Plate Tectonics

I invite you to return with me to my undergrad Geology classroom where I once discovered applicable lessons about home from the study of Plate Tectonics. The metaphorical possibilities are limitless.

The term tectonics comes from the Greek, pertaining to building. Whether hut, yurt or tent, whether built of wood, straw or stone, the physical dwellings we call home should be sanctuary buildings, shouldn’t they? Consider that Plate Tectonics Theory also describes the motion of plates in the earth’s Lithosphere, which consists of crust and mantle. The Earth’s crust is rigid and unyielding; its mantle more liquid and fluid.  Again, an easy rhetorical leap that parallels the ebb and flow of emotions we associate with every aspect of home. Our emotions fluctuate, depending on what is at stake when we create, maintain, seek or return home.

There’s also the concept of continental drift, equally rich with veins of rhetorical language waiting to be mined. If one subscribes to the theory of Pangaea, which assumes that our planet once consisted of a super-continent, surrounded by a super-ocean, then you must accept that we were once one big homeland. Therefore, even our supposed solid ground has been shifting and drifting over epochs and eras.  Survival demands that one accepts the hypothesis that nothing remains static; staying still can be a death sentence. The geological language of upheaval, shattering, calving, accretion, permeability and violent movement is HOME writ large onto each of our personal landscapes.

Plate Tectonics also asserts that there are three types of movement: Convergent, which is identified with collisions that produce volcanoes, earthquakes and mountain ranges; divergent, which is characterized by plates that move away from one another, initially producing rifts that become valleys and form islands; and transformative, movements that neither create nor destroy, but produce slips in the opposite direction from what one expects. Einstein asserted that “nothing happens until something moves.”  He’s right. Whether we initiate the move, are moved upon, or become the products of movements, motion is apparently earth-shatteringly necessary. Being home, leaving home, seeking home or returning home…again, change is the one constant of which we can be certain.

“Going home means getting comfortable being who you are and who your soul really wants to be. There is no strain with that. The strain and tension come when we’re not being who our soul wants to be and we’re someplace where our soul doesn’t feel at home.”
— Melody Beattie (The Language of Letting Go: Daily Meditations on Codependency (Hazelden Meditation Series))

What does it mean to not feel at home?

Just as convergence causes volcanic activity and earthquakes, some life changes can be mild, mere blips on our personal Richter scales. Others, however, can be drastic, even catastrophic. Any shift in our relationships, however slight, can be like convergence, resulting in the formation of figurative mountains. Sometimes we need mountains as solid, dependable and stable markers on the landscapes of our lives. A crisis occurs and someone at home must become the immotile center. But mountains can also represent dangerous barricades when caused by broken promises and disruptive behavior. Consider abuse, addictions, distrust, illnesses–there are so many ways to feel “not at home,” even while at home. How lonely is the soul who yearns for home when home is no longer a sanctuary, when home has been lost to us somehow?

When we leave home, we often wish for nothing more than to discover new boundaries. Being away from home infers freedom from the limitations imposed upon us. We seek divergence, a chance to pull away. This is the idea behind parents giving their children wings, allowing them to soar. If done correctly, divergence can leave behind familiar markers. We can depend on these to find our way back; our souls will seek out familiar terrain. We will be welcomed home. Some divergence, however, results in permanent rifts that form insurmountable valleys. The terrain has become unrecognizable. We cannot reach what once was; it is gone.

And what of transformative movements, change that neither creates or destroys, but moves us in ways we had not anticipated? As water wears down rock, change will be unquestionably erosive. No one and nothing will ever be the same as before. That reality runs the gamut from good to bad, but movement is inevitable.

Maybe your country is only a place you make up in your own mind. Something you dream about and sing about.
Maybe it’s not a place on the map at all, but just a story full of people you meet and places you visit, full of books and films you’ve been to.
— Hugo Hamilton (The Speckled People: A Memoir of a Half-Irish Childhood)

Home will always be about what was, what is and what can be. Subjective by its very nature, home can be either a sanctuary or a prison. If we’re honest with ourselves, we must admit we’ve thought of it both ways, depending on many variables that alter our perspectives. Home is remembered in many different ways, at many different junctures in our lives. Disorientation greets us when we find ourselves in a new place, even if by choice. We need time to adjust. No one denies there could be adventure, intriguing encounters ­­­awaiting us when we leave the geographic location of home. Some seek it, embracing the change. But what about those who haven’t made the choice, those who were forced out? When we bid farewell to familiar places, for whatever reason, a backpack filled with emotions goes along for the ride. If leaving home was forced upon us, we might feel angry, anxious, bitter, even victimized. If the choice to leave was made freely, curiosity, excitement and wonder are our fellow travelers, but anxiety and uncertainty may still hitchhike. Fluid and rigid. Mantle and crust.

Some of us seem born with a craving for convergent, divergent or transformative alterations to occur in our current landscapes. Others? Not so much. Wherever you are on this continuum, from comfort to confusion, stability to restlessness, home changes. It will always require adjustment, adaptability and time. Leaving home may mean the loss of everything we hold dear. Fear of losing all you possess, all that is familiar, even if the familiar was awful, is still frightening. What if what is ahead is equally awful, or even more so?  Contrariwise, what if our loss helps us to gain something different, possibly even wonderful? There is no way to know, is there? Fear of exchanging the known for the unknown can be exhilarating or paralyzing.

We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.
— Pascal Mercier (Night Train to Lisbon)

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