Having a sense of belonging is part of being human. It’s one of our most important basic needs. Where is your strongest sense of belonging? To a church, an organisation, a tribe on social media, extended family? Where is it that you feel most valued and recognised? Sometimes we can feel strongly connected to many people and many groups or ideas. Then again, we might move through periods of our lives when we feel disconnected, separated, perhaps lonely. Are there times when you have drifted away from an idea or a group and lost your sense of belonging? What was it that took you away, and what brought you back?
Feeling a strong sense of belonging to a greater community, a cause or even a circle of friends, not only stops us feeling alone, it brings happiness, motivation and wellbeing. What type of effort and practice does it take to build and sustain this connection?
This was the conversation that Conscious Cafe Skipton had when 18 of our community gathered in Avalon Centre for Wellbeing, near Skipton at the end of February. Here are the insights from the three questions we discussed.
Not Fitting in
- Perhaps our sense of not belonging comes from feeling that we no longer fit in to a particular group or even a way of life. Something might have changed in us and we have outgrown a situation. The period of time when we recognise the need to separate or disconnect can be very lonely. Even getting older can make us feel this distancing from a way of being that has felt natural to us before, but now we are shifting.
- It’s a big decision to acknowledge that we no longer fit somewhere and decide to remove ourselves from where we previously felt we belonged -whether that was in a church, a career or a geographic place. Even though a voice deep down within tells us to leave, it can still be painful. These shifts and changes in our lives can be viewed as exciting, but we can also feel alone, caught between a past we have known and left behind and a future that has yet to emerge or present itself to us. Maybe we lose our sense of belonging until we begin to recognise our new self and seek out other people and places where we feel a better fit.
- These transit points in our lives can be both powerful and painful .. walking away requires courage and strength but can give us a sense of liberation even if initially we might feel the loss of the familiar reference points that gave us comfort or that we were attached to.
- Comparing ourselves to others is a negative way to think. Doing so can cause us to judge ourselves harshly and is a surefire way to make us feel separate. Having a sense of feeling inferior, less than or not equal to can really damage our right to feel that we belong.
Feeling the Difference
- People from mixed race heritage can feel different as they grow up between the two different cultures of their parents. Being exposed to two different worlds and not feeling like they fit in to either. People can feel at odds with a family or community’s cultural expectations placed on them that are not in sync with a local culture that they are also growing up in.
- For a variety of reasons, people have described feeling like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle that is in the wrong box.
Where, when and how is the Strongest sense of Belonging felt?
Our discussions led us to express six key ways that help us connect and make us feel that we belong.
- Family: the close bonds of connection with blood family are strong for most people but for some there can be one key relationship in their family that is their strongest anchor point. A pivotal and close relationship with a parent, sibling or child can provide deep nourishment and a feeling of safety where anything can be shared. Not everyone has this blessing.
- Place has power: wanting to move to a different town or area, somewhere that calls to us at a certain time in our lives. Here we can make a fresh start, be inspired by the landscape, enjoy more activities and community perhaps in a more populated place, or simply feel like we are coming home, whether there is family there or not.
- People: longstanding friendships that take us through the years, these provide deep nourishment if we are lucky to have them. New friendships are valuable too, particularly if we find friends with whom we can be our authentic selves. Being with others is important and many express a preference for the one-to-one contact rather than group gatherings where they can have an increased sense of isolation. As much as people can feel lonely or disconnected when they are in the company of others - perhaps at a social party with many strangers - if the gathering is mindful or purposeful, then we can actually feel deeply connected to a large group of strangers. Odd as it may seem, the reason that people gather, and the degree to which people are willing to open their hearts, seems to be more important than the quantity of people present.
- Ritual & Ceremony: we feel the power of this and mourn the loss in our modern life. We recognise how this can unite us. The right kind of facilitation can change a group of strangers into a connected community in a very short time by providing an open forum for sharing. When we have the opportunity to see and understand our shared meaning, a community can be brought together quite easily. Grayson Perry did four programmes on Channel 4 about rituals for Death, Birth, Marriage and Coming of Age. These are still available for viewing online.
- Spiritual Power: aside from what is happening in our lives, where we live and who we have the opportunity to meet (or not) we can always develop our own inner world of connection through our spiritual practice of choice. This can be done in a group, a church or an organisation that values mindfulness and meditation practice. Even then, there is no need to belong to a particular group when a personal practice of meditation and reflection can make us feel connected to a higher power that we can reach anytime. It gives us a transcendent ability for us to feel connected to everyone and everything, and continued practice can help us to sustain these feelings.
- Purpose: we can feel a deep sense of belonging when we can engage in work that aligns with our values and which feeds our life purpose. Through work, we can find connection with others who share our values, our vision in the world and our role in it. If we are lucky enough to do what we feel we are here to do, that can give a strong sense of fitting in to the world in the right place and at the right time. That is powerful belonging, particularly when we are able to to set aside our differences and look forward to a greater cause alongside others who feel the same.
What helps us to shift, feel more connection and increase our Sense of Belonging - how to feel less lost?
- Acceptance: accepting yourself and what is, is a big first step to belonging. We can’t ask others to do what we are not able to do for ourselves.
- Self-Awareness: instead of us focusing on any difference we see in ourselves, turn that around so that we recognise and accept our own uniqueness.
- Growth: understanding that we are always growing and evolving. Yes, that can sometimes present us with difficulties but that is what makes us grow.
- Values: aligning with a strong cause can re-enforce our sense of belonging. Attaching our professional and work identity to something important that makes a difference that aligns with our values.
- A new Third Age: later in life after retirement where our sense of purpose was totally wrapped up in our work, it is good to discover new ways to express ourselves and create a sense of belonging from other areas of our lives.
- Open up: be more curious. Be willing to express our vulnerability. Allow new people and experiences into our lives.
- Join in: deciding to say ‘yes’, make an effort. Sharing experiences with others.
- Decide: making a decision to move forward, setting the intention, meeting the universe half way so we can attract in what we need. Step out of your comfort zone – push yourself.
- Deeper connection: listen deeply to others. Concentrate on what we have in common instead of what might us apart.
- Widen your circles: find a group that shares your interests or passions. Be open to connecting with people outside of your normal like-minded circle.
- Follow the Love: open your heart - you get what you give. Be more loving and feel the love come back to you.
Our Conscious Cafe Circle: what were people taking away from the evening?
People thought the discussion was thought-provoking, enjoyed the different ideas expressed and liked having the opportunity to contribute and be heard.
More about Conscious Cafe Skipton events on our Facebook page.