B is for Belonging

My friend Joan initiated an “experience” in her Facebook group Conflict Navigator Network yesterday (Christmas Eve) and I’m inspired to play along. At least the first day’s prompt resonates with me, so let’s see where this goes.

She calls it The Eight Days of New Year’s BALANCE Experience. As I understood her intro video, she will provide prompts, which when reflected on will guide us to get better prepared for the year ahead.

Her first prompt is to contemplate the word belonging. Here is what comes up for me today.

What does belonging mean to me?

Belonging is one of those words that has multiple layers of meaning. On a superficial level, it means possession of things, such as, my clothes belong to me, ie, I own them. It can also mean something being in the right place, such as, this flower vase belongs on that table.

Happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul.

Democritus

Then there’s belonging to groups, meaning groups you naturally are a part of or a part of by choice. We each belong to the human race and to a family. You may choose to belong to a church or to a political party.

But the deepest meaning of belonging to me is a profound emotional awareness of togetherness. Feeling connected to and accepted by others.

The essential dilemma of my life is between my deep desire to belong and my suspicion of belonging.

Jhumpa Lahiri

What belongs to me?

When I dig into this question to its philosophical roots, I’d say no-things belong to me, at least not in the usual gist of ownership. Yes, maybe not even my clothes. The reality is different, of course; I can still claim I own the things I’ve paid for and others may not take them away from me.

What is it about possessing things? Why do we feel the need to own what we love? And why do we become such jerks when we do? We’ve all been there. You want something, you possess it – and by possessing it, you lose it.

Louis Chunovic

In my younger years I had a much (much!) stronger attachment to the concept of private property. I believed in the potential for good in the capitalist economy, and that can only work when there is strong legal protection of private ownership and individual rights. I’m not as convinced that this economy as it’s playing out today is working to serve most people around the globe—greed, short-term thinking, unfair laws, the mess we’ve made of the planet, and an increasingly absurd imbalance in wealth distribution have broken the system. (This in no way implies that I’ve adopted state-ownership as the alternative; I have not.) This is a complex subject way beyond the topic of belonging… and one on which I have no easy solutions. I’m just mentioning here that what truly belongs to us as individuals as opposed to collectively in the ethical, philosophical, and legal senses needs collective reconsideration.

Sadly, I’m quite sure I can no longer practically claim it, but I do think ethically my private information and privacy belong to me.

What I do feel truly belong to me are my thoughts, feelings; my character, personality; my experiences, memories; my relationships.

Where I don’t belong

In quite a general way, I was born to be an outsider. I say that without resentment or rancor.

Some of us aren’t meant to belong. Some of us have to turn the world upside down and shake the hell out of it until we make our own place in it.

Elizabeth Lowell (Remember Summer)

From the time I was a child playing independently with other children in our neighborhood, I was aware that I was not the same as them, a Dutch girl among Finnish kids, even if my language was as fluent as theirs. But rather than feel unwanted (and I recall no malice), I distinctly remember feeling proud of my difference; I was unique.

That same feeling of self-confidence followed me the rest of my life as I crossed oceans and continents to live in and travel to new places—North America, Asia, Eastern Europe.

Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.

Brené Brown (Daring Greatly)

I like to say that I am a mongrel, a crossbreed, having a mix of European bloodlines running through my veins. The same can be said of me culturally. Meaning I can fit in culturally nowhere and everywhere. And yet I don’t truly belong anywhere.

I’ve never been much of a group person. Yet I enjoyed singing in a choir in my early teens. I played team sports. I certainly encouraged team spirit in the companies I built. Those groups rarely fed my identity, or perhaps only partially.

Thinking now of my chemo-treatment journey, many well-meaning friends have suggested I join cancer support groups. Some appear to be truly excellent. And no, while I may find helpful information, insights, and resources there, public support groups largely do not leave me feeling I belong.

Where can I belong?

More than places, it’s people who make me feel I belong. Whether it’s an intimate group of friends who meet regularly to share and nurture, or an individual friend who checks in often (or me with them), it’s with these people I feel a belonging and connection.

I don’t belong to them. I belong with them. Like the vase on the table.

And with that kind of belonging, I am able to feel the love that builds trust, intimacy, compassion, strength, flexibility, and strong feelings of common humanity.

All the more with my honey. I belong in his loving arms more than any one place on earth. I belong with him, not to him.

A generous heart is always open, always ready to receive our going and coming. In the midst of such love we need never fear abandonment. This is the most precious gift true love offers – the experience of knowing we always belong.

Bell Hooks (All About Love: New Visions)

And then, I do belong to me, my own life, my own self, my own body. I don’t seek belongingness outside myself; that neither identifies nor affirms me. And so, my freely taken choices to be with people, to join groups, to participate in social norms or cultures, don’t demand that I deviate from my innate set of values and principles. As I wrote in my previous post, this empowers me and gives me my freedom and agency.

Finally, I’ve had a number of what Maslow called peak experiences that have confirmed to me, apart from all our choices and longings, we do belong in the universe as One. Those euphoric experiences humbled me to a shared reality beyond the comfort of my own self.

Where do you belong?

If you celebrate, Merry Christmas! Otherwise, have a lovely weekend!

PS. I’ve written this on one of my “bag of crap” days. I’m curious how I’ll feel about it when I read it later. But I will try to keep up with Joan’s challenge.

PPS. I adore reading your comments. Just know that to avoid spam, I’m monitoring and approving them, so it may take some time before you see yours on the site. And I always respond, so check back if you haven’t asked to be notified.

13 comments

  • I am admiring how you develop thoughts, events and feelings.
    Reading your experience of the cancer is bringing my thoughts back to my experience…. I had to accept things and went through the treatments “la tête baissée”, just like a Capricorn….. head’s on, not fighting, just trying my best to trust in medicine…. I wasn’t able to think much, nor did I want to learn all the medical terms…. This was too much…. I concentrated in “the idea of my caps”…. Putting the moments of energy in designing….
    That seems now quite long ago….
    Thank you so very much for your sharing !

    • You did well to focus on your new cap project, Mireille… I still feel bad I wasn’t more there for you then. 💜🙏💜 I understand well your need (and the needs of so many others) to be able to trust in the medicine (damn, I do, too!), but also the doctors who administer it. My journey has confirmed to me how easy it is for doctors to go wrong and I fear for those patients who can’t (for whatever good reason) pay attention. But you survived, hallelujah! Thanks for your kind words. Bisous.

  • An interesting, thought provoking, and somewhat thought organizing post. Thanks for that. You seem to think well, even on your crappy days. We are so alike in many ways–mongrels who managed to grow up with an affirmed self. Time for me to work harder at reaffirming that, as I am feeling a gap in belonging–which as you note means a gap in self-acceptance. Hugs for Christmas!

    • Hugs back to you, Jill, and thanks for your kind words. Yes, we do share similar experiences. And yes, you can reestablish your self-acceptance… you’re a special woman. 💜🙏💜

  • I love the journey you took us in with this post. And I wholeheartedly agree with your conclusion. There is a line in the Song of Songs of Solomon: “I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me.” That’s it. It’s all about love – the love that connects me to whom/what I love and connects them to me.

    And on your crappiest day you produce words that are thought-provoking, insightful, and luminous.

    I am sorry you had a crappy day. 💜

    • Dear Lable, the crappy days are inevitable now. Hopefully they will diminish once the first set of chemo is done, in two weeks! Glad this post resonated with you. I’m taking on complex subjects and hope not to sound too trite. 🙏💜🙏💜🙏

      • Francisca, you couldn’t sound trite if you tried 24×7 for a year to do it. 💜

  • Happy Christmas Francisca; belonging to the all that sees everyone/everything as a part of the whole.
    Aloha, recognising the presence of God in you and sharing that presence with all, in all encounters.
    Mahola nui, for your gift of sharing

By Francisca

Want to know when I post?

Enter your email address to subscribe to my journal and receive notifications of my new posts by email.