This is the second post in a series of posts about my experience being diagnosed, and treated for, melanoma. Did you miss the first post?
Baggage, History and Beliefs
A few years ago I took my daughter, Clara, on a month-long road trip across the western United States. When we got to Yellowstone, there were people lined up to rent bear spray.
Bear spray. Huh.
Here is what I thought, “I trust the bears more than I trust you. I know what to expect from wild animals. You humans? Not so much.”
I, like many of my fellow humans carry personal and societal trauma. Certainly I’ve grown exponentially from the challenges I’ve faced, and still, the trauma I’ve experienced informs how I move through the world.
Though I still carry what I’ve experienced, I no longer suffer as a result of the intended (and unintended) emotional and physical harm that I’ve experienced. Yet, my healing continues to be an evolution and one I’m committed to not only for myself, but for my daughter and for the future of peace and prosperity I envision for all.
So when I’m faced with something in my current realm that surfaces something old, I turn and I face it as honestly as I can.
Humans have a deep need to belong: to ourselves, to the earth, to our fellow humans. We are wired for connection. One of the biggest struggles I’ve had in relationship to the trauma I’ve experienced is a sense that I don’t belong.
Many years ago, I named my desire to belong — when I spoke that intention aloud to my coach at the time, I could feel it’s power. I knew it would be an intention that would be working in me, and on me, for a long time. That has proven to be true.
First, I tenderly learned to belong to myself. To live in my body, to feel at home in my own skin. To experience the grace of trusting myself and claiming my personal authority.
I then felt a deep desire to belong to the earth. I relearned my connection to the earth herself, rekindling a sweet relationship and a trust with the earth, and non-human nature.
From there, my gaze naturally turned to my fellow humans — the ultimate place to belong, right? To your own species. I wasn’t really sure I wanted to belong to the greater sea of humanity.
Then, earlier this year, I read a beautiful book by Toko-Pa Turner, Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home. I decided I was ready. Ready to lean in and claim my place.
My first teacher entered stage left.
Stranger in a Strange Land.
Diagnosed with melanoma in the U.S., I came home to Zambia knowing I would be traveling to South Africa for treatment. For a variety of reasons, we decided that I would go by myself to Johannesburg. Preparations were made.
I reached out to many people I am acquainted with through coaching asking questions and seeking advice. Even though I had insisted on going by myself, secretly I was feeling tender, scared and alone.
As I got closer to the day of departure, there was an enormous outpouring of love, care and support — mostly from people I know only via my husband or through Facebook. There was the family that invited me to visit with them the weekend I would be alone in Johannesburg before treatment. There was the embassy community in Pretoria that offered phones, transportation, visits at the hospital, and other practical support. There were the coaches I know that offered their love, advice and connections with unfathomable generosity.
Feeling alone is not unusual for me. It fits with my story of not belonging. However the deluge of love, support, and care was upturning my comforting (but painful) mantle of aloneness.
So here’s how it went down:
Overwhelm. Delighted gratitude. Anxiety. Fear. Wonder. Tears. Peace.
Rinse and repeat.
One night, I confessed my fear to my husband: I was deeply afraid that if these people knew me, they would never be so kind. In the darkest recesses of my psyche, I was sure that when these people would meet me, they would be sorry that they reached out with such kindness.
Because people don’t like me. Because I don’t belong.
Such old conditioning. Such old fear. My dear husband held me and reminded me how much he loves me (and even likes me) and how many people absolutely love me and like me and even treasure me.
He’s a good one.
I choose authenticity.
In Toko-Pa’s book, there were two parts that burned themselves into my soul — one, she talked about walking away before other’s can reject you and how this hurts others (the people who want to belong to you) as well as you. I could see and feel viscerally not only how much I’ve done this, but how much I wanted to do this in the face of all the kindness that was coming my way. I didn’t want to open up or share my heart because I was so sure people would reject me.
The second element of her book that shook me and turned me upside down was her assertion that if you want to belong somewhere, you belong there. End of story.
Over the years of tending my own healing and learning to show up as myself (or feeling like I can’t and suffering through being fake) is that there is no real sense of belonging if I can’t be who I really am. It’s simply not worth it to pretend to be anything other that myself. I have learned to do just that confidently in my work and with my beloveds and my closest friends, but my visceral fear of doing this in the wider world with people who may or may not be “my people” has kept me isolated in many instances.
In this way, not only have I guaranteed I feel a lack of belonging but I’ve also potentially cut myself, and others, off from connection and relationship by presuming I wouldn’t belong. I realized there were ways this was impacting not only me personally, but the ways I reach out to share my work and serve the world. It split me open to see it.
So with a deep breath and a tender heart, I chose something different. I flew to South Africa with the intention of staying open. I committed to being fully myself. I decided to affirm my belonging in each instance, until it became clear that was not the case.
The Miracle of Belonging.
I am not sure I’ve ever felt so safe, so loved, and so held as I did when in South Africa. I didn’t have a single moment where I felt compelled to be anything other than who I am. I paid close attention to what was happening when I was with others: I genuinely enjoyed the people I was with and I dare say, they enjoyed me.
I belong. I want to belong. This feels like a miracle. And in my belonging, through connection to people who were once strangers, I feel a sense of kinship with my fellow humans I’m not sure I’ve ever felt. And not just a kinship, but a deeper call to see an end to the causes and conditions of all kinds of violence that lead to suffering. And let’s be clear: being told, or feeling like, we don’t belong is an act of violence against our very nature as humans.
Belonging is your birthright.
I share this with you because too many women (like me) didn’t fit with their families, peers or communities when growing up. Too many women I know have suffered emotional and/or physical violence that disconnected them from their place in the world. Too many women I know dare not speak the truth for fear of being rejected, or worse.
I get it. Deeply and personally.
I’m here to tell you that belonging is your birthright. Your family, your community, your workplace and the world need you to claim your place.
Without a sense of belonging, it’s too easy to hide. To walk away. To tell yourself that your voice doesn’t matter. To see the places where you are still told you don’t belong, to shrug, and give up. To focus only on the people to whom you really don’t WANT to belong and walk away.
There are always going to be people and places where we don’t belong. I’m not insisting that we subject ourselves to rejection and violence intentionally. But now, when the dysfunction and the divisions in our country and the world feels so vast, it’s that much more important to claim our place and rise up to share a vision of healing, grace, peace and prosperity for all.
I matter. You matter. Your experience, shared, matters. Your rage, your pain, your light — all of you matters deeply. We matter more than we could ever imagine. We belong.
On every level, from the personal to the societal, when you choose to belong, you change. The people around you change. To belong is to be at home in your own skin, in the world at large, and among your fellow humans. To belong is to know that the world needs the authentic fullness of who you are.
Your place at the table of belonging.
It is in your decision to claim your place that you become part of the conversations that shape our individual and collective futures. It is in your belonging that you feel compelled to offer your Truth, your gifts and your talents in bold service to the world you wish to inhabit. It is in your belonging that you meet and mix and mingle with the hearts and minds of other humans who are also learning to belong to the world in richer, sweeter ways.
This is how we craft a new world that celebrates truth, kindness, dignity and personal authority.
May you feel the sweet truth of your belonging resonate deep in your bones.
May you experience the impact that cultivating belonging will have in your life, in your work and in the world.
May you know the healing power of being received and celebrated for all that you are at the table of belonging, my sister.
Meet me there - I’m saving you a seat.
Image credit; Tim Marshall on Unspash
Belong first to Yourself
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