One of our core needs as human beings is to feel that we BELONG somewhere. It is to feel that we are CONNECTED to community, to people who support us, know us and love us.
In indigenous cultures, such as the Aboriginal cultures of Australia, people lived (and sometimes still live) in tribal groups. They stayed together, living in the same area, sleeping in the same area, sharing and eating together, dancing, laughing and making music together. And each member also knew where and how they fit in.
“Our culture connects with the land, with our kinships. We know who we are, what sort of relationships we’ve got within our clan groups, or other clan groups around the Tanami.”- Lynette, Walpiri, Lajamanu, NT
In the kinship system in Aboriginal tribes, everyone is a member of a particular clan or ‘mob’ and they know the intricate links that connect them to all of the other members. This way, they know who they are and how they fit in with all of the others in their tribe or mob. They know that they are a part of something bigger than the small individual self.
Such programs as the SBS’s ‘Who do you think you are’ also address this question of belonging – by asking – where did our ancestors come from, and how does that shape who we are today? It follows the family history of well known personalities, tracing back sometimes four or five generations to how the people came to Australia, and what their particular journey or story was. The idea is that if we are able to understand more of our own personal history, we get more of a sense of how we belong today, and of who we are.
Storyteller and researcher, Brené Brown, has recently released a new book called ‘Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone’.
As stated from the book’s Amazon blurb –
Brown argues that we’re experiencing a spiritual crisis of disconnection, and introduces four practices of true belonging that challenge everything we believe about ourselves and each other. She writes:
“True belonging requires us to believe in and belong to ourselves so fully that we can find sacredness both in being a part of something and in standing alone when necessary. But in a culture that’s rife with perfectionism and pleasing, and with the erosion of civility, it’s easy to stay quiet, hide in our ideological bunkers, or fit in rather than show up as our true selves and brave the wilderness of uncertainty and criticism. But true belonging is not something we negotiate or accomplish with others; it’s a daily practice that demands integrity and authenticity.”
So true belonging is a daily practice that demands integrity and authenticity, and asks us, before anything, to be true to ourselves. In order to be true to ourselves, we have to let go of all of the dynamics of people pleasing and perfectionism, that hide our true selves. We need to practice showing up and being the raw and uncut version of who we are. This is of course not easy if you have developed a habit of people pleasing over many years. This habit will of course have germinated thanks to an intense desire to belong and be accepted, but the end result will not be satisfying, because we have sacrificed our true selves in the name of that belonging – so we might be accepted by those we want to love us, but if we are not showing up as really US, the unedited version, then who is the person who has been loved and accepted? This is an easy way of losing ourselves.
When we don’t know who we are, we might instead seek to define ourselves by our jobs, our bank accounts and what we can produce. Or we might try to buy back our sense of self – designer handbags and expensive active-wear may help us fit in on the surface, yet they are empty promises in the face of authentic, healthy belonging.
To have a sense of healthy belonging in our societies, we need to move from seeing each other as producers / consumers to seeing each other as the magical and beautiful beings that we are.
We may not produce anything in the physical world, but the love and the smiles that we share create heartwarming connection and love wherever we go.
There are people – such as the Indian guru Amma, who have built a whole life and career on this being-ness, because the being-focus is so lacking in our world. This is someone who embodies and spreads love and compassion as her whole life’s mission – and it is like a deep injection of oxygen into a society who’s collective in breath is constricted through the stress of breathing only economy, money and taxes.
To increase belonging, we need to vote out leaders who’s tunnel vision sees only ‘economy’ and who have no vision for a healthy society which is grounded in caring, love and compassion for its humans.
We need to vote in people who see the ever increasing numbers of homeless people on our city streets and see that this is symptomatic of a society which is sick and failing many of its humans.
And on a personal level we need to cultivate healthy relationships, which includes helping each other in developing healthy emotional expression and encouraging each other to be as raw and as real as possible.
Some Inner Practices to Increase Belonging and Connection
- Practice checking with yourself emotionally throughout the day, and see if your outward expression is congruent with your inner feelings. If you notice that there is a big difference between your inner feelings and your outward expression, see if you can take baby steps to more emotional authenticity with people who feel safe for you.
- If you find step one very challenging, you might need some help. Find a good therapist and commit to investigating emotional fluency and expression. This is challenging and deep work but will be extremely rewarding as you are able to slowly express more and more of yourself. As this happens you will notice more and more life energy coming back into your body.
- Practice being more open with your needs. All of us have deep emotional needs – to be seen, heard, felt, met and acknowledged. Try asking for a hug when you need one. Ask a friend to tell you what they love about you. And if you are feeling strong ask them to tell you what they see might be blocking you from full self expression.
Some Outer Practices to Increase Belonging and Connection
- Join a group in your neighbourhood or community that meets regularly to share something that you love, like art, music, writing, yoga, dance.
- Become active in your community, recognise that you can help in the decision making process to make things better – to facilitate a great sense of belonging and connection through things like festivals, open days, connecting the generations in different ways.
- Start a movement! Are you deeply passionate about something? Start a movement and share you passion with the world. Build your own tribe.
- Come to Happy Buddha Retreat! This is a wonderful place for real connection and community – it’s what we are all about. And if you need more than a three day retreat, stay longer as a volunteer. We look forward to connecting with you and showing you how much you belong!
Michelle is a writer, musician, meditation and yoga teacher based in Melbourne. She teaches mindfulness courses and leads yoga retreats. She runs her own business called Inner Alchemy and is available as a coach and mentor.