The journey of homecoming


In this episode, Rabbi Josh Feigelson explores the idea of spirituality as the capacity to feel deeply connected and rooted. He reflects on the various emotions and experiences that define “home,” from joy to sadness, and emphasizes how spiritual practice and mindfulness can help us cultivate a sense of belonging and authenticity.

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I had a bit of a traumatic moment earlier this summer: My mom finally sold the house I grew up in, the house she had lived in for nearly 50 years. 1258 Crosby Crescent in Ann Arbor was home for me and my brothers for as long as we could remember, someplace we knew with our eyes closed — by smell and sound and touch.

It was a place of many memories: meals and holidays, scout meetings and music practice, Sunday chores, and jokes we knew so well we could tell them simply by reciting their punchlines. Even though by this point we each have our own homes and our own families, it’s still a big moment; home as we knew it isn’t the same.

In my day job as president & CEO at the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, a lot of my conversations start with the question, “What do you mean by spirituality, anyway?” The answer I’ve settled on is pretty simple:

Spirituality is our capacity to feel at home in the universe. When we feel deeply at home in a place, a relationship, a community, a ritual, a text, our bodies — in my experience, those can be some of our most spiritual moments. When we seek to develop our spirituality or engage in spiritual practice, we’re aiming to feel more deeply at home in our lives, in the order of things.

Feeling at home doesn’t only mean feeling good, however. One of my last memories of my childhood home was sitting shiva for my father. And my most recent memories are of cleaning out the house to get it ready for sale.

These aren’t happy memories. There’s sadness and loss and a bit of resentment and anger in them. But I think the best term to describe them is full — just like home is full of many types of experience, some pleasant and some unpleasant. Home can be a place of sadness, loneliness, anger, frustration, just as it can be a place of laughter, joy, and celebration. 

Home, it seems to me, is a place where we can experience all of these emotions without inhibition, without embarrassment, without performing for anyone else. When we’re at home — truly at home — we’re understood, accepted, and loved.

We might have private languages we share with other people in our home, expressions only they understand. We might have in-jokes — like the movie lines my brothers and I recite to each other. We probably have buttons we know not to push. When we’re truly at home, we feel safe enough to let our hair down, to be ourselves.

When we’re truly at home, we feel safe enough to let our hair down, to be ourselves.

I was fortunate that my childhood home was many of these things. For many people, home isn’t the place they grew up in — and, in fact, that home might be a thoroughly unsafe place. Some folks don’t feel at home in their families, or in their communities, or in their bodies. For some people, the journey to find home takes years or decades — or perhaps is never fully resolved.

I believe that mindfulness and spiritual practice can be powerful tools for helping people feel at home. And as we move along our journey of preparation for the high holidays, this sense of being at home is what I’d like us to explore together. Homecoming, being at home — this is our theme for this week.

You’ll recall we began this journey about five weeks ago with the destruction of a home — the Divine home of the ancient temple in Jerusalem on the Ninth of Av. I encouraged us to relate to that experience as an opportunity to ask powerful, foundational questions about our lives.

Since then, over the last several episodes, we’ve considered how we might listen to and see ourselves, others, and the world; what kind of judgment we might bring to our encounters and how we might attune ourselves to what the world is telling us. 

This week, I’d like to invite us to explore what it might be like to feel more fully at home in our lives, to feel a little more like we’re at home in the world. To do that, I want to offer a meditation practice. If you can do it now, that’s great. If not, you might save this part for a time later today when you have 5 minutes where you can be quiet and focused.

Begin by finding a good posture — dignified, upright, not too rigid, that allows the air to flow. Soften your gaze or close your eyes. 

Take a few good deep breaths. 

With each breath, see if you can allow yourself to arrive a little more. 

Allow your body to relax. 

Feel the support of whatever is beneath you — a chair, the floor, of your legs and feet, of the solid earth. 

Notice how your body holds you up. You might notice already how many forces are involved in supporting you.

You might even want to say, thank you: to your feet; thank you, legs; thank you, sit bones; thank you, body. And thank you, chair; thank you floor; thank you, gravity. Thank you, plant world for this air I’m breathing. Thank you, Earth, for being a home. 

All of these things and forces are part of a larger unity, a oneness of creation, a world that can sometimes feel so huge and overwhelming, that can sometimes leave us feeling like we don’t have a place in it.

But here, right now, you might tap into a feeling of closeness and connection — you and I, and everyone listening, we’re all a part of this creation, all connected to it. Each and every one of us has a place here. You have a place here. This is a place you belong. This world, this creation, this universe — this is your home. This is our home. This body, this breath — you can be at home right here, right now. Whatever is swirling outside; whatever else is going on — in this moment, you can find a refuge, an ark in the storm, and you can be at home.

If you’d like to continue in your meditation for longer, no problem — you can pause here. But when you’re ready, I invite you to open your eyes and look around. Notice how you feel. It might be more grounded and connected, it might be a little more relaxed and focused. It might be something else — and that’s okay. As I say so often on this show, there’s no right way to feel. You are doing it right just by being here. Whatever your experience, though, I hope you’ll write and tell us about it.

Blessings for the journey. I hope you’ll join us next time.

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