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Circles of belonging, trust, and living in the midst of the process
Ask and you shall receive.
Ask and it is given.
We must be able to receive what we ask for and often what we want, deeply, is a sense of connection and belonging.
If you pray, and God, the energy field of divine love that prayed you into being, sends what you ask for, it will never make it to you unless you are open to take it in. A gift given is not always received.
And all that, in a round about way, has to do with circles of belonging and finding your way into loving yourself and not actually needing to be part of whatever group you can be in or out of. This is empowering. As long as you look outside yourself to others for a sense of self, you can never find your true inner power. We look outward desperately for what we desire until eventually, we start to feel moments of simply being held, and cared for by the energy around us in various forms and beings, regardless of what people do or who does or does not like us. We learn to trust in something and that something is both ourselves and a bigger, beyond-words-kind-of-thing.
I was just texting a friend, who had written and called my words here resonant and eloquent. He said I wrote about things he already knew, and didn’t quite know how to say. That is a beautiful thing. Because if something resonates with you, you do know it somehow. It is like it touches a string in your heart and the tone you know how to play, always knew was there, starts to sing. What he was telling me was that he could feel his truth and his own song. I believe he was naming his sense of his inner wisdom, that he notices while reading something from me.
I often tell myself I use too many words, I am too scattered… Right now I hear birds, and something else, perhaps a bat or insect, flew by quickly. The waves are crashing in the muted and surprisingly soft, early morning light. I am alone at a table, so early that no one else has emerged for coffee. The breeze touches my hair. Ideas fly around like all these things and I am sitting, to write to you, about something. That something is about being in the process of it all: the transformational thing we are experiencing, constantly.
Sometimes, that is what we feel most. The swirling of all these things that feel like questions and explorations without any solidity. You might want a life raft of 10 things you can do to get to somewhere or something.
Today is not a list day and if that is what you need, you are not wrong for it.
But here with me today, what I have to say is going to be more flowy. Because I have no answers, only explorations around belonging which seem to open things, often over time. Maybe these things will speak to you, in their own alchemical way and resonate with your heart strings and the unfolding complexity of your own, unique soul.
First, let’s talk about circles of belonging. I have been exploring this lately and perhaps it may be helpful to bring them up into your and my awareness and spotlight them together.
A young man I call, in my mind, Spirit Dawn, recently spoke to me about circles of belonging and sent me two essays on the topic. One was a talk given by CS Lewis, and another was an essay by Dr. Art Lindsley. CS Lewis, one of my favorite authors when I was a child, gave a talk to some college students about how we as humans, look for circles of belonging.
Spirit Dawn was suggesting that I consider being my own circle of belonging…like walking through the world with a sense of being ok with who I am, just as I am. As I think about it now, he was describing a secure attachment style. This is something that is spoken of in psychological literature as a state one obtains from experiencing a childhood that evoked a sense of safety, security, and trustworthiness in life. You exist in an environment where your parents can feel how you are, rather than experience you from a place of emotional distance. They are able to meet your needs with kindness, even when they don’t give you what you want. They resonate with you. This leads to the capacity to resonate with yourself as an adult, to be able to care for yourself, without detaching from your sense of your environment and other people around you, or your care for them.
Most of us did not experience this as often as we would have liked as children. I don’t know the percentage of securely attached people in the world who didn’t have to work at it. But I am clear (no science backing this and it is pretty easy to assess for yourself if you dive into deep conversations with people), that most people have upbringings that required them to develop various coping strategies.
Most of us start off with behaviors called anxious (in my mind I see a squiggly line of energy that goes all over the place, that is needy and always checking in with everything around it—do you like me? are you ok? if you are not ok, what can I do so you will be?),
avoidant (that energy line and corresponding person leans away from everything that wants to get close, and magnetically and uncomfortably attracts that anxious parter or friend who will not give them the space they desire),
or disorganized (where you get a little of both those things for good measure and life becomes even more confusing).
I felt a great deal of relief when another highly-educated friend informed me that there is also something called learned secure attachment. Such a person, who is naturally secure or has learned to be, has energy that could be seen as a straight line…not leaning towards other people in a codependent way, or avoiding people. Such a person is able to feel what they want and need without a loss of care or empathy for others, and acts in a way that honors what is right for them. They stand fully in their own being, with honesty and integrity. They know how to ask and they know how to receive. They will find a way to take care of themselves. They are in a circle of belonging that doesn’t require acceptance by anyone. They belong in a bigger way, more fluidly.
It was a relief to hear about learned secure attachment as I had by then self-diagnosed myself as disorganized with a strong case of CPTSD (complex PTSD, which you can catch from basically breathing the air here on earth as opportunities abound to experience many challenging things) and I really didn’t feel the symptoms of those things as I once had. I believe I am becoming more secure over time and this, like everything, is a process for me. I have done a lot of emotional and physical release work, read a lot of books (that helped me self-diagnose myself and were somewhat validating, despite troubling), worked on codependency (that comes from the anxious thing), etc… etc… etc…
I imagine you have done many of these things too. I am simply naming them here as another thing that has become mysteriously helpful is to name things that one teacher referred to as “Under the Carpet.” We can’t deal with and transform things that we sweep under the carpet. It is a good coping strategy and in the end, it’s nicer to live with a flat carpet you can walk on…that is clean and supportive. You know what I mean?
So, that all leads to circles of belonging, which I find interesting.
Circles of belonging refer to those groups we want to be included in, or be a part of. They are those people in the hotel restaurant having that great conversation, laughing, and talking to other people you know are traveling. You want to be invited to snuggle in with them and share in the energy and camaraderie. Remember the “popular” kids in school? I know you know who they are. You can probably list the names of these people from the past. You might have been in, or out, or like me, existing on the edge, neither in nor out…touching into multiple circles with different groups and wondering about it…
To feel “excluded” or “out of it” is a miserable feeling. Yet the desire to be “in” can make you say things you would not otherwise say, or not say things you should say.—Dr. Art Lindsley
I had mentioned to Spirit Dawn that soon after my arrival in El Salvador, I had found myself at some unexpectedly exclusive events, and also banned from a monthly meetup at Bitcoin Embassy.
Now, Bitcoin Embassy is not a real embassy. It is simply a large house in the nice part of the capital city. Someone named Jeremy lived there and Jeremy helped people obtain residency here. He had been helping me until I decided his suggestions of how to go about it did not feel comfortable to me. So, I offered to pay him for his time and hired an attorney to help me instead. He declined my offer of payment and returned my paperwork. And then he banned me from any activities at his so-called Embassy.
So, here I was in El Salvador, meeting a lot of interesting people and no longer welcome at those meetings, which bothered me just a little.
I decided to tell people about this when they mentioned they would see me at The Embassy. I think inside, I was testing how much they wanted to be my friend vs. shunning me to impress Jeremy.
It surprised me to notice that no one I found interesting enough to test in this way seemed to care whether I was banned or not. And it does feel a little bit validating to also mention now that recently, I learned it is likely Jeremy did not own the large house, that he suddenly disappeared from the country, and that there are rumors flying about various conspiracies.
I have to admit to a sense of egoic pride that I was banned and that my intuition was trustable. Still, it was a circle of belonging that initially excluded me and it was uncomfortable and unexpected. It felt strange. Which is why I brought it up with Spirit Dawn and we discussed circles of belonging.
Then there is Jorge. Jorge is featured in a recent movie about El Zonte that was just released on Amazon called Dare to Dream. The movie wasn’t out when I met him, and I really didn’t know much about him. All I knew was that he ran a place called Hope House I had heard about in a few YouTube videos which seemed to be a building where they gave kids lessons in English, did fun things with them, and also taught them about Bitcoin.
I also learned Jorge owned property on a hill I liked, near my friend’s new land, and I wanted to meet him and see if he might have something to sell me. The first time I saw him, he was driving by in his truck and I threw my request at him really, through his open window. I had no idea I was speaking to a pillar of El Zonte who both deserved my respect and a bit of humility.
The other pillar is Alex.
Alex happens to own the hotel which I have chosen to make my home for the next three months, so once again, I find myself unexpectedly in the center of things. Oh, and Alex is also in the movie. Alex has given me some advice which he seems to do for many people, including Jorge. Recently, he was outside his hotel overseeing a new sewage system being installed under the public street. He spent the day helping, for free I am sure, because it affects this community.
Anyway, Jorge agreed to meet me, ostensibly to talk to me about property.
Still highly uninformed that I was headed to meet someone akin to the mayor, I forded a murky river to meet Jorge, find out about property for sale, and learn a little bit more about Hope House. He walked me through classrooms of children learning English and told me of the many jobs he used to work and his struggle to pull himself out of poverty. He told me about how he helps this community that he loves so much. Jorge also told me Alex was responsible for changing his life.
Which led to my interview. Meaning Jorge sat me down and interviewed me. He wanted to know why I was in El Zonte, why I wanted to buy property, what my life had been like in the past…the whole thing. He told me clearly from the beginning that he had no property for sale. Then he took me in his truck and suggested he might have something he would consider selling me.
The interview didn’t feel easy and I guess I did ok. Things went better with him than they did with Jeremy.
We spent the next two hours driving to visit said property-that-was-not-for-sale while Jorge demonstrated what belonging to this community means.
During our time together, we stopped by Jorge’s house to meet someone very lean and sweaty who had climbed up and down two large hills on a muddy sort-of path for mostly cows, to deliver a large amount of heavy corn to Jorge. For free. He was smiling. Jorge pointed out how the man was helping him, by bringing the corn. It was a sort of thank you to Jorge. A back and forth thing. He was grateful to Jorge for something. Jorge wanted to be at his house to receive this offering in person. Jorge seemed to live a life all about giving and receiving.
He told me that that was how things worked in this community. His house was built on land that someone also gave him as a gift. Because Jorge had helped the man find a large piece of property to purchase. It was so large, his friend divided off a piece with one of the most beautiful views in the city, and gave it to Jorge.
People help one another and depend on each other. Jorge believes in this.
I wondered about what it would be like to be here, and not be accepted into this communities’ circle of belonging.
Jorge, I believe, is a Christian Evangelist. I don’t know what that actually means other than someone told me it is definitely not a Catholic-kind of thing. I could see that for Jorge, his purpose seemed to involve living a life dedicated to fostering circles of belonging based on care and empathy. (Happily, I had already admitted I was not religious in a regular, traditional way and Jorge still took me on the adventure… So it seems Christian Evangelism is not required to participate in Jorge-sponsored things).
He intentionally created circles like this to give children opportunities to feel a part of a healthy community so they wouldn’t join the gangs that used to exist here. He also wanted them to have future opportunities for success.
Later, on the way back from spending all that time with me, he pulled his truck over, unexpectedly. It seems his cows had escaped from his home on the hill and he had to jump out to round them up and secure them on a nearby neighbor’s property until he could get up at 5am the next morning and fetch his horse to herd them back. Various people in the area sprang into action to assist him with this, including a red-eyed smiling man exuding alcoholic fumes who took time to tell me I was beautiful. After deciding he seemed simply inebriated in a non-intrusive way, I stood watching all the neighborly cow herding magic happen around me.
Mission complete, Jorge jumped back in the truck to complete the short journey to drop me off at Hope House. Before he could leave, the red-eyed man came up to the open window and asked him for some money. Without thinking, Jorge extracted $2 from a place in his truck stuffed with bits of paper and change and thanked him for helping.
Jorge said he didn’t know what this man, whose name he knew, would use the money for, and it didn’t matter to him. He told me what a good man he was, and how he had helped Jorge herd the escaped cows. He mentioned what a good surfer the man was and how his struggle with drinking came and went.
He belonged with Jorge and in the community.
I believe that in all men’s lives at certain periods, and in many men’s lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside.—CS Lewis
Many years ago, my coach, Lisa, pointed out to me that the most extreme form of abuse or pain, is to be excluded. She mentioned that in the past, if one was excluded from one’s tribe and outcast, it often meant certain death. Circles of belonging have also been circles that provide a sense of safety.
I imagine this is why people enjoy being members of churches, or groups focused on various things that feel meaningful. And there is also an energy of being in or out of such circles and what that means. It can feel excruciating, especially to those of us who have not developed a sense of secure attachment within ourselves.
And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world. It would be so terrible to see the other man’s face—that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face—turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected.—CS Lewis
I realize, I desire to simply be me and to live as true to myself as I can. I like to offer help to people. I care. And I don’t want to do those things in exchange for belonging because then I can easily compromise my own truth and integrity for someone or something outside myself.
And as I said, exclusion can be really painful. Sometimes it is part of the journey of becoming. You will know this if you have ever felt pushed away by someone or some group. For an anxious person, it can feel like a part of them is torn away. A secure person can see it all through eyes of compassion and care whilst moving forward in life without guilt or a sense of responsibility for other people’s experiences.
This week, my attorney is crafting an offer for a lovely piece of property. I told myself a few reasons not to buy it. There is a cell phone tower nearby. Some locals have been pushy in their attempts to get money from me. What if the town decides I don’t fit into their circle of welcoming?
Now, the truth is, I have already seen division between people who live there. And I told myself, it will be ok, ok if people don’t like me. I told myself if I needed to hire someone to help care for the lovely property and no one in the town would work for me, I could find someone else to hire from a different town. Maybe someone from here in El Zonte.
Basically, I played out the worst case scenario in my mind and realized I could handle it.
Then I went to see the property again, with my two attorneys, the elderly owner and his nephew. One of my attorneys slipped in some mud as we hiked the boundary line. The nephew got stung by wasps. And the kind machete-wielding owner held out a hand to assist me across the stones at a river crossing and chopped away at various greenery to open a path for everyone (which may have been how the wasps were disturbed, I am not sure). He spoke only Spanish and showed up wearing a bright yellow t-shirt that announced he was from a New York penitentiary with a prisoner number on it. (The humor of this did not escape me as I am sure he had no idea what his shirt said and he seemed very sweet).
I took all that in as he showed me this piece of land that had been in his family for thirty years.
My attorney told me he offered to make sure I get the right people to care for the property, who won’t overcharge me for clearing it now and then and that he would keep an eye on it for me as well. With that, I could feel a sense of welcoming. In the end, I too am simply a caretaker of this piece of property. I will not live forever and all of this is a transitory thing.
And there is much material here on circles of belonging.
I told my attorney in the car on the way there that I feel a bit sad and uncomfortable about buying property. I told her that to me, it seemed that people in El Salvador would do best not selling. The country is growing and prices are going up.
She looked at me and smiled as she said that she liked me. She wanted people like me to buy property here because I care about the people here. This particular piece of property is a win-win scenario for us both as he wants to sell so he has money to help someone in his family. I am very happy to provide the funds he needs and I love the land. I think he liked me and felt happy I would take over the ownership of this little island of grassy earth near the sea.
I could write more and really, I am simply learning. What do circles of belonging mean in terms of relationship?
I have seen a documentary on CS Lewis’s life. He got married late. It was a love story. His wife was younger, with a past that included an abusive spouse. She had a son. And despite finding and creating a movie-perfect beautiful-family-relationship-circle-of-lovely-belonging, she died soon after they met, of cancer, leaving him and the young boy together, mourning. Circles of belonging. Relationship. Love. Endings. What does it all mean?
I wish I could tell you. I really don’t know yet. I don’t know if it is truly possible to find Prince Charming or Cinderella and live happily ever after. Or if we are simply flowing. Or both. Or differently. Maybe somehow, it is all those things.
Somehow, it helps to develop a sense of security in one’s self and to notice if any anxious or avoidant tendencies arise, so we can offer those parts of ourselves what they need. That allows us to both give and receive while at the same time, being free. It has to do with maturing which we are always in the process of in some way or another.
And it is nice to feel we walk in our own circle of well-being, belonging to the Earth, to the divine…and to everything. Then we trust ourselves and honor our needs. Securely. As best we can. Not to impress other people or to fit in.
We can see things, all things, as learning opportunities and not as black and white points of success or failure.
We can learn to love and accept ourselves and do our best to give ourselves what we need and to also pause and allow ourselves to receive the gifts of others and the world around us when they are offered. Including elderly men wearing penitentiary t-shirts and using machetes.
A few days ago, I was invited to a party here in El Zonte. The text said it was a poetry slam. The next text mentioned a birthday. Then there was a photo of a door for me to find. I didn’t know if I was going to a house or a restaurant. I was unclear how much of the event was about the birthday. And I sat down to come up with some sort of poem, which is not what I usually write. But sometimes now I call myself a writer and I felt a kind of obligatory need to both participate and own something about myself.
I threw away my first attempt and started again.
Then I channeled something that made no sense to me.
And after struggling to find the door in the dark, I found myself at a 50th birthday party with a lot of people in their 20s and 30s.
Some of them took turns perching themselves on a proffered stool to read long and lovely versions of birthday poetry to a man-I-did-not-know. Many of the poems were funny and all of them mentioned surfing.
There was music and some people drinking.
So I kept my crumpled piece of paper-poetry quietly folded and tucked away in my fanny pack. I felt myself on the edge of this community of people who for sure, had a strong circle of belonging. And they had invited me, the new person, the non-surfer, to their party. It was sweet and it was edgy.
Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain.—CS Lewis
I am less afraid of being an outsider and maybe like Spirit Dawn said, I am finding that I prefer to carry my own circle of belonging with me as I flow through life making choices. I chose not to read my poem. The energy wasn’t right for it and there was nothing wrong with that. It was simply my sense of things. If I had, I would have done it because I was trying to belong to this new group of people. It would have been an attempt at people-pleasing. Instead, I simply showed up the best I could, as me, and trusted in what I wanted to do once I got there.
And it feels good now to offer it to you. May you and I flow through this liminal experience of life and embrace the not-knowing and the beauty, pain, and mystery of it all. May we feel our place in the world, not from what we do, but because of who we are, and may we live from this place of soul and divinity with love, trust, and integrity. Whether anyone likes us or not. May we be free.
Everything existing both at once
and not at all…
The mind tries to grasp the divine
A white rose forms
into a tiny bud covered in dew
Welcoming the light into soft petals…
A petal turns brown
around its feathery edges
Drops into the welcoming arms of
It looks like time to the mind
But every moment is simply love
That pulses bigger and bigger
Growing Complexity, Expanding Beauty
That simply is…
All here at once
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