I began this article in February, soon after returning to the UK from a trip to Aotearoa (New Zealand). Days afterward, the whole world turned upside down, as the Coronavirus pandemic took hold. We now find ourselves in quarantine, inhabiting a world which is full of uncertainty. So I returned to this article, and the question which lay behind it, of what it means to connect with Being and Belonging. A question which now takes on a new significance, and a new urgency.
My whole life has been an exploration, a longing for belonging. It has been a search which at times seemed to be about finding a place to call home, to feel at home, but over time has been revealed as a desire for self-acceptance, to be at home with myself. My search has taken me back to my homeland Aotearoa, repeatedly. Not just to connect with my homeland, with friends and family, but to connect with a sense of myself I seemed able to access there, more than anywhere.
Maori have a word for this: Tūrangawaewae. Literally tūranga (standing place), waewae (feet), it can be translated as ‘a place to stand.’ Tūrangawaewae usually refers to a physical place, our birthplace, the place we feel connected to, through the land, and through our ancestors. But Tūrangawaewae is not just about a physical space, but our place in the world, and our connection with it.
What exactly was I looking for?
During my most recent visit home, I reminisced about my experience of life as a child, one where I was enthralled by the world, by simple experience, of just being in the world. I revisited many places from my youth, places etched in my memory, which are entwined with a sense of myself being completely at one with the world.
Many times in my life I have longed for that version of myself, and wondered where that ‘I’ had gone.
Of course ‘I’ had gone nowhere. But it wasn’t really the ‘I’ that I was longing for, but the experience of the world I had at that time, and the connection I had with it. A longing for the time when I was unencumbered by doubts and fears, when I was connected with a sense of life’s joy and magic. There was no differentiation between myself, and the feelings that ran through me. I was excitement, gratitude, appreciation, grace, innocence.
There was nowhere to get to, nowhere else to be, but to be in the moment.
This is how we enter the world. It’s how we experience the world as children. Yet slowly, surely, it is drowned out, as we enter into the ‘real world,’ as we journey through life, develop a separate self, and an identity and story emerges which disconnects us from this experience. As we enter the adult world, and a world which (until recently) we perceive as ‘normal.’
What was my life like, as a boy?
When I was a boy, the world was filled with magic and wonder.
I filled my days with enterprise and play, flooded with imagination and possibilities.
I conceived ambitious projects, then accomplished them over days, weeks, months.
I was fascinated by all manner of things, unaffected by others’ thoughts of them.
I had boundless energy, inspiration, creativity, invention.
In short, life was possibility. And anything was possible.
Then, something happened
When I was 11, my dad had a nervous breakdown.
It occurred soon after he took on a senior management role at work. He was consumed by anxiety at the extra workload and the added pressure, and one day it became too much. He simply broke down. I came home from school to see him sitting on the couch in the living room, staring blankly into space.
What happened next?
I felt disconnected from my Dad.
I was in shock. Terrified.
No one asked me how I felt, or what was going on for me.
I had no idea what was going on.
No one ever told me what happened.
What decisions did I make about myself? About life?
From that point on, I rejected invitations to progress, to excel, to succeed.
I stepped back from opportunities to step into leadership and responsibility.
At times when I was cast into such situations, I froze with fear, or panic.
or, I made my excuses, and withdrew.
I retreated from life.
I did so –
– from fear of responsibility, and what it might lead to.
– from fear of my own overwhelm and collapse.
– from fear of life being ‘too much’ and not being able to cope.
– to get back at my Dad, and my anger at him ‘abandoning’ me.
– to deny my Dad the satisfaction of my success, while still longing for his approval.
– because no one ever asked me how I felt, or explained to me what happened.
Unraveling my story
This became a central thread of the ‘story’ I created around my life, of who I was in the world. A story which impacted significantly on my experience of the world. It’s a story I’ve been exploring for a long time. The exploration began with making myself fully aware of the story – making what was unconscious, conscious. From there, I have been through a process of gaining understanding, healing and acceptance of my story, with the intention of disentangling myself from it. Disentangling not just from the story, but from my identification with the central ‘character’ that I played in it.
I share this to illustrate how we unconsciously create stories about ourselves, casting ourselves as central characters. In doing so, we cut ourselves us off from the sense of Being and Belonging which we enter this world with.
I take responsibility for this, but I do so compassionately, knowing this is part and parcel of Being Human, or if you like, Human Being.
And so, though I was searching for the ‘I’ I was as a child, longing for him, what was really required was for me to reconnect with an experience of the world which is available to me right now, as a grown man. It required me to gain understanding of the ‘me’ that had got in the way of experiencing the world and life in this way.
Life’s magic and joy is not about us. But it ls available to us, all the time. It is us, we, (or more accurately, the ‘me’) that emerges, that gets in the way of us experiencing it. Being open to and engaged with what is happening right here, right now. The simple joy and pleasure of being in life, in the moment.
The path to Being and Belonging
So what does it take, to connect with this birthright?
A Zen Master would undoubtedly jump in with the assertion that ‘there is nowhere to get to.’ True, but the reality is that for most of us (myself included) there’s plenty of stuff that gets in the way of accessing this state of Being, and many steps to take on the journey towards accessing it, or connecting with it.
It’s worth asking why we would set out on such a journey.
For me, it came from a desire to connect with the magic and joy of life – the one I was connected with, when I was a boy. Having seen the journey my father took with his life, I was also intent on not living a life constrained by fear. I have no wish to arrive on my death bed with a feeling of regret, of what ‘might have been.’ I wish to set an example to my children, to live their dreams, to live a fulfilled life.
Most of all, I owe it to myself.
I’ve touched on my journey a little. I followed a path, and a process of self exploration over many years, and with the support of many others. And yet it only occurs as a ‘path’ in retrospect – with the puzzle only beginning to make sense as the pieces come together. It’s important to remember that with no place to ‘get to,’ with this simply being about a state of ‘Being,’ the journey goes on.
And yet, the possibility emerges that this state of Being becomes more and more available to me. With this comes a separation of my sense of myself from my ‘story,’ and the character I have played throughout my life. It was never who I was.
The first step
Every journey begins with a single step. The first step of this journey requires nothing more than a willingness to be accountable for oneself, and allow space to bring awareness to where you are, right now. To begin with, ask yourself these questions:
Who are you?
What do you want from Life?
What does Life want from you?
Is the life you are living what you had in mind for yourself, when you were young?
Are you willing to let go of the life you are living, in order to realize the one you dreamed of?
From here, the journey begins.
The good news is, this is a journey you don’t have to do alone.
In fact, you can’t.
This is a journey which we have to begin on our own, but this only gets us so far. It’s essential for us to seek out mentors, teachers, people who can support us to tackle specific aspects of ourselves and our lives. People who are capable of holding up a mirror, and speaking clearly and honestly about what it is they see, that we are unable to. The second piece of good news is that if we set out with an intention to be open to meeting guides and teachers, they will inevitably appear, and join us on our path.
You might think – right. Here’s the sell. But this is not about offering my coaching services, but of simply presencing the value of asking for help, and seeking guidance. It’s true, this is my work. My purpose is to support people in their search for Belonging, to navigate the path towards self-realisation, and to find their Tūrangawaewae, their place to stand. It is a purpose that became clear to me through my own journey, and one I offer as an invitation to others, but it’s up to follow your own path, and seek your own guides.
I wish you a safe journey.
Previously Published on kevinhelas.com