The theme of “home” is a powerful psychological element in the lives of virtually everyone. It is enshrined in every culture because it represents the social evolution from hunter-gather to pastoralist to agrarian, which represents the trajectory from constant but purpose-driven migration and wandering to stable domesticity and physical security.
In the great cultural and literary expressions of the West, the transgressor of order is made to be a wanderer, homeless, insecure, like Cain. But not all who wander are lost (to quote Tolkien). Odysseus firmly intends to go home, and the Wanderer of the Old English elegy knows what he wants but has lost it irretrievably through no fault of his own. These two archetypes present dominant social models accepted as inevitable by Western culture: the purpose-driven “entrepreneur” and the hapless victim of circumstance. By this scheme, the only personalities are winners and losers.
The fallacy of this bi-polar thinking is that it revolves around power: having, enhancing, maintaining and using power — or its opposite: not having it. No choice is involved, only a kind of Darwinian competition to gain moral credence for a culture of power.
Not that Darwin had to do with power. Evolution is not about power but rather about adaptability and accommodation with nature. It was the powerful elite in society who opposed the true meaning of evolution because it adaptability to nature contradicts the model of power. True evolution is about niches and harmonies and flights from power.
The solitary is gifted enough to recognize power as the basis of relationships. This idea is advanced by many, including the philosopher Foucault, an unlikely source, who gives the topic a deterministic spin, excluding individual will. The solitary knows that will is the only transcending mechanism, but that at a certain point the will is then abandoned because of its affinity for power.
The solitary exercises will in embracing the opposite of what culture wants: a quick submission to society and power, a getting-in-queue to be rationed what the culture considers important to mind and spirit but which the solitary knows is false.
To the solitary, “home” is something of the turtle’s shell, carried on one’s back, always with us as identical with the spirit. The solitary knows that however comfortable a physical residence and especially our room, these are things we cannot covet because they cannot last. Anymore than we can. Thus Ryokan and Basho wandered. not because they wanted to but because it reminded them of the tragic sense of life and the impermanence of our individual enterprise. They were not lost.
The medieval hermits were seen as dangerous to social stability, much like the homeless in urban centers today, who, like animals deprived of habitat and made to wander for circumstances likely not their making, especially their mental illness, these unwitting solitaries are a reminder of our ancient instability, our ancient dependent on sheer wits. There but for the grace of heaven do we all go.
But the “willful” solitary, not distracted by the entertainments and power-seeking of society and culture, recognizes nearly as much as the scholar-sociologist when it comes to how things work between people, especially between the powerful and the rest of us. Or at least could understand, given an open mind and heart. We must treasure the home that is our spirit, and hope that circumstances also grant us a physical place of peace and security.
The highest good is like water.
Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive.
It flows in places that people dislike, and so is like the Tao.
In dwelling, be close to the land.
In thought, go deep in the heart.
In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.
In speech, be true.
In governing, be just.
In affairs, be competent.
In action, be timely.
Only because it does not compete is it without fault.
— Lao-tzu, 8