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Sense of Belonging

It's what we humans desire most. Often we tie our sense of worthiness to how well we are liked by others. We define who we are by our factions, our groups, our sangha. We belong to this group of friends, we belong to that club, we belong to this yoga studio, we belong to that gym, we belong to our hobbies, we believe in this religion, we believe in that spiritual path, and so on. We specify where we are and what categories we fall into, and that is how we know who we are and how great our worth. Categorization and sorting are the very first skills we learn as infants. We are programmed to sort and categorize (which also means we are learning to judge things as "not this" and "like that") from the get go, so it isn't surprising that we have such a strong urge to belong somewhere with people like us, who like us.

Sometimes these communities can become extremely tight-knit, and this is how exclusion is born. Because what is defining the community or group but the qualities it has and the qualities it hasn't. I don't know if this has ever happened to you, but certain places or social groups, such as yoga studios, can have this air about them, that you have to be a sort of "type" to go there, which, by the way, seems very un-yogic. Yoga teaches that one life is not more important than another. We are all equally deserving of love, of presence, of opinion, of worth, of being here now, of attending a yoga class. Level of skill, coordination of clothing, quality of mat, external beauty--these things do not determine worth or validate the right to participate.

I have such deep cracks in my heart from being the outsider. Pain still oozes from these wounds, and even though the incident that etched these riverbeds of sorrow took place decades ago, I recently realized that is continues to affect me. From this catalytic moment in my youth, a keen awareness has arisen in my being. Now, when I enter a gathering, I can feel the exclusion hanging in the room. For exclusion is usually the first guest that greets me and, like a shroud, weighs heavy on my shoulders; but we are old friends now, so I wiggle in and wear it as a blanket of familiarity, mistakenly feeling its comfort rather than understanding my captivity.

Exclusion and worthlessness are the two pals that have accompanied me for the entirety of my adult life. I ache to believe that other women and men would welcome me into a group, that, in a gathering, others would truly value who I am, what I say. But I don't believe it. It doesn't happen to me. Perhaps it is because I don't believe that I'm valuable that I feel that I am the excluded, the worthless, the insignificant? I certainly have grown accustomed to accepting this as my fate. As I don't trust others, neither do I trust myself, my actions, or my language.

There was a time, when I thought that I was valuable, worthy, an asset. I trusted that I was "allowed" to attend the party, the service, the class. I was a confident participant, a valuable mind. Then, I met face-to-face with betrayal, and it crushed me. I had my heart shattered, my confidence macerated; for an entire year I was taunted, teased, tricked, laughed at--all from people who once were my friends. After the year was over, I was forgotten. I became invisible. No group, no community, nothing. I was the quintessential outsider.

Throughout my adult life, betrayal and cruelty have been mainstays, mostly from other women pretending to be kind and then disparaging me behind my back (or sometimes to my face), trying to sabotage advances at work, using me as the brunt of jokes and so on. And it leaves me to wonder, what do I do to extract this ugliness from humankind? And so the cycle refreshes itself wherein I believe that something I have done or the way that I am must require this to be how I am received in the world. The universe must be punishing me for being "all wrong."

If the cracks in my heart are how the light gets in, then I must be full of light. I am the epithetic outsider. I don't know how to get "in." I don't know how to procure the affinity of others. I don't really understand why being me is always the wrong thing. During interaction with other humans, it has reached the point where I panic and think that I must have done something wrong or said something offensive or not behaved in the "right" way, and so I start apologizing. I am so apologetic it is as if my very presence has caused error or created strife. Logically, I know that, on the one hand, this is not possible, and on the other hand, I am just not that important to other people, other people are the most important to other people. My brain knows this, but emotions, and sense instruct me otherwise.

I spent years searching and hoping for resolution to this pain, hoping that with time it would dissipate. And now, decades later, I have been shown the way to freedom. With the deepest gratitude to the most effective teachers I have ever known, a resounding "thank you" to my children. There is no one better than a child to open your heart to boundless love and awaken you to the simple beauty of life; and they have pulled the veil from my eyes, and I see that it is all about trust and forgiveness. I have not forgiven those in the past that have harmed my heart, and so I am afraid to trust others, people whom I haven't met yet. Forgiveness is my path forward. We all belong to the planet, to the universe, to breath. I will let that wounded little girl inside me weep, and bathe in the light of truth, that river of light that is quenching the thirst of those aged cracked beds. Forgive, let go, trust in the love that creates us all, and leap.

And this sense of belonging that we humans have been programmed to desire is merely an obstacle to the path of wellness.

Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu

"May All Beings Be Happy and Free"

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