Our ancestors spent many millions of years swinging from trees. Most likely, climatic shifts caused us to come to the ground, learn to walk on two legs and discover uses for our clever hands other than hanging from branches. Walking and running on two limbs, making and using tools with the other two — these are radical changes that separated us from the rest of our animal kin.
When we left the forests, we left the cradle of our evolution and we’ve been leaving ever since. Most of us forgot to return, even for a visit. It would be like if I left home to go to college and failed to call or write a single letter (we didn’t have email or texting back then), never returned for Thanksgiving dinner or breaks, simply severed all ties with the family and never looked back.
We were leaving when we set sail to conquer other lands like the Americas. When the pioneers drove west in the wagon trains. And we’re still leaving, as we search for other planets to colonize when this one is trashed. We have been wandering for a long, long time indeed.
Maybe this longing that many of us feel is a longing to return. And this threshold time that we live in is an invitation to return. At our Restorying retreats, we speak of crossing thresholds into the other world behind and within this one, a world of imagination, magic and communion. That’s a way of practicing the return – coming home to our relatedness with the wild, living world.
Throughout human history, cultures have enacted this leaving home through ritual, acknowledging and celebrating the necessary separation and individuation. Adolescents leave home via the initiation process, the rites of passage into adulthood. Each individual endures a period of trials and possibly a vision quest, where they may encounter ancestors or spirit guides, and experience their oneness with all of creation. It is a hero’s journey of risk and quest and discovery, and on their return, they are welcomed back into the community in an intentional, ceremonial reunion. They bring back the wisdom they’ve gained as a gift to the community.
There is reciprocity in this leaving and returning. Going out, wandering, and facing trials have a purpose: to revitalize the community. The individual comes back with new vigor and energy, a clear understanding of their place in the world, and the commitment to serve. It’s an age-old process that we have short-circuited by leaving home but never returning.
Now I wonder, what would it look like to approach my return this way, as a gift for the community that I am rejoining? The gift of my life and talents in service to an ineffable, loving wisdom. When I am out in the forest, I sometimes have the feeling that the living world is calling me home. I have had moments of deep connection and felt thoroughly welcomed, guided and blessed. When I slow down enough to allow my curiosity to blossom into awe, these encounters are a bottomless source of delight and wonder.
The road home involves somehow connecting these experiences with my “day job,” those habits of living and working that I’ve been practicing unquestioningly, first as a child and now as an adult member of a culture that is dedicated to wandering homeless. Those forest encounters are only visits for now, but they hold a promise of welcome that I would do well to heed.