We have gotten very, very confused about what it means to belong. About what we are to, and for, each other. And it shows.

We look to how many followers we have, and how many likes we can get off of one another to tell us who we are and what it takes now to belong. We cover our cars with bumper stickers displaying for all to see what our interests, proclivities, politics, and proud parent moments are. We wear clothing, advertising as billboards do, our party affiliations, ideologies, and sports team preferences. We self-righteously declare where we belong based on the news we watch, the podcasts we follow, and the music we listen to.

We use the causes we care about, and the movements we back as proof that we are good and honorable people. And now, we cover our faces, high-handedly taking “hero” selfies post-vaccine at Gillette Stadium, as we isolate ourselves in our own homes. Making sure everyone knows what we are doing; engaging in these acts in superior and self-congratulatory ways as the ultimate gestures of proof that we belong on the “right” side of things.

Instead of lifting ourselves up, by being lifted up by others, we now use one of our most basic and essential human needs as a weapon against those not in the fold. Instead of resting in, and being supported by, each other, we use what we are aligned with as justification of not only who and what we are, but of who and what others are not. Thereby rendering them worthy of our disdain, judgment, and sanctioning.

Have humans, in some way or another, always done this? Likely. Especially when we moved beyond a survival-focused existence. But now, with all of our technologies, our ways of communicating, and our seemingly endless affiliations, something that is quite basic, natural, and innate has gotten very distorted. Even, at times, dangerously so. We saw this recently at our Capital, we see it daily in the anxiety and depression brought on by people’s social media obsession, and now we are seeing it in how we approach our very own health and healing.

The pull to belong is great. The need to belong is undeniable. The question is, how will we be with this now? Will we take one of the potentially sweetest and most essential needs and make it cruel, inhuman, and coercive? Legislating that others do as we do? Or will we pause and reconsider the costs of deriving our sense of community and right to belong based on something we post, wear, or inject into ourselves.

To know any of this is to know to whom and to what you most fundamentally belong. It is to know that before we can truly belong to anyone or anything else, we must first belong to ourselves. We must first know down into our bones that belonging stems from a timeless and unconditional right to exist. Meaning, there is absolutely nothing we need to do. Or not do. This transcends the dictates, mandates, and expectations of the times with its limited and too often small-minded agendas.

To really understand this is to look beyond what any human being has said or created, and to set your sights on something worthy of the preciousness of your own Life. Something that makes our modern day preoccupations and blindspots right-sized. Something that opens our eyes to what we have been agreeing to fit in with, that would be best never agreed to.

If you want to know what it really means to belong, look to the heavens. Look into the eyes of a child. Look into newly fallen snow, and the full moon casting its light. Look to the animals who sense beyond words, slogans, PR campaigns, governmental messaging, and media headlines. The ones who respond directly from an undeniable and never distorted existential belonging.

Underneath that, look to know the places to understand the “why” of what you are doing. The places beyond what others expect of you. The places where you do what you do not because it actually feels right or life-giving, but because you are too afraid to stick out. To be kicked out. To be shamed, labelled, and denied. And in this place, begin to know your own mind as the source of your most balanced and sacred belonging.