Finding Our Way to Belonging (a snippet of my story, a fragment of ours)
Growing up I always had a sense of being an alone ‘other,’ the image I was told to aspire towards being dramatically different to the impulses and curiosities I had whirling within me. I’d go to school feeling incredibly privileged and confused by the levels of disengagement I saw in those around me, against the backdrop of the inequality experienced by the larger populous on continents I’d not yet seen.
Grappling with my queer-ness in close proximity to my Mother’s Christian family left me feeling extremely disconnected and quite often very mis-understood. I’d sit in my bedroom telling myself over and over again that I was ‘straight,’ as if I would somehow ‘change my mind,’ or ‘grow out of it.’
Of course I need to mention that when I did muster up the courage to share myself with my family, I received nothing but embrace and all-accepting love. It did take the story written below to unfold though, in order for this courage to be reflected back to me.
When people hear my professional story, and that I began my entrepreneurial career at just 12 years old, they most-often only see the striving, the agency, the creativity. Whilst I do honour myself for having the courage to follow my creative impulses at such an age, of course it too cast a shadow.
At 16 years old I started up and operated a sustainable clothing label and organised fundraising events, raising funds and second-hand clothing for the Lighthouse Foundation, supporting underprivileged and displaced youth in Melbourne. Lunchtimes at school for me were spent in the library making sales calls and responding to emails, after school I’d be in meetings or sending out orders; on weekends I’d be at seminars or personal development workshops. My self-worth become inextricably linked to my work in the world.
It become scary how comfortable I grew with the emptiness and the loneliness of my own company.
Although many times I do still feel deeply that I am the only one, it has been in the felt-realisation that I am not, that I have understood the deepest sense of belonging. That I am not the only one who feels alone sometimes. I am not the only one who doesn’t know exactly where they’re headed, all the time. I am not the only one who grapples with internal challenges that sometimes feel far beyond my own capacity.
In 2014 I was invited to join 9 other social entrepreneurs in Boulder, Colorado for a 6-month residential accelerator program. Watson University, with the slogan ‘Protect Your Courage,’ is a place for young social pioneers to come to strengthen their self-awareness, emotional capacity and creative ability.
There is something extremely magical that happens when a group of humans come together with a common inquiry into a better, more equitable and more regenerative world, with a willingness to open to that within themselves. When our interests move beyond ourselves and become about something more, and when this is our bridge for our connection, we fall gracefully into the essence of community.
Designed very intentionally as a Rites of Passage, I’d never felt so safe, so open and so allowed to express myself as I, myself explored my own inner life.
It was here, feeling held and that my tenderness and fragility was protected that I began to share the parts of myself that even I was still warming to. Here, in this process of coming home to myself, in the holding of others is where I felt a profound sense of belonging for the first time in my life.
On the first night we were all ‘kidnapped’ from our rooms, put in the back of a van, driven up a windy road, then given lit candles and each taken to a room within a large house. We were to sit in silence with our blindfolds on for 10 minutes.
After the bell rang, we were to take our blindfolds off, and by candlelight write a letter about that which did not serve us here anymore. We were then collected – blindfolds back on – and taken out to the edge of a cliff with a large bonfire lit in front of us. With blindfolds off, in silence, we then took it in turns to read our letter aloud and throw it into the fire. That was night one!
Sitting on my flight home from LA to Melbourne, reflecting on my 6-month journey, I came to understand this journey for me as being from my head to heart. Firstly in coming to accept the reality of my own inner life, my identity and my challenges, to then living and sharing from this place. The profound difference I felt in my own experience of connection and community, when I allowed myself to express ‘how I feel,’ and not simply ‘what I think’ was immense. Simply now noticing in my own language when I say “I think…” versus “I feel…’ has been a great gift.
Sitting in circle, sharing my inner life and being so totally accepted and honoured for that, has been my greatest tool for coming home.
The Nguni Bantu word, Ubuntu, meaning “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that which connects all humanity,” comes out of me quite often as a way of describing this. My hope is that we can all find our own circles to sit in, to be held as we find our way back to our own stories yet to be told. This allows us to facilitate the cultural renewal required to hold our human family with tenderness.
In my sharing, I’m sure there will have been inner-smiles, inner sparks and inner resonance in some way. This small portion of my story of separation, transition and re-connection is simply a reflection of our cultural story at large. Recognising that yours will likely look quite different, it certainly may have felt very different, but I do invite you to reflect on your journey through belonging.
This practice of ‘belonging,’ and of ‘community’ truly is a verb. As we each learn to soften and be witnessed in our own journeys back to ourselves, and in sharing ourselves courageously in community, we find what belonging is for us.
My hope is for a world where our inner lives are tended to, held with gentleness, spoken about openly, guide and inform our outer work.
There is no way to community, community is the way.
Also published on Medium.