Sunday, 14 August 2016

Belong Here

“Talking Heads once sang “you may find yourself in a beautiful house
with a beautiful wife. And you may ask yourself, well how did I get here?”

How did I get here? The song was of course “Once in a lifetime.” And how did I get here? Is a question I’ve been asking myself a lot recently. I’ve been experiencing a few once in a lifetime moments recently.

Another question I’ve been asking myself too is “What have I done to deserve this?

Another one has been, do I really belong here?

I recently won “Slimming World Man of the Year 2016”, something I had to keep under my hat for a couple of weeks. It has been quite a ride ever since, especially once the news came out.

Now as part of winning the competition I spent a night in luxury suite at the Ritz. I took my mum along and she loved it. On arrival there was a knock on the door. I answered it and there before me stood two men in uniform who walked in and introduced themselves as our butlers and that whatever we required they would provide.

How did I get here? Do I belong here? Well I did win.

It was an amazing, if somewhat surreal, couple of days, in which I was worked to be fair. I spent one afternoon trying on outfits with a stylist and a whole host of women. It was fun and I got into it and in the end chose something I could wear for the "Press Call" that followed the next day. That night we ate at Savini at Criterion at Piccadilly Circus. A place I doubt I will ever eat in again. The next day came the "Press Call" and then home to prepare to lead worship the following day. The next day the news came out and over the next week it spread. No doubt in the coming months more will come out and hopefully a great deal of good will come from it. So far there has been a very positive response to it all.

So yes a truly once in a lifetime experience. It was wonderful to find myself in such places and the truth is I did deserve it and do you know what I didn’t feel like a fish out of water. After all I had earned it. I belonged there. I rarely feel that I don’t belong anywhere these days. I belong anywhere because I have learnt to be at home within my own skin within myself. I know who I am and I am at ease with who I am. I know who I am warts and all and beauty spots too. I am at ease with myself, imperfections and all. I can be myself anywhere and in the company of anyone because I no longer have to strive to fit in, to be a part of someone or someplace else, to seek the approval of others.

To belong you need to be yourself, while paradoxically in order to be yourself you must first of all feel that you belong. When you feel that you belong you will no longer feel the need to fit in, because you will be at ease with yourself.

Brene Brown once said

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

I like Brene Brown, I particularly like what she has to say about the difference between “Belonging” and “Fitting in” that they are not the same thing although they are often mistaken for one another.

Brene Brown explains that “Fitting in” is really about assessing situations and becoming the person that you believe you need to be in order to be accepted and acceptable. Whereas “Belonging” does not require us to change who we are, but to be who we really are.

Belonging is an innate desire to be a part of something larger than ourselves. This is a primal yearning, deep within the soul of us and thus we often try to acquire it by fitting in and seeking approval from others. Now not only does this not satisfy this yearning it actually becomes a barrier to it. In so doing we lose our identity and feel even more lost and lonely. True belonging you see only happens when we present our true, authentic, imperfect selves to the world, “warts and all” and beauty spots too. Unless we are at home within ourselves we will never feel that we belong anywhere.

John O’Donohue in his wonderful book “Anam Cara”, relates belonging to longing and yearning. He suggests that we need to find a balance in belonging and that often our problems stem from not being truly at home with ourselves; that we should be our own longing; that the key is to be-long within ourselves. If we belong within ourselves then we will feel at ease and belong wherever we are. Therefore the sense of who we are, our identity will not be ruled by the need to fit in, to belong, externally.

The problem of trying to fit in and not belonging stems from a sense of being different, something I know I’ve experienced at times. This can be a real barrier. Now of course sometimes these barriers are put up by those who would exclude certain types of people for being different. We have seen horrific examples of this throughout human history. People excluded for racial, political, religious, gender and sexual identity reasons. There still are barriers that exist, although thankfully many have come down, although far too many still remain.

It can be difficult to join a group where you feel that you are different from the others. I experienced it myself when I began my Slimming World journey. Such groups are seen as the domain of women, only 3% of members are men in the UK, that is still nearly 50,000 men, but it is a minority. Being concerned about your weight and joining such groups is not considered a manly activity and therefore getting through the door and beginning the journey can be doubly daunting for men. I certainly experienced this when I first joined. I remember looking round the room, feeling very self-conscious at the time and just seeing a room full of women. It would have been easy to use this as an excuse to just run, but thank God I didn’t. One thing I will be endeavouring to do over the next twelve months is to encourage as many men as possible to live healthier happier lives. There are after all more over weight men in this country than women, probably because we feel it is unmanly to face up to the problem.

Most people find it difficult to join something, to belong to something, when they feel different to those already present. It’s the same with any group or community, including church and chapel communities. It is hard to walk into anything you have never been to before. I know it took me some time to pluck up the courage and explore religions community all those years ago

We Unitarians say that all are welcome, to come as you are regardless of who you are, where ever you have been and where ever you are going. You are welcome as you are exactly as you are in this moment. That said people are still reluctant to walk through the door of our places of worship and when they do they often find it hard to belong there, even amongst we who offer religious freedom. The reasons for this is many and varied and how we resolve it is not easy to answer either. I think that the key is to be as open and welcoming as we can be. They key is to cultivate a true sense of belonging, which begins within ourselves. For if we belong we will not need to try to fit in and hopefully the stranger will more easily feel like the neighbour. As Philip L Bermoan wrote in “The Journey Home”

“Truly spiritual people are in the habit of cultivating the nearly forgotten art of basic hospitality, perhaps because they realize that when we are able to make others feel comfortable, the pleasures of belonging are close at hand.”

They key is to cultivate the pleasure of belonging.

The key is to bless one another with our presence and they will fell that they belong amongst we people who belong here as they are exactly as they are in this moment. For as Rachel Naomi Remen wrote in "My Grandfather's Blessings".

"A blessing is not something that one person gives another. A blessing is a moment of meeting, a certain kind of relationship in which both people involved remember and acknowledge their true nature and worth, and strengthen what is whole in one another. By making a place for wholeness within our relationships, we offer others the opportunity to be whole without shame and become a place of refuge from everything in them that are not genuine. We enable people to remember who they are."

A sense of belonging is a deeply precious thing. It is belonging that helps us become who we are meant to be. It is a sense of belonging that allows us to find ourselves in beautiful place and feel that we are home. It is a sense of belonging that enables us to be ourselves, in whatever company we find ourselves without feeling the need to fit in. It is a sense of belonging that enables us to truly make every moment a once in lifetime experience. It is a sense of belonging that allows us to become good neighbours and to the bless the whole world with our welcome….

May you find a place where you belong…May you find a house of belonging…


  1. I saw your news on a Facebook group, Danny, and just wanted to say a big well done. It's a fantastic achievement. I've struggled with my weight over the years and I think that initial 'joining' is the most difficult bit. It's interesting to read your experience, as you describe above.

  2. Thank you Matt...Best wishes with your future journeying. If I can help in any way please just ask