why do you go away?Nov 26, 2023
There was something settling in my being.
I found an unexpected sense of peace.
I felt grounded in a place that was unfamiliar.
Last week I spent 4 days in Istanbul, Turkey. After my meetings were over, on the 3rd day I was able to fully relax and my pace slowed down considerably. I started to absorb my surroundings in a different way. As I moved from concrete street to cobbled road to steep steps I was astonished by the similarities between London and Istanbul I detected: both are super diverse, both with a rich history dating back to Roman times and beyond, both vibrant and eclectic, and both my kind of place!
I knew I needed more space to allow my thoughts on this inquiry to percolate.
Having spent my time in the ‘European side’ I wanted to travel to the ‘Asian side’ before I left – a 20-minute journey by boat – how delightful! One of it’s unique attributes is that Istanbul straddles two continents - side note: there are 4 other cities that are also transcontinental: Atyrau, Orenburg, Magnitogorsk, and Suez!.
In the journey I could not tell who lived in the city and who did not – all manner of ethnicities, religions, ages, countries, financial situations, and so much more were represented.
Yet, here I was with a strong awareness of belonging – belonging in the paradox, the liminal space, the water between Europe and Asia! What was enabling a deep sense of belonging in a place that I had never been to before and had no real connection via my ancestry?
– Could it be the familiar sound of the call to prayer 5 times a day, something that we don’t hear in London?
– Could it be the broad range of ethnic diversity I experienced? I even said to my husband it would be almost impossible for me to distinguish between Istanbul residents and tourists based on look or even accent!
– Could it be the familiarity of the European looking architecture interspersed with Middle Eastern influences?
There was something settling in my being. I found an unexpected sense of peace. I felt grounded in a place that was unfamiliar.
And yet all of this feels absurd… Istanbul isn’t my city, I don’t speak Turkish, I don’t know anyone in the city…
I ask myself again, what was it that facilitated me to feel a sense of belonging?
We are all human beings being influenced by our surroundings, on who we socialise with, and a feeling of belonging that we cultivate as we journey along the path of life.
Belonging is difficult to capture, describe, and replicate on demand – yet we all know what it means to us and can probably find a moment in our lives where we have felt like we belonged.
What does this bring up for you as you read this?
One final piece I’d like to share with you today is something unexpected that happened to me on Friday.
I was in a Zoom group session with people from all over the world who were based in London and the topic of belonging and age came up. I surprised myself when I told the group:
‘I’m actually really comfortable with my age. I am 50 and it is the first time in my life where I can say that I belong in my age. Yes, I wish I had the energy and drive of my 17 year old self, but I feel quite comfortable with being 50. It is as if I have spent the last 50 years preparing for the next 50!’
Never before had I articulated belonging to something with such clarity and conviction. It felt like it was an important moment.
Now, I am extending that invitation to you!
Where is the time/space/place/thing [insert word of your choice] where you feel like you can belong with every atom of your being?
*If you don't immediately know the answer to the question above, please know that that is ok. Despite my lifelong search for belonging and my 8 year doctoral research into belonging I still feel as if the response is emerging and I am unsure as to whether I will ever fully know the answer... and all of that is ok. I remind you, as I remind myself, it is all a journey.
I believe that we have a sense of belonging, a shared sense of belonging, we find/rediscover new elements of our own humanity… And are able to see, witness, and experience added belonging in/though others.
And this exploration prompts me to share the following quote (which I have stylised to look and read like a poem)…
“Why do you go away?
So that you can come back.
So that you can see
the place you came from
with new eyes and extra colors.
And the people there
see you differently, too.
Coming back to where you started
is not the same as never leaving.”
― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky
As you gently, kindly, respectfully move from the weekend to the week,
how is it that you are going back?
how is it you are seeing the space with new eyes
... and extra colours?
how are you experiencing the space differently?
All my best,
PS – A few things I watched/read/listened/did to in the last week that I recommend:
- I am enjoying watching BBC's Shetland, Series 8 based on the books by Ann Cleeves At the end of series 7 the primary detective, DI Perez (played by Douglas Henshall), leaves his role, thus creating a gap for a new DI to step in. In series 8 Ashley Jensen is introduced and the manner in which they have bought her in is very clever, it doesn't feel orchestrated in any way. I will say no more other than to really recommend the series.
- I went on a boat trip! There is something really incredible about being on water. In his book Blue Water marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols says 'the mere sight and sound of water promote wellness by lowering cortisol, increasing serotonin and reducing relaxation'. I love boat trips on the Thames, walking in the Walthamstow Wetlands nature reserve, or simply being near any body of water. I encourage you to think about how you might get closer to water this week.
- I am reading The Anatomy of Peace by The Arbinger Institute. It was required reading for a course I am doing in a systemic way of undertaking conflict transformation. I have to say it is helping me to discover strategies for how I can respond to the conflicts happening in several places all over the world.
What have you watched, read, or listened to that you have particularly enjoyed and would recommend? Please let me know.
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