Attachment and the Homeland
It’s only when you leave that you understand you are attached. Some invisible hook has lodged itself beneath the eiderdown of your day-to-day thoughts; A spine? A thorn? A burr? It wasn’t there before. It didn’t exist. But now it does. It was swept in on a gust from the landscape, and before you knew it you were hooked.
This is what we do, we humans. Without even being aware of it, we pull twigs and stalks and feathers from our environment, and use them to line our psyches. The strands of what was once alien turf are soon woven into a fresh nest of familiarity. It’s only when we leave that the scales are lifted from our eyes. We leave and return. And we feel it. We are attached.
In the past month, I’ve left and returned three times, mainly to escape what has been a pretty harsh beginning to winter (Asturias endured 29 days of rain in November). Today I’m back, and unabashedly attached. I inhale my view (mine, yes mine) and feel my psychological muscles relax. Each ridge on the horizon has become a piece of me. The limestone creases rest in my memory, viewable from the catalogue of my mind even while lounging in an English living room.
Then there are the trees: The ashes and hazels and holly and chestnuts. None of these were my world before, yet today they all are. We are related now. For I’m quite certain the land is as used to me, as I am to it. Robin redbreast flutters by for breakfast, nodding at me to drop him a morsel or two. He does this every day. It’s now an expectation on both our parts. Here on Mud Pico, even the sunlight is personal. I sense the slightest change in tone, and can easily tell the time by it.
The weather has also become part of me, physically and mentally. There are shattering sunsets and science-fiction cloudscapes. There is snow and rain, too. My body has long adapted to a cooler climate, my very blood has thickened because of it. I am no longer who I was. That’s what connection does. It’s a two-way highway that will alter you forever.
Attachment is a concentric affair. Fanning out from the hub of my land, other links have formed, fronds that have stretched and intertwined below the surface of the visible to create a sustaining network. I am now part of a new culture and language, both utterly foreign to me two years ago, but now so familiar. Spanish has encroached upon large quadrants of my brain territory, lighting up synapses and forging circuits that weren’t there before. Tectonic plates in my subconscious have shifted, and I realise one day when I speak to a Turkish friend that I’m saying no instead of hayır, and that no pasa nada has replaced birşey olmaz.
There are human connections too: One day a burr lodged itself in my eye. Neighbours I had no idea existed a short while back, drove me to the doctor. Others bring me wood. Then there are all my new haunts: The nearest town. The cafes with wi-fi where I grab a coffee. My favourite eateries, where the waiters know my order by heart and bring it without even asking. When I think of these things, such a warmth fills my chest. I belong. This is my hood. My patch.
Sometimes I have to pinch myself. Am I even the same person I was? And who was that Turkish woman anyway, because as with every one of my past selves, the me of yesterday has become but a ghost haunting the corridors of my memories. It’s a kind of sorcery that we can weave new realities and soulscapes in this way! How did this all happen?
It happened via attachment.
Now, many philosophies harbour an aversion to attachment. Anicca (nothing is permanent) is the mantra of Vipassana after all. Because of course nothing lasts forever, all will crumble and die at some point, and the less attached you are, the less you suffer…
Or so they say.
Certainly when my dog died in 2017, I would have agreed wholeheartedly that I had been too attached. That I shouldn’t have loved her so deeply because dogs don’t last long and all that. But after two years on the road in a campervan, wandering free and unfettered, things soon looked different. To float aimlessly without bonding, without attaching, without caring (because that’s sort of what it amounts to unless you’re an enlightened being with sunbeams bursting from every orifice) is a lame kind of malediction. It’s the cowardly curse of hyper-intellectualism, and a reason for much of the malaise of the modern world. Without attachment, you have no belonging. You are endlessly free and endlessly lost, swimming wide but shallow waters where nothing really matters. And yet it does matter. A lot. We matter. The land matters.
Having moved about plenty in my life, I’m familiar with the typical undulations of cultural and geographical adaptions. The vague nausea you sense when dropped from a great height into a strange new world. The discombobulation. The faint agoraphobia, followed by the gradual familiarising of the environment. Whenever you relocate from one home to another, from one life to another, there are stages of assimilation. It doesn’t matter if you shift to a rural off-grid life from a conventional urban setting, or emigrate, there is always a series of culture shocks, and a process of adaptation. Because belonging isn’t some fateful feature of our lives that just happens when destiny shunts us into the right place. We create it, every minute of our lives.
But here’s the thing no one talks about regarding attachment. We don’t always attach, do we? Not everywhere becomes our home, just as not everyone becomes our lover. And no one really has the answer to why that is. For if everything is simply our projection, then what does it matter if we live in Manhattan or the Gobi Desert? Wouldn’t we weave nests of attachment regardless of the location? Both the Buddhists and the existentialists would say yes, the whole thing is an illusion, but I’m sorry, on at least one level they are wrong. Maybe it takes a witch or an indigenous person to point it out.
The Call of the Land
Sometimes the land calls. Sometimes she doesn’t. And that’s because the planet herself has a trajectory in which every human plays a part. Sometimes Earth missions are short, sometimes they last decades, and sometimes we are simply not in the right place at the right time.
I remember far, far away from here, living in the east Asian island of Taiwan. It was a short commitment for me. I worked there for nearly two years, and if you’re reading anything on this website, it’s thanks to hi-tech, fast-paced Taiwan. But while we shared a short and at times quite magical connection, it was never home. I sensed very early on that we were in a temporary relationship, and I missed my homeland Turkey throughout.
Then there’s England. What happened between me and England I have no idea, but we simply do not get on, and we never have, not since the day I was born. There is no obvious external reason for my lack of affinity. My parents were decent British people. I enjoyed an excellent free state education and was offered many chances there. Yet England (and it’s specifically England, because by contrast Scotland’s west coast beguiles me) has never been my homeland. The first time I travelled abroad as a teenager, I felt as though I’d been released from some miserable dank jail. A lifetime of nausea lifted. Why?
It’s because the loamy skin of this incredible planet is alive and sentient. It absorbs us as we absorb it. It has memories etched deep into its rocky hide, and yearns for certain souls while spitting others out. Sometimes the terrain calls us hither, sometimes it pushes us away. Sometimes it’s wholly ambivalent. A communication occurs above and beyond the physical, a contract between the land and ourselves. And this is the real reason we become attached. That sense of belonging is a pledge between the planet and our souls. It’s a sign we are in the right place at the right time.
So many people are forging new paths right now. Indeed humanity itself is forging one, too. We’re inhabiting a drastically different landscape than we were ten years ago, and there’s a new culture and language to learn. But even if we are unaware of it, or buttress ourselves against it, our souls are gathering this and that from the present world around us, braiding them into a new homeland.
Yet the question of whether we will belong in this new world, whether we will love it and be loved by it, whether it will hold meaning and joy for us, and whether we will fulfil our soul missions upon it, actually comes down not only to us but the Earth herself. Will she spit us out? Or draw us closer? And who? And where? Because while we exist as a species, we also exist as cultures, neighbourhoods, and individuals. And what I’ve come to understand is this: the land speaks to us on all levels. Whether we are aware of it or not, a contract is being written between every soul and every location, every single minute.
No one has the power (or the right) to change the mind of an entire species, nor do they need to. Even countries are not the point. The nation-state is a fiction that is fragmenting, and you’d be best not to waste your energy on it. Our power and our covenants exist between us, our land and our communities, some of which occupy digital as well as physical space. It is this Homeland that counts.
So the question has to be this: Are you attached? Are you home? Do you belong? If so, good for you! Don’t let other people’s panic and drama regarding their perception of “the human story” distract you from your beautiful, vital, and very personal relationship with your space. You have work to do, and only you know what it is.
If, on the other hand, attachment and belonging are missing, then maybe the Earth and your soul are speaking to you. Maybe it’s time to listen, and to create a real Homeland of your own.
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Atulya K Bingham
Author, Lone Off-Gridder, and Natural Builder.
"Reality meets fantasy, myth, dirt and poetry. I'm hooked!" Jodie Harburt, Multitude of Ones.