Thanksgiving

Home Base

(Part One)

Way back in my childhood, when the world was still mostly photographed in black and white, I played tag with the other kids on Joralemon Street in Brooklyn Heights. The tree in front of my house was home base. There wasn’t much traffic in those days, and we ran in the gutter, on the sidewalk, and around the parked cars, chasing and being chased like yipping and nipping young wolves. If the one who was “it” was gaining on me, I tried to get to home base. After an exhilarating and sometimes narrow escape, I’d cling to the tree to rest. As long as I was touching home, I was safe.

Joralemon Street
Where I lived on Joralemon Street. “Home base” was the tree on the left.

Home base is a feeling. There was nothing that distinguished the tree physically, structurally, from the other home-base-eligible landmarks on Joralemon or any other street. If the game of tag started in front of someone else’s house, we used whatever tree or post was available there, and had the same pure experience of home base. In comparison, the physical shelter that we call home—in my case, then, a low-rent apartment (that now would sell for half a million dollars)—is an environment in which many complex feelings arise, not all of them necessarily comforting, ranging from assuredly nurturing to lonely, sometimes mixing both, and with an infinite palette of emotional colors both in between and more extreme. Often, too, the physical environment changes wholesale, as we move from one home to another. How much we associate our floor-and-ceiling home with the felt experience of home base varies. We can discern each physical home’s degree of homeyness precisely because the feeling of being home, that feeling of safe harbor, is recognizably the same (i.e. self-consistent) regardless of where we are. We know the feeling of home base; different places evoke more or less of that feeling.

Mythologically—that is, in the roots of our human experiencing—home was the Center of the World, the World Tree, around which all creation revolved.1 This is the essence of the home base experience. Home feels like life’s Foundation Stone, immovable, stabilizing, the most trusted, secure place we can be. At home we are removed and protected from the whirlwind, perilous, dog-chase-dog street life outside.

For some people their childhood home feels like a refuge from the cares and turbulence of their daily lives. Worldly time seems to slow and recede into the periphery with each sip of hot chocolate. The first silverware they ever used is back in their hands; each bite of an old recipe reminds their bodies that this experience is reassuringly the same as it ever was. Remembering becomes an act in and of itself.

When a parent or grandparent serves me my favorite food, the special part is usually not the food itself; after all, excepting the odd secret family recipe, I probably can and probably do manage to eat my favorite food on my own from time to time. The special part is that my favorite food is known, and made specially for me without having to be ordered or made by me; it is freely given to me. A loved one knows what I like, cares, and goes to the trouble to make me feel good. I feel important to them.

Would that visiting one’s home of origin always conjured pictures like these. Going “home for the holidays” is for some people like locking themselves in a fun-house with a hall of mirrors (Egad! A fright around every corner! Multiple distorted images of myself no matter where I turn! ) Let us take a moment here to acknowledge, quietly, compassionately, those among us (even if this includes ourselves) for whom the old homestead is less a place of refuge than it is reminiscent of a refugee camp, in which enemy memories must vigilantly be held at bay.

Our original logistical home, therefore, can be a place of painful confusion. It is entirely possible to return to one’s childhood home and feel anything but welcome and safe. What makes this especially difficult is that the experience of home-as-safe-haven touches the child in us—whether we want it to or not. As the default location of shelter and nurture in our earliest development, we are conditioned to experience home as the most like a mother that any place can be. Our first home was the font of our existence, our umbilical origin point, primally innocent. Our mammalian instincts seek embrace and nourishment in the flesh of a warm, greater being (typically the mother): put a newborn on its mother’s belly, and, eyes still unopened, it will crawl toward her breast. That unconscious experience at the beginning of our life establishes the gestalt of home in our most primitive core. That gestalt is: the place where everything takes care of us; where we are sustained unconditionally and shielded in our barest vulnerability, even in deep sleep. This is our nervous system’s expectation. We desire an ideal home, where we can once again experience profound, rejuvenating rest, where there is nothing to guard against, nothing that doesn’t belong. Whether we think our desire or the possibility of fulfilling it is reasonable is entirely beside the point. Everything at home is supposed to be for us. The sense of home is thus a childlike feeling that doesn’t go away even when contradicted by hard experience in the cold light of day. When we’re children, we need everything to be for us. The great child philosopher Linus van Pelt had it right when he observed: “Every day is children’s day!”2 If our need is insufficiently met, it doesn’t wither. More likely it intensifies, even if it must retreat to our darkest recesses to do so.

As we approach a place or situation that our instincts respond to as home—that smells like home, if you will—we tend to become unguarded and ingenuous, often despite our better judgment. Even if we resolve to avoid certain subjects or behavior patterns, something in our inner being finds itself exposed. We are betrayed! This is supposed to feel like home, but it doesn’t. We set ourselves up to feel safe, but our security has been breached. Again.

And then we wonder: What’s wrong with me?

It’s not our fault; which is to say, finding ourselves emotionally prone regardless of careful self-fortification happens not because we do something wrong, but because it is inevitable. As we’ll see in a later chapter of this post, the home base aspect of home is most closely identified with the core self’s origins. Psychologically, the image of a house is most often associated with a person’s identity; it is also associated with the archetype of mother-as-container. When our youngest, most vulnerable inner being comes to the fore and reaches out for the feeling of home—like a child reaching for mother—it does so neither out of stubbornness nor weakness, but according to natural law.

For our own wellbeing it is crucial, then, to develop the faculty of distinguishing the inner experience of home base from any places or situations or persons that may proclaim themselves home but fail to inspire that inner experience. To do that we must draw the feeling of home up from its unconscious roots into conscious experiencing. The good news is that deep down we do know—can’t help knowing—what home feels like. And deep down we can’t be fooled; our very disappointments prove that. The feeling of home base is a truth that, once consciously apprehended, can ignite a warming hearth in the center of our being.

To be continued…


  1. Eliade, Mircea. Cosmos and History: The Myth of the Eternal Return. Trans. Willard R. Trask. New York: Harper Torchbooks (1959). 12–18, 76–77. 

  2. Charles M. Schulz: Peanuts

 

Thanks for the AD/HD!

A diagnosis of AD/HD comes with a lot of can’t s and bad-at s: can’t sit still, bad at getting places on time, can’t focus, bad at finishing projects, and so on. But it comes with plenty of strengths. Sometimes a weakness in one context is a strength in a different context. An example of a deficit of executive functioning in some ADDers is difficulty following recipes or building furniture from a kit with instructions. Grasping the relationship between one step and the next can come slowly, and the experience of having to go step by step can be excruciating. But give these same ADDers a box of Legos and—stand back! Mansions, whole city blocks, Model T’s, cruise ships, flying saucers, crop circles, dinosaurs.… All of a sudden what was a deficit in relating one piece to the next becomes a talent for putting pieces together in unexpected ways.

I sometimes describe the experience of AD/HD thinking as a mental landscape of pools. Thoughts and images sit in pools in the minds of us ADDers, but these pools don’t connect with each other automatically. When we’re kids our mother can march us to the threshold of the disaster area that is our room, and when she says, “Okay, get started, and soon I’ll come help you,” we look at her quizzically and ask, “Get started with what?” We didn’t see a mess, we saw clothes and games and paper and a hockey stick and pillows and cards and legos on the floor. A mess was only one of the many possible ways of seeing the room. We have to intentionally connect the dots, irrigate between the pools, create canals. This requires more effort than if we had a mental matrix of streams and rivers which flowed from one place to the next in a definite from-upstream-to-downstream order. On the other hand, we can link our pools any way we want. We can also see many of them simultaneously; ADDers can be great synthesists, intuitively grasping complex holistic pictures very quickly.

David Giwerc and Barbara Luther, Master Certified Coaches at the ADD Coach Academy, note that “ADHD can… be a strength and gift in the right context.” They have come up with this top ten list of reasons they love their AD/HD coaching clients:

  • They think and function outside the box, which makes them interesting and fun.
  • They are incredibly creative, non-linear thinkers and love to brainstorm.
  • They usually have high energy and enthusiasm.
  • They are quick and spontaneous, often living in flow rather than in the artificial structure of minutes and hours.
  • They make intuitive leaps and connections that make for very interesting ideas and projects to work on within coaching.
  • They absolutely thrive in partnerships.  They can be quite charismatic and empathetic, and they are truly appreciative of a thinking/listening partner.
  • They are usually very bright and interested in many things, so they can be fascinating to talk with.
  • They can concentrate intensely on things they care about, and they usually work well to deadlines they’ve committed to.
  • They may thrive in chaos and change, and they may be very good at juggling multiple tasks at once.
  • They work hard, are adventurous, and are often quite driven.

The deficits in “Attention Deficit” are contextual. This is not to say that the deficits are illusory. (If they were, I would have finished this post hours before 2:00 this morning.) But they tend to be deficits in the context of time-sensitive, linear, pre-defined task-oriented situations. In other contexts which prioritize cognitive feeling, intuition, creativity, imagination, analysis, synthesis, idealism, and the kind of moral sensitivity that revolts at soulless bean counting, executive management deficits can metamorphose into salt-of-the-earth gifts.

And for these gifts, I invite you to join me in giving thanks. May your Thanksgiving be joyful this week on—whatever day it’s on.

 

Go Fish in
Streams of Consciousness:

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