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Groundlessness as home
what happens when you hit reset on home too many times
In January I left Lisbon for a trip to Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, and San Francisco. Now once again in Lisbon, I can see Lisbon with fresh eyes and newly appreciate its sunlight’s ethereal brightness. It is brighter than bright and feels like caffeinated epiphany. The white buildings receive and reflect the light, casting halos.
I walk past the local snack bars that serve perfectly decent espresso to find a hipster cafe. It's a tiny hole in the wall serving premium espresso between crates of vinyl.
I order an americano and sip, savoring the trendy light roast that's served in hipster cafes across Europe. When I first moved to Berlin I hated this roast. I still don't love the taste but I now equate it with all the lovely times I've spent drinking americanos on this continent, which is to say that I love it.
The americano comes to 2 EUR. Fresh from the San Francisco Bay Area, where seemingly walking out the door costs $20 plus a 20% tip, I surmise that 2 EUR is basically free.
"Why don't I move here?" I catch my mind wondering.
This is a hilarious thought, as moving to Lisbon was until recently my plan. However when I messed up the visa paperwork I decided to go wander instead of dealing with starting the application anew.
But now that I have given up on Lisbon, I have a problem: I don't know where home is. I was just in the San Francisco Bay Area, which should feel like home, as it was home for my first 20-some years. But now when I'm in the US I think things like, "Hmm, so that's how they're doing things here," as if it's any other foreign country.
On my first day back in the US, the Trader Joe's cashier strikes up a conversation about the chocolate I'm buying. This feels utterly foreign; my privacy feels invaded and I’m exhausted trying to keep up my side of the conversation in the expected cheerful tone. When I get to my layover in Barcelona I feel at home because I don't understand the surrounding conversations, as if my brain now interprets foreign languages as familiar, comforting white noise.
I suppose I've become objective about every place, but this objectiveness makes me an insider nowhere except, I suppose, with other expats also dealing with the strange artifacts that come when you reset home too many times.
I touch base with Lisbon friends, fellow expats. One might swap Lisbon for Berlin. Another is finding it difficult to make long-term friendships here because everyone is a bit transient. And another had visa issues and, like me, gave up and moved on. “Can we all just pick a place and stay there?” I wonder.
But how do I choose a place to stay? My previous reasons for moving were I fell in love with the place, or got a job, or wanted better weather and cost of living. Most recently I've wanted to make people home: let someone or some community become so central in my life that I orbit around them. Maybe.
At one point I drafted a blog titled "How to Pick a City to Live In." This is when I had picked Porto as my home and, in my extreme hubris, had even purchased an apartment. Now, packing up said apartment, I am not so arrogant to think that I know how to choose a place to live.
Impermanence is one of Buddhism’s fundamental teachings, and so it seems understandable that I suffer when seeking permanence where none exists. After all, this very body—the ultimate home—is impermanent. The only sensible course of action seems to become comfortable with groundlessness.
Perhaps groundlessness can be my home.
What does it mean to make groundlessness home in this situation? I think it means shifting from my tendency to want to plan, to control, to know—shift to being here in the present moment and sit gently with the uncertainty about what happens next. In the present moment I'm watching orange-roofed houses and green vineyards roll past the train from Lisbon. It's a beautiful spring day and the world sings of possibility.
It's a beautiful moment to call home.
“The bad news is you’re falling through the air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute. The good news is there’s no ground.”
–Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
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