Searching for home in dark places

The word ‘home’ is dripping with emotional colour. It evokes so many images, tangled with family, security, memory – and all so different for each one of us. I’ve been collaborating with Jo Roberts on a project called just that – ‘Home’ – and it has led us down some very diverse pathways.

I am interested in the feeling tone, the emotions that the word conjures up; a sense of security, of comfort, of being held, of belonging, of things being alright, for example. Because of who I am and what I do, however, it is the absence rather than the presence of these elements that strikes me most forcibly. Most of my working life is spent trying to come to terms with and ameliorate the effects of the lack, the loss or the inadequacy of the emotional ‘home’.

Psychotherapy as I understand it is a relationship between therapist and client that emotionally involves all parties. As a therapist, my own personal experiences are very relevant – although I don’t usually talk about them, they inform my understanding and responses. I can travel to some dark places with people and feel ‘at home’! In the world of therapy, that all seems unremarkable, and it is only recently that I have begun to appreciate that these dark places, translated into my new ‘art’ world, have a different impact.

Maybe it’s a peculiarity of the art groups I belong to, but there don’t seem many gloomy or miserable images in the room. Cheery blue skies, winding lanes, sun -dappled paths, copied holiday photos, and a spattering of flowers. It took me a while to realise that I was a bit out of step.IMG_0203

Searching for Home

‘Hope you’re not still feeling like that’, someone said, looking at my grey landscape.

There has been a lot of publicity lately about mental health, and how as a society we need to be more tolerant and less fearful of the wide range of psychological struggles that are going on in those around us – and how we need to invest to create a decent healthcare system that responds to this need. There is still a stigma lurking around ‘mental illness’ despite efforts to overturn this, and once outside of my familiar world of counselling and psychotherapy, I can sense it. It has taken me by surprise, this subtle pressure to tidy away the darker and messier bits of myself lest they cause any disturbance to others.

Much of the pressure comes from myself of course, because I have internalised those unspoken rules about what makes an acceptable person. We absorb these rules in the process of becoming a member of any society, without even being aware of it, and this process of internalisation is brilliantly efficient at maintaining the existing definitions of who and what is acceptable. The gold standard person is still white, male, heterosexual, of a certain social class, of ‘sound body and mind’ – and those of us who fail the test in any or all parts have to struggle with our own harsh self judgments.

Maybe an important part of the definition of ‘home’ is a sense of acceptance; home is a place where we can put down the burden of self-criticism and feel comfortable, however and whoever we are. How on earth do I do that in a painting, I wonder?





10 thoughts on “Searching for home in dark places

  1. Chris Post author

    “The typical peasant developed a very strong attachment to this structure.” On the one hand it seems eminently sensible and logical, but on the other,I wonder how you evidence this.It sounds rather like investing the ‘typical peasant’ with a contemporary emotion. But all fascinating, nevertheless! Thanks Pam

  2. Pam Lunn

    Now this issue is in my mind, it’s popping up everywhere! I’m part way through reading a book called Sapiens: a brief history of humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. After a section about the transition from being nomadic hunter-gatherers to living in settled agricultural communities, he writes, concerning the building of the first permanently lived-in houses::

    “The typical peasant developed a very strong attachment to this structure. This was a far- reaching revolution, whose impact was psychological as much as architectural. Henceforth attachment to ‘my house’ and separation from neighbours became the psychological hallmark of a much more self-centred creature.”

    So, here is the start of ‘privacy’, of ‘attachment’ [to objects, not to people – that pre-existed], of ‘home’, of ‘mine’. If you read Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’s book, The Old Way: A Story of the First People – an account of the life of the San people of the Kalahari, in the last period before the modern world impacted on, and destroyed their ancient hunter-gatherer life – you find no attachments other than to people; no personal property other than a few essential tools and utensils which are carried around all the time. Personal space for a family group is merely a matter of a position round a campfire, at that night’s temporary location. There are no permanent structures (and ‘temporary’ means for a night or two only), no homes.

    ‘Home’ arrived – historically and psychologically – very recently, in human evolutionary terms. Before that there were temporary encampments. The more you moved about, the less you owned. Once you have a house, and objects within it, you have particular places for things, and the interior space of the house acquires structure and meaning. Then decoration and ornamentation can happen, not just on the body but also on the building . . . and then we have ‘home’: perhaps a projection of our psyche onto the building, a psychological extension of the boundary of our skin to the boundary of our house?

  3. Chris Post author

    Thank you! Your comment has sent me on a search for a poem,I think by Jeni Couzyn, where each room of the house is inhabited by a different woman who represents an internal character of the poet.(I used it when running workshops about our own internal ‘groups’.) The house is only solid, I imagine, when all the various characters are managing to find a way to live together!

  4. Claudia McGill

    I have found in my own art work I have used houses as a stand-in for people at times – meaning that the houses are expressing emotions or feelings or opinions. Sometimes they seem to be solid and warm and other times struggling to stay on their foundations. Don’t know why I do this but I keep coming back to it as a symbol or metaphor.

    I believe very strongly in the idea of home as a refuge and for me that is what my home is. I love this post and I also love the painting. It looks like a calm and peaceful place to me.

  5. Pam Lunn

    And German, of course, has Heimweh and Danish hjemve, literal translations of homesickness. But isn’t only from old Germanic/Norse. In Spanish you ‘tener[have] morriña’, which is related to words for both death and starvation.

  6. Chris Post author

    ‘Home’ seems to come from a variety of roots – Saxon,High German, Norse, Dutch – all Northern hemisphere as far as I can see, so climate may also play a part. ‘Warmth’ seems a key ingredient.There is a fascinating relationship between emotional experience and available vocabulary – can you be ‘homesick’ in Hindi??

  7. Chris Post author

    Two very interesting ideas – why the word ‘home’ seems peculiarly English, and the particular beauty of midtones, with their associations. Thank you!

  8. nesbitteleanor

    Thanks, Chris Thought-provoking as ever. Many languages (as far as I know) don’t have a word that exactly translates ‘home’. Certainly French and Hindi don’t. The fact that English does have this concept/ a word for it is interesting in itself. In other languages I think one finds separate ways of expressing ‘house’, ‘where one lives’, ‘where one feels comfortable’ and ‘where elderly or sick people or dogs are accommodated’. In Hindi, for instance, ‘make yourself at home’ is translated as ‘apna hi ghar samajhiye’ i.e. ‘understand/think of [this house] as your own house’. But actually the word ‘apna’ (‘one’s own’) doesn’t have an exact English counterpart!  Cheers Eleanor 

    From: “sketching, psychotherapy and beyond” To: Sent: Tuesday, 30 December 2014, 12:16 Subject: [New post] Searching for home in dark places #yiv8246499504 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv8246499504 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv8246499504 a.yiv8246499504primaryactionlink:link, #yiv8246499504 a.yiv8246499504primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv8246499504 a.yiv8246499504primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv8246499504 a.yiv8246499504primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv8246499504 | Chris posted: “The word ‘home’ is dripping with emotional colour. It evokes so many images, tangled with family, security, memory – and all so different for each one of us. I’ve been collaborating with Jo Roberts on a project called just that – ‘Home’ – and it has led u” | |

  9. Pam Lunn

    I’m particularly interested in the ‘hope you’re not still feeling like that’ comment, because of what it implies about the assumptions about the painting. I find it a very beautiful image (not ‘gloomy’ or whatever) – it’s the kind of soft, diffused light that you might get in the early morning, that gets photographers up early in order to catch it. If I’d managed to get that scene as a photograph, I’d be extremely pleased with it. Looked at through a lens, bright colours and bright light are rather uninteresting – a bit flat, without nuance, all the characterful shadows bleached out. The interest lies is in the contrast and the mid-tones. Hanging in front of me I have the calendar from the recent Turner exhibition at the Tate. The January image (Peace – Burial at Sea, 1842) has a huge black smudge in the middle – it makes the picture.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.