What My Craving For Belonging Has Taught Me.
Dear fellow seeker,
Have you ever been to a party just to realize that you don’t really even want to be there? Or started a new hobby to please your friends, or agreed to go on a date with a person you’re not actually attracted to? Have you ever wanted to belong to something so desperately that you didn’t care about what it cost you?
I always felt out of place in my childhood home, my school and the city where I grew up. I was tall, taller than any of the girls my age, pale, ethereal and most of the time lost in my own dream worlds. I read books on lunch breaks and drew faeries during classes.
I was stubborn to a point of exhaustion, a trait which I probably inherited from my mother and which certainly didn’t help me to conform.
Still, I craved connection. I wanted to belong. I wanted to feel this deep, all-encompassing sense of belonging to something bigger and more meaningful than myself. This deep, intense longing for a home, a purpose, a calling, set me on my still ongoing journey.
A journey that has taken me to several countries and studying abroad, meeting people from all walks of life and discovering a number of very different, meaningful relationships.
In her beautiful poem The Call, my favorite poetess Oriah Mountain Dreamer says that we all have one word we are here to say with our whole being, to write one great love poem together.
My personal word must be see. I want to see as much of this world, and all the worlds beyond this one, as possible. I want to witness the beautiful and the grotesque, love and pain mingled, laughter and loss, and everything in between.
But after finding out the truth about the part of me that wants to seek, experience, travel and learn, I realized I had a problem. How was I to be able to have a solid sense of belonging if I wasn’t ready or willing to commit to any one place or person?
The only thing I felt I truly belonged to was the open road. In my mind, I automatically and instinctively associated the sense of belonging to a specific physical place; a city, a house I lived in, something that would remind me of home, and the people in that place; preferably a life partner, close friends and maybe someday children.
There was also another problem I had with long-term commitment, besides the seemingly un-resolvable conflict of freedom vs. safety and security (i.e. belonging): I absolutely hated commitment.
To me, commitment meant making a strong, determined decision about something. It meant showing vulnerability, admitting that something or someone was important enough for me to make that kind of promise.
It terrified me to the core to think about showing someone else the whole of me, sharing my heart and mind and body with them, without any limitations. It was not something that could be taken back at my earliest convenience.
So for the most part, I viewed commitment as a life sentence that would tie me down for good and leave me at the complete mercy of another person.
As a result, I never allowed myself to get too used to any given city I lived in. I kept thinking that something better would eventually come my way. I avoided serious relationships and only fell in love with the impossible choices. The available, sensible ones didn’t even make it to the second date.
I never truly, wholeheartedly belonged.
I accepted the notion and concentrated on finding comfort in the moments shared with my close friends when I felt loved and accepted for the way I was. They knew I had to come and go as I wanted and they understood. But I greatly mistrusted the thought that any romantic partner ever would. So I kept that part of my heart firmly shut.
The turning point was three years ago when I met the love of my life. I had recently moved to a new city and settled there quite comfortably. I was happily single and determined to keep it that way until I found out what I really wanted next from my love life. We dated casually for several months before I started getting afraid. Very, very afraid.
To be honest, afraid didn’t quite cover it. I was literally scared to death, more so than I’d ever been in my life before.
It wasn’t because I enjoyed spending time with him tremendously. It wasn’t because he took me to listen to beautiful music or see stand-up comedy on Monday nights, or because he adored the way my mind and body worked. It wasn’t because he was perfect in every way a person could be perfect for me.
No… I was terrified because I realized I was starting to fall in love with him. And I knew that if that happened, if I let myself fall for him, my heart would be wide open for him to see, all of me, and I would have nothing to protect me from my own vulnerability. Nothing would protect me from whatever he decided to do with my love.
The fear inside me was so vast I spent numerous dark hours trying to cope with the possibility that I might actually be loved back, unconditionally and uncompromisingly. Strange as it may sound, that was by far the most terrifying option.
Suffice to say that I tried my best to fight it. My very, very best.
It wasn’t enough.
It wasn’t even nearly enough.
This time, love hit me like nothing I had ever experienced before. It was beautiful and soul-shaking. It was painful. It was intense in a way that a hot iron is intense when it scorches your skin. I had never felt so much pure love and acceptance. And to my ever growing astonishment, I realized he was there in the fire with me.
He was there in that same naked, open fire, and he was burning, too.
I believe a love like that has the power to transform us, whether we want it or not. It makes us see ourselves more clearly, makes us see the whole world more clearly. It gives us strength to face our old demons, inner and outer, and begin to heal.
I believe love is all about seeing the other person as they are, and making a promise to care for and cherish those precious people in our lives. And for the first time in my own life, I felt I could belong to someone. That I wanted to belong.
He felt like home, and so I loved him. And now, after three years, I also know that whenever I’m in those arms, I’m home.
It could be raining outside, it could be a thunderstorm. We could be in Hong Kong or Paris or the African wilds. But the moment I feel our heartbeats together, this kind of soundless, wordless safety surrounds me like a cloak of protection and I know that this is where I belong.
I am wide awake and aware that the bills still need to be paid, my friend has heartache, there’s a pile of papers waiting at my desk at work… but right here, right now in these arms, everything is going to be alright.
Being happy and (at least somewhat) settled with another person has calmed me quite a bit. My passion for traveling and experiencing life from different points of view has not left me, however, and I often catch my restless mind thinking about which undiscovered frontiers, mental or physical, to conquer next.
I want to keep that free, dreaming part of me alive. A part that belongs to the wilds and the wilds alone.
When I walk alone in the woods at night and gaze at the Milky Way, I imagine hearing a wolf cry somewhere in the distance, or when I watch a movie like Chocolat, I can almost feel the soft breeze of the north wind calling, urging me to follow.
And then I realized that I may belong to the people I love. I may join my life with theirs, laugh, cry and dance and with them. I may build a home together with them, have children and work with them.
But when all’s said and done, first and foremost;
to the Great Mystery that birthed me,
to the forests that raised me,
to the stardust and the Orion,
and all the rivers and brooks and swansong,
the hunt and the wolf howl
the full moon over the mountain paths
and the whispers of the four winds
and to my own self,
a sacred, shining life-spark in this wondrous universe.
Annika Tiilikainen is a creative spirit, Yoga-practitioner and a passionate coffee-lover. Besides a cup of delicious, dark roasted coffee, she also loves everything connected to faeries and nature, traveling and inspiring stories (especially love stories). She’s interested in psychotherapy, emotional healing and the inner workings of the human mind. She currently works as a counselor in family services and studies comparative religion and social work in Helsinki, Finland. You can connect with her via Facebook or Instagram.