A place of belonging is where the soul finds comfort. I refer to the belonging that is characterized by our connection to the earth, and our willingness to accept and negotiate everything that Nature offers, and teaches, in its full embrace of raw reality. John O’Donohue, the late Irish philosophical theologian expresses it eloquently in his book ETERNAL ECHOES, Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong:
“The more attentive you are, and the longer you remain in a landscape, the more you will be embraced by its presence. Though you may be completely alone there, you know that you are not on your own. In our relentless quest for human contact, we have forgotten the solace and friendship of Nature. It is interesting in the Irish language how the word for the elements and the word for desire is the same word: duil…Duil also holds the sense of expectation and hope.” [O’Donohue, 2000, p.52]
Poignantly obvious is the shattering of spirit wherever natural disasters, large scale industrial devastation, and also wars, have torn asunder the places of belonging of not just individual homes but – existentially worse – entire communities and land-based cultures of people, places that embodied their past, present and future.
I sometimes wonder whether it is the absence of a soulful connection to the world of Nature among the materially affluent, most particularly the economic power-holders, that results in so much lack of reverence, contamination of, and destruction to, the life-giving sources of the planet? For such deeds to be allowed, however, requires compliance.
The related questions, therefore, include: How does widespread compliance happen? Is it the consequence of urban lifestyles among large numbers of people, for whom the experience of a place of belonging is fleeting, if it exists at all? I refer both to those people who experience a visibly comfortable life, yet whose jobs and career paths uproot them frequently. Also included are immigrants, hardworking, often under-recognized and under-paid, struggling to survive and adapt to a new home, while grieving for the loss of a former place of belonging that may no longer exist.
Indeed, I recall the shock that reverberated through my body when a friend informed me that the family home where I grew up, and where my parents lived up to their final days, had been demolished soon after the sale. A ‘monster home’ had replaced it, indicative of the spreading phenomenon of monster homes in suburbs where neighbours no longer know each other, and the natural spaces of large backyards are disregarded and destroyed.
All I can say is that I give thanks every day for being able to experience the natural world directly, living immersed in it. I just have to open my door, and some days immediately am greeted by a rabbit or chipmunk scampering away, as well as unusual insects such as a praying mantis exploring my door frame.
Every day brings a new adventure of discovery of “all my relations” as Indigenous people significantly refer to our human interconnections with all other life forms on Earth.
All my relations, inevitably, include the raw and the messy. I soon discovered the necessity to negotiate co-existence with less desirable animals and insects, and do a lot of outdoor work, such as the chopping of noxious plants to make my farming neighbours happy. Being a good neighbour is essential for survival in the countryside.
A most important revelation, in fact, happened this past year. By working with my hands doing hard physical tasks, I have come to know my land base intimately. I now have a glimmer of the traditional Indigenous sacred compact with the land, based upon a profound sense of caring and responsibility.
The essence of a place of belonging, to sum up then, is to experientially come to understand and practice reciprocal caring and responsibility. Such knowing happens by taking care of our own plot of earth, with affection, once awakened to the appreciation that the earth and other elements, and all planetary species, take care of us, unconditionally, in so many ways.