Authentic Belonging

Stuck in and longing to be out in the sunshine; feeling poorly (niggling pain) and so am rambling around my own head – today it feels a rather poor substitute for a ramble around the woods!


I have been thinking a lot about belonging. Belonging is a beautiful word; it is a yearning fulfilled. It is a feeling that resides in an eternal present. When we feel that we belong, we feel whole and centred; our existence makes sense. What makes each of us feel at home can differ greatly; one person’s sanctuary is another’s exile. A sense of belonging in one’s life might be challenged by different things. We might not feel at home in our jobs; our marriages; our friendships; our bodies or sexualities; we might not even feel at home in our families, in the places that we live and occupy.


My own major challenge comes from a sense of not being entirely at ease in my family: there have been the emotional, social and political differences that can scatter some of us far from home; this has been intensified by the crisis of an irrevocable family split in the wake of a tragic family death. The distance now feels so unbridgeable. It can be a tough one because so much of our identity, our sense of grounding in the world, is tied up in these relationships; even the most destructive can feel extremely hard to let go of. For many years I ignored the growing discomfort, actively seeking to distort my own shape in order to fit the perceived family form. However damaging the pretence was, it felt far less dangerous than an honest admission that I was moving ever further away from the people I had once felt such a part of.


I believe that deep within each of us there is a striving towards an authentic relationship with self. True authenticity is really about openness and honesty with self and others, in our actions and our words. And yet this often feels like the most difficult challenge to negotiate, as if honesty were a weapon of nuclear proportions, once launched, devastating in its impact, bound to unleash consequences beyond our control. It might feel a whole lot easier to white lie our way through life, a masquerade of benign diplomacy at best, at worst, cold political manoeuvring. We might feel the need to be emotionally evasive in order to protect our hidden vulnerabilities; we might become skilled strategists, giving only that of ourselves that will produce the desired result; we might even present a series of masks, worn and changed with expert ease, none suspecting that the shifting and fluid surface of our social interactions are actually rootless, disconnected from any vital pulse, our hidden, inner selves untouched. We become impossible to know – inscrutable and lonely – as far away from belonging as it is possible to be.


Being honest with myself and my family felt like a kind of unspeakable treason but it became curiously life and death, as if that push for authenticity inside me could not tolerate one more day of denial, one more hour of self negation. I felt like selfishness personified, years of unspoken frustration and hurt hurtling out of a dark place. I cannot help but think that if I had been brave enough to acknowledge the truth and deal with it years ago, much of the pain might have been avoided. And yet sometimes in being authentic we can potentially wound others, and it is often the horror of such that counsels silence; a taught silence at that.


And yet the outcomes of our actions are notoriously hard to predict. An honest act of integrity might lead to disastrous consequences, whilst the most ignoble of choices might ultimately have positive effects. Life is tricky and complex and often events play out over lengthy time periods, only revealing in retrospect the impact – for good or ill – of our decisions. To say there are no right or wrong choices, just choices, might on some level be true, and certainly this takes the paralysis out of decision making, but it might also cause us to abandon responsibilities and ethical considerations as we launch in, unconcerned about what we might initiate. There is no easy answer. However, not being true to oneself merely to avoid pain or rejection (for oneself or others) can cause a great deal of wreckage.


I am in a strange family exile, mainly self-induced. It is not always comfortable but it certainly feels more authentic and as time passes, the angst of having shaken up the status quo diminishes. I truly believe the love we have shared with people is indestructible, but often our relationships have their allotted time span. We seem to be more accepting of this in relationships other than the familial. Letting family members go from our lives, as we might a partner in divorce, seems unthinkable to some. My brother has told me that ‘blood is thicker than water’. If there is no true relationship or exchange between people, what is it that we share? DNA, physical likeness, memories, parents… Without love expressed and shared, what is blood? Perhaps the yearning for authenticity is a yearning for love, closeness, for that place where we can be absolutely ourselves, and still be accepted, still belong…


My own exile ended a great many of my personal delusions about my family. It gave me some distance to challenge my own unreasonable expectations of both myself and them, freeing both of us from demands that neither could live up to. It also began my search for a new sense of belonging. I am finding it in some interesting places, the most powerful of my recent life being that of a growing sense of belonging in nature and the landscape. Maybe I am kidding myself – a connection to nature always being easier to negotiate than people. But perhaps the hardest relationship is the one we have with ourselves; unavoidable; the scariest relationship to be truly honest in.


I guess all things mirror something of ourselves back to us; my family has taught me so many valuable things, and they remain my family, regardless of distance. Perhaps what the drive for authentic relationship ultimately guides us towards is a discovery of that precious sense of belonging within; that much yearned for home of true acceptance and love.





1 Comment

  1. trish said,

    February 21, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    i think you are so right about the search for belonging in all of us and remaining true to ourselves, it is so hard. My own life events have taken me in so many directions an dfurther an dfurther from my family who remain loyal to me but hold such different values, i often bite my lip and hold silence because of not wanting to rock the boat and also from fear of further isolation. It is like the wicca creed, “do what you will but harm no one”, this includes self and i for one often forget that part. i want to write more but “someone Is knocking at the door” Back later….

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