Where Do You Belong?

There’s a practice of yoga and Hinduism called Neti, Neti. It translates to ‘not this, not that’ or ‘neither this, nor that.’ It is a process of inquiry to discover and experience the true nature of reality, which is beyond words and labels.

This practice is often used as a discernment and contemplative practice to feel into what we want to move toward; that which feels most aligned with our life purpose. I have often heard, ‘neti, neti,’ in my head when moving through life. It would organically pop in, unbeckoned, as a subconsciously running narrative compass.

To be honest, it felt more like a safety barometer than high-minded discernment. Frequently I’ve heard it in relation to groups or communities. ‘Neti, neti,’ not this, I don’t belong here. ‘Neti, neti,’ nor there either.

Over time, it did deliver a truth, this unorthodox practice of neti, neti.  I came to understand and know, eventually, that I actually do belong in all of these spaces that I historically felt like and outsider. I belong to each space in my own, unique way. Even then, it’s only a part of myself that belongs to these spaces. The only place I fully belong is to my own true nature, my core essence. And yet, my own true nature and core essence is inextricably connected to the true nature of reality. No matter what I think, feel or do, by my very nature, I belong to this world.

As Maya Angelou said, “You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.” 

Translation: Once I learn how to stay true and not abandon myself, to stay connected to my own authentic voice and nature, then I am Home.

Belonging is a key quality and trait in human biology and life. We are wired for connecting. The poet David Whyte ennobles potent language to it. Brené Brown researched it and brought it to our collective story. And before either of them, poet and activist Maya Angelou spoke and embodied some of the deepest levels of this human experience and nature of belonging.

If we are to fully belong, we must find that deep and abiding belonging to our own true selves, our own authentic and true nature, before we can fully belong anywhere else. We must promise our self, first and foremost, to the way we are made.

The Journey
Human beings are complex creatures. As mammals we rely on our communities for survival. We are literally biologically wired for belonging. When we come into the world, we are utterly dependent on our caregivers. In this beginning, we are also at one of the closest points to our true nature. What we are lacking initially, however, is experience.

Life promises experience. It tumbles us quite quickly out into our social world. We start with our family, to which we have to find ways to belong. Brené Brown talks about how, more frequently, we find ways to fit in. Some of our most painful points of not belonging come from our core families. Which often becomes wound point #1.

Next we move out into social circles­—friends, extended family, school, and organizations. We’ve already negotiated our way in our family relations, for better or for worse.  Now we adopt the strategies we’ve learned in our first relationships out into a larger world. Which possibly becomes wound point #2.

Then, as we reach adolescence, we now move away from our core families and into our peer relationships as the center of our worlds. Here we have such deep desires to belong with our peers that the inclination to hide or negate our unique selves grips us swiftly and intensely.

It is in these spaces of adolescence that the abandonment of our unique nature solidifies. When this happens—when we feel the need to hide who we are to ultimately fit the world—an emptiness or void follows. Giving ourselves away in adolescence may not have been a conscious decision, but it is a heart-felt experience. Somewhere inside we know something is missing. We have shuttered away a part of our self and dimmed our light.

We spend a large portion of the rest of our lives trying to fill this hole of emptiness with anything that can stifle the ache. Some of us never recover from this wound.

Others of us try to step outside of this paradigm and live life as an outlier. This may help to keep the inner spark of who we are alive, but it, too, encompasses pain. We higher mammals are social creatures. We thrive with social interactions intact. Some of us need more interactions, some less. But when we have to limit our social relations for the safety and preservation of who we are at our core, pain points ensue.

Most of our collective society is still interacting from our wounded adolescent selves.

Some native cultures do not even consider an individual mature until their mid ‘50’s. We are still deeply in our maturation process in our 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. We gather experiences. We may know and embrace parts of our self, but they are probably the parts deemed acceptable by society. The other parts we have hidden away somewhere deep inside. There they wait to be reclaimed.

As a global society, we are just waking up to a true sense of belonging. True belonging only comes when we have excavated, embraced and deeply connected to the core essence of our individual selves AND the parts we have deemed unfit for the world and hidden away. These are often young parts. And they are wounded.

Integration and Wholeness
Human mammals have this amazing uniqueness. We have the possibility to be aware that we have a core essence AND we have the ability and the awareness of not allowing this core essence to be integrated in our expressions we bring into the world. We can hide part of our self to be in our collective communities—in order to fit in and to survive.

Belonging is more than fitting in. Belonging requires a deep inner listening and connection to the core essence at our center—a remembering if you will. It requires that we see, hear and allow this voice to be infused into the part of us we show to the world. It also requires our hidden pieces (our wounds) are also found and brought into this light to be seen, heard and responded to appropriately.

Having this inner compass and center is the only way we can stay true to our deepest level of who we are. It is the only way we heal our wounds. It is a relationship between our human biology, held experiences and our core essence.  This relationship becomes more integrated and familiar over time. All of this requires maturity and experience. It requires deep compassion. It requires holding radically different spaces at the same time.

When this integration happens, we have a sense of belonging to our truest self, which at the same time, allow us to belong to the world at large.  

This remembering of our true essence is a form of being found. On some level, we entrusted this remembering to our parents or whoever raised us. They did their level best with this, even if it looked otherwise. Which it often did.

The experience of truly being found and belonging can only be assisted by others, and then only when we are ready. We have to be willing to let ourselves be found. This reunion, and the absolute magic that arrives with it, can only come from the belonging that is found as we reweave our Self and our wounded pieces—as we re-parent our self if you will—from and into our own true core essence.

It is only here that we can belong everywhere and nowhere all at once.

This is how we heal.