I’m at a point in this journey where the path to self awareness and the search for belonging have merged. They are no longer seemingly divergent pursuits, but a journey to the the same destination, asking the very same things of me. That is, the courage to accept that this journey is not all peaches and glory, or one that miraculously turns unpleasant events into happy ones, or even one that is steadily ascending or gets increasingly positive. It is in fact up and down all the time, one step forward and three back sometimes.
There’s been a spate of news of broken/breaking relationships reaching me of late, and as I think of my own journey — as an individual and a partner — and how much my relationship with VC has evolved along the way I find strength and solace in knowing that things are where they are today, only because we chose to deepen our connections with ourselves as individuals first. We may have woken up to this much later in our lives together, VC and I, and we have our different ways of coming at this. But time and time again, as we move through live together, I realise that if things feel solid between us today, it is because they are solid within each of us as individuals. I am now beginning to see this percolate into other relationships — with family and friends too.
To belong to one another, to have deeper connections, kinder and more compassionate relationships is only, only, only possible when I begin to belong to myself wholly first. And to do that I must accept everything that I am. That is the ongoing, life-long journey, not one that I can arrive at or achieve or master. It means to confront and meet everything I am, as I am. With all the inherent contradictions, complications, duality. The beautiful bits with the messy ones. The happiness and the fear. The love and the joy, alongside the hurt and grief. The light that shines through and the shadows that I keep hidden, the lightness of being and the heaviness alike. All the differences, evolving sides and ever-changing bits. It’s all there, and with every step that I take towards discovering and owning it all, just as it is, the better I am at accepting this about other people. And the better my relationships seem to be becoming.
This has be my spirituality. The stuff that nourishes my spirit — this habitual holding up a mirror to see what remains to be seen, to integrate it all, to sit with the contradictions and the discomfort and myriad feelings they may bring. To just be with it for a while, without rushing to numb it, ignore it, iron it or fix it. To just stay with it first.
Last week in a conversation with Niyu, I realised that this is probably also the keen difference I see between mainstream religion as I have witnessed growing up and around me today, in an increasingly polarised and bigoted world. The brand of religion that comes replete with rituals and acts of put-on solemnity that we believe is a path to a higher plane has always seemed a very disconnected practice to me. Very little of it, in the way that I see it practiced around me brings us back to reality and the heart of what we struggle with on an everyday basis.
What good is meditation as an antidote to anger, for example, if it doesn’t bring you closer to the root of your anger to face it, and instead takes you floating above it, escaping it altogether, to an illusion of peace. Until the next blow-out.
What good are words like acceptance, forgiveness and peace if we don’t begin doing all of those things with ourselves first? And how to be begin to accept and forgive ourselves and find peace unless we own ourselves fully?
What use is religion if it fosters exclusion and hatred? I see so many adults around me who are sleep walking through their days, being very religious while also holding the most bigoted, regressive, sexist beliefs and living by them. How can one begin to integrate, be whole, when outwardly one holds so much exclusion, divisiveness and hate?
If there’s one thing that’s abundantly clear it is that we were born for connection and belonging. In my own experience, I have seen my desire for this burst out from within, ever since I have been working on myself. And the first step towards building connection and true belonging is with compassion that begins right at home, with myself. If I can be compassionate to myself and all the uncomfortable things about me, I can maybe begin to do that with people around me. My story and all the narratives I spin about it is probably never going away, but I can change the hold it has on me with a little kindness. I can own it and integrate it, instead of allowing it to own me, and forever holding it at a distance.
I have experienced in brief, fleeting instances, that when I extend this kindness towards myself, I am able to do it with others too. I can only belong with others, if I belong with myself wholly first. And what an impact it has on the quality of my connections, my relationships, and my experience of a fuller, wholesome life.
This willingness towards this path has brought about a degree of softness in me that I didn’t know possible. That I didn’t know I needed. That I didn’t know would take up so much space in my life and satisfy me in such a deep way.
Which brings me back to where I started, I’m at a point in this journey where the path to self awareness and the search for belonging have become one. They are no longer separate agenda points, or issues that I want to address. Instead, they’re beginning to feel like a practice in spirituality, where a little work everyday adds up. And every day that I am given this chance to know myself a little more makes me feel just that little bit more whole.
One year ago: Ground control to Major Tom