Coaching Moments: Hiraeth

I wrote this post a couple of years ago for my old coaching association, thinking I might be able to reprise my Coaching Moments column. However, the posts got very little response, so I knew that the time had come to simply walk away.

I like this piece, though, so I’m sharing and archiving it here. I like how its message isn’t just for coaches, but for writers, artists and any empath who inhabits an inner world rich with metaphors.


“When you are adrift from your core, the space between your surface and your depth fills up with anxiety. Too much time away from your inner home leads to homesickness.” ~ Carrie McCarthy and Danielle La Porte

All coaching, in some way, involves guiding folk home to themselves; it makes sense to me, then, that coaches constantly redefine and hone the metaphors of journeys, soulmaps and home.  That’s what brought me back here after so many years away.

Are you ever haunted by a deep longing for home? Homesickness for a home you can’t go back to, or a home which has never even existed? Homesickness woven with inextricable strands of grief or loss? Of yearning, nostalgia or wistful longing?

The Welsh have a word for it… hiraeth.

I think we all feel it sometimes, but those of us who’ve lived a bit longer, who’ve perhaps experienced diminished health or menopause, who’ve had to let go of loved ones, jobs or places, who’ve seen children grow up and leave home, may feel it more intensely; those of us who are starting to feel like survivors may sometimes have a deeper yearning for a haven that doesn’t feel like a haunted house.

Hiraeth is what I feel when I drive several times a week to the small Scottish town where I grew up. My childhood home is long gone and the fields and woods where I used to play are covered in houses now. Home stopped being home when my mum died, and even though my dad is still alive, he’s ninety-one, and there are days when I miss him even when I’m with him.

Hiraeth is what I feel when I miss my kids, even though they’re at university and thriving. I miss the feel of their tiny hands in mine, the smell of newly washed hair and seeing them wide-eyed and full of wonder; I miss the giggling and the messy rooms, their friends, the music and the endless creation of snacks and meals.

I miss the online life I built to fit around my family, my regular Coaching Moments column and the thriving blogging community that I lost during my long periods offline, putting family first.

I’ve spent years tinkering with my blog, recalibrating, changing the tagline and creating new themes. I call it blog-gardening – the pruning, weeding, rearranging, cultivating, propagating and planting that most of us do in our websites and blogs. In some ways, it’s a yearning for home, a craving for simplicity, for clarity of purpose, clear communication, connection and creative renewal.

Yesterday, I had a blinding flash of inspiration, an idea for a new domain name that expresses who I am now and how I live my life. It was one of my favourite Greek words, a one-word domain that thrilled me like a homecoming when I thought of it. I rushed to check its availability and found it had been taken a few weeks ago. Just weeks ago. Like a blind date that had waited hopefully and patiently for years, then, on hearing the universe whisper “I don’t think she’s coming…” had walked off happily with someone else, just as I’d turned the corner. I felt sudden and inexplicable hiraeth.

The feeling got worse as I switched on the TV news, and saw yet more images of Greece struggling to help and feed hundreds of thousands of refugees whose communities and loved ones have gone, who are carrying home in a backpack and in the terrified eyes of their children. I see displaced and devastated families desperate to make new homes, fighting for what so many of us take for granted – food, shelter, safety…

The intensity of hiraeth connects me with every human on the planet who has ever loved and lost or longed for home. I feel immense gratitude for every moment I breathe, for all that I have and all that I am, for having loved and been loved enough to feel loss, but there are times when that gratitude brings little joy, only survivors’ guilt, empathy exhaustion and a longing to rest for a while, to refuel my soul for my own journey home.

Lots of coaches I know are empaths, deeply sensitive and intuitive people who were called to coaching as a way to heal themselves and the world. We’ll have a new IAC website soon; let’s make it a spiritual, online home, a place where coaches from all over the world can gather for mutual support, inspiration and a sense of belonging.

(First published in March, 2016)


    1. Thank you, Barbra. I always hope you’ll find and like the longer pieces that I enjoy writing with coaches in mind. I’m sorry it’s taken so long to respond; I’ve had a challenging week, but to be honest, I was also a bit scared to log on to see how this piece had landed. As you know, I struggled when VOICE first became a blog and lost its identity as a ‘newsletter’ with regular columns, but my confidence was really rocked when it became highly integrated into social media – more so when the website supposedly became translatable. I checked out some of the translations and was heartbroken; I don’t exactly have a factual style in English and I enjoy making up words, so goodness knows what coaching colleagues all over the world made of those lyrical pieces in translation. There’s one more Coaching Moments piece left to archive here, then after that, who knows.

  1. Bringing this post back is spookily synchronistic! I’m emerging from several days of rekindled grieving for my past home/city of 38 years and two lost loved ones. Reading your post, particularly the following words, I feel ‘witnessed’ and reminded of the larger spiritual dimension: “The intensity of hiraeth connects me with every human on the planet who has ever loved and lost or longed for home.” Beautiful! Thank you.

    1. Thank you, Connie, not just for reading this piece again (I’d forgotten you caught it first time around) and for telling me it was “spookily synchronistic” (an empath’s soulfood!) but because you always make me feel witnessed and heard. You have such a coach’s gift for mirroring. When I see my words standing alone, vulnerable, removed from the comforting context of a comment or a piece, that new, altered perspective enables me to reconnect to the original impulse, the emotion that overflowed and rebirthed itself in words.

      It can be so heartbreaking when grief cycles round and morphs into a form that’s new enough to slip under the radar and sweep the legs from under you. Seasons trigger me more than actual dates or anniversaries… smells, sounds, trees, the weather, the times of the year when certain items start appearing in the shops. And on top of all that, is the never changing desire to share things with people who are no longer in any kind of physical realm. I hope you’re OK.

  2. So apt and timely as always for me Janice. Thanks so much for giving expression to feelings and experiences that some of us struggle to articulate. You have such a wonderful gift.

    1. Oh, Gwyn, you have no idea how glad I am that you still visit and still read these! Thank you so much. And just for the record? I think you articulate your thoughts and feelings beautifully. I feel like anything I write now in response to your comment above would diminish its power. You’ve captured one of the essential strands of why I write and why, after soul searching and blog-gardening every year, I choose to keep the original title of my blog, despite it being such an awful cliché. Sharing with like-minded folk heals me, and I know that the people who take the time to visit here, whether they comment or not, are gifting me and everyone else with the power of their presence and empathy. This is one of my favourite quotes of all time:

      Holy listening, to “listen” another’s soul into life, into a condition of disclosure and discovery, may be almost the greatest service that any human being ever performs for another (or oneself). ~ Douglas Steere

      I really hope you’re well.

  3. Hello Janice, it’s great to see you building up your archive here, always good to have your stuff under your own roof!

    I didn’t know the word hiraeth, it reminds me a bit of the Gaelic word ‘cianalas’ which is an intense feeling of homesickness for a place (generally the highlands and islands). A very well known phenomenon!

    1. Hi, Joanna. For years I’ve felt a bit guilty that I have a wee collection of foreign words for that kind of home-soul sickness and have sung about it in Greek and Portuguese, but have never known the word for it in Gaelic. But now I do – thank you! (I’ll google the pronunciation.) I wish I could master the technology of getting tracks from my personal music collection into the blog, as the Capercaillie album The Blood Is Strong is what I used to listen to when I lived abroad and felt homesick for Scotland, even though I couldn’t understand a word!

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