There is a tradition on the Mindfulness and Psychotherapy Blog. Every Monday, I cite a quote or a poem that is related to mindfulness and psychotherapy in some way and then explore it a bit and how it is relevant to our lives. For me, quotes and poetry can often sink me into a state of greater understanding. So for today, here is a quote by Mother Theresa:

“The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis but rather the feeling of not belonging.”

When I conducted my national research study in 2005, one aim of it was to distill down the essence of feeling well. What I found was the word that people said more than any other in their experience was a feeling of “connection.”

As human being we are wired toward connection. We need to feel a sense of community, a sense that we belong, we are not so alone, in order to feel healthy. The problem is our culture makes it very difficult to belong from the start.

From the time we are young, we are sent the message that we need to look a certain way or act a certain way in order to “fit in.” We try to fit in because we have this drive to belong and in our culture we often don’t jump toward accepting those who are different. In fact, history shows us that we fear those people who are different and often are quick to judge, isolate and even oppress.

So imagine that if belonging is so important to our health and well-being and we are a culture that is quick to cast out those who are different, it is easy for a deep seeded fear to be planted in each of us from a very young age that perhaps we won’t belong and this would be intolerable. When we perceive not belongin and because this feeling is intolerable, we look for ways to escape from it. So we avoid these feelings by falling into a numb depressed state or become anxious, or maybe try into escape into drugs, alcohol or other addictive behaviors.

Just think for a second, was there ever a time you didn’t feel like you belonged or felt ostracized? What was your experience? What were you thinking and feeling?  

We thrive when we feel connection.

Psychologist Dr. Gary Schwartz has a handy model that says Awareness leads to connection which leads to balance, where unawareness leads to disconnection which leads to imbalance. In other words, when we begin to cultivate an awareness of our thoughts, feelings and emotions we become connected to them which helps us become more balanced. When we are unaware of them or on auto-pilot we are disconnected from them and it is much more likely that they will take us over in fits of anxiety, anger or depression.

So connection can begin with us. We can begin by bringing a mindful awareness to our thoughts, feelings, and/or emotions. Even just a few minutes of nonjudgmental kind awareness of our feelings in any particular moment can be a moment connection, balance and healing.

So if you’re feeling sadness, notice sadness and bring a kind attention to where you feel that in the body, exploring it with a sense of curiosity and even imagining yourself holding this pain in your arms like you would imagine the archetypal nurturing mother figure doing (even though most of us did not have this, we might be able to imagine it). Just do this for a few minutes at a time and see what happens.

Always thank yourself for taking the time to do this. Time is precious and so giving time toward this is a gift and that is why we try and send gratitude inwards.

You can take this into the outside world and make small efforts to connect with others. This could be an email, a phone call, or just going out into the world and observing people. Like Psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Siegel says, staying within your window of tolerance, but riding the edge.  

Mother Theresa saw too many people who were ostracized by society; she knew better than most the pain of not belonging. That pain lives in our culture. Exploring connection in this way is a path toward experiencing greater belonging and healing.

As always, please your thoughts, stories, and questions below. Your interactions provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit from