The problem with permanenceA couple of months ago I returned home to Sydney.  Home again.  After 4 months spent living in Europe, and 9 of the last 12 months spent abroad in various locations, I found myself on the sunny shores of Sydney – not a bad place to be, particularly at the start of Spring.

My friends and family are used to my comings and goings.  Over the past 12 years, since my first experience living abroad, I have been coming and going fairly regularly. Yet despite the regularity, each homecoming still has its challenges.

When you come home after being away for so long, often home doesn’t feel like home anymore. You’re walking down the same streets, eating in the same restaurants, having conversations with the same people but somehow things feel off.  They feel different. There’s the comfort you get from the familiarity that comes with knowing a place so well, mixed in with the discomfort of feeling disconnected, out of place and a little bit restless.  The excitement of reuniting with friends and family back home, mixed with the sadness of missing those you’ve left behind.

And then the questions start coming…

Is it good to be back?

How does it feel to be back?

Both tricky questions for any repat to answer.  The first question is particularly hard. It makes you feel as though you have to choose.  As if this is a yes/no kind of experience.  And the second question, if it’s answered truthfully, is probably going to include a bunch of conflicting emotions.

I was listening to a podcast recently with the incredible Rob Bell, all about the wisdom of the heart (ep 117). In it, he talked about the non-dual nature of the heart and the idea that all kinds of emotions can be sitting side by side in your heart, because they’re all present within you.

I know that I feel happy, excited and grateful to be home and at the same time I feel sad and a little heartbroken to have left my friends in France and Sweden behind.  And the thing is, it’s ok to feel both.  Our heart has room for it.  Our humanity is capable of it.  Where the problems arise is when the head gets involved.

Our head isn’t like our heart. Our brain likes to make choices.  To have things in a logical, rational place. To have certainty.  To divide things into black and white.  Right and wrong.  Good and bad. And it’s this arbitrary division that causes problems.  That doesn’t allow us to be fully human and express all of ourselves.

It’s the division that makes us choose one emotion over the other and in turn either bury the conflicting emotion, or worse still, project it on to someone else. When we think we don’t have the space to allow for 2 contradictory emotions to co-exist then our default reaction is to pick one and get rid of the other.

When we try and make sense of how we can feel joyful and sad in the exact same moment, it can be hard.  But guess what? Our feelings don’t have to make sense.  They’re BIGGER than that.  They’re WISER than that.

So what do we do with them all? How do we make space for all of them at the table?

It starts by us naming them. By stopping the habit we have for only talking about the palatable emotions. Of having to always be ‘good’, or ‘fine’ (insert socially appropriate response here). It’s almost as though our language and cultural habits are letting us down. How is it even possible to give a one-word answer to the question “How are you?” – as if one word can sum up all of the possible things that we may be feeling in any given moment.

It’s time we get ok with feeling it all.  The whole gamut of human emotions. And it’s time we find truthful ways of expressing it so we don’t have to feel like we’re denying a piece of our soul every time we open our mouth.

“Even in laughter, the heart may ache and rejoicing may end in grief.”
Proverbs 14:13

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2 Comments

  1. Reply beki

    Thanks Samantha…5 months in and missing my old home has crept back…the streets, the people, the food, the culture…
    I guess it’s ok to miss a place and not go back…. (for now…hehehe)

    • Reply Sam

      You’re welcome Beki. Yes it’s totally ok to miss a place and not go back to it. It’s that common ‘triangle’ feeling that anyone who has lived abroad can relate to. A good thing to do in this case is to ask yourself how those things about your old home made you feel – the streets, the people, the food, the culture – if you can identify emotions that are linked to the things you’re missing, then you can find things in your present experience (albeit different things) that make you feel the same way. And as I said in the post, it’s ok to feel it all – the whole array of conflicting emotions.

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