Belonging In The Body, Belonging In The World

“To feel that we have a place, that we truly belong here, that we are not only welcome but essential, we must be grounded in the length and breadth of our own physical self.”

Belonging is more than just an idea of connection, it is a word that describes an integral and deeply felt sensation of comfort and warmth, a palpable physical sense of ‘being home’.

This sense of belonging is generally accompanied by an experience of expansiveness, of openness and safety. Even in sad or difficult times there is a feeling that you can reach out and be received. We can feel the flow of connection between our surroundings and ourselves, between our inner and outer life.

How we are received into the world as infants is crucial to our sense of belonging. If we are welcomed, if we are kept warm and comfortable, if we are not left alone and crying for long periods of time, if we are touched with respect and love, then the sense of belonging becomes rooted into our flesh and bones.

Rudolf Steiner, a philosopher and educator, used the expression ‘life sense’ to talk about the inner state of completeness and wholeness that begins in our early years. He went on to say that it is this life sense that gives a child the agreeable sensation of inner restfulness and the security of self-containment.

In this way, we feel we are comfortable in our own skin, that we belong to ourselves. And this comfort, this sense of well-being and connection, helps us as adults to find our way in the world.

We have all experienced a time when we felt rejected, when we realized that the fit wasn’t right for us. It could have been with a group, with one person, or even with your own family.

When we feel that we don’t belong we pull away from the world. Internally there is a sense of contraction, an uncomfortable self-consciousness. We may appear to be present, but inside we may be feeling smaller, shrinking in our need to self protect. If this continues over a long period of time, life can feel unwelcoming, and we are exhausted by the effort to belong.

Sometimes we try to think our way into belonging in the world. We try to solve the problem of belonging with clever adaptations, by trying to fit ourselves into a role that we imagine would make us acceptable and easier to love. We even shape our bodies and faces to become more suitable.

These approaches can appear to work for a while, but eventually they fall apart because the base is not sturdy. The foundation is not true; it cannot really carry us forward. As well, it is deeply stressful to live in a role that has little connection with our own hearts and minds.

Even our sense of basic goodness starts in connection with our own physical self, it is in-born and natural. However, we live in a culture founded on the idea of original sin. Many of us were trained to believe that sin arises out of our bodies and that if the body and its impulses are not controlled terrible things will happen

So the sense of wholeness, of basic goodness, may be at times difficult to find. It may come and go all too fleetingly and seem such a struggle. But to feel that we have a place, that we truly belong here, that we are not only welcome but essential, we must be grounded in the length and breadth of our own physical self.

So can we, as adults learn to become more comfortable in our own skin? Can we let ourselves belong? Can we begin to release the contraction and numbness that, though it keeps us somewhat safe, also diminishes our capacity for living life as deeply as we desire?

In meditation we learn to focus on our breath and body. Initially, we may feel overcome by the chatter of our thinking processes. But after a while space opens up. In the process of sitting, we start to allow our bums to fully rest on the chair or cushion, to have the sensation of sitting, to become sitting. Of course if someone looked at us, we would appear to be sitting pretty fine, but the more your body awareness develops, the more you can feel the tensions you have been holding. You notice that your shoulders are lifting, your neck is straining, and perhaps become aware that you do not trust your breath to just happen.

Similarly, when we lie down or when we go to bed at night, we might have a hard time fully letting go. We relax, allowing ourselves to settle onto the mattress, only to find that somehow, somewhere in our body, we have tightened back up. Like belonging, trust is not so much thought, as it is a physical embodiment. It is a state of being, an ability to let go. We do not know how to trust the ground, or the mattress, or the chair. We do not know how to let down and give into gravity, to let ourselves truly rest.

As you are reading this, can you trust the ground, or are you straining unnecessarily?

Sometimes when an individual begins to reconnect deeply with his/her body, they can get in touch with formerly hidden levels of fatigue that they have been riding over. Surprising feelings of anger, pain or sadness may appear. We see that some of the habitual tension in our body holds back feelings that we are uncomfortable in expressing. Whether we get to the roots of all these feelings is not essential; what is important is that we find a way to be with them, to allow them to come and go with as little judgment as possible. We are practicing becoming comfortable with ourselves, being kind to ourselves, belonging to ourselves.

A body cannot be ‘done’ through the mind. Embodiment is an experience; it is a surrendering to the actuality of what is. When we bring our awareness to our body, our body begins to teach us, and healing begins to take place. Simple awareness, the bringing of oneself to sensation, begins to unravel tension. We do not need to fix our bodies as much as to surrender to them, and this is a process that takes time. The time we give to ourselves in this way is a form of self-compassion, and that is an essential springboard for compassion in the world.

Our body is not a tool or an instrument but a language that is flowing deep within us all the time, like a powerful underground river. With awareness we begin to develop a capacity to listen to this language, and this mindful listening changes the way we see and experience ourselves. Though such deep listening we begin to understand ourselves and our place in the world.

There are many ways to begin to bring our minds and bodies back to their natural connection. We can set aside time to relax, to meditate, to quiet ourselves and tune in to sensation and feeling. We can integrate simple body/mind awareness techniques into our daily lives, such as remembering to breath, to take a break from thoughts, and to notice where we are and what is happening around us. Remembering to stop and check into our physical state throughout the day can quickly cut through the unconscious habits of holding and tension. We can physically and emotionally take support wherever it is offered – from the ground, from the chair we sit on or the bed we lie on, and from the presence of people around us and those we love.

Coming back to your body is like coming home. Allowing yourself to rest in your body is to surrender to the naturalness of the world. Connecting body and mind brings life back into balance. It is direct way to live on the earth with respect and dignity. It is a fundamental way to belong in the world.

Liz Rappeport
Copyright © 2009