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Mindful : June 2019
By Elaine Smookler I didn’t fit in at my high school. I yearned for the admiration and embrace of my classmates, but always felt different and distant from them. Among my desperate attempts to fit in was the time I showed up to prom in a dress I hoped would bring me my Cin- derella moment, when I would finally feel that I could hang with the cool kids. The reality? The same old me in a monstrosity of wispy mint that left me embarrassed and more alienated than ever. Would I ever belong? Belonging is complicated. There are many places we can find be- longing, that feeling of identifying with and being part of a group that’s bigger than we are: families, clubs, ethnicities, secret societies, political parties, and football teams, to name a few. Feeling that we are part of a wider group can give purpose and meaning to our lives, and research suggests that belonging to a com- munity correlates to better mental and physical health. But even if your sense of belonging is strong in some arenas (say, your book club), what happens when you wind up in a place where you don’t feel you belong (such as, say, your job)? Today, many of us venture beyond our places of birth and away from our families, carving out lives on our own terms. As a result, we lose access to some of the ready-made forms of be- longing that we might have had if we stayed closer to the nest. At the same time, ironically, life appears even more connected thanks to our constant dig- ital companion, the smartphone, with its real-time updates from the diaspo- ra we tap into through social media. Maintaining real, deeply personal connections over time and space, how- ever, is hard, and reaching out to make future friends out of strangers isn’t easy for all of us. In our ever-more glo- balized, mobile world, we risk winding up lonely and disconnected in new and challenging ways. Retaining a deeper sense of belong- ing, no matter where we are, starts with feeling at home within ourselves. When we know and accept ourselves, → Longing to Belong We’re more connected than ever, yet we often feel disconnected from the people around us. With a little shift in attitude, we can find a sense of belonging wherever we are. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Elaine Smookler is a registered psychotherapist with a 20-year mindfulness prac tice. She is a senior faculty member at the Centre for Mindfulness Studies in Toronto. 28 mindful June 2019 inner wisdom ILLUSTRATIONBYHECTORGIACOMELLI