Have you ever watched a movie where you suddenly notice a location or a person in a scene and that observation somehow makes the movie feel more special, more familiar?
I had that experience today while watching an old Estonian movie. From 1992, a time I was not here. I was 7 years old and growing up in Venezuela. I didn’t even dream of this country existing. But somehow, when the camera zoomed out and it showed an area of a city I recognized as a place that has been my home for the past 14 years, I felt like I belonged.
I am one of those people who struggles with the question “where are you from?”. That question is almost as loaded as “who am I?”. So while I observed my emotions and reactions to a scene in a movie I had never seen before, and my connection to a familiar place, I realized how strong the link between identity and belonging are. It dawns on me that when we have a clearly and strongly defined identity, we feel like we belong somewhere. Be it a group, a practice, a place.
Belonging makes you feel content, but when you don’t belong there is a feeling of emptiness, of constant search, of being left drifting in space without a tether. And the process to go from disconnection to belonging is so unpredictable and packed with experiences and our processing of those experiences that we can’t simply force the transition. Belonging does not come from being “placed” in that somewhere. It comes from building the stem that links us to it.
Belonging is also dynamic. As we experience life, through interactions with people, places and events, we continue to feed that identity. We may also drain it. The experiences may be painful such that we choose to detach ourselves from the subjects that cause them. By contrast, experiences can be so enriching that the stem we touched it with grows thicker and stronger and it holds strongly to them.
Like the connections across the the Avatars’ Pandora, for us to belong there has to be a receptor to accept our neural queue. But if there is a rejection, we will be drifting, if not from everything, at least from that experience (person, place, practice). It could be a city I am exploring, but it happens so that the city is very badly built for people in wheelchairs and if I am in a wheelchair those city receptors will not be opening up to me, no matter how hard I try. If I stay in that city, I might be physically in it, but I will not belong. It also happens the other way around. If I come from a tropical country which has prepared my body for certain climate experiences and I don’t understand the process and time to adapt to a nordic climate, I will not belong if I don’t give it time. And perhaps, even if I give it time, I will still not adapt hence I will not belong.
My definition of who I am and of belonging have changed over the years. Because my worlds, internally and externally, have changed. I have had to go about removing and creating new connections.
At this moment in my life I feel tethered. But I am not tethered to a place because of its topography or its economy or its weather. I am not tethered to a person because I cling to them like a baby ape. I am tethered because there have been enough experiences and interactions with my surroundings that have created those connections. In some cases I have opened up myself to the queues around me. In others, the world around me has accepted my queues. Part of it is luck. Part of it is attitude.
I cannot guarantee I will always belong. I can only keep myself open to the fact that things will change. In ways I will like or hate. I will do my best to keep on presenting queues to the world to find matches when connections are needed. I only hope to never be left alone drifting in space. At the very least, I wish I can keep linked to myself.