I’ve been thinking about sense of place a lot lately. I come back to this concept pretty frequently and each time I get closer and closer to determining where I might fit in this infinitesimal world of niches. This post is sort of where in this lifelong conversation I am with myself.
Maslov recognizes sense of place and belonging as one of our basic human needs. Once we have covered our basic physical survival needs, we need to achieve a place in our community in order to further evolve as an individual. This seems to be where I am stuck.
I drove across the country seeking a community that would instantly speak to me and tell me that I should never leave, that this is where I belonged. That was rather idealistic and it didn’t quite happen. Belonging is far more complicated a process than that. I felt I belonged in a lot of places but not completely. Each place I went had some appeal to some part of me. Naturally, we as humans are very complex and many aspects of ourselves are contradictory and to satisfy one part of ourselves is to leave another part unsatisfied. We go through cycles of what parts of ourselves become more important and which hibernate so to speak. Making decisions for oneself as a whole is confusing and complicated.
I constantly question my decision to relocate to West Oakland. I’ve been here for several months and at every turn I have been emotionally slapped in the face. It may not be that I’m in the wrong place but surrounded by the wrong people, people who are not as sensitive. It’s not uncommon for me to run into a crowd that aren’t as sensitive as myself. I’m really sensitive and I have learned to be proud of that. Sensitivity doesn’t mean skiddish or meek or scared. It means aware, conscious, and involved with one’s surroundings. This often means I pick up other people’s energy a bit too easily and I’m not able at the time to turn it on and off. I extend myself too far and then I don’t get the love and awareness I need from other people.
This happened to me this week. I had extended myself for other people and they took everything I gave without any thought. I had a mental breakdown that lasted a couple of days. I wasn’t being met with the same energy I was giving out.
I had expectations. That was my first downfall. When you do something nice for someone, you absolutely can not do that from a place of expectation. You will be left feeling disappointed and used. You have to give positive energy without any thought that it will come back to you. I do believe that positive energy is reciprocated but not necessarily immediately and from where you’re hoping it will come from. It doesn’t work that way; I know this logically. That doesn’t keep me from feeling stunned and demoralized when people disappoint me. And when I feel this, I realize I haven’t achieved that contentment that I’m longing for.
During my breakdown, I had one roommate who was able to be loving and supportive. Ironically enough, she moved out a few days later. She came in to check on me, sat with me and listened as I cried, even guided me through a quick meditation that would help me find a safe place in my mind. She’s been telling me for a long time that I didn’t belong in the warehouse. In many cases, I agreed. Other times I felt at home and I guess that kept me complacent. The parts of myself that felt at home needed to be analyzed a little. They aren’t the parts of myself that I necessarily want to cultivate.
I had a really uncomfortable reaction when she gave me a hug and told me with reassuring love that I needed to be somewhere else, somewhere more… “rural.” Part of me was offended and part of me thought that might be nice. I clearly had some interesting internal judgments about the term, “rural.” I instantly felt like somehow I failed. I really like living in an urban environment but I deeply appreciate the experiences I’ve had growing up in the country. When I need to go to a safe place in my mind, I go back to a wild place. This time when my friend talked me through a meditation, I revisited catching turkeys with my dad, walking back to the barn in the hot sun holding a baby turkey in my arms, feeling its feathery soft body against my chest, wanting it to be soothed by my instant love. Of course from the baby bird’s perspective, I’m sure all it felt towards me was pure terror. Perfect example of my unfortunate Renfield complex as I call it, but that’s another discussion.
For the longest time and still a bit now, I have perceived the country as “the middle of nowhere,” suggesting that nothing of any interest or consequence could occur there. That’s really just not true. It’s certainly a different pace; it’s quieter and I think that makes a lot of people nervous that aren’t accustomed to that kind of existence. There are fewer distractions to keep you from hearing your own voice. Honestly, yeah, that’s unsettling sometimes.
But does it make your voice stronger if you can learn to hear it in the crazy quixotic urban world? Seems logical actually.
I’ve always been concerned with creating balance. I enjoy the city life- the chance to meet all sorts of different people with all sorts of different thoughts and lifestyles. Cities are a neural network for people to spread ideas. Yes, the internet does that too but that’s a very isolating way to learn about the world. To interact face to face is a real experience. I don’t dislike city life; I think there are plenty of people in this environment with which I could belong. And yet I still require a frequent escape into the wilderness.
I’m not ready to retire to the country. It doesn’t seem time yet. I’m still looking for my place, my community and that means interacting with people who may or may not be part of that. I realize I’m a social animal. I like a certain amount of isolation but I want to have good conversations; I want to meet people who are respectful and aware. I want to build a tribe. That’s what we spend our whole lives doing.
I’m glad to have settled within myself this duality that was such a large part of my life. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have much to say that was positive about living in the country. Now, it’s quite different. I love having that be a part of me. Without it, I don’t know what I would find grounding in life. There are parts of the urban world that are absolutely absurd and frivolous and ugly. Knowing there is somewhere else to run to when you need to remember yourself and the primitive animal that you are is absolutely priceless.