When I set out to write a blog, I decided to call it ‘Ithaca’. Here’s the story behind that:
In Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey, his Greek hero Odysseus is trying to return home after the Trojan War.
For Odysseus that place is Ithaca.
I believe that Homer was not only writing about a physical place but also a state of being. Ithaca can be seen as a metaphor for what we – and Odysseus – want and ‘need’ from life. On one level, Odysseus needs love – the love of his wife Penelope – but it could also be interpreted as a primordial longing, a nostalgia to return. Both Plato and old testament writers defined this as a return to a ‘heavenly paradise’, our original and ultimate home.
For the 20th century German philosopher Martin Heidegger, the greatest journey is the journey to death. For him, all philosophising is about homecoming – a search for truth and meaning.
As for Odysseus, the journey is just as important as the destination – perhaps even more so – the story is certainly more thrilling on the journey with its encounters with lotus-eaters, the six-headed monster Scylla and the captivating witch-goddess Circe.
The journey is the ‘day-to-day’ in-the-moment experience. French existentialists were obsessed by this idea – It’s the idea behind phenomenology – and it’s still a big part of psychotherapy. ‘Phenomena’ comes from the Greek word meaning ‘things that appear’ – that what you experience ‘in the moment’.
Whilst Odysseus is living in the moment, there is a yearning within him. He is literally adrift at some points on his journey. That sense of being ‘adrift’, is often used to describe life when it lacks meaning. So it’s perhaps not surprising that many of use crave the security of being ‘rooted’ – to a place, person or concept that offers comfort and security.
The French philosopher Simone Weil, who was forced to leave France during the Second World War wrote:
‘To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognised need of the human soul.’
So what is ‘home’? It can be a place or a feeling we associate with family – but not necessarily so – after all, that place doesn’t exist for everyone – it changes – and it may represent an experience of trauma.
Rather ‘home’ could be a sense of belonging or connection.
So how to find that?
Listen to yourself.
Ask yourself when have you felt secure, happy, grounded? What do you ‘need’? What do you want? Perhaps it’s something that has always been there – during good and bad times – that perhaps you’ve tried to ignore or dismiss at certain points in your life, but which never totally goes away? Is it a place? A culture? A history or an environment? Is it co-created or is it your own place? … Your own ‘safe place’ which you invite other people to when you are ready? Just by acknowledging it, you begin to find ‘home’ – though remember, the search has its own way of telling you what you need.