Home Is Whenever I Am With Me

Smiling Heart“I am coming home.”

These were the words I wrote returning to Australia after six months of travel across Europe. But parting with so many new friends and heart connections, I came back to a chaotic living situation with an uncomfortable feeling…

The place I called ‘home’ did not feel like ‘home’.

So as always, when I don’t understand something I embark on a mini-project hoping to find some wisdom. I asked friends for two things: songs that give a sense of home, and their meaning of home. Because what is home anyway? Is it the house, neighbourhood or country we live in? Is it a feeling? If clichés tell me “home is where the heart is,” where is my heart anyway?

My conclusions may surprise you.


1. Travel often. Travel simply.

It may sound paradoxical, but the best way I have come to discover a sense of home is through travel. After months of living out of a backpack, the simplicity of having less things is liberating, reminding me that home is not a house and the stuff in it.

As in life, when I travel by myself I have a fear of never finding people to authentically connect with. But once travelling and travelling simply, I am both surprised yet somehow reminded that ‘like attracts like’ and that the most incredible individuals and ‘teachers’  appear for me when I need them the most.

“Wherever I go, there will be community.”

2. Be vulnerable*. Be seen. Live your creativity.

I dance, write, draw, I have given birth to a new social initiative, and I have made dreams of travelling the world a reality. Despite the potential for judgment from others, I have known what it is like to put my creative self out there, knowing that it is this expression that is Me.

But beware! Taking the risk to be vulnerable ultimately leads to one thing – feeling truly alive!

“Find rest in my creative activity.”

(*As Brene Brown says, having the courage to be vulnerable can ultimately deepen the quality of our relationships, in fact this is how we achieve intimacy! However  there are times when people will not be able to hold your vulnerability, or to hear your story.)

3. Dance to the beat of your own drum.

I believe we cannot feel home if we don’t have our personal freedom. There are many voices in our world, both outer and inner, which advise, judge and may even appear to be in our best interest. However, there does come a time in a man’s life when he becomes aware of his own values, voice, direction and rhythm in life. Following this is the hallmark of courage. I will spend the rest of my days learning to trust to live my life in the most authentic way possible.

“There is only one me. Honour my uniqueness, no one can do this for me.”

4. Be curious about the people around you and what is important to them.

While it is important to be clear on my own values, no matter how much I travel (internationally, or just ‘down the street’), I do not live in a bubble. No man is an island, I am human and therefore a social creature that needs to belong. There are other people in my house, neighbourhood, community, country, and even the on the street I walk on. Why do they do what they do? Why do it that way? Why do they spend so much time and energy pursuing the things they do?

“Being open, curious and engaged with people enables me to better understand and empathise with others. If I am closed then people will feel ‘too different’ to me, I will not be able to ‘meet’ them, and I will feel disconnected.”

5. Be open to being challenged. Challenge respectfully

I need to be challenged from time to time. It’s not that I’m not right, it’s just that I’m not always right! The deepest friendships I have are those who respectfully challenge my assumptions and do so with grace, tact and discretion. I ultimately arrive at my own judgment but it is the openness that is necessary to ‘meet’ people. Conversely, I must trust myself enough to do the same, and to challenge people when I see that something is wrong or could be improved. This goes for the people I live with, partners, friends, colleagues, community, businesses, institutions and governments.

“I must be open to learn about my own assumptions, yet trust myself to respectfully challenge those around me.”

6. Focus your energy, time and space on practices which nurture you.

For me, movement meditation practice is my way of reconnecting with the wisdom of my body, it safely pushes me to ‘my edge’ while honouring my growth. For others it is yoga, art, men’s groups etc. I can waste time just like everybody else, but once I find what really resonates for me the commitment to it flows naturally; and each time I practice I pray to the divine part of Myself.

“Many behaviours shortchange me. Find practices which honour the sacredness of my body, mind and soul.”

7. Focus your energy, time and make space for people who honour and celebrate your current growing self.

A friend said to me that: There are parts of ourselves that we don’t always live with. We like and love these parts but they are not always seen, honoured and celebrated.

“Home is when I am most accepting and loving of Myself.”

Home is when I feel I am celebrating and honouring all that I am NOW. The current version of me, not in five years time, or whenever I create the perfect job, house, body or partner.

I understand now how lucky I have been to be part of relationships and communities which have celebrated, honoured, respected and challenged me. Safe ‘places’ and ‘spaces’ to explore my light, as well as dance with my own beautiful darkness. People and practices discovered which honour and value the growing self, which push me to ‘my edge’, and expand the horizons of my inner world.

I believe now that it is when I seek, choose and create these kinds of relationships that I feel a sense of home.

So as the clichés suggest, it seems that ‘home is where the heart is’. And as some of the songs say, it does seem that ‘home is wherever I am with you’.

I just never lived in my heart before. And I must sing more songs to Myself!

Live in your heart

Candle in Cappodocia Cave

“If light is in your heart you will find your way home.”- Rumi


A Michaelangelo Moment at the Veggie Patch

Michaelangelo was known to have said,

“In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”

This is not a Michaelangelo sculpture (it’s the only pic I have!)

Today whilst weeding the veggie patch I had a Michaelangelo moment.

While a sculptor chips away the unwanted part of the stone block to reveal the figure beneath, I realised that removing weeds in a veggie patch is also about removing the parts that are unhelpful, so what remains is able to thrive into something…beautiful.

And perhaps it is the same for our true selves!

Let me explain. As I was pulling the weeds from the earth I was struck by the fact that the weeds were getting sustenance from the same fertiliser and straw that me and my lovely housemates had lain months ago. And whilst our intention was to grow veggies, inevitably it was also weeds that started to thrive on the same carefully laid mix of soil and chook poo. Free loaders!

There are clever weeds.

Yes smart weeds! They grow very close to the roots of veggies and I saw them hiding under lettuce leaves and getting intimately close to our radishes. In many cases it was difficult to tell the difference between the weed and veggie – okay it’s been very cold dark winter so there were a lot of overgrown weeds. I’m also a city kind of guy (steak comes from the supermarket right?). But you get the drift.

So it was my job this morning, instead of the sculptor revealing the true beauty of the stone, to reveal the ‘true’ beauty of the veggie patch underneath. Quite a challenge but I appreciated the time for brief reflection during this madly busy time of my life.

Every time I ripped a weed out by the roots it was like redirecting some kind of energy from the soil back to the veggie;  I could almost hear an audible veggie sigh of relief! (Hmm I wonder what sound they make when we eat them!)

So to bring it back to me, because it’s all about me :), if I am like a veggie patch, what weeds am I pulling out? What parts of me do I need to remove, which are sapping my energy and could be better redirected to more healthy parts of me that I need to grow? Hmmm

Some have deeper roots than others.

Being left to grow there longer it was incredibly satisfying to pull these out by the roots, but there was a different kind of joy in pulling out the smaller ones knowing that they wouldn’t have a chance to grow into bigger weeds.

But be prepared for collateral damage.

If you’re not careful it’s quite easy to unintentionally damage a veggie while weeding, especially when they’re grown close together. As I was throwing away the weeds I was also struck by the amount of nutrient rich soil still stuck to the roots of the weeds – you know it’s good for the veggie patch but surely all the poking around has got to hurt the civilians a bit.

I find it peculiar, and a little distressing that I’m not always aware of these things.

Next time I crunch into a delicious piece of lettuce or pick some parsley, perhaps I’ll remember the weeds and what’s come before. After all, when we look at a Michaelangelo sculpture we don’t often consider the bits of broken stone that must have been left lying on his studio floor.


Cocoons and butterflies

A man found a cocoon. One day a small opening appeared; he sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through the little hole.

Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could and could go no further.

Then the man decided to help the butterfly, so he took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily, but it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings.

The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that, at any moment the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time.

Neither happened.

In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of his life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings and was never able to fly.

In his kindness and haste the man did not understand that the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening of the cocoon was a way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.

(adapted from a story by Sandy)

An Imperfect Story

(Reflections on my year as a student of The School for Social Entrepreneurs 2011, excerpt from Finding My Tribe – Stories of Melb2 students)

When I speak about Beyond Words, I often use the metaphor of a painting. It goes something like: We all have lights and darks and during times of illness and impending loss we tend to focus on the dark bits (the illness or what will be lost). What the process of telling and reflecting on one’s story does is that it helps us to step away from the painting – to see the dark areas in the context of the greater picture or story of our lives and what has been gained. To see the good and hard times as colour and to appreciate the contrasts. But what kind of story does someone tell whose business is to help others tell theirs?

This is actually not as easy as you might expect.

“Step away from the painting!” as I stand transfixed, face one inch away from a dark blob on the canvas of my life. Haha

You see, through being a volunteer biographer in the original service, I developed many skills like listening and empathy to help others attain some perspective and a greater awareness and connection. I prided myself on my gentle approach with clients – but what about being gentle with myself?

Somebody Embody

Am I ‘embodying’ my project? This was a question that would regularly come up for me. How could I be working on a project that embodies self-acceptance, awareness, celebration and relationship when I felt in my heart that I was struggling at being self aware, not accepting of my faults, not coming to terms with ‘mistakes’ and disconnected to the relationships most important to me –my relationship to myself included! Huh?

Battle with myself

I may not have known it at the time, but it has been a journey to not only find the strength, belief and confidence within but to find ways to be more gentle on myself, to come to terms with who I am and to really care for myself. Helping my father write his biography was one step in reminding me about why I am doing the project, and I resolve now to know my ‘danger and comfort zones’ and prioritise the things that nourish and sustain me.

To have had this personal battle in the company of such like-minded, passionate and compassionate people has truly been a privilege.

When the student is ready the teacher will appear

I didn’t know there would be so many.

In our year together I have witnessed. I have shared in the power of: vulnerability, pertubation, grace, intuition and insight, values, enjoying the ride, inevitability, the group, action, letting go, friendship and presence. I have also shared in the growth of others and they have seen it in me.

When I have presented at conferences I talk about the process of storytelling and how stories can evoke meanings and emotions in those listening or reading. It’s true. In your hopes, fears, frustrations and achievements I have seen my own.

I am not a freak
I am not an imposter
I am not alone


You’re having a zen moment during a pitch to Macquarie
You’re actually surprised by your own father’s story
You’re having a heart to heart with a stranger in Newcastle
You’re now in a meeting with two volunteers looking to you to lead them
You just asked the CEO of a Victorian peak body if they’d be a Board Member and they said ‘Yes’
You’ve just been endorsed by three industry peak bodies
You just met your guru on leadership Meg Wheatley
You just got incorporated. You just got DGR status
You didn’t get the grant you wanted but instead got one for Awesomeness
You surprised yourself! (You inspired yourself)

The beginning at the end

I’ve seen it before. I recognised it in that moment.

A smile that appears when someone is talking to you. It says, “How AWESOME is it that I’m able to be doing what I do!? Almost a smile to themselves. It says, “How AMAZING is it that I’m able to do what I love!?” How cool is it that I’m here telling you about it!” And I’m doing it.” And when you see this you can’t help but smile yourself. It’s infectious.

Standing by the bar at the Panama Dining Room on Smith St I had met someone who loved what they were doing.

I had found a home.

Being a volunteer biographer taught me to listen from the heart. SSE has helped me to speak from it. Through SSE I have walked along side others who care and believe enough to make it happen in their own way. I learnt to learn through action and my peers, instead of books. I have tried to transform my attitude to making mistakes – more to be done here! (mistakes that is… and lessons!)

I’ve tried to be more comfortable with not knowing everything. To be comfortable with uncertainty, the unknown and imperfection – to make the path by walking. I have found and lost and found the courage to be myself. To trust myself. To be okay with imperfect. I must remember to enjoy the ride!

You have all been my teachers – reminding me that the answers and strength is within if I choose to seek it. Thank you to all of you who have seen me, accepted me, challenged me and supported me (and your hugs are awesome too!). You’ve been incredibly generous in sharing so much of yourselves and the important work you do.


Life in a Day

Ridley Scott asked people around the world to film their lives and answer a few simple questions. They received 4,500 hours of video from 192 countries. All of it shot on a single day – 24th July 2010.

I just saw this movie at the Melbourne International Film Festival. What an amazing example of collaborative storytelling on a global level! So evocative and after seeing it I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Whose stories are we celebrating?” and “Which stories should we celebrate and remember?” On so many levels this film resonated with me. In fact, leaving the cinema and walking along busy Swanston St, I couldn’t help but sense the unique stories of everyone I was passing. Super human powers…!? Hmmm if only this switch was always on.

When asked what success means to him, a friend of mind replied, “Success is just the stuff that happens everyday.” For me, the Life in a Day film is not only about the diversity of human experience but so much more.

Doing good things in the world can be hard.

It can mean a lot of personal sacrifice and risk taking in the face of uncertainty and chaos. Much like telling your own story, trying to do good things can mean putting yourself out there for people to judge and criticise you. But I’ve realised that the doing isn’t really the full story – the doing good things part is all possible because of the hardest thing – the being.

Being vulnerable
Being open to change (and being changed)
Being the change you want to see in the world
Being authentic
Being imperfect
And just being… well… human

Defining Moments

(Tribute to the Founder of volunteer biography)

Chills down my spine
Is this really happening?
I’ve only known him for one hour!
Surely he doesn’t want this?
He doesn’t know anything about me…

“Hello Jenny?”
“Yes Francis?”
“I have something to talk to you about. It’s about my session with my client. I’m not sure how I feel about it… I’ve just come home from my second session and at the end he said that he wanted to do something to express his gratitude.”
“So I suggested he write a letter to the organisation. He just looked at me then, thought about it, and said,
‘Actually I want to do something more’.
‘Oh what’s that? I said to him.
‘I’ve written something in my journal and I want you to include it in my biography’, he said. Jenny, he’s written a letter thanking everyone for helping him – by name. He goes through to describe how grateful he is that he’s visited by each of the nurses, his art therapist, his massage therapist and family support worker. In the last paragraph he mentions me… He’s written about how the biography process has been the highlight of the service and he mentions me…
He wants to include this letter IN his biography…
I’m just not sure how I feel about it….”

We went on to talk about this in more detail. Who was I to be mentioned in his biography (when he had basically just only met me)?

You pointed out to me that it was clearly important for him to thank me (and the organisation) in his own way.  His dying wish should be honoured and it took some time for me to put my own hang ups aside and let him have the opportunity to express his gratitude in his own unique way.  I still think about this moment and perhaps one day I’ll fully understand it.

I know that I haven’t been the same since.

Of course, with much hesitation and unease I agreed to insert his letter directly into his biography.  He proceeded to dedicate whole chapter tributes to not only each member of his family but also ‘everyday’ people; people he did not necessarily know by name but who had helped him in ‘small’ but ultimately significant ways.  It was clear that he was a very special man – with an insight and deep appreciation of things.  His memory still inspires me to this day.

I went on to finally go to Europe after this.  This was something I had been dreaming about and putting off for five years and no doubt my first experience with biography had a lot to do to do with this being the ‘time of my life’.  I truly embraced all that came during those travels.

The altruism myth?

I struggle with the whole notion of volunteer biography sometimes – am I really being altruistic when I feel like I’m getting so much out of it?  Why am I so ‘happy’ doing this?

In the same phone conversation from above, I remember talking about this with you on the phone.  You told me that I’m not alone in feeling like I’m getting ‘too much’ out of the process, and that other volunteers commonly express the same thing.

There’s so much I don’t know about what makes you tick, but I think you understand that people are most happiest when they’re helping others and when they can do this while being true to themselves.

Biography IS listening, listening, listening

But it is also listening with our hearts.

Every time we speak and interact you seem to embody this. Where does it come from…?  I think what makes it infectious is that you live the values inherent in biography, affirming us as individuals in the same way that we do our best to celebrate our client’s individual stories.

The Power of Stories

I often think about another one of my clients.  A man’s man.  Ex-army. Show no fear.  Bawdy.  Loud and larger than life. I think about him, biography yet unfinished, being wheeled into an emergency operation at hospital and calling out instructions to his wife about what she should tell me to write in his biography…

Sometimes this kind of thing scares me, but you’ve supported me through these moments with a gentleness and sensitivity that is simply amazing.

This same man, stoic and unemotional, went on to drop the L word during one of our sessions. I think I did a double-take…

Privilege: adj.  A peculiar benefit, or favour; a right not enjoyed by others or by all; special enjoyment of a good; a prerogative; advantage

Biography has opened up a whole new world of people I would never have met and stories I would never possibly get to hear.  It reminds me of the beauty in the ordinary everyday stories that make up our lives and my challenge is to communicate this to people in ways they can understand and ultimately be inspired by.

Gratitude n. The state of being grateful; warm and friendly feeling toward a benefactor; kindness awakened by a favour received; thankfulness

Jenny you have planted a great seed within me, helped me find my meaning and purpose.  Please know that while I’m leaping into my various endeavours such as completing my PhD, writing or presenting a paper, or creating an enterprise, I’ll be doing so with you and all that you’ve achieved in mind.

Francis Icasiano