Moving anywhere is hard. Moving halfway across the world, well that’s harder if only because everything familiar is missing. I’ve done both kinds of moving, several times, and it never ceases to amaze me how difficult it is to uproot ourselves–no matter the excitement and commitment we have to the process. Each time, I mourn the loss of ‘what was’ even as I discover new beauty in ‘what is.’ And each time, I learn more about what it means to be at home.
I made the most recent house move several months ago, and since then I’ve been observing the evolving process of coming into the new normal. This change was pretty much total: different county, language, culture, food, water and totally opposite time of day compared to the old home. In addition, there’s a new job, daily routine, and social community. Talk about dislocation and relocation. Or, from a different perspective: what a perfect yet stressful, growth-filled yet time-stopping life experience.
Here’s what I’ve learned and hopefully what might resonate for any of you who have ever left your familiar home and begun the process of making a new one somewhere else.
The process of taking leave (from where you’ve been) and re-establishing your home is painfully slow. I’m reminded again and again to stay present mentally and spiritually, because there’s nothing to do other than to keep going. ‘Settling in’ takes time, and thinking we can rush it is a delusion that only prolongs the discomfort. So I’ve been taking a little time each day to sit quietly and breath. I breathe in, and I breathe out. I try to remain mindful even when it hurts. Then another minute passes and I’m still here and I’m ok. In some deeply primal way I know that mindful breathing marks the passage of time and time permits growth. With time, I’ve begun breathing easier.
Prior to the modern era, the process of getting someplace far away took a long time and allowed travellers to adapt physically, emotionally and spiritually through the journey. Now, you can get on a plane today and get off tomorrow on the other side of the world, and although putting two feet on new ground attests to the fact that your body has arrived, the mind and heart tend to take longer to catch up.
There are phases to adaptation beginning with when the newness is exciting and invigorating (and the jet lag makes you too tired to know what’s really happening). After some days or maybe weeks, the protective sense of newness transforms into an irritating feeling of pervasive unfamiliarity. What was charming is now challenging. In this raw and painful space, you long for what’s known and comfortable: friends and family, fresh air and familiar foods. There’s drudgery and despair. A grown adult, you’re totally homesick. You wonder, ‘what the f— am I doing here?” and wonder, “will I manage?” Like grief (actually, it is grief), these waves of emotion come and go.
You hit bottom weeks or months later, and only know how bad it was when you start to feel better on the rebound. The shift happens when the unfamiliar becomes familiar: the new normal. You still miss everything and everyone, but somehow more confident, mindful of the challenges but also aware of the opportunities. There’s beauty and meaning again.
Different routines form familiar daily patterns and staying in touch with loved ones proves workable and nourishing. It’s still hard to live so far away, but it becomes tolerable once we realize that home isn’t a place. It’s a space within us, in each breath… in being where ever we are: physically, mentally and spiritually.