Hiraeth is a longing for one's homeland, but it's not mere homesickness. It's an expression of the bond one feels with one's home country when one is away from it.
These two words have resonated with me recently. The first word, Sehnsucht has a slightly different meaning in that it is a longing for a non-earthly land and the second word, Hiraeth (of Welsh origin) is the longing for an actual place on earth.
I find myself falling somewhere in between these two definitions. Some days my heart positively aches for Canada - the moist air, the forests, the lakes, a crisp autumn day, the scent of lilacs in spring. Other days, my mind is searching for some combination of Parrots and Cardinals, Kangaroos and Deer, Palm trees and Hardwood forests. I have one foot on old soil and one foot on new sand. It leaves me with a sense of feeling lost. Where do I belong?
I always thought that home was where the heart is and I still believe that is true. But does our whole heart belong to just one person? From a romantic perspective I think yes. But what about the other bits of your heart? The fragments
that remain with family and friends and place. I asked Mick if he felt like this when he spent almost a year with me in Canada. I asked him if he missed the smell of eucalyptus, the endless sunshine, the sound of laughing Kookaburras and he said no. He said he only missed the people. His family. His friends. I was surprised that he did not give much thought to his physical landscape. Was I unique? Why do I miss the actual ground I grew up on? Why is my connection to the earth beneath my feet so ingrained in my body?
There is also a yearning for home in me that I cannot define specifically. I was born and raised in St. Catharines, Ontario, but I don't long to return to that city. I spent years in Vancouver and Toronto, but neither of those two places are pulling me back either. When I meditate upon the longing, my mind always goes to remote places where I am surrounded by forests and water and boulders or mountains. These places are filled with nothing but the sounds of nature. Wind. Waves. Lapping water. Rustling leaves. Birdsong. There is no white noise. No traffic hum.
Could this be my Sehnsucht? And could my Sehnsucht exist in harmony with my earthly origins vs non-earthly? Are some of us simply more physiologically sensitive to our physical roots than others? As much a I have always felt in close relation to the actual landscape of my homeland, it has never been as acute as it is now after almost three years absence. Can some people adapt better than others to extreme climate change? Are we really meant to stray too far from our home climate zones for more than brief periods of time?
There is no doubt that the incidence of skin cancers in Australia is the highest in the world because most of the people who migrated here from Britain and Europe do not have the protective melanin in their skin to deal with the harsh and intense sun. Yet, despite their inability to adapt to the sun, they have adopted Australia as their home. Interestingly however, there are still many who insist on keeping old customs and traditions alive from their past. Cooking hot turkey dinners at Christmas in 40 degree summer weather comes to mind!
But what of Hiraeth? Do they experience deep-seated longings for the English countryside generations later? Does time diminish the longing? If I were to stay here the rest of my life, would Hiraeth fade? It is truly a conundrum. When I was in Canada last fall, after six weeks, I was missing my life in Australia. Or was I just missing Mick? Our life here. Our home here. Maybe the cold wet weather got to me. But after a few weeks back in the land down under I became bogged down in Hiraeth once more. Spring arrived in Canada as autumn (slightly cooler temperatures) arrived in Queensland. I wanted to see the emerging tips of crocus and daffodils and tulips and hyacinths poking through the still slightly hardened soil. I wanted to smell the musty wet damp of rotting fallen leaves as the snow melted. I yearned to see the return of a robin and witness the nest building. So, what is THAT? What is that deep-seated pull to be a part of the emerging spring? Can it be shaken off? Well, yes, it can, but it hovers beneath the surface, not unlike the bloodroot and trout lilies on the forest floor waiting for the first hint of warmth after remaining dormant all winter.
Is there a part of me that remains dormant here? Does that part of me need the changing seasons? Are we energetically programmed and connected to our birthplace? Is it a longing for a moment in time? A moment in the past that seemed perfect? Need I be reminded that I need to live in the now? Embrace the present. Of course I know all this intellectually. I have read Alan Watts and Eckhart Tolle and other philosophers and spiritual teachers thoughts so I am constantly grappling with remaining conscious and trying not to dwell on the past or worry about the future, but still I experience the longings.
Do we contain a permanent imprint of home from birth? Is it in our DNA? How about those nomadic tribesmen I read about once that die if they are imprisoned because they cannot "live" inside four walls. I realize this is an extreme form of Hiraeth, but still. I would not compare my longing to anything near that powerful, but it is a constant hum I have difficulty ignoring.
I will have an opportunity to explore all of this further come December when I return to my beloved homeland once again. In the meantime I will enjoy the too short winter here in Queensland where socks and slippers and flannel sheets make an all too brief appearance offering me some relief from the tropical climate that dominates the rest of the year. There are really only two seasons here - autumn and summer.
I don't know "weather" it should matter so much, but for me it does.
Currently on sabbatical from the working world. On an extended "adult gap year" and working out my next move. Have been soaking up inspiration in Canada, France, Spain and Australia. I am a trained Journalist and Interior Decorator and open to free-lance gigs. Feel free to contact me.
Check out this body of work by my friend Paul Causie...
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Food for Thought
"It is possible to live a larger life if we are humble enough to confess that what we have been doing with our lives has not proved sufficient. The loss of alignment with the soul is both the origin of suffering and the invitation to its redemption." James Hollis, PH.D