The Sense of Belonging and Living on the Edge
Human beings sometimes engage in a deep search for a sense of belonging. The formation of an identity with the ‘other’ fulfils a certain need running deeper than the movements of feelings. We might think of this sense as a gut instinct to connect with a presence of the ‘other’ rather than confinement to our mortal self.
We have devised all sorts of formations of the collective to satisfy this need, this rather primal urge, to feel engaged with a group, network or collective with shared values and priorities.
This longing and actualisation delivers a certain depth of fulfilment but not an ultimate one owing to the vagaries of changes in attitudes and values of the individual or the collective.
Any projections upon the collective produces a miscalculation of perception, a fragmentation of view. The more important we imagine our collective, our sense of who and what we belong to, then, correspondingly, the more we perceive differences between our group of people and the formations of the ‘other’ elsewhere.
Notions of superiority of one collective will undermine the value of another. The identification with one side gives rise to fault finding and blame upon the ‘other,’ sometimes leading to violence of speech and action.
The insidious nature of unexamined identification with the collective generates perceptions manifesting as ‘us’ and ‘them,’ the wanted and the unwanted. We take priority and others take second place. The hierarchy of one collective over the other reduces the capacity of human beings to listen to each other and find some common humanity.
Yet the glorification into a spiritual fudge such as ‘we are all one’ or ‘we are all the same’ denies the differences, and often very significant differences, between human beings. Those differences have to be addressed.
Arguments serve as the outcome in the mind’s belief in ‘for’ and ‘against.’ Yet, the willingness to address this formation of dis-ease of the duality may be a necessary engagement to find a resolution. There is the risk that engagement fuels even more discrimination and sets the negative tone that corruptions perceptions in the long term. The stronger voices will speak down to the weaker voices. The weaker voices will eventually react in their demand to be treated with respect. A human being who respects themselves will never submit to oppressive authority, to the occupation of the ‘other’ in their lives.
While acknowledging the deep human urge to belong, it would be a step too far to state that the urge is written into our DNA in the same way that the eyes of all human beings form above the nose and the nose sits above the mouth. That’s a given. There is no choice about the biological make-up of the human being.
The enjoyment of the sense of belonging and the struggle with it reveals one of the avenues of a mode of exploration but we need not grant any overwhelming priority to this avenue. The sensation of connection with the ‘other’ may show itself on a large scale, such as belonging to humanity or in the small scale of our daily life circumstances such as belonging to a family or to the nation state.
We need to know intimately with whom and where our sense of belonging has landed. We need to be mindful of the ‘other’ as much as ourselves.
Freedom from the sense of belonging matters too.
Life on the Edge of Existence
We have a responsibility to question our sense of belonging, the motives for it and the outcome, especially the proliferation of any views we widely take on board with unquestioning obedience. Our sense of belonging, of unity with the ‘other,’ can get in the way of original ways of seeing.
Some people remain instinctively cautious about being involved in any kind of group and identified with any kind of network. They experience a sense of the risk of losing their independent voice, their identity as an outsider.
Such people might wade in a little way with the group basking in the waters of their group identity but they may well prefer the ground of their own being. They maximise time living on the outer edges of the human dynamic where they can enjoy the space.
Some years ago, 250 Buddhist teachers had a five-day conference at a centre in California. At the end, they received a blessing from the Dalai Lama, who put a white scarf around the neck of each teacher. I declined to go to this ceremony. A couple of teachers asked me if my pride stopped me joining in the ceremony. I said I have no wish to be involved in the religious behaviour of the collective. I prefer to go an Indian market to get a scarf. Besides, I am not keen to belong to the Buddhist world with its religious and secular dross.
Our inner preference to respect our independence from belonging to the tribe offers real blessings. We love the formless expressions available such as space, silence and absence of the ‘other.’ Out on the edges, consciousness abides poised between time and the timeless. The air seems clear and fresh on the margins of daily existence with a significant reduction in the verbalisations necessary in the movement from the existential edge to the ‘other.’ The stillness of a solitary meditation can give a confirmation of resting in the margins of existence.
The spiritual ideology of connection, unity, oneness and non-duality surely has little attraction for those who love the periphery. Some enjoy temporarily these experiences. It is a step too far to elevate these spiritual experiences into an ultimate category. If elevated in such a way, it becomes a denial of the blessings of non-connection, non-unity and non-oneness. There is a clear preference for duality since duality provides worthwhile options. Yes, we belong for odd periods. No, we don’t always experience a sense or need to belong.
We know our aloneness. We love it. We are not going to cast it aside for the comfort of belonging or the adoption of a spiritual ideology based upon one or a handful of experiences. Some believe aloneness means another kind of connection, namely a connection with oneself.
The connection with the ‘self’ or with the ‘nature’ for that matter expresses a rather superficial interpretation of dwelling on the edge of existence.
It is not all rosy on the margins of existence. While appreciating the blessings of distance from the ‘other,’ consciousness can get blurred and fuzzy due to fears and idealism. On the periphery of daily existence, the mind can produce a proliferation of thoughts about how things should be – like standing on the beach reluctant to join the swimmers.
The psychological posture of standing as an outsider can convert the outer margins into a false zone of security. The outsider becomes afraid to take risks, to get involved or plunge into the unknown. The fears and idealism inhibit the potential of the outsider.
You may have found yourself on the outer ring of existence because you were badly hurt in the past by the ‘other.’ You experienced too much pain and so for a long time you have kept your peace with yourself rather than risk another trauma, another anguish through connecting with the behaviour of the ‘other.’ The cause for living on the edge, whether as a place of safety or a love of independence does not matter as much as you think or have been told.
Relationship today to the outer takes priority, not the past.
Know your ‘self’ and know the ‘other’
You have to know yourself but you have to know others too. People will want to pull you in from your precious existential edge. Some might tell you that you need to open up, share more and get involved with another or others. Take no notice. These people want something from you. They want to pull you into their world. They might want you in their life, in their world or in their bed.
Some live on the edge due to the fear of getting close to the other. There is a resistance to get close, to experience intimacy, to offer body and soul to the other. The outsider feels to take a step in one direction, namely towards the other, means a step away from the margins. To feel alone with others does not offer a crumb of comfort. It is a kind of loneliness, an involuntary isolation.
A shift from the outer to try to belong to the ‘other’ may have taken place but the fears, idealism and resistance still accompanies that shift and so the return to the outer may bring back as well the fears and idealism.
If you are willing to stand your ground on the margins of existence, you have the opportunity to open to your inner life to work with any fears and the idealism. You can get to know yourself in the outer ring to distinguish the love of independence, of the solitary from the projections and resistances. The independent spirit can save you from getting lost in the dynamics of behaviour of others who form the collective ‘other’ or the wanting of the individual.
If you go deep in the existential margins, then you can forget yourself and forget others. Then there are no limits to the potential for discovery.
If you go deep into the sense of belonging, then you can forget yourself and forget others. There are also no limits to the potential for discovery.
Even with exceptional clarity, the edge still has its vulnerability whether used as an escape or not. We have to trust living on the edge of existence. It’s the one place where we can breathe. Death means finding ourselves swallowed up in the ‘other’ or swallowed up in self-interest.
The entrapment in the form of the other and disconnection to the aloneness found on the margins of existence places consciousness in a limbo of unrest.
Both the edge of existence and the participation in the ‘other’ have their respective vulnerability but therein lies their beauty. The exploration of the outer edges of existence and the exploration of the sense of belonging matter, but not one more than the other.
The Ultimate Fulfillment
Some spend their lives just liking to be alone or being in the circle of the ‘other.’ There is no depth in such psychological positions.
We can find and express a creative vision free from any compelling need to live only for the ‘self’ or for the ‘other’ or both.
There is no ultimate fulfilment living in the group, in the collective, whether the ‘other’ is the many or the one.
There is no ultimate fulfilment living on the periphery with the ‘self’ with its inevitable doubts and projections.
There is no ultimate fulfilment trying to live between aloneness and togetherness or moving backwards and forwards between the two.
The knowing of the Deep matters,
The ultimate fulfillment stands free from form.
Ultimate fulfilment has no location, no foundation, no movement and no basis here, there or in-between.
Creativity, love and inner peace emerge naturally from this ultimate fulfillment.