A Sense of Worth and Belonging

This past week, I listened to a series of podcasts from the CBC ideas program, which were a re-broadcast of the British Reith lectures, given this year by Mark Carney, former governor both of the Bank of Canada and of the United Kingdom. He spoke of the need to allow the awareness of climate change to affect both our values and our economic policies.

His comments called to mind the work of writers such as Thomas Berry and Elizabeth Johnson, as well as Richard Rohr. They call for a transformation of our consciousness or awareness, so that we see and feel ourselves as part of the earth and of the universe, not as separate from, unrelated to, and dominant over all else. In a re-phrasing of a statement of Thomas Berry that I have often mentioned, we need to see the universe as a community of beings to reverence, not as a collection of objects to dominate. Another way of expressing the same awareness is to say that our unique personal story is part of a wider story of culture, nation, planet, solar system, and universe.

This transformed awareness of being part of something more vast is also tied up with our sense of sacred worth. The most obvious way in which this truth emerges is that our sense of our own worth first comes through the experience of being valued, through being cared for and cared about by another person, if not in childhood then at least later in our life. One colleague, years ago, said that if we were ever to think of ourselves as self-made persons, we just need the reality check of looking at our navel Another indication comes from the simple experiences of breathing, eating, and drinking. These are not private exercises but relationships with the world around us.

Wayne Muller, in his book, Legacy of the Heart, stresses that nothing can negate our sacred worth and that even our sorrows, grieved over, assimilated, and let go of, can contribute to our sense of worth. He also makes the point that we sometimes mistakenly strive to feel we belong, whereas the very fact that we are breathing makes clear that we are already part of a vast ecosystem. Breathing is belonging. To breathe is already to belong, whether we actually realized or feel that essential belonging. David Suzuki has also written that we are breathing the same air as generations have done for centuries, and so our breathing also connects us with our human past and its other than human environment. Brian Swimme, in a striking film, Journey of the Universe, brings out that the physical components in our bodies are the same as those that make up the stars. In his words: “The stars are our ancestors.” In a similar way, Jane has said that when we sing a particular song, we are already joined not simply with its composer, but with all who have shaped and been affected by his or her life, and even moreso with all those who have heard and sung and played this song over the years and even centuries that it has existed

It is fascinating that a fundamental form of mediation in both eastern and western traditions is simple attention to one’s breath. This exercise not only promotes an inner peacefulness but highlights a sense of belonging to and even responsibility towards the world of which we are a part. In a series of meditations, Jack Kornfield, author of A Path with Heart, begins with a breathing meditation followed by one of attention to physical sensations, then to feelings, and finally to what has been called a lovingkindness meditation. Ths is one in which we express our compassion, our wish for safety, wellness, and fulfillment, for ourselves, then those close to us, then extending further and further to envelop all beings. It is a recognition of the natural expansion of recognizing, affirming and living according to a sense of our own worth, and extending it outwardly in wider and wider circles. Like ripples of a stone dropped in a pond. The very title of a book by Richard Rohr expresses this conviction: Everything Belongs.

Very simply put, our sacred worth belongs to each of us in our very uniqueness. But our uniqueness is not an isolating but a relational reality. Put a little differently, those who love us and whom we love find a home in our very core. They are a part of who we are. When that element is not concretely present, we can experience and isolating loneliness that can foster self-doubt. At the same time, the closeness to another can be tempered by the realization that our inmost longing reaches further than any other’s response or our own response to another. Once again, our sacred worth embraces and is not negated by both our shadow side of limitation, weakness, and even hurtfulness, and the incompleteness or imperfection of any relationship. It has a gift character that can be recognized, accepted, and shared. Yet it but can also be unseen and unheard and unfelt, and the accompanying painfulness can then be inflicted on others.

May you all find a sense of belonging within yourself, so that you feel at home and feel your sacred worth with a caring that envelops and moves beyond all sorrow and flows into compassion for yourselves and one another.

Norman King, March 15, 2021