Image by Andrew Lozovyi
I was an introverted only child who grew up between three cultures and never felt like I fully fit in, so I’ve thought about belonging my whole life. I’ve explored a deep solitary connection to spirit as well as total immersion in a close-knit community to experience how belonging happens in different settings.
At one point, I landed in an inner sense of belonging that’s authentic and portable. Now, instead of looking to others to determine whether or not I belong, I meet them with my belonging already sourced from within, which has revolutionized how I show up in groups.
Here are five things you can do to create a sense of belonging wherever you go, even when you feel like an outsider.
1) Get curious
When we enter a new situation, we tend to focus on ourselves with a waterfall of thoughts: “How do I look? Do I smell ok? Do I have food in my teeth? I don’t want to look like I’m trying too hard, I’ll just lean against the wall and watch.” But it’s hard to connect with others when our attention is on ourselves. Getting curious is the antidote.
My ex-husband and I used to play a game in spaces where we hardly knew anyone. We’d go up to a stranger and start a conversation. By doing this, I learned a lot about the power of simple curiosity as a bridge to belonging.
The next time you’re hanging back, get curious. Notice something and comment on it, ask people about themselves and how they came to be there. Genuine curiosity can be felt and is an instant ice-breaker.
2) Reveal yourself
This one comes after curiosity because, if you’re like me, you may use curiosity and good listening skills to recede into the background. If being a wallflower is your true nature, great, but it wasn’t mine. For me, it was the survival mechanism of a mixed child who wanted to fit in.
A few years ago, new friends told me they couldn’t feel me behind my reserved exterior and challenged me to reveal myself more. By vulnerably sharing myself, I created belonging, because the emotions I revealed were ones that we all struggle with. Authenticity is a cut-to-the-chase path to belonging.
If you tend to be curious at the expense of sharing yourself, balance your curiosity with being more self-revealing. Look for moments where you can open up first to take a conversation deeper.
3) Don’t piggyback
People piggyback to try to show empathy by sharing a similar experience but it’s not the best way to create connection.
Example: Your friend got a parking ticket. Instead of saying, “Bummer. Tell me more,” or, “Shit. You sound stressed about that, want to talk through how to make it work?,” you say, “That sucks. I just got a ticket last week.”
In the first scenario, your attention is on your friend and you give them room to open up, which is true empathy. In the second scenario, you think you’re showing empathy by revealing that you’ve had a similar experience, but you’re pulling the attention back to yourself and subtly topping your friend, which doesn’t feel good.
It takes practice to change this habit, but doing so will create belonging, because your friends will feel more space and safety to share themselves with you.
4) Remember there’s only one of you in the universe.
YOU’RE A FREAKING MIRACLE!
There’s only one person exactly like you, even if you’re part of a like-minded tribe. How many single-celled amoebas had to divide until sex evolved, leading to the possibility of you?
If you don’t believe in evolution, how about this: God doesn’t make mistakes and God made you. Any negative crap you believe about yourself is a false idea you picked up from family, culture, religion, and education. It’s inherited and not who you really are.
If you walk into a room anchored in the knowledge that your existence is a freaking miracle you’ll be less freaked out about whether or not people like you. They will no longer determine your worth because YOU’RE A FREAKING MIRACLE.
Remember that each person you meet is also a freaking miracle, whether they know it or not. We’re all bumbling along in our inherited ideas of separation until we choose to interrogate and dismantle them. Compassion for the less conscious as we work to become more conscious fosters belonging because we know how much it sucks to forget who we really are.
5) Practice meditation
Meditation isn’t an instant fix, but it’s an important part of the puzzle of belonging. The more friendly you get with the orchestra of voices in your head, the more you realize that there’s no such thing as a singular “I” that people can accept or reject.
The landing in belonging within that I experienced earlier this year occurred at a meditation retreat. All the books, lectures, healing sessions, and meditations of the last thirty years of personal and spiritual growth added up to the moment I saw who I am in such a way that I won’t forget it again.
I still go up and down, but when I’m down there’s still an awareness that my essence is fine, even in the midst of exhaustion and grief.
If you’ve never meditated before, start small. Sit for five minutes and notice your breath moving in and out. When you notice that your mind wandered, bring your attention back to the breath. You don’t need a fancy cushion or even to be able to sit on the floor. Gradually work up to sitting for twenty minutes a day. You could start with a guided meditation app, like Headspace, use cool tech like the Muse headband, or attend a meditation class, and work up to sitting on your own in silence.
Meditation is a cumulative practice. You’ll go through periods when you drop in without a hitch, and others when you’re bobbing along on the surface like a buoy in a hurricane. It doesn’t matter. Just sit and over time you’ll discover who you really are beneath the noise.
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