This week I am inspired and so grateful for women out there forging a path for us all to follow like Brene Brown. I first heard of her years back when she appeared on the TED stage with her research on vulnerability. She’s an academic who speaks from the heart and I love her approach to topics that we are often too afraid to talk about, like fear, shame and belonging. They are so relevant to us all, especially women yet, so rarely spoken of in professional and public forums and she has bought them to the fore.
Brene broke the mould back there on that stage and she continues to do so with her latest book: Braving The Wilderness: The quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone. In this incredible piece of work Brene talks in depth about the things, we all do to belong right from the beginning. As children in school, as young women in social situations, and even as adults in political and professional environments.
Her words have cracked open my heart with yet more realisations, so I wanted to share some reflections for those also interested in personal growth and development. I highly recommend reading Brene’s book and I credit these words to her force of inspiration.
The Fear Of Not Belonging
This topic is something we all seem to struggle with. When you strip fear back, often we hold the same universal worries, especially as women. It’s nice to know that and comforting to realise that we all often battle with the same inner fears. One of the biggest most common fears is not belonging or being accepted for who we are which is something we have spoken about often at our Bali yoga retreat, Escape Haven. Guests have talked about how they walk through life adapting a version of themselves that they believe is acceptable, that they hope others will like and are often guilty being people pleasers.
I’ve heard people talk about the word fear as an acronym FEAR (False Events Appearing Real) and this is so relevant when I think about the fear we all seem to have about not belonging. It’s unfounded, yet it feels so very real. What do I mean? Well if you’re like me then your world is made up of many different layers and groups of people that overlap. Family and work and friends and schools and politics and communities- the groups we feel we must belong to are endless.
The first and primary place I felt fear about not belonging was my family. I was adopted at an early age and grew up feeling very different to my family but not knowing why. I put so much effort into success quests – a studious little girl that tried to be the best in every endeavour from academia to music to sport. My strong drive to succeed came from a deep fear, to be accepted, to find my place where I belonged and to be enough. My parents wanted me dearly NOT to go to University and to follow my musical path (I played the piano and violin from the age of 5). They wanted me to become a concert pianist, opening a music store in our small suburban town in Auckland. That dream of theirs made me feel ill. I knew there was something much more to life than what my parents wanted for me and it lay in a non conventional path. In truth, I knew I wanted much more than my parents’ ambitions for me – and because of that, I carried a sense of shame about treading a different path and not seeking the approval I craved.
A Quest For Self Acceptance
In my later years, the fear of not belonging came with me but it manifested in different ways. I felt it sometimes in social situations at university, I felt it in personal friendships and relationships and I felt it in my early professional ventures into the world of marketing and advertising especially when I had to stand up on a stage and present.
I felt that there was a way of being, of dressing and even a set of choices that were expected of me. But the problem was this: those expectations didn’t always match my truth or the fact that I felt different. I couldn’t deny my passion for social issues and I struggled to not speak up when faced with injustice. My thoughts about being a non conformist who didn’t enjoy alot of societal rules and wanting a different life bucking the 9-5 system, seemed to cause awkward silences, my environmental opinions differed from some, I have a very staunch view on animal welfare and often when I dared to share these things I became acutely aware of the way my differing views landed on some.
This left me in with an uncomfortable choice – speak up and risk not being accepted, or stay silent and comply with the group’s consensus. I’m saddened to remember the times when I choose to remain silent. I’m sad for the young women inside of me who doubted her opinions and felt so scared of what would happen if she spoke her authentic truth. I’m sad for all of the times I was scared to draw attention to instances of injustice but I can forgive myself because now I see I was simply too scared to rock the boat many times.
The Results Of Not Belonging
While I do feel sad about all of the fears and beliefs I had back then, I am eternally grateful to have found some relief from that pain early. I guess you could say I began to find belonging when I found my people. Yoga, watersports, adventure travel, entrepreneurship, Bali, animal charities, organisations and spiritual practices brought me into contact with other women and men on a journey of self-love, self-improvement and making the most of their unique paths in this world. They saw the world the same way I did and it felt great to connect from a really authentic place that made me come alive when I was in their company. I may not have found full acceptance for myself at that time, but I did get to feel as though I belonged and that changed my life entirely. As I write to you I’m realising that this is part of the reason I opened a women’s retreat in Bali. That life changing feeling of belonging to a group of women and feeling accepted by those people brought me such joy. I am truly blessed and I wanted to share that experience with others and for them to feel that complete acceptance too.
Sadly not everyone gets to feel this way. I see it every day in the news, in society and in business. I feel like loneliness has never been more present than it is now. We are divided politically, socially, emotionally and even environmentally. Race is still an issue on the global news, we are at war with the planet and we are at war with ourselves. It seems that the world is in pain. By not belonging to ourselves and to each other we continue to make choices that hurt us, hurt the people around us and hurt the world. Then we seek relief through numbing and pass on this pain generation after generation.
So What Does Belonging Really Mean?
Most people think belonging is an externally achieved state of being. We relate it to that feeling of acceptance that comes when we are included in our social or family groups. We think it will come from being ‘on the team’ or part of the squad. We think people must approve of us in order to feel that we belong but we’re wrong. It’s more than that. So much more.
While reading Brene Brown’s book I became aware of another level of belonging entirely. She calls it ‘true belonging’
“True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”
Learning To Be Who We Really Are
Brene calls this level of honesty and courage ‘true belonging’ and since reading her words I’ve come to see that belonging is actually an internally generated force or feeling. It’s something we can make for ourselves, a state of self-love we can manifest by stepping out into the world exactly as we are. As flawed women who feel deeply and sometimes differently than others. As real women who drop our masks and dare show ourselves despite the fear of not being accepted.
The journey to finding true belonging lays before me and I can imagine before many of you too. It’s going to take courage because if we walk into the world as our true selves – it might mean we aren’t always going to be accepted. It might mean we ruffle some feathers or disrupt the status quo, but it will ultimately lead to a level of self-acceptance and self-love that is well worth the discomfort we may go through along the way.
This quote by Maya Angelou seems to perfectly sum it up:
“You are only free when you realise you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great”
How To Find True Belonging
To me, this is where the rubber must hit the road. Finding true belonging to me, myself and I – is where the work is. I understand I must be willing to do this work in order to get to the place that Maya talks about and that finding true belonging is not a passive act. It’s an effort I need to make alone. I can no longer label myself as part of a group. I can no longer glide on my old ways of being. Instead, I need to step out of the easy flow and into the messy truth of who I really am.
I can see that the process of truly speaking up will feel vulnerable and that it will take full mindful presence. And this makes me so thankful for the calming effects of my meditation practice. I’m also grateful for the centring of my yoga retreat practice and I’m grateful for all of the awareness and teaching I’ve received from other women on the journey before me. Having these sorts of tools will help anyone embarking on this path.
Taking Action To Truly Belong To Ourselves
In the book I mentioned earlier Brene Brown suggests a beautiful method of change to follow so I have chosen to share it with you in my own words here. I believe that we are all destined to come home to ourselves and that we all deserve the joy of true belonging – so I, like you, am a student in the process rather than a teacher in control.
Brene talks about four different ways to step into ourselves without disconnecting from others. To belong to the world as we truly are and I’ve rephrased her words here in the way I’ve come to understand her instruction.
- Give others the gift of belonging and expect it back
To truly belong we need to get past our own self-judgments and the first step to doing that is to let go of judging others for their differences. So get close to those that are different, listen to their opinions and try to understand them just as you struggle to understand yourself. Hold space for their views and be free of judgement through this.
- Be kind but speak your truth
Be polite but firm with your truth. Remember that the word ‘no’ is a complete sentence. You don’t have to justify your opinion, it is valuable just because it’s your opinion. But don’t assume that others will share it and don’t react in anger or shrink when they don’t.
- Show up for others
Engage with the world, even if you feel like being alone. Don’t let your feelings keep you isolated. Step out there and embrace strangers. Ask people how they are feeling and do service wherever and whenever you can.
- Be sturdy as well as soft
Be courageous in your actions but willing to bear the weight of the results. Be vocal but vulnerable. Be honest about your fears but unashamed to have them. You are a woman with many sides so why not show them all.
Honouring Your Journey To The Center
I’m slowly learning that when I play an open hand of cards and show myself to the world as I really am – I’m able to touch peace and actively invite in a sense of belonging and self-love. It’s an ongoing journey but one that’s cracking my heart wide open with every step. I invite you to join me on this journey from where you are today or in a more active way in our little island paradise of healing. Escape Haven retreat spots fill quickly but there are still some dates available if you want to continue your journey to true belonging to yourself and with a group of like-minded sisters.
Escape Haven Bali Retreat, supporting women on year making wellness experiences.
We invite you to come and experience for yourself our award winning Bali retreat. If it’s time to fill up your cup and shrug off all the roles that you wear and all the balls you juggle in your busy life, we’d love to pamper you. From transformational yoga and meditation classes, to exhilarating surf lessons in the warm waters of Bali, fun fitness in our tropical gardens to restorative healing and pampering sessions, how much or little you do is all up to you.