When you and I were born, we were fully ready to embrace our purpose. In those first, fresh hours on the outside of our mother’s body, the world had yet to say “No,” or “That’s not possible,” or “You’re not good enough” or even the more positive message of “You deserve anything you want.” We didn’t question how we belonged in the world; we just belonged.
Now visualize holding that small, swaddled body; hear the small snorts as her lungs experiment with the air. She is still so close to her unencumbered soul’s form and boundless potential, before the conditioned way of belonging begins. Take a look at her hair, her face, feel the weight of her body in your arms. Would you dare tell her she couldn’t be everything she wanted to be? Could you even imagine explaining to her that she’ll have to be a certain size with a certain look? Would it even enter your head to tell her that she’ll be devalued by advertising and pornography? That once she finds a job, she’ll be considered less than her male colleagues and paid a wage that proves it.
But, to our horror, others will. The material world has put together a whole story about how you should belong, the right friends, the ways you should define yourself, should…should…should. According to child development experts, by the age of 13 or so, you were fully conditioned to how you belong. You were rewarded when you lived in the acceptable way, and if you strayed, you suffered ramifications. With each year, you moved farther from your soul’s knowing of comfort, love, movement, freedom, and purpose. The affect is painful, restraining, stifling, and we're silenced because “it’s the way things are.”
What were the world’s conditioning lessons for you? Were you deemed too big, too little, too fat, too scrawny? Were you labeled as smart/stupid, ugly/beautiful, loud/shy, princess/tomboy, homely/sexy, successful/lazy, in-crowd/outcast? Every time you internalized one of those messages (and countless others) it reinforced how you should or shouldn’t belong.
Some women go along with that conditioned belonging for their whole lives because of the predictable sense of place or a genuine fear of pushing against societal and family constructs that may endanger them. Some make incremental changes within their sphere of influence. And some dive into the melee, call bullshit, and push for a broader change. Where are you?
Consider the Quakers, Harriet Tubman, suffragists, women’s rights activists, Malala Yousafzai, Dr. Maya Angelou, the women marchers after the 2016 elections, the #METOO heroes, and all your other inspirations. They have paved a way to show that going against the world’s story of conditioned belonging is scary at first, but leads to beneficial changes overwhelmingly supported by other sisters and brothers.
I was recently reading Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness. In the book she mentions Maya Angelou’s 1973 interview with Bill Moyers. In that interview, Dr. Angelou said something that confounded Dr. Brown when she first watched it: “You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all.” Brene Brown continues on to explain how the meaning of the words changed for her (I'd highly recommend you read her book for the full message). She understood what Dr. Angelou was saying - it was not a belonging to a place or group; it was a New Way of Belonging to herself, thus always belonging.
Our collective calling for 2018 is a New Way of Belonging; a message that continues to evolve. The traditional, conditioned ways of belonging no longer align with us and as we investigate the new, we must be careful that we don’t simply create belonging with the same, old template. I will continue to write on this and invite your thoughts on what this first segment opens up for you. Please join me by sharing what conditioned way of belonging you would like to shed this year.