The Art
— of Belonging

Why is community important and why do humans seek it? What are we actually searching for in the meeting and melting with others and how does it relate to my personal evolution? If the evolution of this planet also is mirrored in the ways we relate, what lessons are waiting to be learned in terms of the way we build our communities? These questions have been echoing in my being this fall.

Text: Berit Indset

I’ve spent much time alone, but also in the community of trees and moss. And then there have been those deep encounters with other people, moments where the inner and outer is reflected in another being. And I feel the power there. The ways I meet and am being met is changing. Rapidly. It feels personal and universal at the same time, like my own inner yearning for a new way of relating is mirrored in the world, and the other way around. With these new introspective and interpersonal structures colliding, a deep sense of belonging is blossoming forth. Are we preparing to take a leap into a new narrative of community?

Belonging to oneself
It seems to be a natural human movement towards trying to find a sense of ease, contentment and joy in the relationship we hold to ourselves. But how many people do you know who appear to be at peace with themselves, have a clear and honest way of expressing and at the same time carry the rare quality of contentment and pure authenticity? In my ideal society tools for staying connected to ourselves would be built into all facets of life from birth, in kindergarten, schools and in our working environment. But not having the societal structures to aid us in our own personal discovery, most of us are left having to find the time and tools for this by ourselves, squeezed in between work, mojitos, family and getting the kid to soccer practice on time.  

For me, it came to a point at the end of last year where I realized I needed to take my inner job as serious as my outer endeavors and hence I dedicated 2017 to going within. Working on myself and with others I find it fascinating how difficult and rare the qualities of ease, contentment and peace that many aspire for seem to be in our society, but also in myself. In my experience, many of us will struggle to even find a clear way of answering the simple question: How are you feeling right now? That one has been a big one for me, and what 2017 and the time spent listening has taught me is: It all starts there. What is happening within my body, mind and emotional field in this very moment shapes my experience of everything that is going on around me and how I relate to my surroundings. Many of us have never learned what it means to be in contact with our inner world and how to express this clearly in our lives and it seem every more clear to me that the lack of this connection is creating unnecessary confusion, fear, uncertainty and often also conflict in our relationships. When the connection inwards has been put on hold, for whatever reasons we all numb down, and this also affects my ability to communicate clearly in my relationships. In order to express to you what I need, want and feel, I first need to be clear about what is happening within; I need to develop the ability to feel these callings initially within myself. Otherwise what comes up and out is only a reflection of the confusion and disconnect I feel inside of my self. I deeply believe that a society that makes space for this inner work where we get quiet enough to hear what our needs and dreams are, where we feel into our boundaries and when they are stepped on – is a more healthy society. 

The tools for this exiting and challenging quest are many – yoga, meditation, creating space for deep inner listening, solitude, slowing down and expressing ourselves through journaling as well as many more modalities. Any of these can be used to cultivate a deeper connection to the way we think, feel and express and they all offer bountiful gifts to our lives. Through my own discovery of my inner being over the years, my body is now giving me clear signals as to when I need anything from fresh air, sunlight and spend time in nature to when I’m hurt, rather than angry and when I compromise my own boundaries and find myself taking it out on my partner. Well, I guess the signal was always there, I was just to distracted to receive it. Through this listening, I’ve also developed a stronger sense of what my body needs to feel nourished in terms of the foods that I eat and how the natural cycle of the day, month, year affects every aspect of my life. My experience is that listening to this conversation between the inner and the outer and respecting these needs, makes the rest of my life flow with more ease, grace, joy, creativity and efficiency.  

Creating space and time for yoga, meditation and time alone spent in nature has offered me insights in the way that I can more efficiently harness my productivity while maintaining emotionally integrity. Making it at priority to set time of to learn how to listen and respect my emotional guiding system, has completely changed the way I relate in this world and how I go about executing my goals. When I find myself checking off my to-do list in a frantic manner and feel the sense of overwhelmed creep up and stress hijacks my brain, I know the most graceful and efficient thing to do is to stop, take a breath and maybe head for a short walk in the woods. Despite the fact that society seems to have been trying to tell me the opposite all my life: push through! Take a painkiller and get back to work. How can possibly taking time to go for a walk make this day more productive, my mind screams? But it miraculously happens, more often than not, that every minute of that walk is given back through a more clear and focused productivity once I sit back down by my desk. Add to that a deep sense of well being in my body from the nourishment of fresh air, daylight and physical movement, and I’m left certain that it was the right thing to do. It is like my search for belonging to myself and listening to my needs are weaved together with the search of belonging to my creative and productive life. My belonging to myself being weaved together into my job, making me feel more inspired, empowered and connected to why I do what I do.  

In my experience, cultivating a deeper connection to our own inner being is not only a path to find the ease, joy and contentment we look for within ourselves, it also echoes forth in our relationship and our communities. This whole dance between the inner and the outer seems to be held in something even bigger, the backdrop of where all this is happening: our natural environment. We can never escape nature, so what is She trying to show us? Could it be that our natural environment plays a much more important role than we acknowledge, and perhaps nourishes us simply by existing in her own terms; weaving us into an ancient web of existence where there is a constant, ever-present dialogue between me and Her?   

Belonging to my natural surroundings
As I sit down to write about our connection to our natural environment I find myself stuck. The words are not coming. What does my relationship to nature look like and how does this relationship look like to others? Have we lost something? If yes, then what? What is it that I really want to express? I feel there is something important here. I need to listen, and maybe in a whole new way. An ancient way. And as I sense into my uncomfortable feelings, into not being able to flow with the present moment, I hear her whispering voice sneak into my home office space. She has a whole other language that stretches beyond time: 

«Step outside and simply listen».  

And I do. I’ve heard this silent voice before, and know when it is time to leave the desk. I get dressed and walk into fresh early winter forest, become quiet and just walk. And as from out of nowhere, the words appear effortlessly. I let go of my striving and rest, letting myself be held in her quiet presence. I once again feel my place in the family of things and she reminds me of her worth. As creativity is born out of this stillness, from the echo of grounded trees and decaying leaves, it is not me that initiates the dialogue. It is not only my own voice I hear better, there is community here. My ponderings are met and held but also answered. All these words, and nothing really happened. 

And in this silent creativity she tells me to trust. She shows me that creation is not created by me and the tempo my mind finds practical. Because there is more, there is more here to see and learn and express than my simple mind can manifest. She says «I’m nature. I know what is needed. I don’t even need a mind in order to know what is next. You are a part of me, hence you also know what is next, if you just listen and let me show you.» And I don’t feel alone here. It deeply feels like it is a dialogue I’m experiencing. She shows me how to relax so I can lean in and trust her rhythm. I feel the urge to stretch my body and feel the new energy rushing in as I expand my trunk. A line from the poet Mary Oliver’s «Wild Gees» appears in my mind and invites me to simply «let the soft animal of my body love what it loves» and then feel the joy of being able to share it with you. New words appear, quotes I didn’t know I carried, connections I never made. Simply by listening to the silence, all is created.  

«Stillness is the way nature talks to us by remaining still» Nils Faarlund 

One of my personal practices this year has be to create time and space in order to see what happens if I expand my understanding of living with the rhythm of nature. By spending time with her and learning from her and appreciating her, my awareness of my connections to these cycles and the way they are echoed in my mood, energy level and creativity grows. I see myself naturally taking more care of the way I use my resources. I feel a deep need to connect to where my food comes from and how it was grown. My consumption pattern change, my movements change, my sense of balance between input and output change. I see how natural it is to aspire for a different kind of productivity and creativity in the midst of dark winter then what wants to be expressed in the heat of summer. I feel how tired my eyes are if I flood them with artificial light from my computer at night when the outside world has dimmed its nurturing sun. When I don’t listen, but rather hold a constant tempo irrespective of what’s happening in the natural world and don’t take care of what feels truthful and authentic, the nervous system reaches a state of overwhelm where there is barely time to register what’s happening, let alone to digest and integrate to find room for something new. The dialogue becomes louder as the inner work I do on myself is clearly seen as a direct reflection of how able I am to receive nature’s wisdom. 

“And I think that is how it works. I think that is how Life works. We are given signs. And if we listen deeply enough it doesn’t matter what the prayer in our heart is, if we are yearnest enough and we are able to listen enough, there is a communication that happens with Life directly, between us and Her.” Vera de Chalambert 

And when I do listen, the inner work flows out into my surroundings and I’m open to see how nature Herself simply reflects a yearning within my own being on my venture of belonging. The trees and bees mirror and echoes the places in me that just want to be at peace with what is, the purity and stillness that we all carry as a gem inside. And I think we crave it, to be held in this loving embrace, this ever allowing, never judging presence of nature – that one place many us allow ourselves to just simply be. But the forgotten secret is that we can find this same sense of belonging in the meeting with our community of colleagues, family, tribe, friends, lovers and strangers. A melting we crave for ever as strongly as a being in peace with ourselves and being with our wild, natural environments. So what does the next upgrade in community building look like? What are the new emerging ways of relating as humans? 

«In Wildness is the Preservation of the World» David Henry Thoreau 

Belonging to a community
What if community was created on all levels of society to resemblance the trust, acceptance, unconditional love and pure presence that we meet in nature and that we look for in ourselves? What if governments, institutions, family structure, our architecture, the way we communicate and share a meal was guided by these principles? What if we where allowed to truly rest and be ourselves in every aspect of our life and in every relationship?  

For those of us that are more spiritually focused and have the gaze often turned inwards, it still seems as many of us reach a point in our journeys where we realize we are not meant to do this alone. As social beings, reaching out to each other only seems natural and obvious, but there is something deeper stirring here in our current collective field. I sense a deep and growing readiness and longing in the collective to let our own inner work meet and melt with the outer. There seems to be a deeper integration happening between micro and macro – our inner being and our ways of relating to our community and our natural world reaching towards each other in new ways. In my own experience there is an important pivot point on the inner journey of belonging to oneself where the work and our edges can only be met and felt in the meeting and mirroring with others. I think we are starting to write a new chapter as a species on this topic. It is from here that I sense a new call for community happening on a global scale, where initiatives such as this beautiful magazine invites us to see what this new emerging systems will bring forth. 

It is possible that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community, a community practicing understanding and loving kindness, a community practicing mindful living. And the practice can be carried out as a group, as a city, as a nation.” Thich Nhat Hanh 

Most of us have never been given the tools and examples to feel as deeply held and safe in a group as we could be able to feel in nature. Rather, speaking in front of other people is considered on of humanity’s greatest fears. Often our everyday surroundings in our office, families and among friends and strangers don’t offer structures that we feel held and safe enough in to fully express what we feel. We learn the social rules in any given moment and hold ourselves hostage to those rules by compromising what is felt in our bodies, what could be our truthful way of expressing. We hide behind elegant and impressive strategies of safety in order to not the ostracized, hurt and misunderstood by the group. Among the consequences from the lack of time and tools to establish inner connection, is the tendency to either judge ourselves or to project what we are feeling unto our surroundings. We see this in the ways we think others are to blame for the way we feel, letting e.g. insecurities be expressed as anger towards others and we see it in all the ways we hide, live in fear, numb ourselves with food, sex and entertainment and not let our truth and full capacity as individuals be expressed in our life. This is when we rub up against our own and other peoples’ stories, our personalities and our idea of who we are, what weaknesses and strengths we carry with us into the world and what we think others thinks of us. They are the stories that defines who we believe ourselves to be and what we are capable of, it is our childhood associations based on experience, all the places we were wounded and the shields we put on to protect ourselves. It is all carried as imprints in our bodies and minds and affects the way we think, act, speak, talk and walk. And it shapes all our relationships. 

The magical invitation and alchemy of community and relating is that the way my body and mind deals with my patterns of anger, jealousy, pride, insecurity, inspiration, compassion etc., is reflected in what comes up when I relate to those around me that bring up these emotions. It is exactly in this meeting with another individual or group that I get to see, heal and celebrate these very specific cultural, social and relational aspects of my personality. And this is precisely the invitation that is offered in a mature and an integrated community. The questions then becomes: What are the foundational structures that are needed in order to promote healthy expression and healing? What new ways of relating could welcome the power of healing that is embedded in the meeting between an integrated inner being and a social expression of this being-ness? And how can the micro and macro even strengthen each other so that we dance more energetically elegantly together in order to make more thriving, healthy, creative and supportive communities?  

Building structures of trust  – a new narrative of relating
Searching from this backbone, this solid foundation from which a healthy community can grow forth, I keep coming back to two words: trust and vulnerability. So much of our culture and institutions are based on the premise that we can’t trust each other and that showing our vulnerability is a sign of weakness. It is here that both listening within and listening to nature is trying to offer us an alternative story, to help us create a new narrative for our lives. It shows us that it is when we feel safe, relaxed, held, open and honest, that creativity, strength and compassion can grow both individually and in our relationships. So rather than reproducing this systemic belief in distrust, what if we rather turned our creative power towards finding out what structures enhances trust? I believe that as we take both the inner work, the merging with our natural world and the work towards an upgrade in trust and vulnerability in our relationships seriously, many of the structures that society currently are built on will evolve and some will even perish. I believe that the institutions that will thrive in the future are those that choose to take a deeper look at what makes us feel safe and seen, and that dare to discuss more vulnerable, honest and compassionate ways of communicating and decision making. And it is my own personal hypothesis that most people crave these new and upgraded ways of creating connection both in our families, close relationships and also in our work space. 

When we start to cultivate a deep connection to our inner being, our thoughts and emotions, we start to feel more. Feeling more does not always feel safe, especially when what we sense create some sort of discomfort. We live in a society and culture that effectively teaches us to shy away from anything unpleasant and cultivate pleasant sensations. Feeling deeply is a vulnerable thing. And expressing from this vulnerability is often times even more scary. How did we become so afraid of ourselves and of others? I don’t know the answer to this question, but I know we would all benefit from creating more environments where truth is allowed, where we can start speaking from our hearts rather form our minds without the fear of being shut out. But as Canadian “community expert” John McKnight has said: “Communities are made up of citizens, not of saints.” To develop trust, people have to be able to express in authentic way without fear. But truth can get messy as most of us are still trapped in cycles of inner confusion leading to outer confusion and the general fear of conflict as previously discussed in this text.  

So what if we started with allowing for some space for rest, some quiet time and maybe even facilitating for starting the day with yoga and meditation to make sure we meet the others by first landing and checking in with ourselves. Because what we need to learn is to trust ourselves, to be seen, to be authentic, to simply be ourselves, not only when we are singing in the shower alone or when we are held in solitude in nature. But also when we argue with our partner, express our feelings to a child and have a difficult conversation with the boss. I believe that by making our bodies, emotions and thoughts belong to ourselves first, from this place of integration, we are able to step into a community with greater capacity to hold ourselves and others, making us accountable in a healthy way. Countless studies show that tools for self-awareness, self-management, empathy and social skills increase creativity, productivity and contentment and it is really just a matter of choice and commitment deciding to add this into our societal structures. What if we in addition to that also began changing the cultural narrative of conflict from one of avoidance to a culture where disagreements are seen as an invitation to growth? Allowing for honesty and transparency both in productive, joyous work and conflict resolution. Making our common mantra: how am I building or breaking trust through the way I speak, think and act? It takes two to tango. What if every trigger that came up within us was echoed by the question: How is this situation mirroring a side of myself? What is it trying to teach me? This requires commitment and maturity and a constant dialogue between courage, vulnerability and responsibility. But I believe it would change everything. I think creating settings where we are allowed to be honest and where we are allowed to show our human, messy selves will help us all relax more, to let our guards down. When the barriers are down, intimacy happens. 

«Vulnerability is not about fear and grief and disappointment. It is the birthplace of everything we’re hungry for». Brené Brown  

And this is where I think we have reached a pivotal moment in human evolution. The amount of people that are ready and already taking responsibility of our own inner work – our stories, the way we project our inner shortcomings onto others – is growing. And in my personal experience it seems to be growing fast. Women have begun to meet around the fire again, to share how the moon, our cycles and the elements affects our lives, to recreate inter-generational bonds of sisterhood support. Structures that have come close to complete collapse in Western culture. Men too are starting to find back to a deeper sense of brotherhood through discussing and challenging the ways we define masculinity, to heal the wound brought forth by patriarchy and the last centuries distorted forms of masculinity. Many are moving into a whole new paradigm of relating where we meet in a deeper contact with ourselves, a place where we can take more responsibility of how we think, act and impact our relationship, environments and ourselves. Actual communities such as Tamera in Portugal and Zegg in Germany are being built all around the world based on a shared understanding of this part of evolution that we can’t do on our own, with a shared vision based on the recognition that we are simply mirrors for each other and that we are all a bit messy. And that is okay. In such a community the places where my anger, creativity, joy or pain shows up in my meeting with you, it is not seen as your fault or a problem, but rather as an invitation for me to heal that part of me within myself. In such a narrative of community every interaction is acknowledged as helping each other see the areas where we still are stuck, where we are reproducing old patterns and where we can grow and heal. And we are all needed in this creation of a new narrative of relating. I don’t know what it will look like, I only know we need examples to learn form, we need individuals, organizations, journalists, businesses and other institutions to start writing this new narrative and lead the way.    

«Community is when human beings come together in the shelter of each other. We are a community of beings acknowledging the dual intention of working on ourselves as an offering to others, and working with others as a way of working on our selves. Our lives are training sessions to turn ourselves into instruments of true kindness and compassion.»  

~ Ram Dass 

The longing
Hence, it is so beautiful that the word «belonging» contains the word «longing». Because that’s what I feel is happening; we are waking up to our deep longing to be – to belong to ourselves, our natural world and in our communitiesWhat this year of listening has showed me is that everything changes when I create enough time and peace to listen to what my heart, body and mind is telling me and respecting what I hear. Spending time in nature regularly has become an absolute need. Here, I’m deeply nourished and reminded of my place in the grand scheme of things. And last, after many days spent in beautiful solitude, the need for a new way of relating with other people have become equally urgent. As the relationship to myself and nature grows deeper and truer I also want you and I to go deep beyond the layers of who we think we are, to let our guards down and be our messy human selves. There is so much potential there. I long for this upgrade in the human history of relating and belonging and rejoice in the blossoming of it. And you see, for this evolution in myself I need you. I need you and I want to see you. To truly see you. Yes you.