The essence of human existence is our search for a sense of belonging. No matter what we set out to do or accomplish, the end goal is eventually this. Be it falling in love; getting a promotion; raising a family or seeking God, all we want is to feel this sense of belonging. The post below tells us how it is possible. All of us can belong – we were born for it.
It was thirteen years ago, in the month of May, when I drove from London to Wales for a long-weekend getaway. It was a beautiful drive and a great change from the hustle-bustle of city life. In the preceding eight days, I’d been in four different cities — Nice, Poole, Manchester and, of course, London — for work and had only eaten one Indian meal, that too was at my home. The rest of the time, I ate foods like pasta, pizza, sushi, Chinese etc. So, the moment I checked into my hotel, I felt a strong urge to eat Indian food.
Some of my favorite restaurants back in London were Benares, Punjab, and Red Fort, the first two being my usual go-to places when in town. I was searching for something similar, a nice and quiet place for a good Indian meal, but while there were plenty of “curry houses”, I couldn’t find the kind I was looking for. The concierge gave me a couple of options with great confidence. But, food is one of those things, you can’t rely on the confidence of an unknown person, no matter how pro they are in their field.
What is “wicked” for them, might just be “crooked” for you. Nevertheless, in the absence of any alternative, I let them book a table for me and settled for whatever sounded right. As expected, it wasn’t as “wicked” as the concierge had made it out to be. But, the meal wasn’t bad at all, nothing to write home about, although certainly nothing to criticize either. After all, at the restaurant, they served what they promised they would — Indian food.
As soon as I got back to my hotel, the concierge asked me about my dinner experience. It was “amazing”, “very nice”, the food was “delicious”, I told them and made way to my room. I opened my bag to see what book I was carrying and there were two sitting there. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne and Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. I’d already finished these. Buying a book every time I was at any airport in the world, was the little ritual I’d been doing since 2001.
I looked around and found three magazines sitting politely on a table, next to a small tray of chocolates. Two English and one Welsh (the magazines, I mean; the chocolates were an assortment of milk, brown, and dark). I browsed through the pictures in the Welsh magazine, for the wise ones say, a picture is worth a thousand words. After absorbing a few thousand words, so to speak, I picked up the English one and read a beautiful article. This article, speaking about the Welsh way of life, introduced me to a magnificent word that has stayed with me ever since.
Loosely translated, hiraeth means homesickness, but, the author said, it was the incomplete meaning of this unique word, if not wholly incorrect. Hiraeth, she said, meant yearning for your home, craving to go back to a place you belong, and above all, philosophically speaking, hiraeth means longing for a home you never had.
Hiraeth, then, in my mind could easily sum up the essence of human existence. We spend our life in longing and yearning, imagining a home, a place that exists in our mind only. Because I feel, when people say that they want to love and be loved back, when they feel lonely, or when they are hankering after that position, essentially what they are after is the feeling that they have arrived home. Or in other words, that, they finally belong somewhere or to someone.
Brené Brown writes in The Gifts of Imperfection:
I’m convinced that belonging is in our DNA, most likely connected to our most primitive survival instinct. Given how difficult it is to cultivate self-acceptance in our perfectionist society and how our need for belonging is hardwired, it’s no wonder that we spend our lives trying to fit in and gain approval.
It’s so much easier to say, “I’ll be whoever or whatever you need me to be, as long as I feel like I’m part of this.” From gangs to gossiping, we’ll do what it takes to fit in if we believe it will meet our need for belonging. But it doesn’t. We can only belong when we offer our most authentic selves and when we’re embraced for who we are.
Falling in love is nothing more than discovering where or to whom you belong. Whether you are in love with someone, a cause, your work or even God, you experience this deep sense of stability, security, and peace in your bones when you feel that you belong. Even self-realization is finding your belonging in your true self, for a higher purpose. It is when your highest state of consciousness comes looking for you, knocks on your door and claims you. You belong.
To make someone feel belonged is also the greatest service you can do for any human being. For the simple reason, that belonging makes them feel important, worthwhile and loved. It requires a benevolent attitude, some sacrifice, a bit of understanding, a lot of patience, and a great deal of empathy to truly make someone feel loved. Belonging becomes all the more crucial when the honeymoon phase is over in any personal or professional relationship. Great partnerships at all levels thrive on this very sense of belonging. And, this bond is forged by a combination of some dos and don’ts.
The dos I have covered numerous times in various forms. That is, give attention, be gentle, show compassion, cultivate empathy, and so on. I don’t think I’ve ever explicitly stated the don’ts. I found them nicely summed up in Sisu: The Finnish Art of Courage.
In 1945, Norwegian psychologist Ingjald Nissen identified nine “master suppression techniques”– strategies to suppress others by manipulation or humiliation. Berit Ås, Norwegian politician and Professor Emerita of social psychology, later reduced Nissen’s original nine techniques to five.
1. Making someone feel invisible by ignoring them – for example, not giving them credit or stealing their ideas.
2. Ridiculing someone – publicly commenting on, or laughing at, someone’s personal traits.
3. Withholding information from someone – for example, not telling them of a meeting, but still blaming them for missing it.
4. Double bind – punishing and belittling someone regardless of what they do.
5. Heaping blame – embarrassing someone or insinuating guilt.
All of these can really destroy someone’s self-esteem or exclude them from your life. But, the first and third are particularly cunning. The rest can be a matter of arrogance, ignorance, conceit, a bad attitude, but with the first and the third point, one is being manipulative and insidious. Anyone engaging in either of the five shows they are deeply insecure within or don’t have the courage to handle conflict. Distrust grows when we withhold information from someone. Transparency is the hallmark of great relationships. Indeed, it is synonymous to truth, it’s the same as trust.
Rather than making someone invisible by ignoring someone, it’s better to have the courage and wisdom to accept the differences and learn from them.
Mulla Nasrudin was having an argument with his wife and it was starting to turn ugly.
“Watch your language, woman,” Mulla said, “I’m warning you. You’ll bring out the beast in me.”
“Beast!” She scoffed at him. “You think, I’m afraid of a mouse?”
Each one of us has someone in our life who somehow is able to rattle us when we least expect it as if they have the key to our mind and they can simply unlock the cage and bring out the beast in us. And yet, we must take responsibility for our actions and words.
Find your belonging and devote yourself to it. Your life will never be the same again.
Oh, and by the way, the first thing I did when I arrived back in London was to head for a nice Indian dinner. It was stuck in my head. I drove straight to the restaurant and called my friend and colleague who lived in the same building as me to join in. A meal usually tastes better when you share it. He was flustered, at first, that I hadn’t checked with him before leaving for Wales. He said he could have accompanied me. But it all ended on a sweet note (no pun), as it usually happens with most men after a good meal. After all, we had work to do the next day.
P.S. We are coming up with exciting changes in the Black Lotus app. We have crystallized our vision and taken your feedback into consideration. All existing black lotus users will receive an email today and I’ll share more details in my next post.
Art of Meditation
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Human actions stem from our deep desire to experience a sense of belonging. We want the security and comfort of knowing that we are safe with somebody or something – we matter and we belong. This is one of the most important life lessons we are shown. The questions below delve into what this sense of belonging actually is and why it is invoked in us, in the first place.
Which is the best place to search for the sense of belonging I’ve yearned for, all my life?
Have you noticed that we are forever searching for a place in our hearts, in others’ hearts and lives, a place that gives us happiness? We want to matter, we want to belong to someone or something. We have come to believe that being wanted or being popular is somehow an indication of how important or loved we are.
In other words, the more indispensable I am to someone (or even some organization), the more I’m wanted and the more I’m wanted the more I feel loved. We seek for a sense of belonging in the physical world. But through major life lessons, we learn this is not the case. Read more here.
How do I find happiness when I’ve never felt a sense of belonging anywhere?
Every sane person, at some point in their life, is plagued by a persistent feeling of emptiness. Everything is there but nothing is, you feel. We lack a sense of belonging, a feeling of not being anchored to anything or anyone.
But one of the major life lessons is that if you’ve a reason to be happy, you’ll be happy. And reason boils down to one thing: meaning. If your life has meaning, if your relationships have meaning, you’ll be fulfilled naturally. Meaning is the only light that dispels the darkness of emptiness. And there are three ways to find meaning in your life. Read more here.
How do I develop a sense of belonging and connection to my own life?
Life belongs to those who love it. This is one of the first life lessons you must learn. Your life has a life of its own. If you love it, value it, protect it, it would want to be with you. It will become yours. But, if you are going to hurt it, it will fly away from you, far, far away. Life is frightened and hurt, when you shoot arrows of jealousy, complaints and selfishness. Every time that happens, it distances itself from you.
You want to feel a sense of belonging? It’s all about how you handle life as opposed to how your life ought to be. Life is what it is. If you deal with it compassionately, gratefully, delicately, you will discover that it’s every bit beautiful, that it belongs to you wholeheartedly. Read more here.
Does a sense of belonging in the world really stem from society’s approval of us?
The urge for others’ approval is one of the strongest urges, it’s almost innate. Because since childhood, we are constantly seeking approval of others. Our sense of belonging depends on it. Someone else is always marking us against criteria they’ve set. We are always matching it. In doing so, we are eternally manipulating ourselves. This leads to great inner unrest and turmoil.
One of the definitive ways to rise above others’ opinions is to turn inward. And, how exactly to turn inward, you may wonder? Among all the life lessons we are shown, this may be the most crucial. Read more here.
Growing up in a dysfunctional home, I don’t feel a sense of belonging in any of my relationships today. How do I let go of my baggage?
A parent is often a child’s first introduction to the world, to a sense of belonging. They are nothing short of a God for the little child. When he observes his parents fighting and arguing, it leads to a state of great confusion.
Somewhere, you may have grown up thinking it was your fault. But it’s not your fault. When your parents were squabbling and arguing, when they were whining and fighting, it was not your fault. When you couldn’t set things right, when you couldn’t comfort them, when you became the target of their wrath, it was not your doing. Read more here.
Is there a difference between a sense of belonging and a sense of attachment to someone?
Love is about understanding what the other person needs and not what you think they should need. This is the key difference between love and attachment, one of the biggest life lessons to learn. The former is about finding yourself in the happiness of the other person, whereas the latter is about feeling happy to have the other person your way. We can’t say we love someone unless we find out what do they actually need and make an attempt to give them that. And a true sense of belonging to someone is but love.
Emotional attachment is like buying a golden cage for the bird you love, feeding it the finest food, it is wanting to keep that bird within your sight, and love is opening the cage and setting it free. Read more here.