This week I had a BIG release on the back of the realisation that, as a child, I externalised my sense of safety to the home (rather than it feeling like an insider job) partly because a sense of the potential to feel safe in my own skin wasn’t forthcoming or demonstrated to me by my parents (through no fault of their own, they did what they knew how to do). Their best demonstration of “how” to be safe was to make a wonderful home and stay there, come what may and that was a valid part of my sense of safety as I grew up there, but it made that safety conditional upon a set of outer circumstances whilst it remained absent within me. It was as though that whole part of my wiring remained under-developed because it had come to equate itself with this externalised or extended sense of self; so, perhaps, no wonder I have always felt as though my nervous system extends about 50 feet wider than may actual body…said tongue in cheek but I suspect there is some truth in that. Its somewhat like developing an exoskeleton when you are meant to have your supports, and your boundaries, on the inside!
That home became a set of arms around me, that held me in some sort of suspended sense of safety that I imagine might otherwise have come from the internalised touch-memory of what it felt like to be held by a parent’s arms, to know their smell, to feel that everything is in its place because they are always there for you and are teaching you how to self-love the way they love you. I can only imagine how such an upbringing would feel, though its the one I strove to give to my daughter. For me, that feeling of being held always came from stepping back through my own front door after a day at school, feeling overwhelmed, overstimulated, often bullied, insecure and ceaseless trying so hard to fit in…yet home was where I could go limpid and fall into a swoon as though nothing else mattered. My parents did well to create such a wonderful haven and I see how that feeling was an externalised version of those unspoken aspects of themselves that loved me so much; they loved through the action of providing such a home and regarded actual embrace as superfluous (however, I think this last year has taught us all, even the least touchy-feely of us as I am, that embrace is never superfluous…).
Also, their worldview only really worked if I was able to predict living in such a sheltered world all my life (obviously, something I have not managed to do…though it helps me understand how I have managed to replicate my mother’s living-close-to-home life for most of those adult years, largely through health issues). Please bear in mind that my mother was a home-maker and my dad was retired when I was growing up so I saw none of the rhythms of working life outside the home. I see now how that feeling of home= ultimate safetly they cultivated; or, the tireless search for the replica of that feeling in my adult life, has fed into so much to do with my sense (or not) of being safe and my very high sensitivity because I rely on it so heavily and anything outside the home is deemed a threat by my nervous system.
That my parents loved me and were there for me is in no doubt whatsoever but they never wrapped their arms around me in a hug or stoked my hair. I don’t remember bing kissed goodnight and, though my father put me to bed for years, what I remember was how painfully awkward he was. They never discussed with me why I was looking sad (did they even notice, or did I learn to hide it too well?) and explain or demonstrate to me how to stay feeling safe within the domain of my own experience, regardless of what others did or said around me. They didn’t demonstrate courage out in the world because my father lacked this completely (frightened of his own shadow) and my mother was seldom challenged but, when she was, came at the situation like a bull unleashed and I could see how that often made things worse. None of this, I stress and I re-stress, is any criticism of the way my parents were or brought me up but a necessary part of considering why I feel more hugged by a sense of place than by my own sense of resilience in the world. Its a sobering truth of the matter that has arisen for me as I’ve deep-dived my own “protection” issues; one of the themes covered in the Gupta Program as a means to healing my health conundrum and an inevitable topic (one I’ve scratched the top off many times before!) when you get to the root of hyper-sensitivity and chronic health conditions. When you have an uncertain or over-extended sense of personal boundary, it feeds massively into anxiety!
Therefore, it’s a topic for all of us, when all is said and done, especially in these anxiety-inducing times; as in, what makes me feel safe? What do I think I need to surround myself with, to build barricades with, to hide inside of in order to feel that kind of safety in the world? What feel like the non-negotiable boundaries required in order to feel safe and how does modern life or the demands of my work encroach on that? How did the quieter life of the past year make me feel? (as in, better or worse in terms of personal safety; FTR some of us introverts feel safer when we are tucked away at home more than usual, yes even in a pandemic!) and what does that say about my desire to keep working/living the way I used to before lockdown? What are my true priorities in life and what do those say about where I feel most relaxed and comfortable to be myself, can I make my life fit those priorities better? Is there more inner work to be done so that I can feel safe regardless and not be at the beck and call of outside circumstances the way I am? Do I have all the resources I need to feel safe unconditionally like that, even as I stand here in my socks, or do I lean too much into external factors, both for comfort but therefore also as a source of trigger when things “go wrong”? So many of these enquiries will inevitably lead us back to childhood and the way we were parented; not to judge our parents or dig over old wounds but to help us make sense of ourselves.
Back then, home to me was, in the words of my sister describing a holiday cottage she has just booked (interesting that she should also use the terminology of personal contact when describing a house…) “like a great-big hug of a place” and I felt alright as long as I was there. Its interesting, that is just how “home”, as a concept, has always seemed to me…a hug; holiday places far less so since they are unfamiliar, though I try very hard to get close, hence the great lengths I go to with feeling into a place before I will even consider hanging my hat up there, even for a couple of nights!
It’s all, to me, about the feeling of place and that feeling is something I’ve gone to great lengths to cultivate in whatever space I’ve ever called my own, all my life (even temporary student digs) to the point I have harshly judged myself for being “too materially fixated” for a lot of years; even apologised for it, just the other day, to my husband, as though my fixation on having a beautiful, safe, warm, materially comfortable place to live is a spiritual failing of mine…not zen enough to match his boarding-school-childhood-converts-seemlessly-to-monastic perspective of the world. For him, he could be alright wherever the two of us were, a good book to read, his music to listen to and a bed to sleep in (probably not quite that rudimentary, if tested, but that’s the way he couches it!) but for me it takes a close study of all the minutiae to be able to feel truly at home somewhere, and is therefore not something I like to shake-up and change very often. The thought of moving house gives me curdles!
Because (and THIS is the big realisation) for me, that sense of home has become my outer perimeter. I don’t stop at my skin or even my aura but at the boundary of my house and garden. Like a tortoise inseparable from his shell, where I go it must go, in order for me to feel safe in the world. Any wonder I have discovered my longest running triggers in the form of neighbours, traffic, wifi frequencies, smells, people from the outside wanting to come in to my inner domain without invitation…to me, these feel like penetrations of my actual skin, coming into my most personal domain, and it affects me immensely. So, which came first, my introversion or this? Impossible to sift one out from the other given the simultaneity of when they arose out of the soft childhood clay of “me” in my formative years!
Those times I’ve struggled most have, perhaps inevitably, been those when my home boundaries have felt most transgressed or compromised. So, the time when I was sexusally abused in my own home decades ago, you could say my outer walls breached, happened at a time I shared a house with my landlord and her partner and therefore had no clear sense of my own sacred domain, not even a floor of the four-story house I could clearly call my own since my two small rooms were spread out on different levels within someone else’s space; it was the least grounded I ever felt. Years later, my health breakdown came in the wake of having various lodgers and au pairs in and out of my precious home, abusing my inner spaces in all manner of ways, even stealing from me (it was a failed, if necessary, experiment in making my post-divorce life work). And, of course, the slow-subtle abuse of my first marriage, like the steady erosion of an emotional dry-rot, was an insider job yet, ironically, I made the knee-jerk choice of it because my childhood home had just been “lost” on the death of my mother; really, a double trauma for me and I knew it, even at the time. It was that very thing that decided me, abruptly, to marry rather than risk breaking up the only home I had left; my prime motivator and a somewhat more fathomable one now I see it through the eyes of how I was in no place to risk losing yet another layer of my sense of self-hood as I continued to grieve my mother at that time of my life. My very compass needle was in a spin, desperately seeking its sense of home after she died and my nearest facsimile was the shared life I had with this person, mostly because we had bought a home together and I had given it my all; if we split, it would have to be divided and sold so I sealed the deal with a wedding certificate (not at the conscious level, but this was beneath the surface).
And I can certainly recall crying myself to sleep as a teenager at the thought that one day I would have to detach from the safe-space of my bedroom for the very last time. It had become such a sanctuary from the world to me that I could come back to it, even when I lived elsewhere, and just sleep and sleep with such surrender; the kind that eluded me anywhere else.
Of course, I have that feeling here in my home of 18 years…or do I? Have I ever again found such a place, so seamlessly part of my sense of safety in this world? I’m not sure I have and maybe this is the problem with my sense of safety in the world. The less I have felt that layer of externalised boundary where I expect it to be, hugging me as no parent ever did, the less I have felt whole, supported, at liberty to relax. When youths use our road as a speedway late at night, when people throw litter into our front garden, at times when our neighbour revs his various engines all weekend long or people on the other side of us decide to billow meaty-smelling bbq smoke over our wall every non-raining day, I subliminally take each affront as a personal abuse, as though they are crossing my boundaries. It feeds into my hypervigilence, my high-sensitivity, my intolerance of any additional sensory data (because I am already overloaded).
This past year has not altered me, only made me go deeper into the effect. With my natural inclination towards introversion, I’ve only embraced the lockdown with more sense of “why all the fuss?” and, for me, there’s no compelling longing to go back to normal. For some chosen things, yes, I would like the choice of it but, as newspaper headlines fervently stir the masses back into their newfound freedoms, as the supermarkets sell out of snacks and barbecue foods this week, as our noisy neighbours lay out their garden furniture and delux-sized barbecue on their just-finished new patio, I find myself girding my loins for more afronts to my sense of sanctuary.
Even as I face an inevitable dilemma, this year, and start to approach people to help us to maintain our modest garden because, the truth is all too plain to see (every time I have tried to do the slightest bit of physical gardening work for the last few months, it has resulted in several days of exhaustion and enhanced pain…I am simply not capable of what I could do even a year ago) I flinch at the very thought of bringing outsiders “in”. It’s now occurred to me to try to find a woman gardener, someone whose words in some advert or website suggests we are on a wavelength. Because, to me, one of the most abrasive, even traumatic things I could do (and I know this from having been forced to do it in the past) is call in the kind of contractors that come into my rarified space brashly and noisily, puffing their cigarette smoke, blaring their radios, shouting into phones, shout-talking to each other swarily even though they stand at arms length. Even when I have, previously, dealt with some affable-seeming front man to shake hands on a price, I have invariably found that these are the people that show up on the day my garden needs digging and I have, honestly, tried to get over it; to tell myself not to be so sensitive and just stay indoors until they are finished. But the truth of the matter is that it feels as though some sort of abuse is taking place, my garden ravaged, its rarified quality, the air of stillness and reverence for nature we cultivate, the very frequency that draws in so many birds, butterflies and bees left tattered and torn in their wake. The garden just doesn’t feel the same when its energy walls have been breached in that way.
Its a dilemma that has my mind circling in the night right now because I can’t manage the garden myself any more and with my husbands injured knee (and he’s not an enthusiastic gardener, but I can usually direct him at some digging to be done…not this year) I am at a complete loss. Without some assistance, the overgrowth of last year is set to take over, undoing ten years’ efforts since I redesigned the space into an eclectic collection of small areas made for enjoying season-round usage and turn, instead, into over-leggy monstrosities buoyed up by weeds. I rely on this outdoor space far more than I can put into words, spending as I do almost every dry day in it from March until October as though it were another set of small rooms in my house. Its one of the reasons for how shrunken my energy feels in the winter…because, in spring and summer, my energy field relies on having this extra outdoor space to tag-on to itself, to feel closer to its naturally expanded state, which is not constricted indoors or sofa-bound but expansive and colourful but, in winter, I am forced to shrink back down into a more contracted version of myself, like it or not. All those birds and bees thriving in my garden reflect my own internal energy picking up in its verve in springtime, singing and birthing, feeding and playing…so, this isn’t “like “ how I am feeling, as some sort of elaborate metaphor, it actually IS me and to have anyone trample all over feels like a slap to the face, a kick in the guts, a personal abuse.
I guess you could say, its the ultimate “growing” test for me, in a way, as I have to be able to trust someone enough to allow them to come into my inner sanctum and help me to maintain it so that I can enjoy it for myself (work in progress as a stream of “sorry we can’t help” emails land in my inbox today). Perhaps I just need to become more open and positive in my imaginings of such a person and they will manifest in just the perfect timing, looking for a small job like mine, the begining of a working relationship. Perhaps, for me, this is how I make myself stronger through vulnerability the way others might do from sharing their innermost thoughts (I have no problems doing that but seeking practical help is my absolute weak spot). Perhaps with women gardeners I can dare to be more open about why I need their help…not the usual, formal, request for a quote. This is how we change the world, inch by inch, need by need, vulnerability by vulnerability, collaboration by collaboration.
In this taking solace from the garden aspect, I find also my father who “lived for” his garden though a shoehorn wouldn’t get him away from our home for even a night spent somewhere else (in fact, the garden was often his excuse). For me, its not the green-fingered approach (I’m not someone who relishes more than the most basic gardening tasks) but a deepest appreciation of the feeling of it, a need to just be out there in it, reading or painting or listening to the birds. Dad and I did that together too, sat wordlessly side-by-side for hour after hour, even on an overcast day, and at the time it sufficed for the hug that was always absent. After all, I didn’t know what I was missing, we just didn’t do that touching stuff in our family and we didn’t discuss the feeling stuff either, we just shared this space we called home and it felt safe, felt reliable, felt like who we were, collectively and in our independence of each other. I find a similar “vibe” in the homes of each of my siblings, like we have each carried a portion of it on…and, meanwhile, none of us even scratch the surface with each other; we just don’t seem to be able to do it at all, its all small talk and no real contact to be had. I suppose, as we step into each other’s houses (not that we do that often) the feeling is meant to suffice as the hug we would otherwise give, only the house and the hospitality does the unspoken hugging.
Am I too late to learn a different way to be with myself; is this old dog too old to learn new tricks? Will I ever know what its like to feel as contained and whole in myself as I do in an externalised place called home and which I hanker for with every cell of my being? Will those places that are “not home” always feel so alien, even threatening, to me to the point of making me ill? I am reminded of Dorothy at the point she realises the world often isn’t as roaringly terrifying as it all seems with its loud booms and its flashes of smoke (manifested by little men tucked behind the scenes) and that, while there really is no place like home, that home was never somewhere else but “somewhere” that is always with you. We find ourselves just the other side of the same common-or-garden rainbow that was always there right in front of us.
Have you ever been struck by how extraordinary and etheral a rainbow can make the most everyday scenes appear for a few moment, reminding us that there are other dimensions at work in every single moment? That happened to me just the other day when, after a gloomy dark day and not feeling well at all, wanting nothing more than to stay close to home and give in to the feeling, I somehow persuaded myself that a slow walk would do me more good than staying rooted to the sofa. Looking back at the dark sky as we crossed the common in wind and rain, a massive bowed rainbow appeared with the thickest end I have ever seen and that end came down right over the roof of my house, as broad as its entire roofline; something I would never had seen if I hadn’t persuaded myself to step out of it for a while. Yet I knew the feeling of home (and the beauty of the moment) was there with me looking back at the scene, not back there where I would have been oblivious to it. It was due to the wonderment I was able to feel because I know what home feels like, and that becomes a benchmark for resonant experiences, which then keeps us open and optimistically looking for the same frequency for as long as we live (and refusing to settle for less).
So, home is a frequency, not bricks and mortar. We might think we need to attach the feeling to a particular place, to guard it, fence it in…but what gave the place the rarified feeling we have long sought out, even caught glimpses of at different points in our lives? It was always us, our own heart-light turned up to its full beam, generating that feeling of landing back home, emmiting the frequency that not only serves us best but which enables us to radiate our own best-selves in a way that others are deeply and positively impacted by, without need for superfluous words or gestures (thank you parents for teaching me that). When in fear and dread, of course, that light is (at best) a very dim flicker, which can seem to corroborate our darkest fear that some outside force is here to invade our inner sanctuary and quash the light. What if, by realising the feeling of home is an immutable aspect of self, one that can’t be sullied or taken away, we can stop dreading these dips into the lower frequencies and spend more time in the higher ones, regardless of outer circumstances. As ever, for me, its work in progress but I feel I just made a significant step in the right direction.