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There is a fundamental tension in human existence that relates to a key way that our homes can be of service to us within our self-development and our deep desire to not just live but to thrive. From the moment we come into this world we are challenged by the often uncomfortable tension between our individual needs and our needs for belonging, acceptance, and to be integrated into the wider context which we are a part of.

This body we are born into has a wide range of complex and ever-changing needs that we must attend to and attempt to satisfy if we want to survive. At the same time, there are many constraints placed upon us by the external world in terms of how we can satisfy those needs. Some, like the constraints imposed by external reality are non-negotiable. No matter how much we attempt to push back against certain realities such as loss, death, accidents, ageing, or illness we will only discover that we are powerless in their wake. But other constraints, such as the many limitations imposed by the cultures and systems we are a part of, are open to critical evaluation. In many cases when the satisfaction of our internal needs is possible yet sanctioned by others around us (for example our families, societies, or cultural norms) it can be useful to examine whether it is worth honouring our internal needs, even at the cost of exclusion or sanction, or whether we would be better served to give up the internal need in favour of fitting in or belonging. In reality the choice is often much more nuanced than this and we are usually best served by finessing, compromising or modifying in order to achieve a balance between the internal and external forces acting upon us.

As we mature, we can learn to develop ever more refined means of negotiating the balance between satisfying our individual needs and desires and learning how to compromise or alter these needs so that they become more amenable to the world around us. Throughout our life this delicate, pendular dance often swings too far in one direction or another. When we push too hard for our individual needs to be met, we risk alienating others and being excluded from the wider systems and cultures we are a part of. Human beings are deeply relational creatures that have a deep need to be connected to something beyond ourselves in order to thrive. In fact, the fullness of our sense of self only emerges and develops when we are also in relationship with others and the wider world around us. Without this feeling of connectedness, we can easily lose the sense of meaning in our lives that is so important for us to be able to thrive.

At the same time, if we conform too rigidly or give up too much of ourselves to the world around us, we risk losing that crucial connection to our own inner knowing, the only true north of our lives. Without a meaningful connection to the self, we are left unable to attune to our own wants and needs, leaving us vulnerable to the mixed messages arriving from the external world as well as feeling a constant need for validation from others.

Building on the work of Dewey (1934), in their book titled “The Meaning of Things” psychologists, researchers, and authors Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton note that “this dialectic defines the human predicament”: On the one hand we face the challenge of discovering “the limits of being, by expressing the purposes and potentials inherent in the individual organism [we] inhabit. This involves the ability to control the environment, others, and oneself by cultivating purposive habits of life through which one inhabits the world (Dewey, 1934, p.104)”. They suggest that only through learning how to shape and impact the external world around us do we learn the capabilities and limits of the organism we are in. At the same time, they highlight that whether consciously or unconsciously, we all have a sense of how “fragile and insignificant we are”. We know that the only way for this organism to thrive is to establish meaningful links between the self and the outside world; something beyond ourselves “other persons, groups or the greater patterns of the cosmos”.

Throughout our lives we balance the tension of adapting and conforming in order to connect with others, with the  independence required to feel connected to ourselves and our own inner-knowing. By sacrificing our needs and desires in favour of what the world asks of us, by continuously revising our beliefs and values in order to fit in, we risk losing our relationship to ourselves and our own deep inner knowing. At the same time, if we focus exclusively on the satisfaction of our own needs, we risk forgoing that deeply rewarding feeling of connection that comes from being integrated within the wider world around us. The challenge as we progress through life is to cultivate and express the depths of our unique being while at the same time integrating that expression into the world around us in ever more dynamic, meaningful, and interconnected ways. 

In his book titled “IntraConnected: Me + We as the integration of Self, Identity, and Belonging” psychiatrist, professor, and author, Dan Siegel explains that our very health and wellbeing are based on the successful negotiation of this dialectic. For him, true and deep integration involves simultaneously honouring our differences while at the same time cultivating our linkages to one another and the world around us. For Siegel, a feeling of wholeness and integration is created through the balancing of uniqueness, specialisation, and differentiation on the one hand with the connection, interwovenness, and linkage that allow us to integrate our unique elements of self into the wider world around us.

Many thinkers argue that the successful negotiation of this tightrope of differentiation and integration is the very characterisation of a healthy complex system whether that is an individual or a culture. When a person or a culture is too individuated, they cannot function coherently, unable to unite to work in unison as a whole in order to achieve something greater than the individual parts can achieve on their own. With every individual part working solely in its own interest and without consolidation with the other parts around it, the larger system falls apart. At the same time, without meaningful differentiation between the individual parts within a system, with every individual carrying out exactly the same function in the same way, there is none of the specialisation necessary for the creation of the complex systems that can achieve far greater things than any individual can.

I have tried to set the scene for how the tension between tending to and cultivating our individuality and integrating this individuality in meaningful ways into something beyond ourselves is one of the fundamental tensions of being human. Successfully negotiating this tension in ever more complex ways is key to living a life where we can thrive and not just survive. In our next blog post I want to share how our homes and the spaces we create can serve in this process helping us to cultivate both our sense of self and our connection to the wider world around us.

Handwoven natural luxury cotton cushion coversHand craved dark wood shopping board

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Images above show our Hand Forged Copper Bundt Cake Mould II, Shuro Palm Broom and Hand Broom, Shuro Palm Trivets, Handmade Fluted Utensil Holder, Hand Carved Spatulas and Cooking Spoons, Copper Tea and Coffee Canisters, Hand Carved Black Walnut Cutting Board, Tawashi Brushes, Handmade Fluted Fruit Bowl, Natural Dish Brushes, Hand Forged Copper Bundt Cake Mould I, Handspun Cotton Cushion Covers in Ecru, Handwoven Cotton Cushion in Plain Stripes, Vintage Framed Water Colour Painting, Pallares Solsona Kitchen Knife, Pallares Solsona Professional Kitchen Scissors, Brass Coffee Pour Over Stand, Copper Kettle, Vintage Butter Knives, Vintage Salt Spoon, Vintage Rail Fork, Classic French Table Glasses, Handmade Fluted Side and Dinner Plates, Kapok Safari Daybed Mattress used as a bench cushion, Handspun Eri Silk Throw, Handmade Linen Napkins, Brass Water Mister, Hand Craved Coffee Scoop, Stone Washed Cake and Pie Server, and various vintage items which will be available in our upcoming Vintage and Collected Collection.