If worries were stones that could be polished by rolling around repeatedly in our minds, one of the shiniest rocks in my tumbler would have to be wondering where I really belong. Growing up in Wichita, Kansas I was convinced I was being excluded from a much more Technicolor city. In New Mexico I quickly grew bored of the piercingly blue skies and yearned for thunderstorms. Ohio seemed to choose me instead of the other way around. I don't strongly identify with many of the aspects of my life and personality that make easy answers to casual questions about who I am or what I do.
All this becomes especially distressing when I'm convinced that everyone else not only knows for certain where they belong but have also managed to get there. It reminds me of the paradox that throws so many people off about meditation: the way it appears on the outside doesn’t give a very reliable indication of what it feels like on the inside.
Last year, I had the extravagantly good fortune to practice mindfulness intensively in an idyllic setting near the ocean, with Birds of Paradise thriving in early January, and a few peacocks adding spontaneous local color. Yet I found myself wondering if I really belonged there — even as a visitor.
As much sincere intention as I put into weeding out unrealistic assumptions about life, I've managed to hold onto the notion that some perfect fit exists for each of us. I don't want to blame this on Hollywood or religion or advertising — aren't they all just responding to the strong craving for narrative which seems to be hardwired into our nervous systems? It’s that same inherited impulse toward security and the sense that each of us is actually the main character in this one long reality show.
Practicing mindfulness over time can lead to a direct and deepening awareness that nothing is unchanging. Could this apply to my perpetual desire to belong? What if there really is no satisfying it in the same way we never seem to reach the point of having the right amount of money or time?
What if instead of finding out exactly where I belong, I put my energy into belonging where I find myself at any given moment? This means making ourselves at home scraping snow from the windshield, listening to the hold music, drinking coffee, sitting through another boring meeting, watching a great movie, waiting to see the doctor, washing our hands, and dropping off the recyclables. To really bloom where we find ourselves planted begins with settling in, soaking up whatever our roots can reach, and celebrating the sprouting as well as the whole climb toward blooming.
What would it feel like to at least attempt to notice and accept all the many points along the way — the pleasant episodes as well as the unpleasant ones? If we can practice embracing the hundreds of different places we find ourselves each day (physically, mentally, emotionally), then we're well on our way to belonging wherever we go.
Originally posted on January 29, 2010, and on Buddhist Geeks, March 18, 2010.