While this space often talks about wellness in terms of healthy hearts and active muscles, today we are thinking about wellness regarding the relationship between ourselves and our environment. Many college students over the next few weeks will go through individual versions of the same experience: Christmas break comes around; students vacate their dorm or apartment to return home; meals are had; and thankfulness is mentioned. Once the pies have been eaten, we return to find our familiar textbooks and notes waiting there on our desk for us. Within the many wonderful holiday moments, you may come across a strange feeling: getting back to your family, bedroom, pets and routines feels overwhelmingly like home. When we come back to school, however, we find little bits of home as well in the pattern of classwork, the faces of our friends and all of the little memorized habits we rely on to navigate campus each day. We feel a “past home” perhaps in another town, but we also feel that the seeds of our future career and family are yet to sprout, but that when they do, we will have a new sense of home that is ours to cultivate. Growing up is just like this–memorializing the home of our childhood, as well as finding and making a space for ourselves‒a career, a home, a family that we develop as we find ourselves.

While there are plenty of songs and texts that directly celebrate the feeling of coming home for the holidays, there is something to be said for considering how we develop a sense of harmony and belonging wherever we are and how we might ultimately make that space into a poem. On this topic we turn to the words of Pablo Neuda, a famous poet from Chile who not only won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971, but also served as a senator in his home country. Neruda’s work has been translated and celebrated in many languages because of a simplicity and earnestness in his craft; while his work shouldn’t be read hastily, readers rarely struggle to read his work even without outside instruction.

Here is Neruda’s poem “This is Where We Live” from his 1958 collection Extravagaria – consider not just what the speaker is saying about his own growth, but how that growth is enabled by the world around him and the contradictions it contains.

I am one of those that live
in the middle of the sea and close to the twilight
a little beyond those stones.
When I came
and saw what was happening
I decided on the spot.

The day had spread itself
and everything was light
and the sea was beating
like a salty lion,
many-handed.

All that deserted space was singing
and I, lost and awed,
looking toward the silence,
opened my mouth and said:
“Mother of the foam,
expansive solitude,
here I will begin my own rejoicing,
my particular poetry.”

From then on I was never
let down by a single wave.
I always found the flavour of the sky
in the water, in the earth,
and the wood and the sea burned together
through the lonely winters.

I am grateful to the earth
for having waited
for me
when sky and sea came together
like two lips touching;
for that’s no small thing, no? –
to have lived
through one solitude to arrive at another,
to feel oneself many things and recover wholeness.

I love all the things there are,
and of all fires
love is the only inexhaustible one;
and that’s why I go from life to life,
from guitar to guitar,
and I have no fear
of light or of shade
and almost being earth myself,
I spoon away at infinity.

So no one can ever fail
to find my doorless numberless house –
there between dark stones,
facing the flash
of the violent salt,
there we live, my woman and I,
there we take root,
Grant us help then.
Help us to be more of the earth each day!
Help us to be
more the sacred foam,
more the swish of the wave!

The overall arc of the “story” as it is describes a speaker who sets stakes down in an area (here a seaside spot, but we might easily substitute a new home, school or city) and measures himself by his connection with that space. As he learns to enjoy what is around him‒enjoying each wave, savoring the “flavour of the sky”‒this appreciation leads to growth, gratitude and enjoyment from the speaker. Notice that at the end of this celebration of this world around him, the speaker doesn’t ask for power over the world around him or access to more of the world; instead, what he asks for is “to be more of the earth each day! / Help us to be / more of the sacred foam, / more the swish of the wave!” Again, this impulse is to desire a greater harmony with the space around us. The climate, size, time and shape of the spaces we inhabit ultimately shape us as we grow, and our speaker here wishes to see the world in all of its qualities and varieties reflected in himself. As you continue your studies at Life U we hope to not only provide you with a literal home to eat, sleep and learn in, but to further help you internalize the best of your peers and teachers. It is only by paying conscious attention to how we interact with the people and places around us that we can fully actualize our own growth.