Is there no place like home? A 3000 word essay for a chance to win $100,000 for the 2019 NIne Dots Prize.

Dear Friends,

I entered an international competition called the NIne Dots Prize early this year (2019) to write a 3000 word essay on the theme: Is there no place like home?

I entered the competition for the second time. Organisers named the theme of the first prize in 2018 as Are digital technologies making politics impossible? A former Google employee won the prize out of 700 submissions.

You will see Nine Dots on the top right of most Google pages. Probably just a coincidence….?

Winner of the competition received $100,000 – perhaps the biggest prize for an essay/book anywhere. The author also agreed to write a short book on the theme.

A British charity offers the prize for creative thinking for the second year running..

Here is my modest submission.  A few weeks ago, I edited the essay and added a few more paragraphs, so text below runs to 3160 words.

In May, 2019, Nine Dots named Annie Zadie from Mumbai as the winner of the prize for her essay Bread, Cement Cactus – on family life in India. Nine Dots serves as a metaphor for innovative thinking outside the box.

Here is my submission.

Is there still no place like home?

I wake this special morning. Life is now,

ever fresh, with rest at home, with none around,

I am awake, this realm alone to bow.

I’m life! I’m here! This Earth endures surround.

As adults, a happy perception of home provides a sanctuary, a comfort, a place to take our shoes off and put our feet up. We experience an alternative to the dynamic events of daily life in life outside home.

As parents, we hold the power as Gods of the household who offer our children an abundance of love or we withdraw love. Our attitude to our children can shape the perceptions of our children into adulthood.

As children, we took refuge in our home, a place removed from the maddening crowd.

We reflect on our life as children, who wandered in and out of a household that our parent or parents dominated.

If we convert home into an idealised concept,  a gap can emerge between what is and what we imagine. We need to be mindful of any ideal of what a home ought to represent. Our childhood experience of home can influence our adult experience, such as a happy childhood, an unhappy childhood, or a mixture of both.

For example, we recall our time as children and our parents’ daily pressure upon us to do our homework. Do we make the same demands upon our children or other children?

We sit at desks with grim obedience,

our homework spoilt a thousand playful nights,

we see the theft, our voice of anarchy,

endures the rough of a family that blights.

Memories slide into happy times of play and laughter, as well times of distress, if not trauma. The blame, the anger, even the rage, may heap upon the susceptibilities of our feelings. The abusive charge emerging from the voice of the angry parent may descend upon our vulnerable childhood state leaving us frightened, if not petrified. Echoes from such a past carry into our adult life. Entering adulthood, we may carry baggage from our past, which lingers in our mind influencing our feelings and thoughts of ‘home.’

Perhaps both parents or a single parent yearn for their children to grow into adults. Parents make sacrifices made one year after the next for their children. They dream of a quiet residence, of a relaxed, easy going way of life at home knowing the child or children have moved onto fresh challenges. They look forward to the day when the child or children reach financial independence.

Is there no place like home?

The role of a parent often matters in the winter of a person’s life.  Was I a good mother? Was I a good father?” Other roles, such as a livelihood, career, citizenship, partner, friend, neighbour or achiever, might well take a secondary place. A child may offer the best judgement of his or her upbringing rather than the views of the parents. Children of the same parents can offer different views.

We can reflect on the homes of our upbringing.

  • What did we appreciate as children?
  • What ways did we receive kindness, generosity and wise counsel?
  • What did we find difficult?
  • Are there any early patterns of behaviour that we have no wish to perpetuate in our daily life?

An 85-year-old mother telephoned her 63-year-old son to ask him questions. “What do you think about your upbringing? Did you experience a happy home life? What do you remember?”

The son sensed the peace of mind of his mother rested on his response, yet he did not wish to fudge his reply. “Do you want an honest answer or a diplomatic one?” he asked.

His mother said: “Tell me honestly.”

He replied: “As a child at home, I remember a lot of arguing, shouting between you and dad, along with a slamming of doors. You also slapped me for being disobedient.

“Oh, it wasn’t that bad,” his mother replied. “I will ask your sister what she remembers of her childhood.”

A day or two later, a chastened mother rang back. “Your sister said much the same as you.“

The memory of the brother and sister’s home life sobered up the rose-coloured perceptions of their mother, who avoided remembering the thorns of family life. Perceptions of the past can mirror events or distort them. Our past can support  healthy views of the present or we can repeat the painful psychological dynamics of the past.

With the wise counsel of others or through personal clarity and insight, we can grow out of an unsatisfactory upbringing.

The love of the parents and the ‘sins’ of the parents can travel from generation to another. May we never forget.

Do We Live Alone? Do We Live with Another?

Home often refers to a specific environment – the place of childhood or our residence as adults. We can also experience home as a variety of experiences, times, places and beyond.

The love of aloneness gives rise to inner peace in a solitary existence. Such people live alone and would not want anything different. Others perceive living alone as an expression of a lonely existence devoid of a treasury of friendship. They imagine such a person longs for companionship, a partner, a lover or a person with whom to share their life.

Couples can enjoy sharing their lives together but the time comes for a change. A couple lived together for decades. One day, the husband told his wife he planned to divorce her. He put pressure on his wife to move out. The court split all the assets equally between the couple. She moved out. The ex-wife flowered in her new way of life. Her anguish turned into a blessing. The breakup made way for something new. Her ex-husband lived a lonely life. He regretted his decision to get a divorce.

People, places and environments provide us with the potential to realise in fresh ways it means to be ‘at home.’ Home extends itself beyond four walls. One person, two people or a family offer no assurance of happiness and contentment at home.

Is there still no place like home?

Well, yes. Well, no. We may need to uncover insights into home life so we experience our place as a refuge, a resource to support ourselves, offer invitations to family,  friends and guests and establish an ashram of peace.

The application of mindfulness includes every item and its location at home. Clear perceptions and skilful changes establishes a balance of aesthetics, necessities and space. To much stuff clutters the mind as well as rooms.

Perfectionism in the home reveals obsessive behaviour. Excessive cleanliness may obscure unresolved guilt feelings. Too much stuff reveals holding onto items with little or no use.

Do We Respond to the Homeless on our Streets?

The homeless sleep rough, very rough – in shop doorways, park benches and under bridges. Addicts, alcoholics, debt ridden, ex-soldiers, jobless, mental health sufferers and runaways find themselves, summer and winter, living in a state of poverty.

Some suffer violence in the course of their life. Some beg – an outstretched hand, a cap, a tin. They endure 100 rejections for every coin or two dropping into their hand or cap. Begging is hard work.

Few passers-by engage in conversation with the homeless. Shoppers make their pilgrimage towards the Promised Land of the shopping mall while the homeless live on the margins of existence – lonely, unwanted and unwelcome. The beggars on the street long for a place to live – a primary human need. The homeless find themselves subjected to abuse, rejection and humiliation.

Her pleading ways and sighs for minor help,

her head hangs – bowed down, feet shuffle,

a blight, as these pilgrims do pass, and nothing felt,

they fail to hear the state of beggar’s muffle.

The homeless need wise attention, love, practical support and a home. They rely upon the kindness of charities, the Church and significant acts of generosity. Governments ignore their desperate plight. They remain deprived of a home.

Do We Recognise the Plight of the Refugees?

Western Wars and support for civil wars upon Arab countries trigger vast numbers of refugees experiencing suffering and pain, loss of loved ones and destruction of their homeland. The West refuses to offer many a home, so they live trapped in no-man’s-land – unable to take refuge in the West and unable to return to their homeland. Unloved, unwanted, fearful and homeless. The West prefers to sell unlimited number of arms to other nations and set very strict limits to offers of hospitality to refugees.

The selling of weapons and ammunition to destroy people and their homes takes priority over compassion for those who suffer.

The refugees wish to make a fresh start. They find themselves separated from their community social/religious traditions and ancestral connections. They find themselves separated from their historical sense of belonging while facing rejection from the West, who make huge profits from arming governments and insurgents.

Residing in a new country, whether as refugees, asylum seekers or immigrants, they may hesitate to learn the language and culture of their new host country. Some find themselves reluctant to regard their stay as anything more than a respite. The longing to return home lives in their heart day in and day out.

They stay to stay true to their language, cultural and religious traditions. They prefer the company of like-minded people, rather than force themselves to assimilate into Western values.

Mainstream society and media need to recognise the deep importance of refugees for a sense of belonging. A healthy society supports integration but also acknowledges freedom of choice. An unhealthy society forces refugees to conform to priorities of the West.

One young German citizen said she learned Arabic as a contribution to an integrated society. She said she wanted to join an Arabic class in her hometown but waited for months as all classes were full.

We do not demand of others what we refuse to do ourselves – learn a foreign language if living abroad. More than 1.3 million UK citizens live in one of the 27 other EU countries. Few have learnt the language of their adopted country. Blessed with a home, we have the duty to support those in need of home, including the homeless and refugees. We need to remind our government of its responsibilities to support and protect life.

Millions of Westerners fled Europe because of war, poverty and despair to start a new life. Such people needed to make their home in a far-off country. Millions of citizens worldwide share much in common.

Do We Experience a Limited and Narrow Concept of ‘Home?’

We turn our eyes upwards to the night sky.  We appreciate our modest and transient place on the Earth. We live as residents of a small planet in the galaxy. Eight planets in our solar system, Earth, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Neptune, Saturn, Uranus and Venus, surround our home on planet Earth, which also dwells in the vastness of the cosmos.

This sense of home puts our life into perspective. Some seven billion plus people live on this Earth in a wide variety of different kinds of homes. We abide together as sons and daughters of the Earth. We experience life on earth as the natural world. The natural world offers a sense of home. We experience the outdoors – land, air, heat and water. We witness the hills and valleys. We wander along tracks in the forest.

Our body consists of the same elements. Outer elements and our physical elements form and inter-connected whole amidst the element of space.

Are We at Home with Our Country?

We may identity ourselves as an African, American, Arab, Englishman or otherwise. This sense of identity with nationality often triggers a sense of community, of belonging.

While recognising the value of such feelings of love and respect for the motherland, the identification with the feelings/view can develop harmful views of ‘us’ and ‘them.’

A strong identity with the nation state feeds resentment to those with a different ethnic background, nationality and history. A wise inter-national outlook offers a vision of co-operation, not conflict.

Mindful sensitivity and mutual respect apply to people with different roots in different places. Reflection and meditation on home’ expands far beyond the usual narrow constrictions of a specific domicile.

Home offers expandable opportunities beyond the construction of bricks and mortar.

Do We Need Time Away from Home?

The traveller leaves home to experience life outside the familiar regardless of a satisfactory or unsatisfactory relationship to a regular location. The extended journey frees up the heart to an intimacy beyond the everyday conventions.

  • Do we experience being at home outside of any role or identity, such as a parent, partner or child?
  • Do we remind our children of a larger sense of home?
  • Do we recognise the deep significance of being at home with the rhythms of life?
  • Do we embrace a variety of experiences, insights and spiritual values?
  • Are we at home with such experiences?
  • Are we at home indoors and outdoors regardless of climate? 

Reflections and meditations the field of experiences uplift the human spirit, so we breathe in and out in a diversity of ways.

A temporary or lengthy separation from the homely and familiar has the potential to generate a liberated and adventurous way of life.

  • Some will say home is where I live
  • Some will say I am at home when I appreciate people.
  • Some will say I feel at home in certain places
  • Others will say home is where the heart is
  • Others will say home is where the feet are
  • Others will say: I am at home within myself
  • Others will say: I am engaged in a quest to find my true home
  • What do you say?

Between 1967 – 1977, I spent 10 years and 10 days on the road travelling around the world until I completed one full circle of the Earth. A good friend, a much-loved Jungian analyst in Totnes, Britain, asked me: “Were you running away from your parents?” The thought never crossed my mind that I travelled  as far from home as possible.

I reflected on his words. I headed East, not headed away from the past.

If we take steps in one direction, it means we also take steps away from somewhere else. What do we go towards? What do we move away from? If we do not see ourselves as moving towards, nor moving away from, where do we see ourselves?

What is an Expanded Sense of Home?

Expansion of interest around the concept ‘home’ requires reflection, meditation and action. Here are 12 core questions leading to reflection might well include:

  1. What does home mean to me?
  2. What do I appreciate about being at home?
  3. Where do I feel most at home?
  4. What are the challenges of life at home?
  5. Who am I at home with?
  6. What confirms that I at home with myself?
  7. What changes do I need to make to be at home with myself?
  8. What changes do I need to make to be at home with others?
  9. Am I at home with any community (shared interests)?
  10. What steps am I willing to take to support others who need to feel at home?
  11. Are we at home on this Earth?
  12. Do I know the Ultimate Home (Kingdom of God, Nirvana, Liberation)?

Reflection and meditation on these themes contribute to love, insights and action. Action includes developing our home on Earth as a loving and safe environment.

Some people connect with the sacred. Their sense of the sacred may refer to a specific place in nature or a place for religious pilgrimage. Others find themselves at home in a church, a monastery, a mosque or a synagogue. Others share their experiences with a community, an ashram or a spiritual centre. Joy arises in the experience of being at home with others.

A person experiences a quiet happiness in the knowledge of the presence of a much-loved place, as well knowing she or he may well return there. Such people regard the location as their spiritual home. The place struck a deep resonance and abides in the depth of our being. The body remembers

Death Approaches. Are we going home?

A gay man and dedicated meditator faced death from AIDS. I knew him for several years in India and met with him in the city where he lived in the West. He knew he entered the final weeks of his life. The disease had entered his brain cells. He told his physician he wanted to die with a clear mind. The doctor told him he could provide him with an extra dose of morphine to enable him to pass mindfully and peacefully out of this world. Friends sat around the dying man’s bed.

He telephoned me and with a very weak voice, asked my view of his situation. Should he let the sickness and pain run its course regardless of the impact on his mind and body? Should he take the ‘the final medicine’, so he can depart from this world with clarity and without fear?

“Do you have the capacity to take full responsibility for your decision to bring your life to a close?” I asked him. He wished to end his life. That telephone conversation took place around noon. That evening, one of his friends who kept him company at the bedside, telephoned me: “Michael asked me to pass a short message onto you.  He thanks you for your support. He took the medicine. He passed away after some minutes. He told me to tell you he is going home.“

Can We Know a Home in an Ultimate sense?

 I see cocoon, releasing butterfly,

which glides itself towards the wild beyond,

a coat of brightly colours it has donned,

as it shows brief thrust

from its transformed store,

and sways in soft breezes to heaven’s door,

then sails across a summer to explore.

We explore life with its wonder and vulnerabilities until we find ultimate home beyond the conventional. What steps do we take to know a way of life free from notions of confinement?

Are we willing to meditate on the possibility of an  ultimate home that is:

  • Not dependent upon time?
  • Not dependent upon a place?
  • Not dependent upon past, present or future?

An authentic waking up contributes to an integrated sense of life. We are not confined to the walls of life and death. We can abide beyond the reach of such a duality.

I take steps to transcend this little scene,

and take a note of present human state,

Thus, I touch upon this Beyond, still, serene.

Yes, there is no place – like Home.




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