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.


  1. Wowowowowow! Lori! What an amazing topic! So very true and so very close to home for me, as I just returned from Saturday evening mass. I have a group of amazing friends there, but it’s even more about coming together for the common good and to pray together. There’s such a sense of community and a sense of peace.
    Thank you for reminding me WHY we all need these experiences, rituals, and the relationship they bring with each other. There is something so deeply comforting about being in community with others and showing up (no matter how I ‘feel’) and I actually leave feeling refreshed, renewed and strengthened.
    Have also had a similar feeling in yoga that you mentioned.
    Great commentary on “belonging”. We all belong! Love and peace to you! You are amazing! Big hugs! Mo

    1. Mo, I’m so pleased that this topic resonated so much with you. Thank you for sharing your beautiful experiences here. Peace and love be with you, always!

  2. Hi Lori, Thanks for this post. Community and belonging is huge for me. When I am feeling “out of sorts” I have friends who remind me I am longing for community. As I reflected on when I feel connected, where I belong, the first place I thought of was a Sisterhood in the Bay Area. I have known some of the women for 10 years and some I still don’t know. It does not matter how I “show up” for the ritual/group event, I am ALWAYS greeted with a smile, a hug, a “so glad you are here”, and incredible amounts of authentic love, from everyone there. For a person who, in the past, has found it difficult to truly accept love, this is one of a few places I can truly let it all in, to trust it is real. Thank you for prompting this remembrance, reminder and experience in this moment. Much love and many blessings to you.

    1. Sue, Thank you for your beautiful share here. I feel the acceptance, the love, and the communal sense of belonging coming through so powerfully. Witnessing too your showing up and openness to trusting along the way. Oh, to belong! Blessings, love and light, and may you always feel at home.

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