Heart and Hearth – how a sense of belonging can heal the soul

Heart and Hearth – how a sense of belonging can heal the soul 

Despite the fact that I go away for work often enough to keep a separate bag of toiletry essentials, I really struggle to leave my home for holidays. Even for work, I over-pack and take things that might
baffle a Customs official if they were ever to search my bags. But
going away for a holiday often fills me with a greater degree of
panic than you’d expect. Somewhere deep inside me lurks an agoraphobe who still clings to home with her fingernails.

This most recent holiday was no exception. While most look forward to holidays, I find preparing so stressful that I don’t have that
excited sense of anticipation most enjoy. Once we are gone, I am
usually happy by the time we reach the end of the road. The weekend before we left, I had something occur that upset me badly enough to give me sleepless nights and a terrible weight and pain in my chest. This enormous and unspeakable sadness meant I really wanted to dig down into my pit, hide from the world and lick my substantial wounds. And fester, frankly. I packed instead, and forced myself to remember the various items I’d promised to take with me on our tour of the north.

Come Monday morning and I’d had probably four or five hours sleep in forty eight and my chest felt like an elephant was sitting on it, but by midday, we’d loaded our gubbins into the car and were gone. The usual relief I feel once we have departed did not happen. The sense of impending doom remained, the gnawing ache in my heart twisted and I found it harder and harder to breathe.

Until I saw the White Horse, carved into the hillside as we entered the Vale of York and like a ghost at the feast, the pain vanished.
Tightness remained, but the pain had eased.

When I saw the mini Matterhorn of Roseberry Topping, the North Yorkshire hill my friend Kate lives under, the tightness loosened its grip, and when we walked into her home, it was gone. Talking late into the night, and sitting by the fire, I felt such a sense of healing, I was almost shocked when I went to bed that I did finally sleep. I’d been so locked into a vicious cycle of pain that I didn’t think anything
could end it. And yet, a simple image of a white horse in a chalk
hill, and a familiar landmark had released me.

I’ve lived more than half my adult life north of Watford Gap, that mythic cut off point between north and south in England, and seeing the White Horse made me remember the numerous happy years, not to mention the family and friends who live in the North. I had an instinctive sense of homecoming when I saw the Horse. Seeing the almost iconic image of Roseberry showed me I was within close reach of dear, loving friends. Kate and her sister were at sixth form college with my husband, and we shared three years of university life with her sister, before later living within a few miles of each other. Our kids played together as small children and kept in touch despite our peregrinations through the British Isles. We’ve laughed and cried
together many, many times. In arriving at this special, welcoming
place, I came with a sense of being loved not even in spite of my
imperfections but possibly because of them. To be accepted, and not
rejected, is the goal of all human relations, and the rejections I’d
suffered before the journey had scored deeply into my soul. Kate, her family and her home poured a sweet balm onto those hurts and helped me to step away from the relentless pain.

The power of love, gentleness and acceptance to heal emotional pain is incredible but there is another factor in my recovery that is harder to explain: the hearth.

The hearth is the symbolic heart of a home, and in many cultures, is
sacred. Rituals and prayers were and are performed at the lighting of
the fire in a home and there is something special and magical about a real fire. Even symbolically, a home needs this heart-hearth. My home has no hearth as such but I have a small altar where there are sacred images, and candles, and I say a simple prayer here every day. The sacred heart of a home is what creates the atmosphere of love, tended by family members and is too often missing or neglected in our homes. Being welcomed at the hearth of another person is an act of benediction that blesses all, and builds a sacred trust between people; to eat and drink in the home of another reinforces our common humanity and our connections. Some of my sense of being welcome in the world had been damaged, and I was in danger of not only withdrawing myself from the wider world, but also of withdrawing my own welcome to others because of that trust being broken.

When you come home and sit down, before you turn on the TV or the computer, why not light a small fire, a candle perhaps and connect with the sense of belonging that a heart-hearth can give you? These hearths of symbolic light draw good things to you, and are beacons of light to the world. I light a candle and send prayers for those I love, and for those who are no longer in this world and I take a moment to re-sanctify my own thoughts and my own welcome to the world. We all need to belong somewhere and even if that belonging is more figurative than an actual location, it’s still needed. I belong among those who love me, appreciate me, faults, failings and all. So do you.

(This one is for Kate and Mike, with my great love. Thank you!)

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10 thoughts on “Heart and Hearth – how a sense of belonging can heal the soul

  1. ‘The deepest principle of Human Nature is the craving to be appreciated.’ – William James.

    We all want to feel valued for ‘who we are’, not ‘what we could be’ for others. Friends; true friends love us despite all our flaws, indeed, maybe more so because of them – because we are a whole person, human.

    I agree, coming home is in many ways, the best part of leaving it; you are glad of the trip, and meeting old friends, new friends, but coming home and sitting by a warm fire…. there is nothing like it to say; ‘I am home – I am whole – this is where I belong’… wherever that may be. 🙂

  2. I am glad that you have talent but
    you are my friend because of your honesty in your imperfections.

    This is a wonderful post .

    The land I live on once belonged to my great uncle.
    I used to sit by his fire when I was a child.
    He made me feel that I was part of a royal family in his little house with no
    plumbing.

  3. A sense of belonging is really special – something I think a lot of us have lost in this modern world where we move about so much. You convey its importance very movingly in this post. Thank you 🙂

  4. I plan to send your post to my friend Gloria who experiences the same anxiety when preparing for a trip. In her case recently, it was a trip to Las Vegas where “whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” according to the US jingle for care-free fun.

    I’m sure she will want to read beyond the introductory part and finish the article to receive the same reward that I did on learning of your “hearth heart-warming.” Women are lucky to be able to share such wisdom, knowledge and feelings. I don’t think I’ve ever cultivated such a friendship and I admit to a tinge of envy.

    It’s a “good” envy, however, coupled with a lot of joy and happiness that I mostly feel for your experience. What ever happens at the hearth seems to be shared by the hearth. Thank you.

    michael j

  5. Lovely post to read Viv. The comments about the hearth resonate and the links with heart. I had a bit of a jolt when I saw your title – as so often, it echoed for me with other conversations and happenings. I’m glad to hear the time with your friends restored you. xx

  6. What a beautiful post! I completely relate to that feeling of wellbeing you can only get from the love of other people. Sounds like you had a soul-soothing trip. If only there was a way to bottle that kind of emotinal medicine and use it every time we felt that weight on our chests!

    I’m off to light my hazelnut scented candle 🙂

  7. This is a beautiful essay. I was particularly moved by this passage:

    ‘Being welcomed at the hearth of another person is an act of benediction that blesses all, and builds a sacred trust between people; to eat and drink in the home of another reinforces our common humanity and our connections. Some of my sense of being welcome in the world had been damaged, and I was in danger of not only withdrawing myself from the wider world, but also of withdrawing my own welcome to others because of that trust being broken.’

    Yes, when our ‘welcome in the world has been damaged’ it is a challenge to keep our hearts and hearths open to others. But if we can, then, like the struggle to forgive, when we do it is us who are most enriched, then others are also, through our forgiveness and the welcome in our hearts and at our hearths.

    I’m glad your stay with dear friends restored your sense of belonging.

  8. When I get home in winter and my husband has lit a fire I always sigh with pleasure when I see it. A fire is such a comforting thing. We also have a little summerhouse and use a chiminea to heat it. There is something truly wonderful and primeval about sitting round your camp fire with your family and your dogs.

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