Anyone that loves to travel, and of course anyone that hates traveling, can tell you how good it feels to finally be home after a trip. No matter how pleasurable the trip, most of us love the feel of coming home. The question is, why? Why after 1 or 2 or 3 weeks in paradise do we like being away from paradise and back in the place we wanted to escape from only days before.
Well, I am here to explain it to you.
First, there is the Buddhist reason. In Buddhism, there are three forms of suffering (in Sanskrit “dukkha”). There is true suffering, or pain. This is also called the suffering of direct cause, or the suffering of the five aggregates since it is what you perceive with your five senses. You hit your finger with a hammer, a loud noise hurts your ears, a bright light pierces your eyes. That is pain.
There is the suffering of impermanence or change. This is humorously referred to as “who moved my cheese”. You reach for your cheese and it is not there. Who moved my cheese? For a moment there is a feeling of annoyance, discomfort…even suffering. Even the best planned change, with the best possible outcome, generates a moment of suffering. Even when the change is for the better, with a wonderful outcome, there are still moments of suffering in the process. Those episodes of suffering might not be agonizing. They might only be minor annoyances, but they happen.
Then, there is all pervasive suffering. There are many explanations of all pervasive suffering, but the idea is that essentially everything we do in this life causes us to suffer in some way. Even those things that we consider pleasurable are in fact suffering. Let me give you a couple examples. What is your favorite food? What is that one thing you like the most. That one thing that you will always get for dessert (when you allow yourself to eat dessert). I will tell you that for me it is chocolate. I have a particular affinity for Oreos®. Give me a package of Oreos and a half gallon of milk, and both will disappear. What is yours? Cake? Mac & Cheese? A thick, medium-rare steak? Whatever it is, now imagine if you were limited to eating only that one thing for the rest of your life. If that one food truly gave you pleasure, you would never grow tired of it, it would never upset your stomach, and you would want it every day, forever. We know that is not the case, therefore, it is not giving true pleasure. Trust me, I have felt really crappy after eating a pound of Oreos, but I do love them so. Now, imagine your favorite vacation activity…sitting on the beach, hiking in the mountains, visiting remote places and interesting people. Now imagine if sitting on that beach was the only activity you were allowed to do…EVER. Trust me again, it would get old. It would become suffering at some point. After so long, we would beg for the suffering of change just to avoid our supposedly pleasurable activity. It is not really causing pleasure if it eventually causes us to suffer. It is a type of suffering which only in our delusion is pleasurable. That is one possible reason we like coming home. We need the change.
Then there is a more mundane reason. No matter how great the trip, there are some things that are simply not the way you have them at home. The food is not the same, the toilet is not the right height. Some nights the bed is too hard or too soft. The pillow is just not like the one we have at home. No matter how much fun you are having, these things occur. And don’t get me wrong, in most cases these things are of minimal importance compared to the great things you are doing on your trip, but we still love getting back to our favorite pillow, our perfect mattress, and the toilet with the TP that hangs on the wall in just the right spot.
For those of you that found the Buddhist reason a bit odd, you will really like this. I have my own version of “string theory” and it has nothing to do with quantum physics. Carlos Castaneda, in his book “The Teachings of Don Juan”, told of the time that a Yaqui medicine man helped him find his “good spot”. Supposedly everyone has one, but not everyone is lucky enough to kind it. Here is how the book described it…
While you remain rooted to your “good spot” nothing can cause you bodily harm, because you have the assurance that at that particular spot you are at your very best. You have the power to shove off anything that might be harmful to you.
My good spot, my sitio, is the Pacific Northwest. It took me 40 years, and many cycles of coming and going to figure it out. When I leave it, even for a short time, I feel the string grow taut.
Now, let me take this idea one step further. Once you find that spot, you are connected to it as if by an elastic string. When you are on the spot, the string is not loose and you feel at home, but as you move away from your spot, the string becomes taut and is always trying to pull you back. The further you go from your spot, both geographically and mentally, the tighter the string and the greater the pull to return. The tension in the string is uncomfortable, therefore we feel good when we release that tension.
Whatever the real reason, those of us that travel, even very short distances, know that feeling as we sink into our couch or bed, turn on our TV, or eat a meal at our table. Coming home is a wonderful feeling…until it is time to go again.