When we talk of Belonging, we are likely to think first of personal psychological issues. Do we feel part of a family, a group, a community? Are we connected to a place? Whom do we belong to? We may think back through personal history for signs or memories of feeling disconnected, the pain of exclusion, being slighted in some way. We may explore the origins of those feelings as well as the conditions of feeling connected, included and loved.
We might also consider the routine isolation and alienation of modern daily life. In our narrow self-oriented explorations, some of these memories are as primal wounds, as if they define us. As if they are ours alone. Feeling excluded and separate strikes deeply into our psyche, particularly in these unsteady times.
Conventional psychology tells us that our discontent is our problem. We must “fix” ourselves with “activity,” therapy or medication. We must reintegrate the disconnection we experience within ourselves from wounded parts that we have walled off and separated from the identity we prefer to present to the world, as if they don’t belong to “us.” We must seek love within or fall in love with something or someone. Regardless of the depth or meaning of these memories, they represent only a limited dimension of Belonging. Belonging becomes only a relative condition, a dimension of a personal history that is strictly our own, that doesn’t extend beyond our family of origin.
I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.
I circle around God,
around the primordial tower.
I’ve been circling for thousands of years
and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?
The only reason we even talk of belonging is because we experience ourselves as separate. Even more fundamental is our clinging to our separate identities, as if such a thing as a separate self exists in any ultimate sense. We may not routinely experience union, but according to thinkers such as Bill Plotkin or Ken Wilber, that’s due to our continued immaturity in relation to the world, the cosmos. Likewise, the Buddhist view is that a fundamental source of suffering is this idea of a separate self. Loneliness is based on the idea of a separate self. For them, this is the deepest wound of all.
Belonging is primarily a way of knowing, a way of seeing and of being. We were not always alone. At one time we knew we were everything, but we did not know that in the conventional way of knowing, a conceptual or cerebral knowing. It wasn’t even as if we felt we belonged. We did not distinguish between feeling and knowing. We simply were everything. Before language.
I know I am not my body. My body is an expression of an ongoing interaction of my consciousness with the earth. So also is your body. My body is an agreement I am making in every moment between two streams of awareness, my self-awareness and my not-self awareness, the earth, producing one sentience.
I belong to my family,
strangers in a karmic soup of
blindness and light,
penetrating into awakening, even beyond death,
to a common purpose, a puzzle that cannot
be fully assembled, words beyond a single language,
a line of being stretching backward into a storm of actions,
an accumulation of knowing slower than rock.
I belong to my relations,
to those who have borne me, pushed on me,
slaked my thirst for connection, ignored me,
rebuked me, praised me, taught me,
guided me, punished me, loved me, tried to know me,
who gave up trying, walked with me, against me,
slowed danced, tumbled into bed with me,
prayed with me, cursed with me,
breathed with me.
What I belong to is the earth and this body. When I look at you, I see your version of that agreement, your consciousness interacting with material reality, creating a unique expression of spirit enjoying itself. I belong to you as much as I belong to anything, to the same degree and in the same way. We belong to each other in that same way, down to the very genes we have traded. I am part of you. You are part of me. We grew up together over eons. We form each other as we form ourselves.
We do not belong to each other as mere ripples on the surface of life. That is the extent of the limited realm of psychology…not that psychology is not important. In healing the internal rifts that separate us from parts of ourselves, we become more available to a larger sphere of belonging. If we dwelt only on the surface, we would miss the vast ocean of Belonging, which sustains all and to which all belongs. The internal healing process is crucial to our maturation into eco-beings, cosmic citizens.
Martin Prechtel says that if we do not grieve properly, then that for which we grieve was never truly alive. So I grieve. We grieve for what was alive in us, with us and for us. I grieve for what was alive in you as recently as the last moment, for that to which we all belong. If we grieve properly, then we must also praise what is alive right now. How can we do otherwise but praise what is alive now, the aliveness in you and the aliveness that we all are?
In truly grieving, praising and belonging, we become the watchtower, the storm and the falcon all at once. Our circle of caring extends to all things. When I look at you I see the pristine silence of a white birch forest telling me a story, the snows of the Himalaya, a mammal of the sea, a coyote, the root system of all life. In knowing I belong to all that, I can belong to you and you can fully belong to me.
The only reason we can do to the earth and to each other what we do on a routine basis is because we do not fully belong to ourselves, and are not sufficiently mindful of how we belong to each other. What the earth is doing, because it cannot do otherwise, is reflecting back to us what we have lost.