Feeling Familiar in a Strange Land: The Beauty of Belonging

belonging - penguinsTHE BEAUTY OF BELONGING

What does it mean to feel that you “belong”?

This edition of Soul Notes is dedicated to the beneficial sense of belonging — from the standpoint of inclusion (and not exclusion). “Belonging to” — not in the sense of being subject to an outside force or group having power over, or ownership of, or “possession” of you or another. In this post, let’s consider the concept of “belonging to,” as coming from a place of equal footing.

A sense of “place,” of home, a feeling of familiarity

The beauty of belonging lies in the feeling of a common bond, identity, and shared experience.   It’s a feeling of togetherness. Unity. Each one an accepted member of the collective.

Most recently, a strong sense of belonging came up for me during two different kundalini yoga classes that I attended. One was during the Moksha Yoga Festival held at the Los Angeles Convention Center, and the other took place at a martial arts studio in Hollywood. The venues and the instructors were unique unto themselves. Yet there was also a beautiful commonality, and familiarity that I felt in both instances.

Ever since my early childhood, I have also felt a similar profound sense of “home” when attending a Catholic Mass.

And, as I’ve shared previously, as a participant in the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Family To Family group training, I definitely felt a deep sense of belonging there.

I invite you to consider whether these types of experiences ring true for you as well. What environments or groups allow you to feel most at home?

Sense of belonging…familiarity in a strange land

For me, it became apparent that the feeling of belonging, in all of these examples, stems from a sense of community – or common elements, shared by all or many who participate in the group’s activities. It’s a communal experience.

  • Kundalini yoga

Common Elements:

In my experience, kundalini yoga classes each start with the same opening chant, contain a kriya (or “set” of exercises and meditations) in the middle portion of the class, and close with the same resting pose and the same closing song.

The two kundalini yoga classes mentioned above took place over the course of two consecutive weekends, with each taught by a different master yogi and in a different location. Neither of these were my “usual class” that I have been attending regularly in my own neighborhood.

And, even though each yoga class offered a unique in-the-moment experience, there were nonetheless common elements that were so welcoming and felt so familiar. At both of these classes, I felt right at home. I knew what to expect, and I could “follow along” with the teacher’s instructions, even though these particular instructors, and the respective class environments, were new to me.

This is not to suggest that there’s little or no room for spontaneity in these classes. There is. There are hundreds of kriyas, for example, from which the instructor may select. And, the specific kriyas often do change from class to class.

What made these experiences so special for me, though, was the sense of peace and comfort I felt upon discovering that I could take a class pretty much anywhere, and always feel at home. My friend who had invited me to join her for the class in Hollywood agreed. She was trained in kundalini yoga in New York, but finds that she feels right at home in the California classes and pretty much anywhere. It’s as if, in any given room, during any given class, we are all speaking the same spiritual language. Beautiful!

  • Catholic Mass

Common Elements:

I remember, when as a teenager attending a Mass, it suddenly occurred to me that “oh, each Mass is always a re-creation of the Last Supper” – how amazing, and how profound, I thought at the time. I wasn’t baptized in the Church at that time (I would later partake in the RCIA – Rite for Christian Initiation of Adults), but I would come to appreciate how truly special Holy Communion (the Eucharist) is, and how integral it is to the Mass. It’s my understanding that a service doesn’t constitute a Mass unless there’s Holy Communion given. There are other common elements too, such as the Lord’s Prayer and the Sign (or Kiss) of Peace.

As I would later travel to other countries, I again felt that same sense of belonging. The word catholic itself even means “inclusive.” I can be in Spain, or Italy, or France, for example, and feel that same sense of familiarity and welcoming when attending Mass. I needn’t speak the local language; I speak the language of a Catholic congregant. And, it is universal. I know when to stand up, and when to kneel.  And, the common elements of the Eucharist, et cetera feel so wonderfully familiar to me. Again, there’s a sense of community, with one’s self, each other, and the divine. It’s one of my favorite aspects of traveling!

Why is a sense of belonging so important?

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the social needs to be loved, accepted and to belong, fall smack dab in the middle, at level 3, of Maslow’s 5-level hierarchy. Abraham Maslow, PhD professed that as humans we continue to gravitate toward a higher and higher level of needs so as to maintain our motivation and our ever-elevating human experience. Once the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, followed by security and safety are met, the social need to belong comes next.

In short, it’s really a matter of feeling accepted. Even though the environments may change, the familiarity, the feeling of “I’m at home here” prevails.

For your consideration: In this moment, reflect on those instances when you’ve felt most at home – when you knew in your heart that you were welcomed and accepted and that you truly belonged. What one thing could you do TODAY to bring that sense of belonging to the forefront?

Okay, your turn to share:

What does belonging mean to you? What are some of the indications that you know that you “belong”?

I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences in the Comments section, below. Soul-to-soul!

© 2015 Lori A. Noonan. All Rights Reserved.
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Oh, to be the center of (loving) attention

Here’s to the unseen, the unheard…the silent warriors

center of attentionFor the unspoken ones, the quiet ones, the so-called “reliable” and “responsible” ones, this edition of Soul Notes is for you.

This is dedicated to those living with or having lived with a family member with a mental illness.   I would imagine similar experiences ring true in other trying situations in other types of family dynamics as well. With respect and reverence, I honor those, too.

Specifically, here, however, we continue what we started exploring in an earlier post where I shared that I had embarked on an intensive “Family to Family” training program delivered by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). I’ve completed that training, and have emerged hopefully with a deepened sense of grace and understanding.

From my own experiences, coupled with what I learned in the NAMI “Family to Family” course

My mother had her first “nervous breakdown” when I was seven. She is bipolar (or what they called back then manic depressive). By my teenage years, on more than one occasion I had witnessed her attempt to end her life. In my 20s, I experienced the downward spiral of my brother who had his own psychotic break and who did die by suicide.

When you’re a family member of someone living with a mental illness, the attention, the focus, the energy centers around that person. “Rightly so!,” you may be exclaiming. Indeed. Agreed.

The need to ascertain and ensure proper dosages of medication, the monitoring of moods, and riding the waves of ever-changing behavior — all require steadfast attention, energy and care.

The persons with the mental illness(es) often feel alone, isolated, and misunderstood. They experience severe pain, disorientation, and confusion. They suffer the pangs of unfair stigma, prejudice and ostracization. Absolutely, they need and deserve loving care and attention. (For a prior discussion regarding empathy for the mentally ill, please go here.)

Resources are created, collected, and distributed to the person or persons with the brain disorder. To the one “acting out.” To the erratic one. They have their own treatment plans, hospital wings and specialized medical personnel. They have their own support groups, etc. Again, rightly so.

But, what about the other family members who are not the ones with the brain disorder? The steady ones? The stalwart ones? The ones who bravely persevere amongst the turbulence and the mayhem? The ones who may have violence directed towards them, and who undergo stressful encounters with law enforcement and medical and paramedical personnel? Ah, there’s the rub, Shakespeare.

As an advocate for all  souls to be shining brightly, I pose this question:

How, then, to garner the attention, focus and care that YOU, as a family member, may also need?

Are your needs and desires to remain cast in the shadows, lost in all the chaotic mix that is, in a household or family structure centered around one or more members living with a brain disorder? I speak for the silent ones. The often overlooked ones. The often forgotten ones in this mix.   I take a stand for these souls. As does NAMI. NAMI’s Family to Family program is designed to support and improve the lives of family members affected by mental illness.  I applaud them, and other organizations like them, for their great work.

The Squeaky Wheel

There’s an American idiom that states in effect: “to the squeaky wheel goes the grease.” In other words, to smooth out the ride, to eradicate the noise, to silence the distraction, apply oil.

What if, however, there is no ‘noticeable’ squeak? As this philosophical question poses: “If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a sound?” The answer is yes! The family members of a loved one with a mental illness are often the silent sufferers. The unsqueaky wheels DO need the grease (i.e., their own loving care and attention). As they are often the ones overlooked, that is all the more reason to pay them close heed.

Families with a mentally ill family member often cloak their experiences in secrecy. They bear the social stigma of having a “crazy” family member. They are deemed unstable-by-association. And, within their own families, the non mentally ill ones often feel and are in effect treated as if they are “invisible.”

Self-care and Support

It’s important for the family members to find healthy ways to take care of themselves, and that includes surrounding themselves with their own support system. Wonderfully, NAMI offers support groups not only for the ill persons, but for the family members as well.

As discussed in the Family to Family class, family members suffer their own unique burdens. The course classifies them into objective life burdens and the subjective burden of their own painful and often hidden, unexpressed feelings. The objective life burdens often include:

  • getting through crises with the ill family member while maintaining the needs of the other family members
  • inevitable family conflicts due to different coping styles and perspectives on how best to handle certain situations
  • finding a way to balance work or school responsibilities with treatment and care responsibilities
  • financial concerns and plans for future care
  • being “menaced” by someone you love
  • taking on dual or multiple roles within the family
  • having to grow up too fast
  • worried that you will get the illness, too
  • lack of an understanding peer group

And, again, the subjective burdens are the often unexpressed feelings and hurts associated with being a family member of someone who is mentally not well.

NAMI Graduation

Which brings me to our graduation from the NAMI Family to Family course. On a recent Saturday, I joined my twenty or so classmates in a joyous celebration. Our weeks of emotionally draining at times, uplifting at times, and overall deeply bonding time together, came to a close.

We had our own graduation ceremony. Okay, so there were no actual caps and gowns, but someone did play “Pomp and Circumstance” from her smart phone! And, we each walked up to the front of the room, and received our Certificates and some came complete with a gold seal for Perfect Attendance. Without exception, each person cheered for one another as we accepted our ‘diplomas’. We had our pictures taken with our instructors, and as a group.

We were the center of attention. We weren’t the squeaky wheels. And, we didn’t need to be. We were seen, heard, respected, appreciated and loved — for who we are and what we have each experienced. And, it felt great.

3 Suggestions to Consider:

I leave you with three suggestions to consider and to incorporate into your lives should you know of a colleague, friend, or other loved one who may be experiencing hidden, locked or unexpressed feelings as a result of living with someone with a mental illness:

  1. From a place of compassion and understanding, let them know you are available to listen, without judgment, and are open to hearing about their perspective and their experiences.
  2. Allow them to express their fear, doubt, anxiety, nervousness, frustration, anger, shame, guilt or any other telling aspects of their experiences to whatever extent they feel comfortable. This is true for adults, and especially true for children – who may need loving encouragement and reassurance that it is safe to express their feelings, and that their feelings are indeed valid.
  3. Go ahead and dote on them once in awhile! Allow them to be the center of your loving attention. Allow them to take a break, have a little fun, and let loose for a change. Life need not always be so heavy. They will likely savor every bit of those precious moments.

So, here’s to the silent brave ones! Carry on! We see you. We hear you. We care about you. You matter!

Okay, your turn:

What experiences have you had with someone whose family member has a mental illness? If you are a family member of someone with a mental illness, what one thing would you like others to understand?

I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences in the Comments section, below. Soul-to-soul!

© 2015 Lori A. Noonan. All Rights Reserved.
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It’s time to vibrate the cosmos!

Data Flow XXL SeriesAs we introduced in a previous post:   Yogi Bhajan, a master of kundalini yoga and spiritual teacher for decades to thousands worldwide, taught a set of principles that he coined the Five Sutras of the Aquarian Age.

This edition of Soul Notes draws to a close our 5-part series, with this one devoted to Sutra #5: “Vibrate the cosmos. The cosmos will clear the path.”

“Vibrate the cosmos. The cosmos will clear the path.”

[Sutra 5, Yogi Bhajan]

This sutra is a call to action.

Everything is in motion

Everything is moving. It’s all energy (and matter). Everything and everyone is vibrating at its own frequency. We’re a human body full of molecules (as is the chair you are likely sitting on right now) and all is moving as we live on a living planet that’s also moving. The earth is orbiting the sun. The moon is orbiting the earth. I love those “you are here” photos taken from space. It helps to take this larger view. It reminds us that with the cosmos comes expansiveness and limitless possibilities.

Ready and awake

For the most part, animals in the wild often remain still, lying in wait. They reserve their energy by springing from and then returning to a natural, neutral state. When the time is right, they spring into action. They do so at just the right, intended moment.

Are we humans that much different? Wouldn’t we also benefit from springing from and returning to our own natural, neutral state? Neutral does not mean passive! It does not mean stagnation. It is not a state of non-awareness. Quite the contrary. It’s a state of full alertness. It’s being truly awake to all that’s around us!

Tip: Setting aside time for a daily practice furthers and facilitates this state of what I would call “alert neutrality.” Some forms include: meditation, prayer, quiet reflection, observation, writing in a journal. For the benefits of a daily practice and some examples, go here.

Spring into action and make waves!

Like the strings of an instrument, be it a violin or guitar or a banjo — and whether it be by way of plucking, picking, or strumming the strings — each sends off a unique vibration.

Our own voices provide a channel. We each have our own built-in vibration creator! Chanting, humming, singing, they all carry their own vibration, too. And, whether you’re on your yoga mat, in the shower, or in your car – use your voice, and vibrate to your own private cosmos!   This will raise your own frequency, and in turn will impact those with whom you interact throughout the day.

It’s as if we’re knocking on Cosmos’s door, and saying with confidence, “Hey there, Cosmos! Bring it on! I’m ready! Clear the path! Let’s go!”

Remember that you may always return to a neutral state. Reserve and extend your energy wisely. Refresh, regroup, and reset. We don’t always need to be clearing a new path. When we are ready, though, we know what to do – vibrate the cosmos, and the cosmos will provide!

Lighten the load raise your vibration

Again, a daily practice plays a helpful role in getting you back to a neutral state and in tune (pun intended) with what you desire to set in motion. What is it that you’d like the cosmos to clear the path for? What burdens are weighing you down, that when lifted, will raise your vibration?

From a place of inspiration and divine wisdom, set the vibration and then let go. Trust the cosmos to clear the path for you. When activated, your desires set in motion the future you intend to create. Your thoughts and your words hold their own vibrations, too. You get to decide which ones you embrace, and which ones you discard. With this (e)motion set in motion, you’re primed to take inspired action. That one action in turn creates another, and another, and so on, and so on. The ripples continue on, creating the desired results.

That is not to say that you’ll be able to control all other vibrations coming toward and all around you! It is to say, however, that you get to decide which tune you wish to play.

“When you pray, move your feet.” – African proverb

In conventional society, we’re often told “not to make waves.” And, “don’t rock the boat.” Phooey! This Sutra gives us permission – in fact, encourages us – to do precisely that. Ocean waves, sound waves, waves of light — nature is full of waves that carry energy with them. So too, shall each of us. During these enlightened times, the yearning, the impulse, is there. We no longer feel satiated by staying in one place. We feel the urge to raise our vibration. That’s the build-up of pressure that is ready to be released. (For tips on starting, so that the pressure will be off, go here.)

So, here we go:

Stir things up! Shake things loose! With your archer’s bowstring, pull back your arrow and let ‘er fly! The time is now.

Okay, your turn:

Are you ready to vibrate the cosmos? What path do you intend to clear? What are you sending out?  Are you vibrating at the frequency of love? Of service? Of loving service?

I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences in the Comments section, below. Soul-to-soul!

© 2015 Lori A. Noonan. All Rights Reserved.