Building Belonging

Wherever you are are, that’s where you belong… ~ A Wise Man

Every morning, Monday to Friday, my activity watch starts vibrating at 5 A.M., giving me a subtle nudge that it’s time to wake up. After a single press of the snooze button, and the smell of coffee being brewed in the kitchen, I get out of my warm bed, don my gym clothes and sleepwalk to the bathroom. My indoor cycling class starts at 6 A.M., and requires a short 10 minute walk to get there; so I try to ensure my feet are on the floor with enough time to enjoy a cup of fresh coffee prior to walking out the door.

This morning was no different to the others. At 5:52 A.M. I walked through the doors of the gym. The friendly faces at the front desk were there, smiling, and greeted me with a warm “good morning Nicola, how was your weekend? All ready to get going this morning?” With a nod of my head and a smile to mirror theirs, I grabbed my shoes and a towel and went to the back to get changed. In the back room was “the team”. More friendly faces of those who, like me, enjoy the grueling nature of these 6 A.M. workouts. Making our way out to our bikes and setting up for the ride, there were jokes and questions and some friendly “ribbing”. This all stopped as soon as we could no longer breathe! As I looked around the gym, I felt such a sense of grounding, of belonging, of community.

The desire for belonging, to feel accepted as a member or part of something greater than oneself, is well documented as a basic human need. Included on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, along with food, shelter and water.

A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick. ~ Brene Brown

In a previous blog, One is the Loneliest Number, I discussed the findings that living alone and being alone may kill us faster than obesity. I recall being shocked when I read the headlines. A quick Google search at the time, revealed article after article regarding the negative health effects of social isolation and disconnection. A lack of belonging can actually kill you. Period. WTF!? How am I still alive?

Belonging has been a sensitive word for me for as long as I can remember. As a young child of four years old, my family packed up and emigrated to Canada from England, leaving behind a large extended family and a giant pile of cousins, all in the same small community. Upon arrival in Canada, to a small town, I was a young girl and started school with all of the same aged kids in my community. I’ve never been a wallflower, so making friends came easily to me. However, at the end of my Grade 3 year at North Canoe Elementary School, we again moved to another part of the province. After that I moved schools every year until settling down into a consistent school in Grade 6. Unfortunately, by this time, all the kids had formed their peer groups and “breaking into” these tight communities was almost impossible.

As a resilient young lady, I became both a joiner and a loner. Keeping to myself, fiercely independent, and doing my own thing, but also joining every club and team that I could to keep myself occupied. And in hindsight, desperately seeking to belong to a community of some kind. Although I had many friends, they were scattered all over. My desire for a “pack” to run with never came to fruition. I blamed our frequent moves on my lack of a designated “pack” or friend group. It was all because I did not grow up with these people. They all formed their groups in elementary school and although outsiders were welcomed, they never truly belonged as a member. To some extent these factors likely contributed, or valid to some degree, but, and this is a big but, true belonging comes from a strong sense of self and internal knowledge that you are where you are meant to be.

The truth is: Belonging starts with self-acceptance. Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you’re enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect. ~ Brene Brown

When I walk into my indoor cycling gym, I know that I belong, that it is my community. I don’t feel like I belong because I have been going for over a year or because I see the same people every morning at 6 A.M. Quite the opposite, I have been going for over a year and every morning at 6 A.M. because I belong. My sense of belonging comes from the fact that I have chosen to belong here. It comes from my strong sense of identity within this community, and my inherent sense of being enough every time I get on my bike. The camaraderie between the members and coaches is positive and palpable. Being a runner most of my life, solitary on the trails, earphones in my ears and music motivating, I was initially out of my comfort zone being a joiner and “riding” with the crew. However, walking into that indoor cycling gym was the best thing I have done for myself in recent memory (other than starting this blog). I have found my own sense of belonging. I have found confidence and resilience and a deep seeded belief that I am enough and that I truly belong wherever it is I choose to be.

Click to access need_to_belong.pdf

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