To be rooted
is perhaps the most important
and least recognized need
of the human soul.
~ Simone Weil
The need to be rooted and to belong, is perhaps the most primordial need we have. In many cultures, (extended) family is the most essential part of life; indispensable and unimaginable to exist or live in its absence. In early times, this was necessary for physical survival; this is still the case in many parts of the developing world.
In the developed world where physical survival is no longer dependent on belonging, the need still exists, although it's not always consciously acknowledged. And its absence leads to all kinds of emotional and psychological problems such as alienation, a sense of meaninglessness, depression, despair, anxiety, addictions to name just a few. A feeling of not belonging or being rooted, or an inability to connect is one of the major reasons people seek therapy.
Many people no longer live near their families for a variety of reasons; yet wherever people go, they form ( and need to form) groups of like-minded people. This takes many forms: it may be a group of friends, a school or career identity, or a lifestyle, cultural or gender identity. It may be based on political or regional affiliation, shared taste in music or the arts or the same sport or sport teams.
Even in this technological, digital era we still have a deep need for family or tribe; it has simply adapted to technology. Being on the grid isn't always isolative or strictly about research, reading or work; it also includes a lot of contact with others through email, text, IM, video chat, social media, online games and chatrooms, to name a few.
What is clear is that consciously or unconsciously, people consistently seek out a sense of belonging or rootedness. It is an essential need, as necessary to the soul as air is to the body.This sense of belonging gives us comfort and a sense of meaning and connection that is essential to a life well lived.
The only way to make sense out of change
is to plunge into it,
move with it,
and join the dance.
It is almost a cliché, but the only constant in life is change. Nature is certainly a template to observe how nothing stays the same; the seasons change, and plants bloom and die. Some changes are dramatic and some are so minute that they aren't even noticeable. We age virtually imperceptibly day by day and yet at the same time so many of our cells die and are replenished daily, that we have an entirely new body every 7 years!
Even if we have the same relationship or the same job over a long period of time, it is not the same job or relationship as it was a few years ago. Individual and collective knowledge and beliefs change over time. Nothing is static.
Yet the human mind often wants to cling to the known, the familiar, the comfortable, the thing that has already been mastered. Fear of the unknown or of change is endemic in most humans, in part due to biological survival mechanisms we no longer need. Why would we want to change what is familiar and comfortable ( even though it has often stopped being satisfying)?
Yet we cannot stop it. We can stall change, but it's like putting a finger in the dam; it will only create a huge wave, a tsunami of change that may be very upsetting or destabilizing at some point if we don't go with the flow, plunge into the river. Many people put so much (often unconscious) energy into stopping change, that they end up depressed or anxious, or addicted to a substance or activity, to stop the flow that wants to happen, that needs to happen in their lives.
So as Alan Watts says so beautifully in the quote, why not plunge into change, move with it, join its dance? Take a deep breath and jump into the river, no longer attempting to swim upstream but going with the flow and trusting it will take you where you need to go. Why not get on the dance floor of life and dance yourself into the next phase? Take part in the change rather than resist it, and your depression will life, your anxiety will decrease, addictive substances and activities will lose their allure.
When a person acts
without knowledge of what
s/he thinks, feels, needs or wants,
s/he does not yet have the option
of choosing to act differently.
~ Clark Moustakas
Choice is available to each of us in every moment. Yet the caveat is that this requires a high degree of awareness (and often courage)! Everyone has learned, through a combination of nature and nurture, ways of habitually responding and acting. The neural pathways that have developed in our brains throughout our lives determine how we see, experience and respond to events and people.
Many people live as though in a trance, living an unexamined life, going through the motions and reacting in a proscribed way to life as it comes their way. That is an extreme of course, but most of us fall somewhere on the continuum of reactivity and choice.
I believe this is why mindfulness has become so popular recently. Even Western medical doctors are now extolling the benefits of meditation and mindfulness as a stress reducer. And how does it reduce stress? By helping people who practice meditation/mindfulness to become more aware of what is going on in their minds and body ( sensations as well as feelings) moment to moment. This awareness is a first step, a precursor, to choice.
Meditation and therapy greatly enhance each other: they both help build a moment-to moment awareness and encourage an exploration of the obstacles to choice in life.
Peggy Handler, MFT, is a psychotherapist in San Francisco's Noe Valley