Exile is such a brutal word. Many of us have decided that self-imposed exile is the best choice to disentangle from an impossible situation. We may exile ourselves from toxic families, spouses, jobs, a former community of colleagues, or friends. Wavering between the context of cowardice or courage, we finally may choose self-exile as the better part of valor. To be exiled by others is that much harder. To forcefully lose your home and the country of your heart through catastrophes, natural or manmade, is heartrending. When your reasons for wishing to return to the country of your origin are benign, but opposing forces conspire to prevent that from happening, it appears as grossly unjust.
Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk from Viet Nam, experienced political exile for forty long years. I read his lovely book of short stories and essays, At Home in the World. After practicing Buddhism since the age of sixteen on his way to becoming a monk, he credits this painful obstacle of exile from his country for helping him to attain his True Nature. There is a Buddhist saying, “The obstacle becomes the path.” Most of us search to find meaning in our own obstacles, and acknowledge the growth required to have met our challenges. In the end, gratitude arises when we find that we can now bear the apparently unbearable.
Where have I experienced self-imposed exile? Most of my struggles have been placed within the geography of my own body. I was another sexually abused child. Growing up in my small world of dance, I was once famous for the fastest footwork known to young females, unconsciously trying to escape my body. Later I endeavored to transcend my unidentified suffering by living with my spiritual head high up in the clouds. I choreographed, and performed in, potent dances highlighting separation and wholeness. I wrote songs that spoke to the unfulfilled longing of the human heart. I tried to ground myself in my body and heart while I tried escaping it through artistic expression at the same time.
I finally understood how much damage was behind the need for these semi-successful strategies and spent years in therapeutic practices and spiritual searching to uncover and heal my wounds. I seem to have laid down neurological tracks utilizing my genetic inheritance of MS to erase my bodily sensations from the ground up. That I also had degenerative disc disease was not identified until recently, when stenosis and bad arthritis in my spine began to cause the kind of pain at a younger age than is usually the case.
Honestly addressing causes of lifelong stress does not necessarily lead to a cure. In my case, I have applied and studied a wide variety of therapies and disciplines, including both allopathic and Western medicines to heal my mind/body issues. I have long been actively returning from exile, welcoming the tattered refugees of various bodily ailments into my loving care. I now see myself as a co-creator in the country of my life. I see that I am responsible to, not solely responsible for, what occurs within my boundaries. I love this home which life manifests within and around me. I respect my past choices for survival and current choices for revival. The spaciousness of unbounded spirit as I know it, is one and the same as my citizenship of this planet. Exploration and celebration of the full range of the human condition feels like Love in action. I, too, am slowly learning to be At Home in the World.