Belonging. Belong. A simple verb and feeling that can consciously and unconsciously steer the direction we take, the choices we make and ultimately how we feel. For such a common word, it really does encapsulate volumes of our experience and needs. It’s most often felt when it’s missing, it’s the absence of belonging that hurts so much, that we feel so intensely. An aching in our bones for our place, our community and the peace that comes from belonging, from not needing to keep reaching for this intangible thing. Because really, belonging encompasses so much more don’t you think?
Belonging is a comforting embrace from loved ones, a sense of peace, a big sigh of relief, as you allow yourself to express, share and be authentic. It’s a space of such safety and security there is no filter, no censoring of your feelings, your thoughts and your actions. You know all aspects of yourself are welcome, there is no inkling of ever feeling that you may be “too much” or “not enough”. Just an easy and effortless flow of freedom, spaciousness and acceptance. And belonging is often sought outside of oneself. We wish to belong in our families, our friendship groups, our communities and our workplaces. But what if, instead of seeking externally, we began searching closer to home? Within these bodies we inhabit. What does it look like to belong internally? We are the only person we live with for our entire lives, every single moment of every single day. How amazing and surreal. Yet often, belonging to ourselves is not a priority. From an early age we are taught through tacit unspoken agreements, that we can expect to find, and are indeed encouraged to search for belonging in friendships, romantic partnerships and organisations and communities outside of ourselves. And this unspoken guidance explicitly tells us we do not belong to ourselves. We will not feel the contentment, peace and spaciousness of belonging, without outsourcing. For the only way is to always look for belonging externally through your achievements, your friendships, your communities and workplace. There is no guiding thoughts or narratives, unspoken or implicitly implied, that direct you to go home to yourself. And to be denied this belonging, that is one of the most painful experiences we go through as humans. I wonder, if we cultivated this sense of safety and belonging internally, how might these external experiences change? Would the pain be lessened somewhat? Would the experiences cease to be painful at all? Or perhaps they’d become more of a dull ache then the heart piecing emptiness we can feel?
If I had cultivated a sense of belonging from a young age, would my 13 year old self felt less abandoned, lost and hurt when her two best friends (and only friends) in high school decided they didn’t want to be friends anymore? What if I had created this feeling of completeness, a safe haven and a home, inside of myself, instead of desperately seeking it from others? Would the desire to run and hide, to never return to school have been a different experience? Perhaps I would not have been so devastated by this callous act from two teenage girls, and spent my lunchtimes reading in the library wishing the time would would pass faster? Would my teenage years have been different? Would I have made all the same choices if I had a solid sense of self, founded in belonging to myself? Who’s to say. Maybe all of those years I spent pushing boundaries, partying and drinking myself into oblivion would have been different? Or maybe, I would have made all the same choices, and behaved in all the same ways. Who’s to say? At 16, when I had my first serious relationship, I can now see how many unconscious desires I carried into it, in my quest to belong, to someone, somewhere, to feel anchored and connected. There are countless examples and I wonder how this unacknowledged longing has influenced and impacted my relationships? At times the desire to belong ends in self destructive ways, and as I reminisce and remember the most emotive experiences of my life, it often stemmed from feeling the sense of belonging, or the opposite. Feeling bereft, adrift and alone.
At times it seems to be the most inconsequential actions and choices, the deliberate missing invitation from a friend, the assumptions that you’re not interested in the activities they have planned.. the denial of your feelings, your thoughts and your ideas. And then there is the sense of being seen, heard, understood, that come with belonging. And these feelings are just as impactful and trigger my vulnerabilities in a different way. Because it inevitably ends, as all things do. And I find myself seeking certainty and the comforting illusions of safety it tantalises me with, which is simply impossible. And the pain when it inevitably ends is all consuming. At the time, I didn’t understand my reactions when I was leaving Mauritius after a 6 week volunteering trip. I was confused by the sadness I felt to be leaving that beautiful tropical island and the volunteers I had spent 6 weeks working and living with (one of whom I couldn’t stand!). When we parted ways at the airport, it was amidst tears of goodbyes from all of us and promises to visit in the future, whenever we found ourselves in Europe or other parts of Australia. And throughout this experience I couldn’t fathom why I was so upset and so affected by leaving this trip. I’d travelled many times before and not felt this way. Upon reflection, it’s clear. Amongst the sandy beaches, the boat trips on the clear turquoise waters and snorkelling in the coral reefs and counting fish, I felt a sense of belonging. In our shared purpose, our shared meals and our work, and amongst the conversations and weekend adventures exploring with these same people, and the local families who so generously welcomed us for meals and to share their culture. And when I spent 6 months backpacking in South America, I felt a sense of community, support and understanding I had rarely experienced. I connected with other travellers who shared the same perspectives, desire to learn, to explore and question our underlying assumptions and beliefs. I encountered people who welcomed my quirks, my depth, my adventurous spirit and my endless curiosity for life, meaning and understanding. I met many people from many different parts of the world, who I shared little in common with, yet somehow, we connected and co-created a profound sense of acceptance and belonging. The times were often fleeting, and always temporary, however I still carry the remnants of that peace and contentment I found over a shared meal, cooking together in hostels or shared adventures on local buses and adventures. And when it came time to return home, the overwhelming anxiety I was consumed with, stemmed from the fear of not belonging. I recall sitting in the smokers lounge of the New Zealand airport, waiting for my last flight home. Nervously smoking in the hopes it would calm my anxious mind and heart. I met a wise woman there, who was on her way to Australia to pack up her recently deceased mothers house. And even in her grief, she held space for me to share my angst and my fears and offered words of comfort and advice. Looking back it is so clear, I was afraid of returning to a place that was largely unchanged, when I was returning reborn, a stranger in a once familiar land. Inexplicably altered by all I had learnt, unlearnt, felt and understood. And I was terrified of returning to empty space. Void of the community, the connections, the acceptance and the place of belonging and being exactly who I was, which I was so accustomed too from travelling. How different might my return have been, if I’d cultivated that sense of belonging within? I’ve always been comfortable in my own company, and can happily spend hours reading, writing, drawing or creating jewellery, exploring and hiking. Yet belonging to yourself feels different. It’s a sense of completion, of contentment, and of being aware of and meeting your own needs, to the extent that it is possible. I would never advocate that we do not need others, we are relational beings. We thrive in community and relationships. More so, that we can focus on being more aware of our needs, our desires and expectations perhaps, if we create a sense of home and belonging within ourselves. And how much this change the way we show up for ourselves, our friends, family and all those we interact with?
In many ways Covid-19 is illuminating our innermost yearnings and desires. Throughout 2020, as our ways of being, connecting, belonging and living are irrefutably altered. Permanently or temporarily, who can say? The status quo’s no longer exist. Consistently challenged and changed, our lives appear more uncertain and unpredictable, or we are simply more aware of what it has always been. This year is illuminating the prism of interconnected aspects of life and belonging is simply one of many intersecting themes that we are individually and collectively experiencing. And our desire and need to belong, inevitably highlights the relationships we have, with ourselves and those around us, for we are in relationship with all that is. We think of ourselves individually, yet there are many examples in both eastern and western philosophy which tells a very different story. We exist and have a sense of self, of place and space, in relation to and because of others. For without a reference of another how do we have a reference of self? We are on a continuum, moving between the two, and at times occupying both ends. For whilst we may feel individual in mind, physically this is anything but true. We have 75 trillion different microbes living in and on our body! We breathe the same oxygen, drink from the same rivers and share the same sun. We feel the same energies and observe the same phenomena inside and out. Even our mind that we may be so attached too, convinced it’s our defining point of difference, is similar to another. It’s all the same, and the same overarching illusions dance between us, telling the same lies to you, me and all of us. Some of us have become more attuned to the stories and the falsehoods. And our shared consciousness. Some remain attached to the idea that they are different, special somehow. Yet the idea of difference, special is dangerous. It leads to entitlement and disregard. This is how we pollute, destroy and take advantage of that which surrounds, without scarcely a thought for the implications, the consequences. And it all returns to this elusive intangible concept of the self. What informs your current sense or concept of or idea of self? Is it a myth, a tale of the heroine’s journey? Do you ever ponder the mythology of self? There are many.
After all, myth and story are how we make sense of life, ourselves and our experiences. The prominent myth of self that we are constantly absorbing, reinforced from so many angles and in so many different ways you never stop to question it? Our current society values and exalts the myth of the individual.We are consistently sold the hero’s journey. As with all ideas, constructs, beliefs and myths we need to interrogate them. Why is this so? What are the origins? Who benefits from this mythology? Wha does this myth have to teach us? What may be the deeper lesson(s), what is the medicine for our souls and what are the danger(s) we are being warned about? For myth and mythology is a living, breathing entity. As time passes, myths are retold, they are born anew, carrying with them the influence of the story teller. Subtly and incrementally they shift and change. And the myth of individualism that remains so prominent, first and foremost serves the insatiable appetite of the economy. So it is built upon exalting individuality, preserving against all odds, and we forget there are so many more mythologies and archetypes. After all, life is incredibly diverse, experiencing itself in a myriad of ways. And we too experience a myriad of selves as we are born and reborn throughout each lifetime. Dying a series of small deaths with each limiting belief we release, each falsehood we choose to let go, when we choose to be free of each rigid identity and box we’ve crammed ourselves into. I used to grieve the small deaths, and now I find myself celebrating them, with reverence for who I was all the while I am becoming, and honoring that becoming. It’s a never ending journey, with peaks and troughs. Yet it’s mine, and I’m beyond grateful for the opportunity to experience it, always conscious that I’m inextricably connected to all that is. By the air we breath, the lands, the waters, the trees and the flowers. The birds, the 4 legged ones and the ever changing skies. A great cosmic dance of life we are forever intertwined with and simultaneously experiencing.