“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” — Elizabeth Appell
Few of us are guided to fully own who we are. Almost everyone lives out of the misguided belief that they aren’t enough. Caught in the comparative mind, we judge ourselves against unrealistic ideals. What most don’t realize is that, at a primitive level, this need to prove our worth is rooted in the need to belong.
The story of my life is of wanting to belong. If I could just find my tribe, I’d feel at ease and be at home. I looked for it everywhere and when the miracle didn’t happen, I tried to smoke it, eat it, buy it, clean it, sex it, perfect it and fill-in-the-blank it.
After years of searching, it finally dawned on me that I had betrayed my deepest self along the way. All those attempts at fitting in were repeated demonstrations that I wasn’t enough.
That soul-heavy moment was my invitation home. I’m still on that journey with minimalism as my companion. Why minimalism? Because the lifestyle is essentially about releasing attachment to what no longer serves you as to focus on what matters most. Since what matters changes over a lifetime, there is no right or wrong way to do it.
Minimalism is less about the quantity of items you have than it is the quality of life you create. I’d go so far as to say there is only one thing in this world you really need to own and that’s you. The trick is to own yourself completely and so bone-knowingly, that no one can shake you free. You are solidly rooted within.
Once you see of how your life has been guided by limited beliefs, you can work on the fears that drive them. As you free yourself from those fears, you come closer to living from your most authentic self. That’s the freedom of true belonging.
The Three Roads to Self Belonging
Three practices that are essential for the quest are solitude, boundaries and connection. Master these and you master yourself.
Distraction is the enemy of solitude. To successfully own ourselves we must build the capacity to be contentedly alone. Philosopher Paul Tillich said “language has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.”
Be prepared. The brain will tell you stories, blurring the lines between loneliness and solitude. It will confuse self-reflection with boredom and encourage you to choose comfort over courage. It will convince you something compelling is waiting elsewhere.
Our minds need to wander now and then, but instead of encouraging this we make it a point to stay preoccupied. Interestingly, in my field, having a “preoccupied” attachment is not so good. These folks crave intimacy but doubt their worth making it hard for them to trust that they are loved. Preoccupied children are anxious and need a lot of reassurance. As they mature, they need constant interaction to assuage their insecurity yet often still feel alone.
Social media is ripe territory for these souls where unlimited “likes” are waiting at every post. All they have to do is figure out the formula. While validation is wonderful and necessary, when we cater to others we forget who are. We develop a personality dysmorphia—forming ourselves into the image of the highest bidder.
The ability to be alone with ourselves is key to the development of empathy, identity and creativity. Kids growing up looking down are not developing these important traits. Truth is, we must all learn to be okay with ourselves without distraction.
One of the great rewards of solitude is an increased capacity to reflect on who we are and want to be. In quiet moments come thoughtful questions like, “What gives my life meaning? What do I want in life? What is holding me back from best self?”
Another non-negotiable requirement for true belonging are healthy boundaries. The journey of self is ripe with vulnerability. Doubt and uncertainty are a given. Your beliefs will be challenged and the need to please will rear its ugly head. But without a clear sense of where you stand, it will be hard to draw the line.
Boundaries help determine what is acceptable and what is dehumanizing behavior. They encourage us to name our values and identify our physical, emotional and spiritual limits. Take a moment to consider what you can tolerate and accept and what makes you feel uncomfortable and stressed. Those feelings will help point to where your limits are.
Another clue is when you’re feeling resentful. It’s often a sign that you’re pushing yourself beyond your limits, or someone else is imposing theirs onto you. We can’t control what others say, do or think any more than we can the weather. We can only take responsibility for our own actions and let go of the rest.
We must stay in love with humanity. This is a tall order during times of chaos, but the more we can allow ourselves to take in the beauty, sorrows, joy and pain, the more human we become. It’s that simple.
One of the most powerful barriers in life is being caught in divisive emotional reactions, such as anger, fear and despair. When we get caught in these negative patterns, we armor over our hearts.
Pain hurts and it’s natural to protect against it. When life feels unbearable, the pull is strong to turn toward hopelessness and blame. But such thoughts take us further away from each other and from ourselves.
True belonging is the awareness that you’re never alone. That we are inextricably connected by our shared humanity and need for belonging. This is not about faith, god or religion. It’s the basic knowledge that we all come into this world with the same basic needs.
In our darkest moments, when there is so little to give, breathing into the heart is itself an act of love. The very process of opening to our pain opens us to the universal pain of being human. When we shut it down, we close down our joy along with it. That lets darkness win. Whereas saying yes to what is, allows us to say yes to it all. To see the beauty and the suffering equally.
Courage to Self-Own
Belonging is so primal to survival that the threat of losing it is terrifying. Some abandon their beliefs to avoid the risk. What they don’t know is that if they can look past the conditional approval of others and put one courageous foot in front of another, a path will emerge that will lead to a new tribe of like-minded souls.
There will be a cost. The beginning of the journey is hard and lonely. You need a warrior’s heart: tough and tender, fierce and kind, brave and afraid. Don’t worry if you don’t have it at first. The journey will help you find it.
Thankfully once you know it, it’s impossible to unknow it. The work is then to get to a place where we extend the same courtesy, care and compassion to ourselves as we do the ones we love. The work is hard, but worth it because you are worth it.