Returning Home

Last month, I attended an amazing event at the Hayden Planetarium at the Museum of Natural History. Hōkūleʻa, the canoe from Hawaii that is being paddled around the world over three years to share Mālama Honua -- caring for Island Earth -- had docked in NYC. A navigator from the ship spoke to us as we gazed up at the night sky projected above, explaining how the ancient Hawaiians used wayfinding techniques to navigate the waters of Polynesia with only natural elements to guide them. I was mesmerized by the explanation of their feat, and by the end felt so proud to be part Hawaiian and a descendant of these seafarers. 

Hōkūleʻa means "Star of Gladness." It is the Hawaiian word for Arcturus, the bright star which passes over Hawai'i. It is Nature's guide that points Hawaiians to the way home.

Most touchingly, I recall, at the very end, the navigator said that home is already in our hearts and minds. We can trust that it is there, and we instinctively know how to return to it when are in touch with the deepest callings of our hearts and minds. In that moment, I remember longing to go back home to Hawai'i.

All these feelings of -- longings for -- returning home got me to consider: as yoga and meditation practitioners, what does returning home mean to us?

Consider this passage from Buddhist psychology:

O Nobly Born, O you of glorious origins, remember your radiant true nature, the essence of mind. Trust it. Return to it. It is home. 
—The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Jack Kornfield on “Discovering our Nobility: A Psychology of Original Goodness)

The idea is that no matter how difficult things get for us, no matter how much we are suffering -- yes, life involves suffering if you haven't realized this by now -- these dark clouds in our mind and heart are not who we truly are. The Buddha recognized this in stating the Four Noble Truths.

From Lion's Roar, "prominent Buddhist teacher and psychologist Jack Kornfield proposes a new psychology, one based not on a model of sickness but on Buddhism’s belief in the inherent nobility, beauty, and freedom of human nature." Often we so identify with our neuroses. I certainly can. AND we can also choose to identify with our inherent capacity for compassion and for seeing the good in ourselves and others.

Consider also the wisdom of the venerable Vietnamese Buddhist Mediation Master, Thich Nhat Hanh through these various quotes:

"Every time you feel lost, alienated, or cut off from life, or from the world, every time you feel despair, anger, or instability, practice going home. Mindful breathing is the vehicle that you use to go back to your true home."

"Mindfulness helps you go home to the present. And every time you go there and recognize a condition of happiness that you have, happiness comes."

"... when you are mindful, you are fully live, you are fully present. You can get in touch with the wonders of life, that can nourish you, and heal you. And  you are stronger, you are more solid, in order to handle the suffering inside of you and around you. Aaah, when you are mindful you can recognize, embrace, and handle the pain and sorrow in you, and around you, to bring relief. And if you will continue with concentration ... you will be able to transform the suffering inside, and help transform the suffering around you."

"... when you breathe in, your mind comes back to your body and then you become fully aware that you are alive, that you are a miracle, and that everything you touch could be a miracle. ... [the] wonders of life [are] available in the here and the now. ... you need to breath mindfully in and out, in order to be fully present, and to get in touch with all these things. And that is a miracle, because you understand the nature of the suffering, you know the role that suffering plays in life, and you are not trying to run away from suffering any more ... and you know how to make use of suffering in order to build peace and happiness. It's like growing a lotus flower. You cannot grow a lotus flower on marble, you have to grow them on the mud. Without mud, you cannot have lotus flower. Without suffering, you have no way ... to learn how to be understanding and compassionate."

In yoga, we practice deep mindful breathing in order to bring relief and more openness to the tight muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia of our bodies. In sitting or walking meditation, we practice breath awareness in order to bring expansiveness to the tight, narrow focus of our minds in the present moment. 

With all the anger, violence and conflict permeating the world these days, now more than ever we need spiritual warriors who can return home to the breath to help transform some of that suffering. We need more people who can remember the mind's true home of radiance. We need more people who can transform some of that mud all around us into something beautiful. We need more people to simply return home.

As with Hōkūleʻa, the star of gladness that lies within our very own hearts and minds inherently -- because that is who we truly are -- will always lead us back home. Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz came to realize at the very end of her long journey that home was always in her heart. She just had to leave Kansas -- indeed leave home -- temporarily in order to come to know that and find home again. 

Dorothy also came to realize, "there's no place like home."

May each of us remember our true home.
May each of us know the return there by coming in touch with the gladness in our hearts.
May each of us remember that there is no place like home.
May each of us remember these things for the benefit of all beings.