Recently I was asked “How do you know where you belong?” That’s one of the bigger questions someone can ask! Of course, I wasn’t really being asked how I personally knew I belonged – the person asking the questions wanted to know their own answer to that question. I could tell her my story, as my story at some point always becomes your story, but the truth is, that isn’t really what was wanted; she felt adrift and wanted answers.
I’ve never really “belonged”, and at some points that bothered me. I was a new person in a village where everyone else had lived for years. I lived in the country while most others lived in the village, a mile away. I was the only person in my school to go one way to high school (Belfast) while everyone else went the other way (Downpatrick) or stayed at the local school. While I made great friends at my school, they all went out locally in Belfast – while I went out locally where I lived – where everyone else had friends they went to school with! Catch 22 for belonging! Later, I was a young mum when my peers were building relationships or homes or social lives. I usually felt like a fish out of water in churches I attended or groups I attended, as my head and heart were disconnected. I moved to Scotland to a place where most people had lived all their lives, or within a few miles of where they had grown up who spoke in a dialect I didn’t understand for quite a while. I didn’t even feel I belonged in my first marriage. Or as a single mother – and now I’m remarried, I could just as easily feel I didn’t belong there, except I know how blessed I am to have found a soul mate. But for the record, it wasn’t finding Lee that made me feel I “belonged.” This sense of belonging is also real – in the way that a book “belongs to me” or “we belong together,” but the much deeper issue is when we feel we belong where we are right now, and that we feel we belong to ourselves.
I can look back and see the many reasons I have for gratitude for not feeling I belonged; even for the times I went looking in the wrong places for love or success or popularity – all of which I thought would allow me to feel I “belonged.”
I looked up the question “how do you know where you belong,” and saw that Mr Google had about 78 million answers! Now some people might say that means that there are either 78 million answers (in which case I’ll be a long time working through them to find one that fits ME), that there are 78 million people or so who might have the same question, or that there is some other quite different explanation for those statistics. Clearly though, it’s a question that needs answered; or does it? What would happen if we could sit with the thought “I don’t know where I belong and not knowing is ok.” Not knowing is a good place to be sometimes; feeling stuck isn’t – but if you could sit with not knowing for a while, that might be the only answer you ever need. The question you ask to get the answer you need is crucial, and that’s why you need to fiddle about with options to find which one gives you that “Aha” moment. That’s when you feel that shift that then lets you find a solution, hear what your heart says -and see what the real issue is. You do this best through your journal, starting off with the initial question in the middle, and thinking about it and using it like a mind map (but without stopping to analyse it at all), and then just branching other thoughts off that. You’ll see some connections with the thoughts, so one branch could get bigger – and before you know it, you have a number of other questions like:
How do I know where belong?
What does belonging mean to me?
Where have I ever felt I’ve belonged in the past?
Where do I not belong?
Why is the feeling of belonging important to me right now?
There are a whole host of ways you can use your journal given there’s no “right or wrong” and there’s no one coming behind you to listen or mark it out of 10. It’s just you, your pen and your heart, and the wisdom it reveals. The more you do it, the more you trust the results – and now listen carefully – all it ever reveals is that you all-ready knew the answers, or ways of finding the answer for yourself. You don’t need to go to the other side of the world to “find yourself,” or find out where you “belong”. You could do that, have all manner of adventures and journeys and meet heroes and villains and wise teachers – and find yourself back where you started, where you belonged all along. Which is not to say that because of your adventures, journeys, heroes and villains you don’t find yourself on the other side of the world having found where you feel “home.” I’ve certainly had that feeling, where a peace just settles on my soul – but I also know that it rarely has anything to do with externals and has everything to do with how I feel.
You won’t ever FEEL YOU BELONG until you feel whole yourself. If a part of you feels you belong in one place and a part of you feels you don’t belong anywhere, an NLP tool called “part’s integration” might help, and if you don’t know how to do that, find a good NLP coach to do it with you. It’s simples. I also know that you won’t find it when you feel you’re not worthy of it – and then you need to deal with guilt, shame and forgiveness – and you won’t get a better resource for that than Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection. When you feel stuck like this, welcome the “stuckness.” In fact – rejoice in it – because you know that means it’s your time for reflection. It’s time to question all the beliefs you hold about yourself and the world around you, and see if they are still true. Let the questions come and simply observe them and not judge them, as they are all teachers. Discover if they are true – if they are absolutely true for you and if they are not, go exploring! Explorers don’t need maps and guides – after all, what good would that be anyway, in unexplored territory? If you are an explorer, you want to find what others haven’t, you want to get off the beaten tracks already on the map, find out things for yourself, and have adventures – your own adventure, not mine. Where you just strike out with an idea of where you want to go and knowing that there will be obstacles, symbols, heroes, villains, wise teachers and adventures on the way to your destination, and it’s all good. Have an explorer’s heart because the simple answer is that you have all the answers inside you, and you will know you belong when what you do and where you live and how you live are aligned.