Making a Map of Homesickness

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GRATITUDE IS THE KEY

After my first euphoric three months in Taipei, I never expected to become so homesick once the fifth month rolled around. Truth is, the last four weeks I have come to view homesickness like chronic pain – an emotion that is always present, below the surface, and takes on various degrees of intensity. Of course, yoga-geek that I am, I decided I would meditate on the pulsations of homesickness – every day, if need be.

I have indeed become a student of my homesickness – of all its shades and colors. It is easy to get lost in the maze though when solitude swallows you whole. You get up on wobbly legs and you think you’re okay to get through the day, but by lunchtime you find yourself crying into your bowl of soup.

With an emotion banging on my door so relentlessly, I remembered that when sadness comes, it is okay to give it space. At the beginning, I was fighting it, wanting to be strong, reluctant to admit that I am not as adaptable as I thought. Once I gave in to the tears, I unveiled a soft side of myself that I rarely expose to daylight. Once I opened the door to let the homesickness in, it also had space to adopt different shapes: Pain, worry, doubt, sense of abandonment, irritability, impatience, depression, acceptance, surrender, longing…

Jack Kornfield calls this practice “naming the demons”: Whenever an emotion surfaces during silent meditation, name it softly and without judgment. Not only will this prevent you from getting entangled in the story, but you will realize that you can’t write it off as “days or weeks of homesickness”. It is not one big unbudging block of emotion, it is a string of pearls of many little emotions and each one is constantly transforming.

Even as I named emotion after emotion, I still got lost in the maze and became attached to my story of homesickness. The mind wanted to rationalize the emotion and started to find solid (outward) reasons: “It’s because of the language barrier. It’s because the culture is too different. It’s because the pool of expats is too small. It’s because I go to work when everyone else is off. It’s because the yoga community isn’t strong. It’s because I cannot just sit at a café and strike up a conversation.”

I had been irritable and hell bent on seeing glass half empty for the last couple of days. Yesterday when I flopped into Savasana after practice, for a brief moment my mind’s slate seemed swiped clean. Yet, as soon as there was silence, my ego roused itself as if it had only dozed off for a second, only to pick up its old litany: “Oh, wait, am I not supposed to be complaining here? What was it again that is pissing me off? Oh yes! This place is all wrong… I cannot communicate, I am isolated, I want to go home and have a life there…” Here we go again.

A few hours later I had to admit, I had been replaying the ever-same refrain of self-pity. I had been pushing the present moment away, unwilling to experience it, thinking it could only supply same-old homesickness. I had been trying to fast-forward to the future. I had been impatient, Taipei-intolerant, like a petulant child. And I was also worried. Like most of us, I suffer from the grass-is-always-greener-syndrome. Wherever I am in the world, there’s always something to take issue with. While I was longing to be home, the fear started to creep up on me that I would end up not liking it there, too.

It was through this attachment and aversion, however, that it dawned on me: If I can be happy here, against all odds, then I can be happy anywhere. In other words, if I can see the positive aspects here, if I can substitute impatience with gratitude, then I will be able to replicate that anywhere. Such freedom!

In the last 24 hours I have watched the shift that invariably occurs when we make the conscious choice to focus on gratitude. While yesterday I resented eating dinner alone, today I am thankful: This might be the last time in my life that I am free to roam, before I settle down for good. When have I ever had so much time to write, practice, meditate? This opportunity might not come around again so easily. So sometimes life back home seems to go on without me. But is it really going anywhere?

My dear friend and fellow teacher Egon Castlunger once said: “The more positive vibes you emit into the universe, the more it will respond with positive experiences. It is all about the signal you send off. This is why gratitude works.”

Slowly I am becoming familiar with the different nooks and crevices, I have made a map of homesickness. While I am sure there is still a lot of undiscovered territory, I do my best not to avoid the thickets and to rest when there’s a clearing. As I learn to navigate homesickness, I become more and more grateful for all the lessons learned. I can only say, gratitude is the key.

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