Territorial Tendencies“ The practice of soulful travel is to discover the overlapping point between history and everyday life, the way to find the essence of every place, every day: in the markets, small chapels, out-of-the-way parks, craft shops. Curiosity about the extraordinary in the ordinary moves the heart of the traveler intent on seeing behind the veil of tourism.”   — Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage

As we travel through the United States and parts of Canada, the meaning of “territorialism” is shifting for me as it unfolds into a repeated theme. I used to vaguely associate this word with countries and canines. Living without a permanent home, however, I see how we often try to safeguard our property as an extension of who we are.

We drove to our Airbnb apartment in Toronto in the early evening. The neighborhood looked promising with its quaint porches and well-tended gardens. As soon as we pulled into the driveway, the older neighbor and his wife stared at us intently as if we were trespassing. We waved timidly, and they did not wave back. As we were unloading, they continued to stare. The older gentleman finally called my husband over and said, “See this yellow line. This side is my property, and that side is that owner’s property.” We could all see the yellow line that divided the driveway, but we were not over the yellow line. Our car was parked on the right side of the yellow line and not a tire tread over his side. He said that if we parked on our side of the yellow line then his four children could not visit him, and they could not get out once they were parked.

I tried to ask him about the parking across the street, but all he kept reiterating is the yellow line issue. I just walked away and heard him say to my husband that he did not like smart people while gesturing toward the house we were staying at.

Territorial TendenciesI thought about him on and off that the evening and felt irritation and confusion. My husband was worried that the older neighbors would damage our car out of spite. As the days went by, I realized how sad and lonely his life must be that he has to argue for keeping a space clear along his house in case he had visitors. Every time we went out and came back in, he was telling his plight about guarding his territory to some other older neighbor and pointing to our car. His identity and life were very tied to his property and his home. We were there for about a week and finally saw some visitors arrive for him.

As we judge others for their habits, we often trip over the same tendencies in ourselves. I thought about the bathroom we were sharing with another guest in Toronto, and before we met the guest, we were assessing the stuff he had in the bathroom. I was happy to put our toiletries in the bathroom, so I did not have to rummage through our travel bags for it. My husband had a concern that the guest may use our stuff that we took time to hand pick because of my sensitivity to products. I didn’t really care if he used our stuff as long as we did not have to use his Axe products that are heavily scented. In this little way, I discovered that we were acting territorial about the little things that didn’t matter.

This territorial tendency showed up in the same way with the food we would put into the shared fridges of homes we were staying at. Our hosts were so gracious about sharing their food and drinks that I quickly learned to stop worrying about safeguarding our groceries. We loved to prepare a meal for the same people who opened their homes to us. It was a small way that we could show our gratitude to our lovely hosts. These meals would be made with the tomatoes from their garden, shared with the wine that they made in the basement and the herbs that they collected. Our hosts gifted us back with conversation, and we benefitted from their unique perspectives and wisdom gleaned from their experiences.

I also learned from our dog’s personal reaction to the changing scenery. Canines Territorial Tendenciesare notorious for guarding a piece of turf, property that they can claim as theirs. It gives them a sense of purpose to protect their home and family members. Our dog Peanut, the Puggle princess, was often confused on this trip because her sense of territory kept shifting every couple of days as we moved from one host family or Airbnb. No matter how many times she peed on the grass outside the home, she could not claim her temporary home for long. As time went by, she started to feel more at ease with the changing scenery of her homes. She would do her best to be watchdog to the place we were at short-term and understood that every time we loaded the car did not mean we would abandon her. Peanut even learned to share her space with other dogs and strangers. She taught me to see that change and sharing are not signs of danger or panic. They are signs of our evolution beyond our fear of the unknown and also our tendencies towards selfishness.

We may all harbor aspects of territorial tendencies and some of it is obviously necessary, but we must clear out the petty aspects of it to open our experiences to the joyful sharing of our homes, meals and conversations. If we hide behind our tall fences hoarding all that is inside, we will isolate ourselves from the community right outside our doorstep.  We do not need to guard our turf but instead need to find ways to break free of the boundaries that separate us from others.

Tagged on:                     

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *