A Home for the Heart

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Whenever I leave the country, my mother says to me, “Don’t fall in love with a Frenchman,” or an Indian or a New Zealander – or wherever I am going – and move far away permanently. So far, so good.

But what does it mean, anyway, to fall in love? I’ve been seriously in love twice in my life and temporarily in love a few more times than that. Every time I fall there is the sense that I’ve found something that I’ve never found before, and yet which I’ve been looking for. Of course there’s all the usual suspects: joy, curiosity, the desire to be near. I’ve come to think of love as finding a home for the heart.

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The world is a rough place. Dreams are slow in the making. Disappointment frequently crashes in. Fear wheedles all along the way. Falling in love has the sense of finding a safe place, some one you can depend on. That when you feel weak, there is some one to remind you of your power. That when you are bereft, there is some one who remains by your side. That when you are overcome with doubt, there is some one whose faith in you does not waiver.

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And yet, the older I get – the more love I experience, and the more love I give – this notion begins to falter. What seems like a valid idea in theory doesn’t stand up in practice. What sadness I have is all my own, and no one else can ease it. My fear is fierce enough to take even the most well intended words of comfort and turn them into condescension. Who could cut through that but me?

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Lately, though, something is changing. I am falling in love, in a new way. This time, I have fallen not for a person, but for a place. Maybe it is France; maybe it is the Dordogne; maybe it is the few hundreds of square meters that make up Dhagpo Kagyu Ling. Whatever it is, the effect is this: I wake up in the morning feeling wonder, and I pass through the day feeling gratitude. The trees standing on the hillside remind me to be strong. The chickadees amidst the juniper remind me to be joyful. The quiet corridors of every building remind me to be patient, to be restful, and to take care with what I carry, my own bundle of desires and uncertainty.

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The difference, I think, between falling in love with a place and falling in love with a person is that, with a place, I have a better sense of what comes from outside and what comes from within. Home is not a place you inhabit; it’s a feeling you create. There is no home for my heart other than the one I build myself. From outside I can draw inspiration, but from inside must come strength and faith and the determination to rest with what is whilst working towards ever-greater understanding of what that means. Being in love with a place, I can see that my lover is a mirror in which to see myself and, through that reflection, grow, rather than thinking of it as a separate source of understanding or happiness, and then becoming dependent on it, which I am wont to do when the lover in question is a person.

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But, as with any love, there are pitfalls here too. I’ve become attached. My mother should have warned me against green woods, stone buildings, and places rife with curiosity and care, as well as their inhabitants. I’ve fallen hard for this place, and I want to stay. Sorry Mums. But, as with everything in life, impermanence is a factor. As a US citizen, I get three months in France until I need a lot of paperwork and, either a lot of money, or a fairly particular reason for being here, or I have no choice but to head home. I suppose this is the trouble with falling in love with a place rather than a person.

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The Right Place

What a day to be me. It is Saturday in India; breakfast was brown bread with salted butter and homemade jam, not to mention fresh papaya and sweet milk tea. The air is cold and misty, and I have been in my room interneting away over my tea and toast until the sun comes out.

I failed to take a picture of actual breakfast, but isn't the dishware picturesque?

I failed to take a picture of actual breakfast, but isn’t the dishware picturesque?

I have discovered an infinitude of beautiful people writing, making, and sharing beautiful things (see *note below) on the internet to keep me company between practice, study, and a tad bit of homesickness. Yeah, that’s right, you got me. I’m homesick. I’ve been here one month and it’s not vacation, but it wasn’t meant to be and it is good shit. I am learning deep parts of the Buddhist tradition that I come from, reevaluating my own views and habits, and ironing them out on the cushion and in life.

But this is no easy thing. I get hit over the head with my own shortcomings and ignorance every day. My lack of patience, my expectations, my deep resentment of uncertainty and impermanence, which are both, erm, totally unavoidable truths of life. Like I said, I’ve been seeking solace a bit, in the in-between times. Which I don’t think is a bad thing. I haven’t neglected practice or study, and we all have to figure out the balance between work and play that keeps us inspired and moving forward, right?

So I’ve been reading lots of food blogs and writing recipes in my head, and missing having an oven. I draw once a week and have been making loads of origami paper and cranes, but I do periodically wonder if I am going to wake up one day and be totally slaughtered by the absence of canvas in my life.

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Slaughtered is maybe an exaggeration, but anyway, here’s what happened: Today I got a lovely comment on this here blog, encouraging the work I do as an artist and reminding me to keep faith in the process and have fun. Then I got an e-mail from some one I had a nice conversation with at a holiday party in December saying he wants to buy one of my paintings, or maybe three. Then I got an e-mail from one of the members of my art critique group back home telling me about new developments in their work that I am not around to see. It’s like my life is missing me too!

And so, now it comes. The missing of canvas. Not that the missing of California mountains and the emulsification of butter and flour has given up the ghost. They just have company now.

Life and space and time are a strange business though. I wouldn’t leave KIBI for anything right now, with the small exception of dengue fever, which would be out of my control and which I make daily prayers will not enter my life in any way, shape, or form other than the absence of our Tibetan language teacher, who is himself recovering in Germany. Anyway, my point is that, despite this pulsating missing of things in distant places, and despite the fact that the city of Delhi holds very little romance for me, I am good here.

Studying Buddhism means sitting cross-legged even when you're not meditating. Chairs are not a thing.

Studying Buddhism means sitting cross-legged even when you’re not meditating. Chairs are not a thing.

I don’t always like that fact. There are times I wish I hadn’t happened upon this journey. I was happy at home with my baking, my painting, my big outdoors, my yoga and friend-and-family life. But I wanted to study dharma. Needed to, really, because as much as I love all the other parts of my life, none of them make sense without the teachings to put them in context.

This is your mind; this is how you find joy; this is how you create suffering. And this–this is how you learn to be happy.

That’s what Buddhism means to me. So even though I never had a yen to visit India, and now that I’m here I would rather spend my Saturday reading food blogs and saying mantras on the temple steps than sightseeing, I know that this is the right place to be. I am doing my best to let it be, until the time is once more ripe for canvas and cooking and all the rest, and maybe, just maybe, for all of these things to come together (my teachers say, “abandon hope; embrace this moment,” but I am still learning).

*Note: I have (finally) started a blogroll to share the beautiful places where I spend time and find inspiration. You’ll find it as a tab on the menu bar.