Deep within us all, is a rich inner life that wishes to belong. There is a self, a somebody, that wants to be known truly and authentically, and wishes to be invited in. Many of us have abandoned ourselves in favour of what we think is loveable, likeable, and easily tolerated – we have exiled anything difficult or challenging about ourselves, particularly, pieces of ourselves that have known shame, anger, grief and pain. In some cases we might abandon parts that are vulnerable, needy, or seeking connection. Either way, if we deny pieces of ourselves including our longing to be seen and known, we exist almost as half of a self, and as a result feel deeply that something is missing, incomplete, or wrong. What is missing is you.
We learn to exile parts of our self early in our lives. We learn by watching and intuiting others, often our caregivers, teachers, authority figures, and those closet to us. We learn what parts of us are safe to show and what parts to hide. We notice what we need to do to get the attention, love, and connection we desire. If we get the message that our feelings or reactions to things are too much, not enough, or unwanted, we learn to adjust ourselves to be accepted and to be included. All humans have a deep biological need to belong, rooted in our very survival. Our ancestors needed to belong to their tribe or clan to survive. It was dangerous to be a human alone, foraging and hunting for food and fending off wild beasts. Humans have survived as well as we have because of our ability to organize and be in groups or communities.
The deep desire to belong is a longing. Longing to belong. There is an ache to belong to ourselves, another, our communities and for some their vocation. When the felt sense of belonging is met, we feel relief and “groundedness”. There can be a feeling of safety and general wellbeing that otherwise is unknown to us.
It is impossible to belong to our self and to abandon ourselves at the same time. Many times I work with people who want to heal a deep wound of disconnection without inviting the disconnected piece back in. We want to feel whole with out knowing the wounded parts of our self. This needs to be met with compassion. It is natural and intelligent to not want to visit parts that are ashamed, heartbroken or terrified! But even though it made sense at one time to not feel our lives, if we are feeling disconnected, purposeless, or empty this is an invitation to make our way back to ourselves.
Feelings are exactly that, invitations back to our self. A feeling carries important information to our awareness. It allows us to notice a longing, or a boundary crossed, it’s a sign that we need our own attention. Mindfulness teaches us to be aware of our feelings, we might even be in the practice of labeling them, but that is just a beginning. It is wise to notice if we are angry, or excited, or ashamed but only as a marker on the map. We need not rush to fix any feeling, but rather just give it space, notice that it’s there. What is the invitation? What is it calling our attention to? What needs to be seen? What needs tenderness? What wants to be invited back in to belonging?
There is a paradox to exploring our feelings. On the one hand we are invited into a deep inner journey rich that I believe to be completely sacred. The deepest, raw material is excavated in the emotional realm. And I will also tell you with equal certainty that a feeling is just a feeling. It is just an information marker, like I said earlier, a place on the map. Feelings change like the weather. They are a teacher of impermanence. I believe both can be true, feelings are sacred, and they blow away like dust in the wind. Either way they are inviting us back to ourselves.