Wellspring of Belonging

The desire to feel belonging seems universally human. It transcends culture, nationality, religion, and every other social construct. That’s because the compulsion to belong, to fit in, stems from humanity’s inherent social nature. The depth and breadth of that craving varies greatly among individuals, but everyone feels it to some extent.

So then to what community do humans strive to belong? How far do the boundaries of that community extend? How far ought they?

Must everyone feel connected to the flora and fauna of nature? To the damp soil underfoot? To the stars at night? Is everyone even capable of sensing community at these extremes? Or does belonging to a tribe-sized community suffice in warding off the ache of isolation? Is that a viable paradigm in which we can all live?

I wonder. Are dogs part of the family? Are pigs? Birds? Bugs? Single-celled organisms? Where is the line drawn between ‘us’ and ‘them’? And who/what draws it?

Finally, how exactly does one form stronger, broader ties of belonging? How does one more readily sustain community no matter where he finds himself?

My bounds of community:

All humans are part of the family. Obviously. Dogs are part of the family. So are birds and bugs, trees and mushrooms, protozoa and bacteria. So is the briny sea and molten core whose titanic churnings sustain life on this planet. So are the stars that dazzle at night. I can trace a line of connection between myself and all that is.

In regards to human beings, all differences in culture, nationality and background are pathetically insignificant compared to their fundamental kinship. It is enough just to know someone possesses a physical body; of muscle and bone and nerve, of sensation and thought, of craving and aversion. At a mere glance every human can summon an acre of common ground on which to greet one another. The depth and immediacy of that mutual understanding is a testament to the potential strength of their communal bond.

To dogs my belonging is best affirmed by a simple belly rub, or a scratch behind the ears. The mutual comforts of physical affection are emphatically apparent. The pleasure of bounding across a field, the delights of consuming food, and the comfort of sleep, are a few others. If all I had was intuition, I would belong with dogs. And to lesser extents, that intuition extends to the rest of mammals.

To trees and other flora I belong through their sweet fruit that nourishes. Through their boughs that shelter. And through their fibers that weave my clothing. It is not just lucky that fruit tastes so sweet. And it isn’t divine blessing that fruit sustains my body. These facts allude to something much more profound: that trees and humans and animals have co-evolved for millennia as partners, as siblings in a vast ecosystem.

Trees are more distant relatives. In their case it takes an appreciation of ecology and biology to see them as fellows and not merely inanimate sustenance providers. I am not tied intuitively to trees. In order to stretch the limits of fellowship, I must stretch the limits of understanding. But through knowledge of what a tree is, its genetic makeup, how it evolved, and its contribution to the community of life to which I myself belong, I am able to see trees as kin.

So the flexing of reason continues. To the Earth itself, and the cosmos as a whole, I belong through a material unity. The Earth and my lineage have been intertwined for eons. And what the universe is made, so I am made.  Building that connection in my heart required abstract study in the fields of chemistry, physics, and cosmology. It took cultivating beliefs beyond the realm of intuition. But I did study, and I did cultivate, so I belong to the Earth and Moon and stars.

The depth of my belonging with any aspect of nature is proportional to our shared common relevance. I feel a greater belonging with humans than with dogs. More with dogs than fish. More with fish than worms. More with worms than dirt. But, along a narrow band of common substance, I belong with dirt nonetheless.

How does one form stronger broader ties of belonging?

Extending the boundary of fellowship lies in invoking abstract knowledge when intuition falters.

How easy it is to extend the bounds of compassion, of community, to our furry friends. Shared experience is all we need. Intuition alone makes it plain. How sweet it is when a kitten naps on our tummy. How charged with power and beauty the smooth caress of a horse’s flanks. How easy it is to feel the joy of a dog lying in a sun ray.

It is much harder to invite more distant relatives into the fold. Birds, snakes, and fish lie at the fringe of our endearment. The potency of intuition drop precipitously beyond the qualification of vertebrae. It is up to the intellect to take up the slack. You’ve got to have the knowledge.

Fortunately a marvelous sense of belonging can be realized through knowledge. It expands outward from those closest to us, and ultimately approaches the infinite.

Must everyone feel connected to the flora and fauna of nature?

In this ever-more interconnected world, it is dangerous and impractical for small, closed communities to coexist. A metric of progress, in the 21st century and beyond, must be the inclusiveness of one’s community. An ideal to aspire toward is unanimous acceptance.

Within human society, the deep and dark fractures that lie between communities are reservoirs for racism, bigotry, vilification, and intolerance. Contemptuous, hostile, and apathetic prejudices ripple through society with baneful perpetuity. It is futile to castigate any individual or group unless alienation is the endgame. If cooperation is the goal, better is it to try to understand as you would a rogue family member.

Outside human society there is arguably an even greater need for a broader sense of community. We can bicker among ourselves forever.  But humanity’s very survival might depend on recognizing the mutual relevance of fellow species in the ecosystem. No more can humans afford such arrogant detachment from Nature.

A slight shift in communal conscience could do more than decades of governmental legislation. In fact, it is my firm belief that the legislative bodies of the world are powerless to implement the needed change. Change must be socio-cultural [3rd Veil].

Collectively feeling slightly more united with flora and fauna might slow their wanton destruction. The very inkling that rivers, oceans, mountains, and forests are home to us might spare them tons of polluted refuse.

These are the mass benefits of a broadened sense of community. As time progresses, and the world depends more and more on global cooperation, it will become imperative to adopt broader definitions of community.

Everyone feels the need:

Don’t foster a broader sense of community out of a selfless drive to make the world a better place. Selflessness is a romantic notion that is not plausible for the masses. Individuals may indeed be selfless, but populations will always adhere to principles of greatest advantage.

So instead, expand your notion of family for yourself. Do it to never feel starved of belonging. Start with humans. Learn to accept your fellow humans as family. Treat them with according understanding and patience, not insult or reproach. They will respond in kind. You will never lack friends. You will never lack support. And this accepting demeanor will emanate like a beacon for love.

Learn to accept all mammals as family. Pet cats and dogs as if you were massaging a loved one. Do not mock their simplicity, nor beckon them to slake your own thirst for affection. Respect them as fellows and you will enjoy the full potential of their devotion. I cannot overstate the [bliss of an animal’s full respect].

Learn to accept all life as family. Amble the terrain of your planet unafraid of critters and beasts. There is little aggression without threat. Respect, acknowledgment, and understanding are as effective barriers to dangers as are fearful attack and worrisome caution. When fear is gone, and belonging is present, the brain is wired to enjoy life. It soaks in contentment from the atmosphere itself.

Learn your relation to Earth and the Cosmos; as daughter, as son. The practical benefits are thin up on these lofty insights. But there are transcendent benefits instead. So transcend yourself. Embrace your insignificance as a speck on a mote of dust. Then embrace your divinity as God over billions of cells and trillions of atoms. Forsake your humanness for a moment to absorb the profound Truth that you are made of universe, and powered by sunlight.  Gaze down at the world of man to sight what’s truly important.  Then descend and see how inane everything else is.

Life might be easier without the nagging compulsion to coagulate with humans, but my stupid brain chemistry won’t rid me of it.  All I can do is embrace the urge, enjoy its sweet satisfaction, and pursue a sense of belonging as skillfully as possible.  That means operating beyond the scope of intuition.

Intuition equips humans to fit in with their immediate communities. Knowledge enables humans to belong with their entire universe.

Thank you for reading.

-C

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