Being in our bodies may be a foreign concept to some of us.
Most people normally reside in and function from their heads, and they mindlessly follow every thought that flits into their minds. Needless to say, their subtler body signals may go completely unnoticed.
On the other hand, being in the body means moving awareness into and regularly connecting with the physical being.
Why does this matter?
Our ”bodies” are more than just muscle and bone structure; they're also comprised of emotional, energetic, and spiritual layers. Being embodied allows us to access these different levels of wisdom knowledge and to not rely solely on mentally derived information.
This doesn’t mean neglecting or repressing our thoughts. Equal access to both rational thoughts and the body’s intuition is important; this is living in a balanced way. The mind and body powerfully influence each other: if our shoulders are tense, then our minds will be in tight and vice versa. When we are sad our bodies feel heavy and listless, when we are anxious the body feels jittery and tense, when we are happy the body feels light and buoyant.
The body communicates through sensations, intuition or gut feelings, and grosser physical signals like hunger, thirst, or fatigue. We all heed hunger and thirst pangs, but we struggle with listening to our need for rest and self-care. For countless reasons like guilt, busyness, ambition, and childhood conditioning, we overwork and deny the body the rest it is demanding. Another example of not listening to our bodies is overtraining or pushing our bodies beyond their abilities. At the other extreme, people exhaust and weaken their bodies by starving themselves through hardcore dieting.
The issue with not listening to our bodies is that we are only living from one aspect of our being, so we are living limited lives. The disconnect between body and mind is one of the ways we lose connection to the present; we become mindless, and our capacity to function as a whole being decreases.
Consequently this lack of embodiment may cause us to feel untethered and adrift in a sea of endless thoughts, worries, anger, and fears. We may struggle to actualize and manifest our dreams or wishes precisely because we don’t feel anchored.
In fact, being in the body is a form of meditation.
The body, with its vast network of intuitive wisdom, has much to offer for living a balanced life. Moving awareness out of the head and into the core of the body (center of gravity) provides a powerful shift in perspective, actively grounds the body, and stabilizes and centers the mind in the body.
The benefits of anchoring in your body are that you will be more relaxed, be able to access the body’s wisdom, feel a greater sense of peace, feel more energized, and you will be more aware of what’s happening in and around you. You will know, without the overlay of the mind’s narration and judgment, how your body feels, how depleted or energized you are, how you are breathing.
Breath is the anchor to the body and the present moment. Remaining aware of body and breath will connect you to your emotions, and will make you less reactive and more peaceful.
Techniques for Connecting to your Body
Visualize that the base of your spine extends like a cord all the way deep into the earth. Feel yourself taking root and becoming centered and grounded. Visualize all your tension - mental, physical, and emotional - exiting through this cord into the earth. See it being transformed into healing energy. And now in the opposite direction feel the earth’s stabilizing, centering, and anchoring energy flowing up through the cord and into your body. You may feel a tingling, pulsing, warming, or cooling sensation. Relax deeply for a few minutes as your mind and body become still and centered.
Another way to check in with your body’s intuition is to put your hand on your heart/chest when you are anxious or distressed. This simple action will release feel-good hormones and chemicals, and will regulate emotions. It's is also an act of self-compassion.
Use your senses to connect you to your physical body and environment. Notice shapes, colors, sizes, textures and tastes. Feel the sensations of tingling, aching, warmth, and the rise and fall of your breath to connect to your energetic body.
With your awareness in your body, pay attention to the sensation, thoughts, and feelings that arise in you. Without judgement or trying to change anything, create a space for them to just be. Simply notice and be welcoming of all that arises.
May these simple but effective practices help you find peace and wisdom.
Eating, in spite of its ‘ordinariness’, can become a transformative activity.
Food and eating have many connotations associated with them. Some people process their emotions in relation to food. They may starve themselves through bulimia or anexoria nervosa, or hoard and gorge themselves to feel secure and seen. Influencer types are compelled to eat in fancy fad restaurants so they can create a sensation. Millions around the world face daily food insecurity. Equal and fair access to healthy food is a pressing social justice issue. So food has far-reaching tentacles of complexity.
On a personal level we can approach food, our meal preparation, and eating with a sense of respect, responsibility, and mindful presence. In this way an everyday activity can become an affirming and uplifting experience.
Most of us rarely eat when we are hungry. Our habit is to snack, graze, or eat when we see food ads on television or when people in the movies are eating. I’m often struck at the powerful urge that arises in me to drink when I see people drinking wine on television. In societies where access to food is easy, we tend to overeat, to waste, and to overbuy, and are blasé about the consequences of our actions.
Disclaimer: my point is not to make anyone feel guilty for their choices, but rather to guide us to become more conscious of our shared connection to other beings and the food we enjoy.
The act of eating is also fractured. While eating we are distracted watching television, reading, and so on. Rarely do we taste the food in our mouths beyond the first moment of contact.
In contrast, meditative eating is the conscious decision to prioritize the act of eating. There isn’t a more important task to get to, so we focus on enjoying our meal. The intention is to notice and enjoy every bite. To truly savor each bite requires that you chew the food a number of times. Slow chewing releases flavor, aids digestion, and signals the brain when the satiation point is being reached.
The benefits of mindful eating are that you will eat less because you are aware when you are full; we usually miss this signal because of being distracted. You will enjoy your food more, notice sooner whether a particular food is agreeing with you or not, become clearer about your beliefs, ideas, and childhood conditioning about food and our anxieties concerning access to it.
As food is a loaded issue for many people, when you do this practise give yourself permission to simply notice and not judge yourself or others. So try not to criticize yourself for discoveries you make. The point is to make clear your relationship and connection with food and eating.
To eat meditatively:
Be gentle with yourself. As this habit deepens, you’ll grow awareness of all the forces – earth, sun, bees, farmer, grocer, your job, the cook – that went into making your meal possible. This expanded sense of connection will increase your ability to appreciate life’s interconnected nature.
Being present and enjoying your food is an expression of gratitude for your good fortune to have food, this moment, and life.
May you be healthy and happy.
A friend who is going through a tough time deciding on whether to retire inspired this month’s article. And as my husband is also about to retire, I thought this information will be helpful to others who may be faced with life-changing decisions.
We are all faced with decisions on a daily and even a moment-by-moment basis. Mostly we are able to breeze through the simple ones without too much thought. Choices like what to eat or wear are based on inner signals like hunger or cold/warmth, and external ones like the availability of food and the weather.
However, momentous decisions like whether to retire, change careers, or get married are harder to make because of the unknowns and the long term impact.
If you are working through a problem or struggling to make a decision then you are most likely feeling pressure, anxiety, confusion, exhaustion, and overwhelm. Indecision can be wearying physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Being able to make good decisions in challenging situations is a life skill.
We can’t always predict the end result, but we can at least carefully think through the options and make the best decision with the information at hand.
Consider the following to make clear decisions:
Time and Options
If you have the luxury of time before a decision is due, then use that time wisely. When your mind is free from pressure, you’ll be able to clearly process the available options. It is important to look at all the options on the table and not just the obvious ones. Consider, too, the consequences of each choice. Whenever new information presents itself, revisit this decision process so you can be as clear as possible. Then when it comes time to actually make a decision you will do so with confidence and a calm mind.
Pros and Cons
Life changing decisions can cause us to become myopic. To broaden your perspective and give you some objectivity, make a list of the pros and cons of each course of action and then compare them. This process will enable you to rationally and clearly see the reasons for and against a choice.
Values and Wishes
Choices aren’t simply based on monetary or practical reasons. Your values, goals, and lifestyle wishes all need to factor into your final decision. These are important considerations in helping you celebrate your choice.
Diary and Chats
Write about your feelings to become clear on what matters to you, to connect with deeper emotions, and to also separate from them when needed. Speak with friends who’ve had a similar experience to help you see different strategies and perspectives. If others will be impacted by your decision, figure out how you will tell them and how to prepare yourself to deal with the situation. .
During this time, remember to take care of yourself, exercise or get out to relieve stress, and do something you enjoy.
May your decision fill you with peace and joy.
I have just finished my longest ever retreat; about two and half months of being mostly on my own, speaking infrequently, without media, and mostly trying to immerse deeply in my practice.
Without the usual distractions, the mind and body naturally slow down and begin to turn inward. Consequently any emotional, physical, or mental issue that we might be trying unconsciously or consciously to bury under our customary busy-ness will surface.
During one of my meditations, I was interrupted by a memory of an incident from 10 years ago. At first, I tried pushing it away because it seemed like a nuisance, old history, and not relevant to my practise. But it kept surfacing over several sessions. The emotional intensity was strong, and it felt like it almost demanded my attention.
When I decided to look at it, I was quite amazed at what I discovered.
It is easy to think that because I was in a meditation retreat, I could ignore or overlook feelings and emotions as irrelevant. But actually in retreat is the most powerful time to be creative and open in a non-judgmental way for all our experiences to reveal themselves.
So when I first faced this wave of resentment and anger, I floundered. My habit would have been to speak about it, which would only have inflamed me. Undoubtedly a rant would have been a justification for why I was right and the other people wrong. But as I was in retreat, I couldn’t voice my feelings like normal!
So I simply sat on my meditation cushion and allowed the sadness, anger, disappointment, and feelings of abandonment to wash over me. Gradually the tightness in my chest, the burning in my throat, and the heavy sadness in my heart began to ease. As my tightly wound mind and emotions unwound, I felt lighter and cleaner.
But I was curious about the level of anger I had felt; I decided to explore my attitude and role in the episode. Before delving into it I did a few minutes of calming breath meditation.
Almost clinically, I began to scrutinize what had happened that day 10 years ago. In this analytical meditation of the situation, I asked myself questions like, ”What about this situation made me so resentful and upset?” “How could I look at it differently?” “What would be the view of the other people involved?” “Is it beneficial to keep feeling resentment?” “Who’s being most injured by holding onto it?” After each question I would hold the space for an answer to surface.
Slowly it began dawning on me that I was deeply attached to things and especially people being the way I thought they should be. So essentially attachment was making me feel abandoned, and aversion to how things unfolded was making me angry. Suddenly it was as if the sun broke through the fog of intense emotions and I could see clearly.
It hit me that the other people have probably completely forgotten the incident, and almost certainly don’t share my perspective of it, so I've been the only person who’s been stewing all this time. When I put myself in their shoes, I could clearly see how and where things had gone awry that day. I even found myself smiling about it and realising we had all learnt from it because it had never happened again. And as I chose to look at it as an adventure and not a disaster, this reframing brought the greatest release.
It was a powerful experience. By simply allowing, accepting, and then adapting, I was able to even feel some gratitude for the incident and the people. This courageous foray into creating space for emotions showed me my blind spots, expectations, and the other places I trip myself up in my relationships, interactions, and life.
Probably the most profound change was discovering the powerful role perspective and attitude play in life experience.
The willingness to work with our own minds is profound. Aside from the benefits of growing calm, stopping agitated thoughts, feeling alert and attentive, being kind and loving, being more flexible and open, it empowers us to become courageous enough to face our inner world.
You can do this by taking a casual and interested approach to an issue you want to deal with. This will ease anxiety. If it’s a traumatic issue, then give yourself permission to face it for small chunks of time; revisit it as often as you feel strong enough to do so. Practise friendliness towards yourself by being kind and giving yourself a break. Speak to friend or therapist to help you grow and move on to living a happier life.
May you create space for all your life experiences.
Happy New Year.
Whatever resolution you might have set for yourself this year, I wish you all the very best in achieving it. One of the ways we can succeed in meeting our goals is to be fully present.
The way to be alert and aware of yourself and your surroundings is to get to know yourself. And retreat is a powerful way of doing that.
During a retreat we cut ourselves off from the external world (as much as is possible), and redirect energy, focus and attention inwards. In a secluded and distraction-free space (no media, games, novels and so on), we attend to our emotions, thoughts, feelings, and interactions, if any. We notice the constant inner chatter, topsy-turvy mind, and emotional fluctuations.
Being with ourselves in an open and spacious welcoming way will, over time, reveal our usually unconscious motivations, fears, and limiting beliefs.
A journey of self-discovery doesn’t necessarily have to be at a retreat center or in some exotic locale. It can be done in the privacy and comfort of your own home (with a few minor adjustments).
Set aside a dedicated space. It’s optional, but you could set up a little table with a few inspiring items on it. These should be meaningful things that encourage you to persevere in your meditation retreat. Sit in front of it for your meditations.
Your retreat time does not have to be spent only sitting in meditation. Of course, there are retreats with this intensity and focus. But it is important that you structure your retreat to be as nurturing and revealing for you as you want and need.
Your self-time should include some sitting meditation practice. Focusing your mind on your breathing is a powerful healing, centering, and stabilizing tool. You don’t have to necessarily sit in a meditation posture, but it can be helpful in preparing your mind and body for the inner journey.
Dedicate some time to absorb and process your experiences and discoveries about yourself; this can be through journaling, but it can also be simply thinking and reflecting.
If you are new to meditation then you should consider maybe doing 2 or 3 formal sitting meditation sessions of about 10 minutes each. Before you sit down to meditate, read some inspiring, uplifting, and supportive material. Ideally your first meditation session should be before breakfast, the 2nd before lunch, and the 3rd before dinner.
In between sitting sessions, you can read, journal, take a walk, sit quietly, nap, or simply be in nature observing life, and your reaction or response to it. As you are preparing your meals, dressing, showering, and so on, be mindful of what you are doing and your thoughts.
Essentially, focus on activities that will relax you and help you connect to yourself in a new deep and clear way. A calm and rested mind and emotions will help you see yourself, your life, and experiences in a whole different light. Make your retreat a journey of self-discovery.
Friends, I will be in retreat from February until April, so for the next 3 months I won’t be publishing any articles. But check out previous years' articles on my site if you need guidance and inspiration.
May your retreat increase your mindful presence.
Holiday gift-giving can be a stressful time for many. Especially if we come from a long tradition of gifting, we may struggle to find an affordable, suitable, or meaningful gift when we are short on cash, time, and energy.
It is important to recognize that there’s a chance we may never find the perfect gift.
For many reasons, people may not receive in the way we would like them to. Bad feelings in challenging relationships can cause our intentions to be misinterpreted. Our gift could be disregarded simply because it comes from us, a thoughtful gift may be felt to be spiteful and shaming, or an expensive gift may be seen as showing off or trying to buy favor.
Sometimes our own anxieties can cause us to worry that we may disappoint because our gift isn’t expensive or fancy enough, or we worry that we will be seen to be favoring some, so we’ll try to ensure all our gifts are of the same value. Or to avoid embarrassment and judgment, we’ll choose gifts beyond our financial means to gain approval, impress, or to one up someone else.
However some people don’t experience anxiety when gifting or not giving. Confident gift givers know and understand the recipient well and their choice deepens their connection. Other people reject the idea of symbolically tying holidays to obligatory giving, and minimalists choose not to consume excessively. There's a lesson here.
Rather than just going along with social influencers' and marketing specialists’ recommendations, this holiday season we can practice skillful giving.
When buying, giving, and receiving gifts consider:
Perhaps the best gift is spending time with important people in our lives. Meaningful time will increase our understanding and connection with each other. True giving arises from a generous heart that spontaneously and freely gives time, energy, and care. And in return, we feel good.
May you enjoy a relaxed and meaningful holiday season.
Post-election holiday gatherings are on the horizon.
Normally stressful family gatherings are likely to be even tenser this year. In these divisive times, heightened emotions – frustration and resentment are likely to be close to the surface for many.
So how does one keep an unflustered mind in such a pressure cooker?
The first thing to bear in mind is that in a disagreement each party believes they are right. So there's no point in trying to change the other person's perspective. The fact is things are not as black and white as we’d like to think or believe; in reality things are nuanced and fluid. In arguments, there’s usually a grain of truth to both sides’ opinions. We run the risk of creating a heated argument if we defend our opinion or explain the faults of the opposing view.
So it is important to figure out in advance what truly matters to you in your relationships with people who hold different views to yours.
To begin ask yourself, “in my relationship with _____, what matters most to me?” Are you more interested in proving your point, convincing the other person, or showing the flaws of the other person's view? Or might your focus be more on maintaining a healthy and cordial, even if not happy, relationship with this person? Do you value this person and would you like to continue having this person in your life?
With your intention clearly in the forefront of your mind, decide in advance how you will deal with any difficult interaction at the gathering.
Prepare by considering the following suggestions:
Become comfortable with Challenges:
Usually when we face a challenge our self-defensive coping kicks in, and causes us to retreat or panic. We struggle to control our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and behaviors; in this state it is easy to lose sight of our goal of being polite or cordial. The best way to disrupt this biological evolutionary reaction is to identify in advance the triggers that will cause you to lose your calm.
Train to be less sensitive by deliberately challenging yourself to face small uncomfortable situations. Maybe at work spend a little time with someone who is mildly irritating to you. Pay attention to your feelings and calmly label them. This will clear and calm your mind and emotions.
Also think about all the times in the past when you lost your temper. Is there a particular type of situation that is triggering for you? How did your body react to pressure? What was going through your mind? How did you feel? Probe these experiences by writing down your discoveries and reflections.
On the day of the event, relieve stress by going for a brisk walk or to the gym, by doing yoga or meditation. Distract yourself to decrease anxiety. Call up a friend, or dance and sing as you prepare your holiday meal.
Communication is more than Words:
If it will help ease your anxiety, make a list of what you will speak about. Try practicing it in front of a mirror with a recorder, or maybe in front of a trusted friend.
Sometimes we are confused when we are misunderstood. This occurs when we are only focused on our word choice, and on what we want to say. Communication is more than words.
Shape your conversation around what the other person needs to hear from you rather than on what you want to say. This doesn't mean agreeing. It is about focusing more on our human need for being understood and accepted.
Ideally this will be a reciprocal process. If it is not, then remind yourself of your intention to continue having this person in your life. So be willing to create a space in your life for him or her. This may require being willing to give up being right or just choosing to be quiet. Or it can simply mean listening with an open mind and heart. Remind yourself that silence is okay.
We can also be misunderstood because our body and face may be communicating a different message than our conciliatory words. Your breathing, facial expressions, and the tension or relaxation in your body also reflect your attitude. Practice in front of the mirror or video yourself speaking, so you can become familiar with your facial and bodily expressions.
In the heat of the moment, or on the spot, you can stop a situation from escalating by bringing your mindful attention to the present moment; focus on your breathing, or the feeling of your body contacting the chair, or holding a glass.
The best way to remain calm is to enter a challenging situation knowing your triggers and your responses.
May you enjoy a peaceful family get-together.
Do you, or someone you know have the tendency to over-explain? Have you found yourself in situations where you just kept on talking especially when you were uncomfortable?
You’ve probably guessed that this habit of excessively detailing, expounding, or expanding a point you are trying to make is tied to stress. In order to relieve a perceived threat, this stress-coping technique is an unconscious attempt to behave in socially acceptable ways. We do this when we are more focused on being amenable and accommodating to others' wants and wishes.
Over-explaining is common in social settings. Those most susceptible struggle with setting boundaries, have low self-esteem, are people pleasers, feel intimidated or vulnerable, or were often misunderstood in the past when talking. My own tendency to overshare information happens when I’m excited about something I’ve learned, and am trying to encourage others to experience it. My good intention doesn’t always translate well.
Over-explaining is quite literally using more words than is necessary. Instead of being pointed and direct, the person launches into long justifications for a decision. For instance, you aren’t going to accept a birthday party invitation. Instead of just saying, “I can’t make it,” you say “I won’t be able to come because I am trying to stay away from other people. I went out the other day and someone was coughing and now I’m not feeling well, but I don’t want to be rude. But I just can’t take the risk of being around other people. I know you are careful, but I don’t know about the other people who’ll be attending and I am not comfortable” and so on.
Anxiety or stress combined with the nervousness of being misunderstood, disliked or upsetting another, or the need to please, be reassured or approved of will cause us to speak more than we need to. We believe that doing so makes our message clearer. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.
Over-explaining is problematic, and it often has the opposite effect than intended. We may think that keeping our main point until the end will keep people interested. Actually it makes:
To break the habit of always spelling things out or chronicling reasons in detail, we have to first overcome the need for external validation. We do this by shifting attention inwards and noticing our own thought and feeling processes.
We gain control of external situations only by consciously managing our internal environment.
The more conscious we are of the emotions we are feeling, and the stories we are telling ourselves about stressful or new situations, the more empowered we’ll be to face them. If we know the stream of thoughts in our minds, we’ll be able to disrupt our habit of rambling explanations and reframe our internal narrative. We can then replace mindless long-winded explanations with simple, clear, and direct messages.
We must also take time to soothe our anxiety and worry about disappointing others. Play out a scenario in your mind where you were invalidated, or misunderstood. Sit with the discomfort and painful feelings. Then acknowledge that we’ll inevitably disappoint others even when we don’t intend to. This is life.
By managing how we communicate, we can rebuild our image. When I first started promoting my business, I would answer the question, “what do you do?” with an off-the-cuff detailed description. After I wrote down the main and supporting points of my message with the understanding that I only have a limited time to answer, thereafter I was able to succinctly and clearly explain what I do. Now it has become quite natural to answer with just a few words.
As over-explainers worry that they aren’t being clear or are being misunderstood, you can avoid talking off someone’s ear by getting into the habit of asking your listeners questions. “Do you need more information?” “Would you like me to continue?” “Was that clear?” This is a good way of receiving reassurance that you made your point.
Learn whether your natural habit is to speak or listen and what percentage of the time that occurs. Introverts may listen 70% and speak 30% of the time, and vice versa for extroverts. Change your habit from speaking for half an hour to listening for half an hour.
When you are speaking, watch the expressions of the people you are communicating with. If you see they understand your point, you don’t need to say more. You can then focus on letting them speak.
A very good approach is to think more about what your listeners need to hear and not about what you want to say.
Remember, in a conversation people can’t focus for long. Say your main point, explain a little, and then stop talking. In this way, you’ll hold their attention.
May you be heard and understood.
How wide is your comfort zone? Is it static or changeable? What inspires change? Knowing the answers to such questions will reveal hidden aspects of yourself that sabotage progress and desired changes.
Let’s begin with what is a comfort zone? It is a state of being relaxed in a familiar, safe environment where you experience little stress, and are effortlessly in control.
Examples of staying in one’s comfort zone are not making effort to study or exercise, always doing things the same way, remaining in unhealthy, unsatisfactory work and personal relationships, catastrophizing about all that can go wrong if you do try something new, alienating people who challenge you, and undermining your abilities through negative self-talk when you don’t want to try something new and so on.
We are naturally drawn to the status quo and known. Seeking comfort or pleasure isn’t bad, in and of itself, but when it becomes the only acceptable or tolerable way of living it becomes a millstone around our necks. Society and marketing media also promote pleasure, fun, and comfort as must haves in our cars, homes, clothes, entertainment, recreation, and experiences.
If we subscribe to this notion of needing to always be comfortable, we’ll struggle when faced with discomfort. Fearful of encountering new circumstances, we will live circumscribed lives, constantly protecting ourselves from the things we believe we can’t deal with.
Life isn’t only about pleasure, comfort, and safety. From experience, we know that it is filled with moments of pain and pleasure, and highs and lows. It is impossible to participate in the full range of human experience by striving to remain always in our safe place.
The problem lies in our beliefs. We believe that when things aren’t going our way, our desires aren’t being met, or something we don’t want to have happen actually happens, that these are bad or wrong.
In reality, situations are neutral in nature. What we call bad or good is actually a mental projection that is wanting things to be a certain way. When things are going according to our wish, we love it and call it good. When things are going awry and contrary to our wish, we are unhappy and call it terrible. For instance, you are getting ready for work and you want to make coffee. You are running late, and the coffee maker doesn’t turn on, you are upset and call it a bad start to the day. On the day you are early, and the coffee maker doesn’t turn on, you calmly discover it hasn’t been plugged in. All's okay. Or say there's just one piece of cake left. If you are wanting it for yourself and your friend takes it, then he appears greedy. But if you aren't interested in the cake, and he takes it, then his action isn't good or bad. These are impartial scenarios, but based on the state of mind, it is experienced as good or bad.
To the extent that these feelings of liking and disliking rule our minds, we’ll be comfortable or uncomfortable with our life circumstances. Our minds are the key to our happiness, sense of peace, joy, freedom, adventurousness, and feeling of security.
Living always within our comfort zone denies us the opportunity to achieve our goals and make necessary changes in life. Try out these mental strategies in advance:
Take small steps towards moving out of your safe place.
May you stretch your wings to fly free.
We all long to belong and yet we feel like we just don’t fit in anywhere.
Even within family, community, religious, or cultural groups, we can feel disconnected and like we stand out awkwardly. We crave to be part of a tribe and accepted as a vital part of the group. What we are seeking is deep and meaningful connection.
Belonging is hardwired into our brains.
This desire is so primal it drives our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Feeling closeness with others matters because being part of a group enables us to share our vision, goals, and values. It’s a space for receiving and giving support, comfort, and enjoyment. It increases our motivation and health. Rapport signals acceptance which contributes to emotional wellbeing. Our social identity is tied to a group based on shared ideals and beliefs and meaningful interactions that enable us to be our authentic selves.
Conversely social exclusion and ostracism is deeply disturbing to our overall wellbeing.
Alienation leads to loneliness, inner conflict, self-doubt and depression, and can severely affect even our physical health. Research published in Frontiers in Psychology shows that our obsession with smartphones is owing to our need for connection where we can observe and be observed and accepted.
But often this yearning to belong comes at a cost.
Our need for kinship can drive us to suppress and change who we are so that we can be approved of. The problem with hiding our true selves simply so that we fit in is that we then live on tenterhooks, fearing the day we will be discovered as a fraud. Stressful, right? Worse still, because we know we are pretending, we never feel truly connected either.
Ironically, we all engage in this behavior of trying to fit in and yet none of us stops to ask, “Exactly whose standard are we trying to live up to?” We don’t know whom we are trying to please because everyone else is also pretending. So we are like dogs chasing our own tails.
How we feel about ourselves deeply influences our relationships.
If we are alienated from our own feelings, thoughts, and ways of being through feeling shame, unworthiness, vulnerability, or fear then we will struggle to belong. Abandoning ourselves stifles and strangles parts of us, undermines our decisions, and makes us afraid to stand alone and in our truth. Essentially it is not allowing ourselves to be our perfectly imperfect human self.
True belonging and connection are impossible without a connection to ourselves. The bedrock of meaningful relationships is based on being ourselves without apology or explanation. All of us want to feel comfortable in our own bodies, and confident and self-trusting of who we are and our goals. Belonging is bringing our authentic self forward and owning how we dress, speak, and are.
When I was growing up, I was often told I spoke too much and shared too much ‘unwanted” information. On the faces of my listeners would be disbelief or disapproval. I would notice and cringe inwardly. For years whenever I spoke, I would notice the tendency to second guess myself or discredit what I was saying before someone else could do it. Their judgment never stopped me from speaking, but it did create self-doubt in me.
Such scenarios create a vicious cycle. The fear of being criticized causes one to pretend, pretending to be someone else causes us to feel unseen and rejected, which leads to fear of being with others and self-alienation.
To build a sense of belonging will take effort and consistent practice. You begin by working on yourself and then spread it out to others as your practice deepens.
May you find your way back to yourself.