Wisdom Session: Acceptance and Belonging

“You don’t have to try so hard
You don’t have to give it all away
You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up
You don’t have to change a single thing”

~ Try by Colbie Caillat

Which part of ‘you’ did you give away so you could be accepted? Or what did you try to change so that you could belong?

Our Wisdom Session on Acceptance and Belonging began with Julia identifying issues and conversations associated with belongingness, one of the most fundamental of human needs. Issues about acceptance, self-acceptance, recognition, approval, conformity, integration, rejection, outcast, attachments, embracing, and fitting in all come to light.

“What drives us to seek the acceptance of others?” Julia asked our audience. “Survival,” someone said. It seems that our very existence is given by the degree to which we feel part of something greater. Theories like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs identifies our physiological needs, safety, love/belonging, and esteem as the building blocks to self-actualization. But how do we experience this? “What does it mean to accept and be accepted?” was the question to inquire into for the evening.

Julia encouraged us to be aware of what makes us comfortable or uncomfortable with others, and our biases, preferences and prejudices when it comes to connecting with someone. How are we choosing unconsciously to avoid, fear, or hold on to feelings or emotions about certain people? How is it possible to accept one another’s differences, like we often tell ourselves we should?

Someone in the audience raised a great question: How do we find the balance between holding on to something and letting go when it comes to accepting people and situations as they change? This, Julia revealed, has to do with our awareness of the dynamic worlds we operate in. She introduced a simple diagram of the dynamics—from D1: self, to D2: partner, to D3: a small group, to D4: a large group—each containing different operating principles and roles that we take on.

What is your experience of acceptance in each different dynamic? Does your upbringing and environment affect how you are accepted or belong in different circles? Do you feel accepted in the roles you play? Everyone broke up into smaller groups to share what works, what doesn’t work, and what they wished to change about their level of acceptance and belonging in each of the dynamics.

From the group sharing, many observed that the dynamics were all related—that only when you are stronger in the first (self) dynamic can you be stronger in the second (other) dynamic, then the third (small group/family) dynamic, and so on. So, the critical question is how well do you know yourself, and how much have you worked on yourself to be able to handle yourself well in each dynamic?

After a short break, everyone settled down quickly in anticipation of what was in store for the second half of our session. Julia introduced an exercise called “being with” through a video that went viral, entitled “The Artist Is Present” in which well-known Serbian performance artist Marina Abramović spent one minute of silence with a stranger who sat across from her.

Game to try the “being with” exercise for themselves, everyone did a one-minute sitting with about 15 different people, noticing what came up for them as they were in the presence of others—including projections, feelings, and memories that certain people reminded them of. The objective was simply to see whatever came up for what it was, let it go, and continue being present to the person in front of them.

Julia ended the exercise with a reading, “Narcissus and the Lake” from Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist”. The story made us realize that while we are so concerned about how others see us, we fail to see our own beauty reflected in the eyes of others.

Our audience shared what they experienced:

“Initially I saw a lot of people around the room, but slowly I saw myself. And as I opened up my mind and heart, I felt naked. And yet, at my most vulnerable and true self, people’s eyes averted mine. I questioned why they couldn’t accept me, and why I couldn’t accept myself.”

“I got reminded of myself when I was still a child and I would play with everyone regardless of race or religion. I got reconnected to that, as I realize how much judgment and layers of mistrust has built up as I grew older. But at the core, we are the same, and our eyes mirror that. We should return to that innocence and curiosity.”

So, back to the question: What does it mean to accept and be accepted? If it didn’t matter where we came from, what titles we had, or how we looked, what is our acceptance of others and ourselves based on? Why do events such as natural disasters and death cause people to forget their differences and unite them at the level of humanity? What is that that makes us feel at home in a relationship?

“I don’t mind where you come from
As long as you come to me
But I don’t like illusions
I can’t see them clearly
I don’t care, no I won’t dare
To fix the twist in you
You’ve shown me eventually what you’ll do

Wrong or right
Black or white
If I close my eyes
It’s all the same

And I’ll take you for who you are
If you take me for everything
And do it all over again
It’s all the same”

~ All the Same by Sick Puppies

With that, we watched “Free Hugs”, a video of Juan Mann who returned from London to his hometown in Sydney to find no one to welcome him back and no place to call home. Wanting someone to receive him like all the other passengers meeting their family and friends, he held up a cardboard sign that read “Free Hugs”. It wasn’t until 15 minutes later that a stranger approached him and gave him a hug. “Free Hugs” has since grown into a worldwide movement.

Our Wisdom Session left everyone inspired and lingering awhile longer to be with the people they met at the session, and some even lent our team a hand in restoring the space! For sure, there were hugs all around, with many saying that they felt at home here, at Dwelling.