Do all of us have repetitive voices in our heads, or is it just me?
I suspect that if we pay attention, there are certain phrases that run across our minds so often that they become part of our background noise. I actually hear several repetitive phrases, but the one that seems to be the most persistent, the one that I have heard in my head since childhood is, “I want to go home.”
The words are loud, clear, insistent, sometimes yearning, and often sad.
What’s tricky is that I can hear these words even when I am at home. They seem to have nothing to do with my physical location but rather express some deeper, more difficult-to-understand longing to go home.
After years and years of hearing this phrase repeated in my head over and over, I am not clear whether or not I truly grasp what “home” means to me but I’m beginning to gain some clarity.
When I am longing to be home, home embodies a safe place, a place where I feel cared for, supported, a place where I trust that I can deeply rest. In this sense, home is not a physical location but an internal awareness that everything is okay just as it is.
My response to my childhood was one of uncertainty. As an adult, I am well aware that my set of circumstances might easily have been interpreted differently by a less anxious child. In fact, the way my sister processed our family dynamics did not resemble my reaction at all. Whether it was or not, I perceived what was happening in my childhood home as chaos.
For a child with a brain wired to worry, the instability, unpredictability, volume, and messiness of a chaotic home had a dramatic impact. I fretted over what had happened, what was happening, and what might happen. Rarely completely present, my thoughts were all about the “what ifs.” Worrying was a full-time job that quite literally kept me up at night.
But I didn’t know any different. I assumed all homes were as chaotic as mine, and that all families were made up of what seemed to me to be loud, critical, mean-spirited, negative individuals. I had no reason to believe that my family situation was anything other than typical.
Chaos being the usual tempo of my home meant that I had to find ways to cope, and over the years, coping took many different forms. When very young, I spent a lot of time in my grandmother’s lap, soaking up what felt like tranquility, but as I grew up, my methods needed to adapt.
I spent a lot of time alone in my room. Interestingly, in spite of finding my home environment distressful, I spent a limited time outside of my home because I was afraid I might miss something…something that I needed to know about. My heightened sense of observation, and of heightened vigilance, required that I stay close and be aware of everything that was taking place. In order to anticipate what might happen next, I needed to know exactly what was happening right now.
With a brain focused on worrying, figuring out, and adopting new ways to cope, this is a process that I dragged along with me through the years. Worrying became a way of life.
Anxiety is exactly the reason why the phrase, “I want to go home” crosses my mind so frequently. My search is for a place where worry is completely unnecessary, somewhere I am safe, where I can truly, deeply rest without being afraid, a place where I also do not have to tolerate being afraid.
As long as I am searching for this “home” outside of myself, I am doomed to failure. It will never exist in the external world. This place of true connection, this place where I am out of harm’s way can only be found within. My true home, the place without conflict and chaos, the place where I feel safe and protected, can only be found in that infinite space deep inside of me. I think of that place as my inner wisdom, some might call it my soul.
Serenity is available any time I choose to stop looking outside of myself and go within.
With a conscious, focused attention on the present moment and an inner awareness, I am able to experience homecoming.
The choice to go within raises multiple questions.
Is there a process for focusing on the inner? Is it a physical or a mental technique? How do I start? I suspect that tapping in to what’s going on inside is a uniquely individual practice, one that is developed over time with varying degrees of success. My attempts were a series of trial and error but ultimately I discovered ways that work for me.
The transition from outside to inside, outward to inner focus, begins for me with quite literally getting into my body. Disregarding the sensations of my physical body comes easily for me. I’m much more likely to be paying attention to my thoughts.
To move from focusing on my thinking to sensing my physical body requires that I ground myself.
The only way I have been able to drop into my body is to move from thinking to feeling. I place my feet on the ground directly underneath me and experience the sensation in my feet. With them firmly pressed down into the ground, I bring my breath deep down into my body as if I could breathe into my feet. This rooting helps me move out of my thinking mind and into my physical body.
Once I feel grounded, I pay close attention to my breath. In through the nose and out through the nose, one breath at a time, deep conscious breathing.
As I become aware of each breath, I notice if it is choppy, short, long, easy, or even. I merely notice its characteristics without judgment. As I get really curious about my breath, I smooth it out and count the length of the inhale and exhale. While gradually increasing the length of both the inhale and the exhale, one count at a time, I determine and maintain a comfortable breath count.
When I reach a breath count that feels sustainable, I extend the length of the exhale by one count. For example, a four-count inhale and a four-count exhale becomes a four-count inhale and a five-count exhale. Maintaining this breath pattern, I continue to ground my feet into the floor. If at any time during this process, I feel uncomfortable, I return to my natural breath and when I’m ready, I start again.
My mind will wander, I will be distracted by my thoughts. Thinking is what our brains are designed to do and they are proficient at it. When I notice that I am thinking rather than paying attention to my breath, I gently and without judgment, return my attention to my breath. Every time I do this, I am strengthening my ability and reinforcing my willingness to go within.
Grounding into my physical body and focusing on my breath are the doorways to my inner intelligence. As I consciously breathe, one breath at a time, I am in the present moment. I cannot breathe in the past nor can I breathe in the future. This breath practice places me firmly in the now.
Whether I stay with a grounding and breathing practice for a few moments or considerably longer, I always come back into my body more aware, calm, centered, and more conscious of the present moment.
In the present moment, I am okay.
I can rest, breathe deeply, drop my shoulders, unclench my lower back, relax my stomach, and let go of my fear. In this precious, totally available moment, I am protected. I am safe. There is nothing to worry about. I am home.
Title inspired by Ram Dass: “We’re all just walking each other home.”