Autobio, Psychology, Spirituality


I attend a sangha at least once a month. Today the theme was belonging. I have always wanted to feel like I belong, just like pretty much everyone else. As a child, I did my best to fit in, although I had competing groups so I had to pick one. Probably because I spent the most time with my mom, I chose Christianity. I bent over backward to do Christianity, as it was presented to me as a child, as perfectly as possible. I also did that with academics.

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In the end, as I grew into myself and became more honest with who I was, the beliefs of the evangelical protestant church rejected me. No one told me to get out or anything like that, but several tenets within the belief system did not align with my truth. People were clearly uncomfortable with how I changed, and those changes were so minor compared with what I’ve become as I opened to myself more fully. Academia did not fit me either. I didn’t make the cut. I didn’t do it right. I kept trying throughout my 20s in fits and starts. But it never worked the way I wanted it to in either Christianity or academia.

For a long time I was angry and bitter about this. I rejected back what I felt rejected me. This is a very human thing to do. But not a very productive thing to do. It left me more isolated. More lonely. More hollow. It fueled my inner rage. I built such a strong armor that I couldn’t find anywhere to be myself, even with myself.

The message given today about belonging was that we all belong to each other and everything in this universe by simply being born. We have a connection to all other human beings and Nature. We all want to survive. We all want to be happy. We all do the best we can to make this happen. Unfortunately, most of the time the best we’ve got is woefully inadequate. Fear guides what we do. As a child and young adult, I tried to mold myself into what I thought others wanted me to be because I was afraid of rejection. I still catch myself doing this. There are parts of me I struggle to accept, and that leads to fear of what others will think of that part of me or me as a whole.

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The thing is, people are going to judge me. People are going to disagree with me. People are going to hurt me because of what they believe. I am going to do the same back to them. But I can see it happening now. That means sometimes I can step back and see the game being played. I can extend compassion to myself and others. I can even love them and me through my pain and fear.

There is an idea in Buddhism of two realities that exist simultaneously. There is the personal reality, which is that I am a person who has unique experiences. When someone cuts me off in traffic, that is happening to me and not the driver going the opposite direction on the road. But there is another reality also happening. An ultimate reality. One where I am just a part of the larger universe and all that has ever happened or will happen. Where “I” only exist because all else exists. Where “I” am all that exists because “I” am everything.

It’s heady stuff, and it still boggles my mind to hold these two realities simultaneously. But sometimes I can do it. And when I can, there is belonging. There is peace. There is the much vaunted and often misunderstood end of suffering.

I still and will probably always struggle with my fear of rejection. It will hold me back from expressing my authentic self with many people, even people I love. But I become more comfortable with the vulnerability all the time. It is perhaps the hardest thing in the world for me to love myself and love others truly and deeply. Even the parts of myself I dislike. Even the people who’s actions and opinions I cannot fathom. Even the people who have hurt me most deeply, and that includes myself.

There is a lovely balance at the heart of our nature: each of us is utterly unique and yet we live in the most intimate kinship with everyone and everything else… Our hunger to belong is the desire to awaken this hidden affinity.”

—John O’Donohue

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