over, and options of where could I sip coffee and read early in the morning. I imagined all the different scenarios of living life in this space...I imagined walking around in my slippers; I imagined a dog, then the absence of a dog; I imagined babies (mine or others') crawling around the floor; friends over for dinner; company sleeping on the air mattress; the hub playing his bass; running a bath in the tub; vying for space to get ready in the morning; sleeping in; staying up late; feeling sick; coming home from a trip. Coming home in itself can be the defining factor of how comfortable a living space is - when I come home at the end of the day, do I drop my bags and breathe a sigh of relief, or do I shrink even at the thought of going home?

I've lived parts of my life when I did shrink at the thought of going home, and that feeling weighed on me throughout each day every day. I felt like there was nowhere I could really rest. In the clinic setting, how a patient responds to "What does home mean to you?" can be an important indicator of what's going on in their life as a whole. And what goes on in your life as a whole affects your whole health. Like home plate in baseball, how you define home can be the starting point, the reference point, and the axis of how you play out the rest of your life.

There's an online quiz called Find Your Spot that asks you questions about factors that matter to you in a city, like whether you enjoy going to sporting events or museums, what an ideal home price is to you, and whether you prefer nature nearby. The results may pleasantly surprise you or disgust you - either way,  it's a great exercise to think about what type of environment makes you thrive.

What I learned in this home-hunting process is that what I call home is a feeling inside myself - it's only marginally related to specific external surroundings. It's how I feel in myself - a feeling of ease in my body when I'm enjoying the light, temperature, layout, location, and proximity to others that a space brings with it.

Not only did I learn that feeling at home is a deeply rooted internal state for me, I learned that how I'm defining what home means is the same way I define being in love. When I was dating my now husband, I came across a nugget of which I cannot remember the source - whether I read it, whether someone told me, or whether I saw it on TV - I've never forgotten it: I knew that I wanted to commit to this particular human because of the way I felt about myself when around him, more so than how I felt about him or how he felt about me. In his presence, I feel the most ease and freedom to be myself my my most natural state, and this ease breeds joy, love, contentment and possibility. In the presence of the space I call home, I'm looking for that same feeling of ease in my body.

So for me, being at home is like being in love. And in both cases, more closet space helps.