Belonging & Connection
This begins the first of a monthly Return to the Fire Newsletter. Although I have a list of topics to write about, mostly I will write what I’m aware of either internally or what I observe in the men I work with. As we begin this new year with the inherent and cultural call to make resolutions and goals, I want to explore the deeper call for all humans- to belong. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, survival needs come first, then comes belonging and appreciation. This belonging runs deep in our DNA, in part because our very survival depended and was enhanced when we belonged to; family, group, tribe…
Over the last 30 years I have been committed to building community, whether at school, neighborhood, and with men. Community is a group of people where connection and support go beyond social expectations. Research into gang life revealed that the core attraction for most gang members was that it provided a sense of family, a group to belong to. To what group do you belong? Does the group feed you in a deep way, meaning does your participation bring you closer to your awakened self? Are you inspired or called to change or grow out of your participation with your group?
I hear people speaking about their communities including; church, sports teams, friends. I’m curious about the confluence of the natural desire for belonging and the resistance to devoting some level of energy and time to this belonging. Kierkegaard described this process as, “The epitome of anxiety meeting courage.”
For example, at a recent men’s gathering, men were put into small groups that would act as a support group throughout the weekend. Many men spoke highly of their experience with these small groups and the connection and support they felt. There was an invitation to keep the connection going after the weekend via email. A month after the weekend, there was almost no connection within the groups. It was not that the group didn’t offer connection, belonging and support, it appears that these men would not put the effort into keeping this connection alive. I have worked with men individually and in groups for over 30 years, and this is an all too common reality.
Yes, we live in a culture with societal mandates that make it challenging for men to explore their inner world. Mandates such as; real men don’t cry, pick yourself up by the boot straps, men who have feelings are weak and thus are vulnerable to attack, often by other boys / men. What I’m curious about is what is your resistance to following the call for belonging? I’m wondering what is beneath the usual response, “I’m too busy. “What causes men to show up to a men’s gathering and rave about the experience and then disappear? I like the way Gregg Levoy frames this in his book, Callings, Resistance is a good omen. It means you’re close to something important, something vital for your soul’s work here, something worthy of you.
The challenge I face here is how to speak truth about this dynamic of self-sabotage, while being inviting to men to look honestly at themselves. For some men, they ignore the call, perhaps fearing what change may demand of him or the possibility of unexplored pain. As Levoy wrote, ‘Wherever you stumble-on a tree root, on a rock, on fear or shame or vulnerability, on someone else’s words, on the truth- dig there.”
We are in many ways at a time of great change and upheaval in our culture. Cultural values, morals. gender roles… are being challenged and redefined at a rate like no other time. The opportunity is to be awake and face these challenges alert and head on often requires a community. My deepest growth has occurred within community or with a mentor. Isolation has never brought me home to myself. Author Sam Keen suggests, “Nothing shapes our lives so much as the questions we ask.”
What belonging have I ignored? Who are my teachers? What is the name of the dragon in my life? How can I serve the world- the Grail quest? Where is my community? Where am I going and how can I get there? May the questions you ask lead you home and towards a deep sense of belonging.