The Longing for Belonging

The Longing for Belonging
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How do we reclaim our sense of belonging in the world when it is constantly being eroded by modern society in the form of the economy, technology, education and media?

Here are some of the ways we are experiencing separation:

  • Indoor lifestyles, air conditioning, and motorized transportation distance us from the rest of nature, making it alien and other to us.
  • Digital media substitute material, embodied experience with virtual experiences, further separating us from participation and belongingness in the material world.
  • The commodity economy immerses us in a world of standardized, uniform things, stripping away uniqueness and aliveness.
  • The money economy also destroys community, replacing gift interactions with paid services and casting us into a world of strangers. Because it is fundamentally competitive, it also creates the experience of a hostile world in which no one cares.
  • The industrial food system distances us from nature in its aspect of generosity, so that it is no longer a friend or partner, but rather a resource from which food is extracted. It turns food into a "product," reducing plants and animals into mere elements of production and obliterating any sense of kinship.
  • The ideology of reductionism teaches us that the universe at bottom is a thing, composed of generic building blocks devoid of consciousness, purpose, agency, or intelligence. We are alone in the universe.
  • Modern medicine makes the body into something to be dominated and controlled through pharmacy or surgery, and holds us in a position of dependency on experts. The body becomes "my body," a separate thing.
  • Patriarchal attitudes toward love, intimacy, and sexuality, along with their associated institutions, cut us off from deep connection to each other. Even non-sexual touch is severely circumscribed in modern society

This is but a small sampling. All of these come from what I like to call the Story of Separation, that defines us as separate souls in a universe of other. For that self, alienating systems of domination and control are second nature. Such a self yearns to recover its lost connections, to belong once more to the land, to the tribe, to the planet, and to the cosmos. Not to be its separate master, overseer, dominator or, ultimately, victim.

Another way to look at it, is that we yearn to recover our indigeneity. What is it to be indigenous? Is it to have "Native American blood"? Is it to adopt a traditional name or practice traditional rituals? What are people longing for? Is it merely to be excused from the guilt of the dominating civilization, to count oneself among the oppressed rather than the oppressors? Is to feel special? Maybe those motives are present for some, but I think ultimately, people are longing to belong again, to be at home in the universe.

I was born far, far away from the kind of belongingness that indigenous people know. Fortunately, there are still many of them on earth to help us find our way back.

Their connection comes from an intimate relationship to nature, to the ancestors, to their communities, to the plant, animal, and geological worlds, and to unseen beings as well. It comes also from a less rigid demarcation between self and world, a fluidity of boundaries and identities.

We seek to move from the self of separation to the self of relationship that knows that everything outside is also inside. Then we are not alone.

This is not something we can accomplish in the normal sense of the word. It cannot be another achievement of the separate self. Rather, it is a gift we can receive -- and it is a gift we can pass on. Any time we give another person an experience of non-separation, of kindness or generosity or love, we are passing it on. We also pass it on when we confront someone with the harm they may be causing through their actions.

I experienced this recently on a course I ran at the Schumacher College in the UK ( We created conditions where we tapped into our intuition to obtain information beyond the range of ordinary evidence and reason. We practiced using the eyes of non-separation to no longer see nature as thing. We used the technology of story to puncture the normalcy and seeming reality of the mythology of separation, and the theory of change that goes along with it.

For me though, by far the most potent induction into interbeing was the energy of the group itself. Three weeks later, I can still recall that circle of 25 faces vividly, as well as a 26th entity -- the collective being of the group. I think we all experienced directly the feeling of belonging we'd been talking about. That to me was a more powerful lesson than any of the course's content.

The core of indigeneity is to be actually from a place, to be of a place, to belong to a place. It is for one's identity to draw from deep relationships to community, ancestors, plants, animals, and the land. It is to be embedded and inseparable, not just as a concept, but as an ongoing experience lived through ceremonies, social relationships, and technologies of giving and receiving to the other beings of nature, both visible and unseen. It is to be at home again, not in a home-as-box, but at home in the world. We in modern society have wandered very, very far from our home, and now as we approach the mortal crisis of our separation, we are ready for the return journey.

Becoming Indigenous -- Finding Our Way Home is a four-month residential programme (with six months online) at Schumacher College. For more info

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