A Practice to Reclaim Your Joy with Sebene Selassie

Experience the truth of your inherent belonging by connecting to the essential elements of the earth and remembering that we’re all made of the same stuff.

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Belonging is the sense of ease and joy we feel when we are truly present, and this is possible in any moment alone, or with others. Often, we don’t feel like we belong because we’re caught up in feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and doubt. Feelings of not belonging can be learned over time and lead us to think there’s something wrong with us, that we’re not enough—but, by the very nature of our birth and our existence, we are enough and we all belong.

The global pandemic is revealing our interconnection as the whole world continues to be affected by the COVID virus. The recent uprisings for Black lives show us that the long history of racial injustice continues to impact us all. Mindfulness helps us remember the truth of our belonging by allowing us to experience the ease and joy of truly belonging at any moment.

At its simplest, mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally. That nonjudgmental part is actually imbued with kindness and care. When we can ground and love ourselves, belonging is possible.

Mindfulness helps us remember the truth of our belonging by allowing us to experience the ease and joy of truly belonging at any moment.

But our minds can have a hard time staying grounded in the present. It’s our meditation practice that can help us connect to our body and our breath, allowing us to build our capacity to be present with what is with kindness and care. And when we’re truly present with each moment, we can feel the truth of our belonging.

One of my all-time favorite meditation practices to help cultivate a sense of belonging is the Mindfulness of the Four Elements practice.

Mindfulness of the elements is a classical practice, but it’s not as well-known as body and breath meditations, or even loving-kindness practice. I think it’s one of the most powerful ways we can connect to the sense of belonging to everything. Connecting with nature is a great way to experience the power of our interconnection. Many of us feel like we belong when we’re in the presence of the ocean, a majestic mountain, or an old grove of trees. Our pets can help ease our sense of disconnection. There’s a mystery at the center of nature, and that mirrors the mystery of the truth of belonging—that we’re not separate from anyone, or anything. Our meditation practice can connect us to that wonder of belonging.

For this meditation, the elements of earth, fire, water, and air are used as objects for contemplation the same way the breath is an anchor for practice. Connecting to the elements helps us connect to our bodies in a way that also connects us to everything else in nature, because of course we are nature, too, and we belong to all of it.

A Mindfulness of the Four Elements Practice

Let’s start by getting grounded in the body with love and compassion: Find a comfortable position, whether you’re standing, or sitting, or lying down. I invite you to close your eyes; you can also just keep your gaze soft. Check in and notice, what do you feel? Ask yourself, What’s happening in my body right now? Bring your attention to your heart area, and notice any sensations there. Ask yourself, Can I meet this with kindness, or can I meet this with love? You can also bring a hand to your heart to feel more deeply that sense of connection, that sense of kindness and care. Just explore this sense of groundedness and love for a few moments.

Earth

As you settle in, begin to notice the weight of your body. Here, the solidity of your body is the earth element. This element is heavy, it’s stable. As you connect to that sense of solidity, allow your body to soften and rest deeply into the ground, into the floor. Feeling the density of the body, your bones, your flesh, the fat of your body—all that is solid and dense, this is the earth element. As you feel the stability of the earth within you and around you, you can know that it’s connected to all of the earth around us—the ground, the trees, the rocks, the mountains, all that is solid and stable. The earth element in you is connected to the earth element all around you. Explore what it feels like to know this connection to the earth.

Fire

Now begin to notice the temperature in your body. Fire is heat, warmth, vibration. Where do you feel your internal heat? Sometimes you can connect to the fire element in the belly, the heart area, anywhere that feels warm and hot. Know that this fire element in you is connected to the fire element all around you. For example, the sun is the epitome of the fire element in nature, keeping the planet warm and alive. Know that the fire element, the warmth and heat within you, is connected to the fire element all around you. Explore what it feels like to know that connection we all have with fire.

Water

Water is smooth and flowing. Most of your body is water. Perhaps you can sense the water element in the moistness of your eyes, in your mouth, in the blood coursing through you— in all that is fluid and flowing through your body. As you feel this water within you, perhaps you can sense that this water is in balance with the water that covers our planet. Our planet is also mostly water, just like us—the oceans, rivers, lakes, rain, mist, clouds, and the dew. Know that this water element in you is connected to the water all around you. Water is life. Explore what it feels like to know this connection we all have with water.

Air

Air is movable and changeable—it’s light and ephemeral. Of course, in our bodies, the air element is the breath. Notice the air as you breathe in and out, connecting us to lightness and changeability. Your breath, your air, is connected to the air all around you—to the sky, to the wind, to the air that circulates around our planet, breathed in and out by many, many beings. Rest your awareness on the breath for a few moments as we finish this meditation. Explore what it feels like to know that you are connected to all of nature through the air you breathe— through all of the elements.

As you open your eyes, you can orient to the space around you. Remember: You belong in every moment, just like the trees, the sun, the ocean, and the air. Nature is always right here, connecting you and me and everything else on our planet. We belong.

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About the author

Sebene Selassie

Sebene Selassie received a BA from McGill University and an MA from the New School, where she focused on Buddhism, Hinduism, cultural studies, and race. She was the executive director of New York Insight Meditation Center, where she currently teaches. A native of Ethiopia, Selassie lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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