The tundra is not “home”.

Not yet.

I haven’t invested it with enough meaning.

This is also true for our house here in Bethel. As much as I love the tundra and am coming to love this house, they are not yet “home”.

I’m doing this meditation because, in the midst of the pandemic and the incredible upset of the murder of George Floyd and surrounding events, I am aware I’m feeling a bit homesick.

I’m not particularly missing my former homes in Virginia, California, Seattle, or Wyoming. I’m missing having someplace immediate that has become meaningful to me. A place whose meaning is “home”.

I’ve done some looking into meaning making and discovered a few interesting thoughts: In a study published in 2013, a group of neuro-scientists and neuro-psychologists found “Imaginatively linking experiences across past, present, and future tends to make them more meaningful to individuals.” In other words, in my previous homes, I had multiple experiences I could link together in ways that were meaningful to me. I could then project that meaning on an imagined future in ways that suggested certain continuities for what might occur in that place. I then could link those possibilities back to the present, choose how to interpret new situations, and act accordingly.

Along the way, I collected various things, especially books and artwork, I had endowed with meaning related to those experiences.

Every time I’ve moved, I’ve had to begin the process again. Usually, I’ve been able to bring some of those meaningful artifacts with me. They brought me comfort in new locations where I had yet to make meaning about that place. Also, I could more easily relate new events to old ones because I could see and touch the symbols of meaningful past events. This made transition to a new place easier.

When we moved to Alaska, I was not able to bring along many of these artifacts. After a fairly stressful year, I’m definitely feeling disconnected from my previous life.

The artist Carole Sortor, wrote,

“I believe meaning resides in or arises from relatedness. …It’s human nature to try to make sense of things, so even if there’s no one around to explain the unfamiliar to us, we usually notice things about it, relationships among its components or between it and the rest of our experience.”

We find meaningful things to be comforting because they are, in a deep way, familiar.

The processes I’m using to create a new sense of “home” are also partly the same processes we use to create culture, make and apply meaning about our work lives, and create a ‘new normal’. We link events from the past, present, and what we believe will be the future in our minds and decide what meaning they have. Enough meaning and a place becomes “home”.

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