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Making Belonging a Practice, Part One

Our topic of the month is belonging, particularly inspired by author and Buddhist teacher Sebene Selassie and her work on the subject. Sebene teaches that we all belong, even though we are sometimes excluded.

The idea is that although systems and people can and do exclude people, based on various factors, some of them including systemic oppression, ignorance, fear and hate, that what we can control is our own sense of belonging: to ourselves and to this earth.

What could belonging to myself look and feel like? Well, perhaps it looks like not being coaxed into the lures of comparisons, on social media and in real life. Perhaps it feels like using this body for what it's capable of doing today, instead of being focused on its shortcomings. Perhaps it means using my strengths and leaning into new ways of doing things that suit my neurodivergent brain, rather than dwelling in inaction because I simply cannot be organized in some, possibly more neuro-typical way.

Maybe belonging to myself means paying attention to that small animal Mary Oliver refers to in Wild Geese:

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves....

What if belonging to ourselves is an acknowledgement of what is? Not just a propping up of the "good," but an acknowledgement of the whole. And perhaps an acknowledgement that a knowing and understanding of our whole self is a gradual process.

Society, families, and cultures we belong to send us all kinds of messages about the ways we should be. And sometimes in pursuit of a sense of belonging, we adhere to those "shoulds". Sometimes consciously, and sometimes unconsciously. And sometimes it becomes difficult to hear, and to feel what that soft animal of your body loves.

Maybe a sense of belonging to ourselves includes getting quiet enough to listen.

And sometimes we learn to listen not by being quiet, but by experiencing a significant loss or life change. When something is shaken up so vigorously that our patterns of adapting to expectations break loose, and what's left is a crack through which that soft animal is peeking through, whispering to us what it wants, what it loves, what it needs.

I like the idea that this kind of belonging, to oneself, could be more important, more grounding, more integrative than being included by other people who are just bumbling along, struggling with their own conditioning, whether knowingly or not.

It does hurt to be and to feel excluded. It's a part of being human, because humans just aren't that evolved, in general. But it's really heartening to know that we can look to ourselves for a sense of belonging. And when we can meet ourselves where we are along this particular path, we just might be able to help others do the same.


We hope that this topic feels resonant for you, and that you'll spend some time with us in classes, exploring your own practice of belonging. Find a class and take some time with yourself here.

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