Napoleon Bonaparte once said “men are moved by two levers only: fear and self interest.” While it may be true for some, this is in sharp contradiction to the fact we humans are a gregarious species. One of our deepest yearnings is the sense of belonging. In a recent retreat titled ‘Power of Belonging’, we explored the question, "if a person is not connected to you by birth or with pay, would you care about the relationship?” I am sharing some of discussion here.
Did you know, the island of Okinawa has the largest concentration of people over 90? One the biggest factors contributing to their longevity is strong bonds between generations. Siblings compete to get their old parents to live with them. The community has regular programs for seniors-children interaction. They consider it vital for old people to spend time with children and pass on their values and life skills. This bonding and a sense of purpose contribute to a long healthy life. On the other hand, US Life expectancy ranking has fallen in last 50 years, which means other countries are catching up on longevity. A possible criteria, cited by Harvard’s Lisa Berkman, Americans have become increasingly isolated and the sense of community has declined.
To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul. In Maslow’s hierarchy, belonging is mentioned as the next most important thing after the bare necessities of food, clothing and shelter are secured. Do you know how important embracing is for infants? If a baby does not get carried and cuddled enough in it’s early stages, it has psychological impacts that will manifest well into adulthood. Anyone who's raised children will acknowledge the challenges of adolescents coping with belonging. In this article, I talked about the changing circuitry of the teenage brain and their need to belong to a tribe. They are willing to go any distance to be accepted, sometimes leading to painful experiences for the individual and the family. The support and love from immediate family, the 'default tribe’, has a significant role in keeping the youth from going too far. The breakdown of the 'unit of original belonging' i.e. the family, means the absence of love and the absence of the opportunity to give love, and therefore the process of suffering starts earlier and therefore the searching starts earlier and becomes more intense faster. This lies behind all forms of addiction. There is evidence that human yearning for an embrace extends well beyond into old age. The healing power of touch has been eloquently described by Stanford doctor, Abraham Varghese.
The ultimate display of the power of belonging is perhaps at the largest gathering of humans on earth, the Maha Kumbh mela. 70 million people gather for a holy ceremony every 12 years in India, which includes taking a pre-sunrise dip every day in the frigid murky waters of the Ganges. Scientists from Harvard went to study the effect of this gathering with unparalleled crowd, sub-standard amenities, dust and blaring music all night on the physical and mental health of devotees. Their analysis of the subjects, some of whom had been attending for several decades, surprisingly showed an improvement in both mind and body wellness by about 10%. They attribute it to 'Collective Effervescence’, when the “I” attitude turns to “we”. They found support is given and received, competition turns to cooperation, and people are able to realize their goals in a way they wouldn’t be able to alone. That elicits positive emotions that make them not only more resilient to hardship but also healthier. They are less likely to die of heart disease and some cancers, and there’s some evidence that they are less vulnerable to age-related cognitive decline.
Beyond the self, to make people feel belonged is one of the greatest service to mankind. You have a ‘Sphere of Influence’ that will draw from your awareness, words and action. While this sounds very benevolent and easy, the catch is you can only give what you have received. It follows the laws of energy flow like we learnt in high school. In my daily practice, I make time to become a conduit for the light and love of the Source. I call this being the ‘Light Worker’. A light worker is like the moon that reflects the rays of the sun. I tune into the light of the Supreme Soul (called by so many names) and let that radiate onto planet earth. This practice creates both lightness within and a positive influence on my interactions with others throughout the day. The results have been consistent for years because it is from Source who is unwavering, unconditional and unlimited. This receiving and giving has been one of the most joyful aspects on my journey.
Try playing ‘Light Worker’, if you haven’t already. It’s much easier path to joy than the holy mela in the freezing Ganga.