The Nature of Belonging

Self-Portrait with Machine, paper collage, 2021

My last post began with a statement, or rather, a realization, that came to me Saturday morning on waking:

It is not your job to acquire belongings; it is your job to figure out what belongs to you and create extensions of its light.

This was a wonderful thought to wake up to and one that I spent time reflecting on over the remainder of the weekend. What kept jumping out at me was the notion of “belonging”. The idea that we might go through life—many of us, our entire lives—driven by a false sense of what it means to have something “belong” to us. And that this need to have “belongings” is also somehow related to creativity. I had never made this connection before. It’s a provocative one, I think. And one I’d like to explore further. Here are some thoughts:

Firstly, it occurs to me one of the reasons we spend so much of our lives acquiring “things” in the way of wealth and possessions is that we have a fundamental need to feel something belongs to us. Just as Maslow suggests our basic psychological needs have both “higher” (inherently creative, moving toward higher values) and “lower” (ego-centered, stemming from a place of lack or need) forms of expression, I think it’s possible that our “belonging” need (not to be confused with Maslow’s “belongingness” need, which is different) has both higher and lower expressions. In its lower, decidedly ego-driven form, it manifests as a need to possess. To acquire. To accumulate, without even necessarily enjoying. 

In its higher form, I would suggest that our belonging need manifests creatively. That when something “belongs to us” in a higher, non-ego-driven sense, it is not a possession but an extension of self. It is not to be coveted, strangled, consumed, acquired, or controlled. When something belongs to us in the highest sense, we love it in such a way that we want to increase its presence in the world. It is both ours and not ours. It flows through us and, in the process, becomes something new. In effect, we create extensions of its light, or essence.

An example: I believe nature belongs to me (and to all of us). It is at once mine and not mine. I cannot possess it. I cannot control it. But I can love it. And I can love it in such a way that I not only nurture it (i.e., by planting a garden, feeding birds, ensuring my yard is as safe and healthy for wildlife as possible), but also make artwork in its image. I photograph the birds, flowers, butterflies, and bees. I collage surreal landscapes and other nature-inspired  scenes. I infuse natural imagery into my poetry in the hopes of transforming the everyday into the extraordinary.

This same logic, or ethos, can extend to any number of activities, ideas, and pursuits, in my opinion. The idea is that we are not driven to possess, but to pay it forward. To leave whatever belongs to us better than we found it. And that is inherently creative.

A final thought: if I am consumed by satisfying the lower “possession” need, I very much “belong to the world”. I constantly work to accumulate but never experience the innate, soulful satisfaction of having something “belong” to me in a higher sense. I am never the creator. But, if I am driven by the higher “belonging” need, I belong to the world, but the world also belongs to me. I am the creator of my own life.

The collage above, titled Self-Portrait with Machine, is one of my favorites from last year. Prints are available in my Etsy shop.

17 responses to “The Nature of Belonging”

  1. I appreciate that you explored this topic further. You have made some fascinating and enlightened connections. Your descriptions in the third paragraph, beginning with, “In its higher form…” are how I feel about the priorities in my life: those I love and my writing.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. First, great collage and what is that contraption?

    Secondly (and I’ve only a moment before I leave for work, or i’d ponder it further), i’m reminded of the difference between things possessed, and being possessed by ideas, feelings, and other ineffables.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha I don’t exactly know what that contraption is. 🙂 And you make a good point when you refer to things we are “possessed by”, which is often how we talk about that which we experience as extensions of self, i.e., our passions, a vocation, an art, etc. There is something intriguing to me about the idea of considering those same things as “belonging to us” instead. It almost turns creativity into something of a divine inheritance (this was an initial thought of mine that I’m still working through): it is my job to go out into the world, discover what belongs to me, and make more of it. Thank you for the thought-provoking comment. I hope you have a great day!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I so love the opening image! I viewed it as I scrolled down, so the narrative of the image seemed to change and grow as each new piece of the overall artwork helped inform and complete the image! Lovely. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “When something belongs to us in the highest sense, we love it in such a way that we want to increase its presence in the world. It is both ours and not ours. It flows through us and, in the process, becomes something new. In effect, we create extensions of its light, or essence.” This is such a wonderful statement. I really cannot add anything to it. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas. They are impacting the world. They belong to you but also to us 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much, my friend. In many ways, this blog has become an “extension of self,” and I am very happy to be able to create, connect, and share here. I’m delighted you enjoyed this post, and thank you for the kind words. 😊


  5. This is wonderful. I’m so glad you followed up your recent post, expanding on this topic. When you write, “When something belongs to us in the highest sense, we love it in such a way that we want to increase its presence in the world” that really sums it up for me. Thanks for sharing this. Gives me a lot to think about.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Bob. I’m glad you enjoyed this. The big question that remains for me (at least, the one that stands out at the moment) is, “Is creativity our divine inheritance?” Is it really our job, as humans, to go out into the world, find what belongs to us and make more of it? I don’t know that I’ll ever really be able to answer that…but it’s intriguing to think about.


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