There’s a lot being written about staying home these days. Discomfort. Anxiety. Isolation. Depression. The truth is, many of us struggled with “home” even before the pandemic. I don’t have the answers. But I can tell you how having a dog makes a huge difference. At least, for me.
We need to leave home, be away from home, find pieces of home in hotels and tents, and maybe move from house to house in quest of home. . . . Like turtles, we carry our homes with us as we move from place to place, all homes mobile, because home is ultimately located in a deep recess of the soul, a cornucopia that pours forth endless gifts. (p 84)
We are all ultimately looking for home. To feel at home. Home is a human need. Many of us wander for adult obligations, others for pleasure, still others because we have no choice. Always, we’re trying to find the place that fits, the place that is “home.”
Yet, even for those of us who are, seemingly, home, we fall asleep. We stop paying attention. We lose our connection.
I agree with Moore. Home does exist in “a deep recess of the soul.” Establishing itself there from our childhood. From our young experiences of being loved and belonging and having our most essential needs met. When we were free from worry. When we played. When the only thing we were aware of was the present.
Children have very little concept of time. Children play for hours, unaware of how tired they’ve become, only wanting to play more. To stay awake and not go to bed. To stay outside and not come in for dinner. To stay in the water and not dry off. Children live in the present. “Are we there yet?” is their constant refrain from the backseat of a car. “Is my birthday today?” the daily question when parents are planning for a party. We learn how to read clocks just to count the minutes in a classroom until recess or until the final bell rings and we’re free to go back outside.
Those places where we were truly present as children – ensconced in laughter and love and play, when we knew no fear and no worries, blissfully and fully in the moment – became imprinted in us and settled deep into our soul. These are imprints of our homes and our neighborhoods. The landscapes of our daily lives or those from special trips – vacations or camp. Of rituals and routines. They are even imprints of adults – our parents, grandparents, teachers – the people who cared for us and whose lives were bound to locations, to the places where we experienced joy and contentment, value and worth.
I was truly comfortable in Sicily during the Covid19 lockdown and found home there because I was present. I wasn’t longing for Tulsa or Picabo or any home of my past. Yet I was profoundly aware of home imprints from earlier times. Knowing what those imprints are – what imprints reside in me – makes finding home less haphazard, less of a chance encounter.
I was able to find those imprints in Sicily because I knew where to look. In the land and the landscape. In the buildings and houses. In the people that I met. And inside my own soul.
The only thing missing, I repeatedly said, was a dog. A canine companion. A fur baby that made me laugh, that demanded my attention, that needed me. Dogs, more than anything else, remind me of my inner child. Dogs reflect the playful part of me.
Dogs are very much like children. They have no concept of time. They exist in the present. Five minutes is the same as five hours. When you return, they greet you with exuberance, gratitude, and joy. When you play fetch, they can always keep on playing. You just rubbed their belly? Here, rub it again!
Home is the realm of the child. Where our inner child is activated. For me, in my daily life, I am best able to be present to my child when I’m present with a dog.
Four out of the five basic human needs – as defined by Maslow – are met in our homes as children. At least in the archetypal home – what home is supposed to be – what we all expect home to provide us. Shelter, safety, love and belonging, a sense of worth and value. It’s the role of the parent to provide these things to us when we are young. Whether or not we actually did receive these things from our parents – or from home – we will always long for them as adults. Only, when we grow older, we become responsible for providing these things. Not just to our own children (if we have them), but to ourselves.
We must actively attend to our child within. The child we thought we outgrew but who still resides deep inside us. In our soul. Our inner child holds the keys to home. Our inner child knows how to engage the “endless gifts” that connect us to place: wonder, laughter, play, and the use of all our senses. Suspending time. Being present.
Thomas Moore suggests that adult depression may arise not from childhood experiences—those painful memories that we tend to assume have harmed us irrevocably—but from our adult neglect of “the soul’s eternal childhood” (p 54). Please don’t misunderstand – this is not in any way to minimize adult depression. I, too, have suffered. And honestly, returning to the States as a single woman, in the midst of a pandemic, when emotions are high, and tensions are taut among everyone – I feared depression might be waiting for me. Not sitting on the couch, but maybe hanging out in the closet, or hiding in a drawer.
Adopting a dog was preventative medicine. Mazie keeps me present. To laughter. To play. To home as viewed from ten inches off the floor. To wonder and curiosity.
When we stay present and engage the gifts of a child – our inner child – we become intimate with our surroundings, wherever we are. When we recognize the needs of our soul’s child, when we nurture the child still within, we open ourselves to a visceral, authentic, sense-filled connection. Comfort. Joy. Awe. These become our companions.
Wherever I am, I find myself home when there’s a dog at my side.
Contact your local shelter. Dog, cat, ferret, rabbit… chances are there’s a furry friend out there that needs you just as much as you need them. Together, you can find home.