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.
We now see Odysseus’s long voyage as a paradigm for the journey of self-discovery. By the 20th century, the German philosopher Martin Heidegger had concluded that all philosophising is about homecoming – which he defined as the search for ‘truth and meaning’.
This search is just as important as the destination – perhaps even more so. Odysseus’s 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.
But the idea of ‘home’ – a secure base and a safe haven is a powerful one. Another 20th century French philosopher – this time 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.’
The home she writes about doesn’t just have to be a physical place – often that’s not available or even possible – it’s more a sense of belonging.
Freud himself understood this concept. Nationalism was such a powerful force at the end of the 19th and early 20th Century but for him, the promised land or ‘Utopia’ … is in the human mind.
At other times in his story, Odysseus is literally adrift on the seas. Many of us have had a sense of that at some point or another in our lives. What we crave is the security of being ‘rooted’ … of ‘belonging’. But where to find that? And what does it look like?
As Maya Angelou reminds us: ‘You are only free when you realise you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.’
By engaging with this feeling of being adrift we begin to understand that it’s not the destination rather it’s the search where we will discover ‘truth and meaning’ and ultimately ‘home’.