[The following is a translation of an interview that I conducted with Thomas Hübl, which was published in Hebrew in the Israeli monthly Chayim Acherim on June 1 2019. A PDF of the original Hebrew article can be viewed here.]
What does it mean to feel at home? How can you help individuals, societies, countries and the world as a whole feel at home? Spiritual teacher Thomas Hübl has spent much time inquiring into these questions. This year he will dedicate the international festival that he conducts yearly to this topic. This is what we learned about the question in an interview that we conducted with him.
I first heard about spiritual teacher Thomas Hübl about twelve years ago: a young, charismatic Austrian whose star was rising in the firmament of the new spirituality, one that integrates ancient mystical insights with contemporary evolutionary theories and the spiritual experience that transcends time. The story went that after 4-5 years of medical studies in Vienna, he felt a strong calling to devote himself to meditation and a deep inner journey. After four years of intense practice, his consciousness “opened” and he started to engage in healing and teaching.
Unlike mystics who renounce the world in order to live in seclusion, Hübl refers to himself as “a mystic in the marketplace.” He calls his teaching “Inner Science” and aspires to enrich it through the traditional mystical wisdom as well as insights that arise from modern science. I met him for the first time about ten years ago in a coffee shop in Tel Aviv. He and his partner, Israeli artist Yehudit Sasportas, were in the process of moving their home from Berlin to Tel Aviv. Since that time he has lived in Israel, spending about a third of his time at home, and two thirds teaching and conducting retreats around the world. He is active mainly in Europe and the United States, although occasionally he travels to South America and to China. People from all over the world take part in his online courses. Each summer he conducts an international festival which he calls “Celebrate Life Festival.” This year it will take place in Germany.
Hübl started exploring deeply the concept of “home” for this year’s festival as a result of
the common use of the word “home,” and others related to it (such as “homeland”), mainly by the political right, Hübl started to explore it more deeply in preparation for the upcoming festival. One could assume that the popularity of this usage indicates the basic yearning that people around the world have towards “feeling at home” as well as the difficulty in fulfilling it. But what is this feeling of “being at home” composed of, exactly? How can you make individuals, societies, countries and the whole world feel at home? Hübl is devoting this year’s Celebrate Life Festival to the exploration of this question. We spoke about it by phone; the following are excerpts from our conversation.
Thomas, what does “home” mean to you?
The term “home” describes many layers of experience and meaning: on the personal level, on the collective level, and on the spiritual, trans-personal level.
The first level is the personal one: to what extent we feel at home within ourselves? Did the process of attachment to our parents in childhood create the basic feeling of home? Did we feel a sense of belonging to the home we grew up in? The ability to feel secure in the relationship with the family is the most important factor in our ability to feel at home within ourselves. Once this feeling is established in a person, it generally remains with them for the rest of their life, unless something very severe happens. This inner sense allows one to feel: “I can relax into myself. I can trust the way in which my life unfolds. I can create meaningful relationships, I feel embodied and grounded. The aspects of freedom (curiosity and courage ) and intimacy ( the ability to create deep and meaningful relationships) are balanced in me so that I feel safe to enter new contexts, explore new things, take new steps.”
The inner state of the parents, the degree to which the parents feel at home, safe and secure within themselves, exerts a great influence on the feeling of home of the child. Are the parents able to provide their child with security, emotional nourishment and a healthy relationship on an ongoing basis? Can a parent transmit to their child the feeling that “I see you, I recognize your talents and I support your desire to develop them. I pay attention to who you are becoming even if it means that you will be slightly different, or very different, from who I am.”?
This is the ideal. But often, this very complex and sophisticated process is hurt. If the hurt is severe, it can have far-reaching results: dissociation, isolation, hyper-activity, emotional numbness, indifference or hyper-excitation.
What causes such hurt?
The main reason is trauma, inherited family trauma, severe trauma which we have experienced ourselves through abuse or violence or a trauma experienced by the community in which we live in by the people we belong to. Trauma creates disorder in the functioning of the nervous system which we then experience as difficulties and problems in our daily life. Feeling overly stressed or reactive, indifferent or numb or many other symptoms in our lives might be traceable to different layers of trauma. We find that we cannot respond to life with our full potential, that there is a gap between the sense we have about ourselves and our ability to express our abilities in daily life. This gap creates a sense of tension.
Nowadays, no corner of the globe is free of trauma. If we are all walking traumas, how can we create a sense of home, personally or collectively?
Firstly, it is important that we don’t see the trauma response within us, as well as its consequences, as something negative. It is an intelligent, trans-personal process that has developed in the course of thousands of years of humanity going through traumatizing moments. I am not saying that the events that caused the trauma response are positive, but that the fact that the nervous system responds in the way it does while we are undergoing such an experience is very intelligent. Obviously, as long as we have not treated the trauma we will experience its symptoms, and those can indeed be problematic and difficult. But it’s important to remember that the trauma response itself saved us, because it allowed us to survive very difficult conditions.
The good news is that both the ancient traditions of knowledge as well as modern science are enriching our knowledge on how to restore the sense of home; we are better able to handle trauma. We know that creating meaningful relationship is a key factor in helping someone heal these inner wounds. When we create a community of meaningful relationships and are helped by appropriate knowledge, we can create an environment that supports healing. This is very promising because this is something that many of us can contribute to. We can create social structures and a healing architecture that can enable a society to upgrade its sense of home.
But we must recognize that this is an important subject, that we should dedicate time and space to it, as well as attention and resources. It is important that the whole culture understands that trauma attracts more traumatizing situations. We know now how vital rehabilitation of trauma is for our future, for the future of the educational system, for the future of the healthcare system, for the future of the social and political structure, and, to a great extent, to the future of peace.
I believe that the more society is aware of trauma and the stigma is removed from it, the more we will understand that treating trauma is not treating some shameful defect. Exploring and reengaging in that intelligent internal process that left traces that often accompany us for life is a very important process. When culture changes its attitude towards trauma, more people will not hesitate to reveal their trauma, not feel embarrassed by their difficulties, not try to just get by, but will dedicate themselves to creating meaningful communities that can create an environment of healing. Healing is the capacity to create the right environment for restoration. I believe that this is the best investment in our future.
You are a spiritual teacher, but the way you analyze the feeling of home, or the lack of that feeling, you sound more like a psychologist, like a trauma therapist.
The two approaches are very close to each other. The mystical or spiritual approach to trauma rehabilitation confirms much of what we now learn from scientific studies on the subject, and vice versa: much of the knowledge that science is discovering now was present in ancient spiritual traditions in the past. For example, the Yoga tradition speaks quite a bit about cleaning the chakra system and opening up all the contractions. But what are contractions? They are a type of trauma symptoms. Other traditions call this “fighting with your demons.” What is interesting is the synergetic support between the two approaches, not the differences or the attitude of superiority or even cynicism that proponents of the two approaches feel towards each other. One approach can enrich the other. This is another aspect of non-duality. We are now called to get the inner and outer science to work to together and to use the best practices in both systems in order to harvest the best of human intelligence and to deal with millennia of pain.
Focusing on only one of the approaches can create imbalance. If, for example, the focus is only on the psychological approach, it may lead to over-emphasis on the personal self and its problems. I am completely given over to myself and my healing. It might be necessary for a certain period of time, but if we get stuck there, we will not find space for a wider perspective and a more meaningful life context. If, on the other hand, I focus exclusively on the spiritual approach, I try to run away from my traumas through what is called “a spiritual bypass.” I am trying to “get rid of the ego” and its problems, which means that I am trying to avoid life’s challenges and difficulties and try to ignore them through spiritual practice. These are two pathologies that are mirror images of each other.
But if you use both approaches in a complementary and synergetic manner, they support each other a lot. If I am a mature adult who is ready to confront life’s challenges, then spiritual practice can help me infuse life with more presence, more space, more awareness, more insight, more innovation and enrich it with a deeper sense of connection and unity, of wholeness and of interconnectedness. At the same time we can use the best practices of therapy, psychology and trauma work in order to meet and integrate our dissociated past more professionally.
The Earth is our home. We are on the verge of an irreversible climate change, which may destroy the very basis of our existence here. And in that case, it would not matter whether one has experienced trauma or not.
Our relationship with the earth is a result of our relationship with ourselves. The earth is not just the place we live on. We don’t live on planet earth; we are inseparable from the planet, an organic part thereof: we and the planet are one. The disorder that we feel towards our bodies, towards our emotions, towards our thoughts, and towards our families expresses itself also in disorder in our relationship with our planet and with nature and expresses itself as an environmental crisis. Thus, if my inner sense of home is hurt, it will express itself in my relationship to the planet, as well as the relationship to the planet of those around me. So again, the question is: do I feel at home on Planet Earth, or is my connection to the planet, to the Earth, severed? In the end, the environmental crisis is a crisis of consciousness, reflecting the degree to which I feel directly that I am an inseparable part of the Earth.
Trauma compromises regulation, it leads to many dysregulated behaviors and to a much higher degree of separation. Massive consumption beyond our needs and mountains of waste are just two examples of dysregulation. When I feel disconnected I add more trauma to the system. When dysregulation is endemic it has huge consequences on how the people are able to adapt to their natural environment.
If I don’t feel my body I need to read many books about nutrition; if I don’t feel others I need to read many books about relationship, because I don’t have a natural sense of it. If we don’t feel that our environment is not “out there” but also here, in me, then we need to invest a lot of thinking into creating a system of do’s and don’ts. This is because the natural sense of adaptation to the environment, which is a natural by-product of integrating rational- scientific and intuitive approaches with organic-intuitive ones, is being lost the more the trauma-induced inner numbness becomes stronger.
I am reminded of one of the most beautiful expressions of this feeling of “being most at home in the world” from the Dao De Jing: “the Master travels all day without leaving home.”
Yes, it does not matter what we do in our life, even if we travel a lot or conduct a very busy lifestyle, we do not lose the wide awakening, the wide consciousness: we dwell at home, in this wide awareness, in this consciousness, even when we are engaged in dynamic activity. The Dao De Jing calls it “wu wei wu” – non-action. But it does not mean not doing anything; rather, it means not doing any more or any less than the natural flow of the river of my life. Wu wei wu is an effortless action because it emerges from the flow of my core into the world and the flow from the world back to the core.
When you are not traveling, Israel is your home. Your wife is Israeli, your daughter is Israeli. We have a saying, “a guest sees all the faults in one glance.” Certainly, you can see that we are not a perfect embodiment of “the Master travels all day without leaving home.”
What is interesting about the Jewish culture is that in spite of all the wandering in the diaspora for thousands of years, the people held on to the inner core of the tradition. No matter where they went, they held on to Torah, to Mitzvot [commandments], to yearning. This is no different than the teaching of the Dao De Jing. It is a kind of holding on to the inner essence, to the spiritual home, even while in movement.
And of course, there is also a lot of trauma that requires attention and treatment.
Are you suggesting adherence to Torah and Mitzvot as a means of healing trauma and feeling at home?
I am not talking about a particular religious practice, neither am I talking about theory or philosophy, but rather about the embodiment of the essence. In every culture there are people who embody the essence. In the Jewish tradition there are figures such as the Rambam, or Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, and many others, known and unknown, who entered deeply into the core of the Torah and came into contact with what I call the flame, the mystical fire of creation itself. I am talking about people who are not speaking about the flame, but from the flame.
I am speaking primarily about the essence. We are in a very important point in human history, in which large parts of the religious framework, that are based more on interpretations than on essence, no longer fit the cultural changes that have taken place over the years and the way we live our lives. Rigid religious frameworks exert great pressure which sometimes turn into trauma. This causes many people to renounce their religion and join the next religion, which is science. This mode of thinking, the rational mode, is a result of the development of the brain in the last one thousand years.
Often, when a new mode of thinking emerges, it needs to crystalize through defining itself in contrast to what came before it. It’s like with the process of individuation of children, in which they stand against what their parents represent. But when a new form of thinking has finally crystalized, it can include the one that preceded it in a healthy balance. It’s important to note, that the earlier form of thinking is not necessarily less valuable; in fact, its value becomes greater through synthesis with the new one. I honor timeless principles that are found beyond the evolutionary changes. They can be often found at the core, the essence, of all religions. Their light shines throughout time. Essence is timeless and forms the time; that’s why it is always true.
You remind me of a saying attributed (most probably erroneously) to Mark Twain: “when I was 15, my father was a damn fool; when I reached 25, I was amazed by how much the old man had learnt in ten years.”
A: Exactly… In our days, both the religious circles that oppose modernity and the modern, scientific circles that oppose religion define themselves, to a great extent, by what they are against. I think that the place we would like to reach is that we would be able to enjoy the beauty of both approaches. On one hand, we would like to bow down our head and respect the deep mystical insights of the wise and enlightened people of the past, and on the other hand we would like to embrace the insights and the evolutionary and rational perspectives of science because they are amazingly profound. I feel that the current othering, of us against them, is a necessary stage in human development, until we grow beyond it.
It brings me back to the quote that you brought up earlier from the Dao De Jing, about the master remaining home while travelling. In the context of science and religion, this principle will be expressed when scientists recognize that the scientific thinking came out of the mystical thinking. It does not contradict it: it completes it. That would be staying home.
In religious circles in Israel, the word “Bayit” also refers to Beyt Adonai, the Temple. In the Psalms one finds a number of times the aspiration “to dwell in Beyt Adonai”. Today the idea of a physical temple is very loaded and controversial. How do you understand this expression?
I think the idea of Beyt Adonai is, again, similar to the idea that we mentioned earlier from the Dao De Jing, of dwelling at home even while moving around. I don’t think the idea is physically dwelling in the temple but rather finding the temple inside us, joining God in the sense of awakened consciousness, dwelling in the ultimate realization within. But once we dwell in the Beyt Adonai within us, it is possible that we would want to also join together as a community and give an outward expression to this internal experience, a physical structure that would express and embody the fantastic energy of the inner experience. The idea is to not leave that temple even when we are away from the physical domain of the structure, because the temple dwells in us as a conscious realization. At the same time the reverse is true too – sometimes having an external representation of the sacred, and a more obvious and manifest way to practice and honor that which you consecrate, is furthering that spiritual development.
This is the common denominator of all the great ancient wisdom traditions. When we speak of enlightenment, we speak, first and foremost, about an inner flowering of consciousness, about an awakening to such a degree that one is never separate from that realization.
You spoke earlier about the need to create a “healing architecture,” the need for social structures that will support a sense of home where it is hurt. Some may say, that in our days and age, life’s tempo and its nature do not support such structures. For example, a short while ago I met someone of a Greek descent whose family lived in the same village for 500 years, up until WWII. Such stability is very rare nowadays.
The question is, whether the feeling of home means a deep connection to one place, or an inner feeling that does not only depend on the place I am located because wherever I am, I feel grounded, I feel connected to life, to people around me, to the soil and to the earth.
Of course, this is not the situation in many cases. The reason people are gathering around the terms “home” or “homeland” is in response to the fear that is common in our society. The sense of disorder that people feel within themselves, inside their internal home, is projected outside. There are those with whom I feel at home, “we”, and the “others.” If we manage to create social structures that convey a sense of home, of security, this will provide a healing to the collective sense of fear that many people feel today, around the world.
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For those who are interested in Hübl:
In 2008, Hübl founded the Academy of Inner Science which offers retreats, courses and training programs. At the beginning of each year he conducts an international retreat in Neve Ilan, not far from Jerusalem. Much of his teaching work is done online, offering various courses on trauma (personal and collective), mystical development, relationships, and communication. There is an international community that one can connect to online (www.thomasHübl.com). There is also a local community in Israel whose members get together periodically to discuss this work and practice together.