No matter who we are, how could we not “belong”? As humans, we cling to identities. We find a sense of security in identifying ourselves. Some of us find alignment with those who share similar ideologies, while others find identity by avoiding groups, or by avoiding others. Either way, during this process, we continue to define our identity — through belonging to groups or belonging to no one.
Self-identity in its most fundamental form is the idea of “self” and “other.” When we have this idea, or basic impression, we have a sense of separateness and a sense of continuity. We believe that we exist for a time, and then we disappear. From that basis, and fueled by the impressions of our experiences and the constant process of self-defining, our identity flourishes and becomes more complicated. Due to our clinging to this self and its thoughts and experiences, we create a whole story of our lives and view of reality. We essentially subscribe to this view as ultimately true, and thereby think up our place in the world. Maybe we are happy with our view, or maybe not.
It’s possible we are confused and not sure where we fit. Regardless, our sense of belonging or isolation comes from this process of “self-ing.”
We usually identify with a gender, race, “this” kind of personality, this political party, this social group, this religion, and not “those other ones.” However, if we temporarily suspend our identification with labels, signs, ideas and views — and we look a bit more deeply at ourselves — we’ll see that it’s impossible to separate ourselves and only belong to either ourselves or a specific group. Although we may associate with, or identify with, a self or group, our actual self is not limited to these things.
Everything about our self belongs to the totality of this world, the cosmos, and the beyond. Every aspect of our body exists because of dependence on the physical world with its nutrients and elements. Every thought or view we have depends on the impressions we get from the world, from our senses and from our interaction with others. What ideology could you have if you weren’t educated in some way by another person or institution? What views could you have if you had no interaction with the world?
And how could “our” group exist without the “other” groups? How could our party exist without the other party? Although we may seem to be enemies with totally differing views and stances, what would we be without the other? Aren’t we supporting each other with competition? Aren’t we learning from each other through argument? To say that we are totally individual, totally separate is not accurate.
No matter how we use our intellect to carve our self and the world into pieces, we are actually a totality. If we recognize that we belong just where we are, we will find meaning in our existence.
If we let go of the concepts that make us separate and place us in opposition with others, we’ll find that we all depend on each other.
In this way, we surely belong, and we find that we are responsible for the happiness of ourselves and the happiness of others. How exactly to do that is another story; however, if we have the view — if we have the experience of interdependence — then the conflicts of self vs. other will dissolve, and we’ll know just what to do: we’ll know how to belong skillfully in this totality of existence.
David Listen has been teaching Chan/Zen meditation for over 10 years throughout the U.S., Europe, and East Asia. He currently resides in New York, has his own life mentoring/coaching practice (DavidListen.com), lectures, leads meditation retreats, writes articles, and composes meditative music. David holds a Bachelor’s Degree of Science from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. He is fluent in Mandarin Chinese.