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For the new year, I was asked to write a letter to my Zen teacher, requesting him to continue teaching for another year. I’ve never done anything like this, so I copied the suggested wording (which I actually really liked, formal though it was) and signed it with my given name and dharma name (in badly calligraphed kanji, I must add, but hey I tried!).

When I arrived for the first day-long meditation retreat of the year and looked for where to place my letter, I was taken aback by the large basket in the foyer stuffed with ribbons, gifts and fancy paper. I may have gasped. I looked down and immediately felt embarrassment at the plain and basic little letter in my hands. Nonetheless, I didn’t want to not submit a letter, so I gulped and gently placed it in the basket.

Someone asked me a few months ago, why do I come here, to No Abode, every month? I replied, "because I feel a sense of belonging - I feel like I belong here." Well, okay, first I made a joke about coming only for the tea and cookies, but when I got serious it came down to this one thing: belonging.

Almost every time I meet with my teacher he welcomes me - literally saying to me, “Welcome,” each time. He says this so much that I’m finally starting to believe it. Maybe I really am welcome here and maybe he really does mean it (I sincerely think he does - I truly believe he welcomes everyone and everything).

This was a particularly difficult Christmas for me this year and after thinking about why I found it so difficult, I realized that a feeling (and belief) of not belonging was at the heart of it. It is this sense of belonging I most want to explore. When did this belonging become severed and why? What people, places and activities give me a sense of belonging? And why?

Buddhism teaches that all of us already belong and that we always have. Our belief that we are separate - from nature, from each other - is at the root of our suffering. We’ve just forgotten.

In the coming year, and for many years to come, I would sincerely like to remember.

Where do you feel a sense of belonging?

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I'd like to say that the purpose of Buddhism is to feel that we belong everywhere, that everywhere is in us. I try to imagine that and really feel it in me when I feel detached. I also have to admit that I am conflicted about the difference between the desire to belong and attachment - attachment being something that causes dukkha and dukkha being something we can reduce through the 4 noble truths and the eightfold path.

I spent a lot of time over the holiday trying to resolve the conflict and I found that, while a little sad, the holidays became no more important to me than any regular Tuesday. Simply days to explore our feelings of desire and aversion, to try to see things as they truly are. The rest are trappings, the stories we tell about how we should be, or act or who we should be with or not be with on these created "special" days. I spent a lot of time alone over the holidays and really reflected on all of this and I realized any feelings of loneliness dispersed when I saw that they came from pressure I put on myself to create these special moments with people. So, I just breathed and enjoyed the sound of the rain while sitting in front of the lights with my cat on my lap.

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