I was scrolling down a Pinterest rabbit hole when I came across a single word: Hiraeth. I instantaneously felt a pang in my heart as I read the definition, bringing forth both clarity and heartbreak. It described a feeling I hadn’t been able to express, an emotional state I’ve been embroiled in for the past six months. I’d kept these feelings at a distance to avoid confronting the gloom that had covered my usual sunny disposition.
(n) a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.
But perhaps my discovery was a nudge to come to terms with the imperfect side of the human experience, with the reality of life and its inevitable transitions.
To say I’ve experienced a transition would be a gross understatement. While I would normally minimize the changes of the past six months to make myself feel more in control and detached from my emotions, it’s probably better I acknowledge the challenge of my many recent transitions. A new state with a new climate (Southwest-born-and-raised, New Mexico native Leigh doesn’t do well with constant cloud cover and rain) and no friends or community (besides, obviously, Nathan…who is gone half the time), three new jobs within a two-month period, a new car, moving in with my partner, getting engaged, planning a wedding. I can’t help but gape at the long list of transitions I’ve experienced and wonder why I didn’t consider starting therapy to process through it all.
Perhaps the greatest transition was shifting from belonging to a vibrant, loving, supportive community in Crested Butte to living in a place I really had no desire to be. From the moment I had stepped out of my dad’s Yukon onto the snowy streets of Crested Butte, I viscerally knew I was home, even though I knew absolutely nobody. And let’s not forget that I had a serious case of altitude sickness and food poisoning. Though I knew it was time for a move to be closer to my future husband, the move to Washington was not easy. Whereas Crested Butte felt permanent, Washington has never been more than a temporary phase in life. I may know my way around the serpentine streets of Lakewood and the landmarks of Tacoma, Olympia, and Seattle, but my heart and gut both know there’s something missing. The comforting element of home.
Feeling homesickness for the past seems in direct opposition to what I’ve heard a chorus of yoga teachers past (and present) preach in their classes: The past has passed, the future has yet to come. The only place you can be is in this moment. As someone who experiences separation anxiety from the places I’ve called home in the past, I find being present a feat, particularly in a less-than-ideal locale.
How do we honor the past while being present?
Hunt the Good
No matter where we are in life, no matter the emotional state we’re in, we always have the option to look for the good in life. At this time and place, I’ve been challenged to reflect on the things I do appreciate about Washington. The grit. The autumn colors and spring flowers. The neon green moss that grows on the trees. The Sound. Mount Rainier. Having a full-time, salaried job at long last. The good friends we’ve made here. The challenge to grow when things are less than ideal.
As much as it pains me to say this, in order to move on, we must let go. We can’t go on pining for the things of the past, living in denial of where we currently are. Crested Butte will always be home, but treating it as the end-all-be-all of personal happiness and belonging is a recipe for disaster. It closes us off to the magical moments of the now, making us miss the wonder in front of us. Letting go doesn’t mean forgetting. No, we ought to remember and cherish the places of our past. Instead, take stock of the great memories and relationships made there. It also doesn’t mean not letting ourselves miss the places of our past. I’m never not going to miss Crested Butte, but I have to remind myself that I can go back and continue to connect with my friends. Even though it will never be exactly the same, we can cultivate gratefulness for the past and all it taught us.
Of course, this is easier said than done, but at the very least, we can be reminded to stay open to the present moment. When I notice myself getting down and comparing Washington to Crested Butte, I remind myself that I don’t want to look back on this phase of my life with disappointment, and that encourages me to broaden my perspective and practice gratefulness. After all, we’ll never be in this specific place in time again, so we might as well make the most of it. Oftentimes the hardest places in life yield the most abundantly positive changes and experiences.