by Octavio Salvado.
Belonging is an essential part of being human, a fundamental thread that weaves together some of the sweetest moments of our strange little lives. It has taken me a long time to figure this out and even now, it terrifies me. Because being a soloist is so much easier, there is a lot more room to hide.
In my twenties and early thirties i used my practice as a means to sidestep facing up to the fear of being fully seen. I felt imperfect and unworthy of being accepted for my totality. After all, i was a yoga teacher! Weren’t they meant to be flawless?
So rather than risk the pain of humiliation, i hid inside meditation and mantra, early nights and internal judgements until i did a fairly remarkable job of building myself an impenetrable fortress. The only issue was that i accidentally built mirrors all along the interior walls, so every time i closed my eyes, all i saw was myself. Fantastic irony isn’t it? But thats the thing about meditation. It works.
The more i sat and truly looked, the more i saw how afraid i was, how much i desperately wanted more connection in my life, more community, more love and that secretly I longed to feel the deeper sense of belonging that exists below the shallow waters of just fitting in. Fitting in is easy. Belonging takes real courage.
I think what it comes down to for a lot of us, is shame. A feeling that our authentic, unrefined selves aren’t worthy of acceptance. So we hide, we Tweet, we Facebook, we touch up our photos and botox our faces. Shame is a big word. Its hard to vocalize, let alone claim. Yet almost paradoxically its in the vulnerable owning of it that the door to real connection unsticks and opens up.
There’s a beautiful (and brutal, as shame stories usually are) story from the Puranas that speaks about one man’s shame and his resulting public decapitation. Its a Shiva myth. A good one.
Daksha is the father of Goddess, Sati who has chosen the unconventional, yet completely authentic Lord Shiva as her husband. Shiva is like the girl at the party who’s wearing a t-shirt with fluorescent green geckos stitched all over it and for some reason is carrying a kettle. Although you’re unquestionably curious, surely its not going to go unnoticed by the hipsters if you strike up a conversation. So what do you do? You do nothing. You play it safe.
Thats exactly what Daksha does. Rather than risk his reputation, he hides the fact that his daughter has chosen to wed the long haired, mostly naked, ash-smeared, skull carrying yogi. Dear Lord! What would the Jones’s say? This is what we do whenever we pretend we’re not hurting when actually we are. When we say we’re fine but actually we’re falling apart and seriously need a hug, or when we have a drug problem or an eating disorder or some other skeleton in the closet that we’re too ashamed and afraid to speak up about.
The result is never good, particularly if what we’re actually craving is to connect and feel a genuine sense of being held and supported by a collective, by a community existing beyond the shores of the little island we’ve escaped to.
There’s many elements to this story, however i’ll jump right to the point. Sati, the feminine principle representing our prana, our vitality makes a rather dramatic statement and publicly throws herself on the sacrificial fire. This is the depletion of our energy, health issues, think exhaustion as a result of the supreme effort it takes to carry on an identity facade, particularly a public one. Shiva who is authenticity, but also the highest aspect of our awareness will only tolerate self deception and self sabotage for so long before stepping in. Im not sure if you noticed, but life is self correcting that way. One way or another it always moves towards balance. We can make the adjustments ourselves, or they will be made for us.
Daksha chooses to play his hand and hope for the best. It doesn’t end well. In fact, it ends with his head on a stake. It ends with a public and painful leveling. It ends, as it usually does – all coming to light in the bright, uncompromising, unflinching glow of unavoidable transparency.
The good news is, eventually Sati is reborn as the divine yogini, Parvati and once more unites with her Eternal Love, Shiva. Consciousness and energy, beliefs and vitality absent of shame and fear are once again free to fill the world with a love born of authentic connection. As it should be.
We say we want connection, we say we want community, but what are we willing to show for it? Because nothing less than everything will suffice. True belonging first requires radical authenticity, to ourselves and to others, otherwise the best we can do is fit in, and there’s no real love in that… only likes and follows.
The path of Yoga has taught me that. So have the honesty and often painful reflections of my friends and my amazing partner. That if we want it all, we have to be willing to risk it all. Before we can move outwards, we first have to move inwards.
In the dark little corners of our mind, real courage is born. Armed with that, we can reveal our totality – our ugliness, our fear, our imperfections as well as all of the ways we shine and contribute. We are never going to be perfect. Not perfect people, perfect partners, perfect parents or perfect yogis. But we are still worthy of love and belonging. We all still deserve community in our lives.
Nevertheless, community is not something we get for free. We have to earn it.
Im learning that.
Practicing with the right attitude, the right intention, getting humble enough to ask for the right kind of help, meeting others as we truly are – fear, shame, insecurities and all, are the first steps. Because even though it may seem the contrary, community, connection and love are not born and do not exist outside of ourselves.
Like everything else worth living for, the epicentre of belonging is deep inside.