Tag Archives: bigger questions

Identity, Belonging and Conscious Café Singapore

Conscious Café Singapore group held its monthly meeting on 27th March 2019 to discuss the theme of “Identity and a Need of Belonging”.

The historical evolution of ‘identity’ as a concept in the western hemisphere was presented in a short introduction. In Medieval times, identity was based on a communal and religious affiliation, the communal living and thinking and a blind acceptance of the status quo. The Humanist movement in Italy in 15th century recognised that people possess the mind and intelligence to think for themselves – the “private enlightened conscience”. The alluring new cult of the Self had been discovered. During the Age of Enlightenment, philosopher Locke proposed that identity is a matter of psychological continuity; that when a person is born, the mind is empty – a tabula rasa – which is then shaped by experiences, reflections and sensations. In the 20th century a plethora of views on an individual identity as a correlation between mind and body, as well as development of a social identity theory, was pursued.

Our group discussion started with a few questions: Is our identity our story? How is the access to cyberspace, social media platforms affecting our identity? Does one’s sense of identity influence one’s sense of belonging?

The conversation was immensely enriched by the fact that participants were representing diverse nationalities, ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds. We shared personal stories that expanded our knowledge and understanding of different historical, social and cultural contexts influencing our individual identities.

We agreed that identity is a story that we constantly construct and embellish in response to changing circumstances in our lives.

With an easy access to cyberspace and social media platforms, we have the opportunity to create digital selves. These projections can reflect our real self or our desired self and the demarcation between these identities can be blurred. Some of us expressed concerns about data protection issues and privacy control when engaged in online activity, and a potential manipulation and for-profit exploitation with increased presence of Artificial Intelligence and its algorithms.

The sense of identity has definitely had an impact on our sense of belonging. Being away for a prolonged period of time from one’s community can make it difficult to “fit in” as it was shared by a few expatriates. It takes an effort to find a mutual acceptance and common ground again. Having an open mind, understanding that life is a constant change, an ability to reflect, an alignment in values and believes, and a capacity to listen and to be heard were listed as some of the attitudes and conditions that positively influence our sense of belonging.




Having A Sense of Belonging

Having a sense of belonging is part of being human. It’s one of our most important basic needs. Where is your strongest sense of belonging? To a church, an organisation, a tribe on social media, extended family? Where is it that you feel most valued and recognised? Sometimes we can feel strongly connected to many people and many groups or ideas. Then again, we might move through periods of our lives when we feel disconnected, separated, perhaps lonely. Are there times when you have drifted away from an idea or a group and lost your sense of belonging? What was it that took you away, and what brought you back?

Feeling a strong sense of belonging to a greater community, a cause or even a circle of friends, not only stops us feeling alone, it brings happiness, motivation and wellbeing. What type of effort and practice does it take to build and sustain this connection?

This was the conversation that Conscious Cafe Skipton had when 18 of our community gathered in Avalon Centre for Wellbeing, near Skipton at the end of February. Here are the insights from the three questions we discussed.

Not Fitting in

  • Perhaps our sense of not belonging comes from feeling that we no longer fit in to a particular group or even a way of life. Something might have changed in us and we have outgrown a situation. The period of time when we recognise the need to separate or disconnect can be very lonely. Even getting older can make us feel this distancing from a way of being that has felt natural to us before, but now we are shifting.
  • It’s a big decision to acknowledge that we no longer fit somewhere and decide to remove ourselves from where we previously felt we belonged -whether that was in a church, a career or a geographic place. Even though a voice deep down within tells us to leave, it can still be painful. These shifts and changes in our lives can be viewed as exciting, but we can also feel alone, caught between a past we have known and left behind and a future that has yet to emerge or present itself to us. Maybe we lose our sense of belonging until we begin to recognise our new self and seek out other people and places where we feel a better fit.
  • These transit points in our lives can be both powerful and painful .. walking away requires courage and strength but can give us a sense of liberation even if initially we might feel the loss of the familiar reference points that gave us comfort or that we were attached to.

Negative Thinking

  • Comparing ourselves to others is a negative way to think. Doing so can cause us to judge ourselves harshly and is a surefire way to make us feel separate. Having a sense of feeling inferior, less than or not equal to can really damage our right to feel that we belong.

Feeling the Difference

  • People from mixed race heritage can feel different as they grow up between the two different cultures of their parents. Being exposed to two different worlds and not feeling like they fit in to either. People can feel at odds with a family or community’s cultural expectations placed on them that are not in sync with a local culture that they are also growing up in.
  • For a variety of reasons, people have described feeling like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle that is in the wrong box.

Where, when and how is the Strongest sense of Belonging felt?

Our discussions led us to express six key ways that help us connect and make us feel that we belong.

  • Family: the close bonds of connection with blood family are strong for most people but for some there can be one key relationship in their family that is their strongest anchor point. A pivotal and close relationship with a parent, sibling or child can provide deep nourishment and a feeling of safety where anything can be shared. Not everyone has this blessing.
  • Place has power: wanting to move to a different town or area, somewhere that calls to us at a certain time in our lives. Here we can make a fresh start, be inspired by the landscape, enjoy more activities and community perhaps in a more populated place, or simply feel like we are coming home, whether there is family there or not.
  • People: longstanding friendships that take us through the years, these provide deep nourishment if we are lucky to have them. New friendships are valuable too, particularly if we find friends with whom we can be our authentic selves. Being with others is important and many express a preference for the one-to-one contact rather than group gatherings where they can have an increased sense of isolation. As much as people can feel lonely or disconnected when they are in the company of others – perhaps at a social party with many strangers – if the gathering is mindful or purposeful, then we can actually feel deeply connected to a large group of strangers. Odd as it may seem, the reason that people gather, and the degree to which people are willing to open their hearts, seems to be more important than the quantity of people present.
  • Ritual & Ceremony: we feel the power of this and mourn the loss in our modern life. We recognise how this can unite us. The right kind of facilitation can change a group of strangers into a connected community in a very short time by providing an open forum for sharing. When we have the opportunity to see and understand our shared meaning, a community can be brought together quite easily. Grayson Perry did four programmes on Channel 4 about rituals for Death, Birth, Marriage and Coming of Age. These are still available for viewing online.
  • Spiritual Power: aside from what is happening in our lives, where we live and who we have the opportunity to meet (or not) we can always develop our own inner world of connection through our spiritual practice of choice. This can be done in a group, a church or an organisation that values mindfulness and meditation practice. Even then, there is no need to belong to a particular group when a personal practice of meditation and reflection can make us feel connected to a higher power that we can reach anytime. It gives us a transcendent ability for us to feel connected to everyone and everything, and continued practice can help us to sustain these feelings.
  • Purpose: we can feel a deep sense of belonging when we can engage in work that aligns with our values and which feeds our life purpose. Through work, we can find connection with others who share our values, our vision in the world and our role in it. If we are lucky enough to do what we feel we are here to do, that can give a strong sense of fitting in to the world in the right place and at the right time. That is powerful belonging, particularly when we are able to to set aside our differences and look forward to a greater cause alongside others who feel the same.

What helps us to shift, feel more connection and increase our Sense of Belonging – how to feel less lost?

  • Acceptance: accepting yourself and what is, is a big first step to belonging. We can’t ask others to do what we are not able to do for ourselves.
  • Self-Awareness: instead of us focusing on any difference we see in ourselves, turn that around so that we recognise and accept our own uniqueness.
  • Growth: understanding that we are always growing and evolving. Yes, that can sometimes present us with difficulties but that is what makes us grow.
  • Values: aligning with a strong cause can re-enforce our sense of belonging. Attaching our professional and work identity to something important that makes a difference that aligns with our values.
  • A new Third Age: later in life after retirement where our sense of purpose was totally wrapped up in our work, it is good to discover new ways to express ourselves and create a sense of belonging from other areas of our lives.
  • Open up: be more curious. Be willing to express our vulnerability. Allow new people and experiences into our lives.
  • Join in: deciding to say ‘yes’, make an effort. Sharing experiences with others.
  • Decide: making a decision to move forward, setting the intention, meeting the universe half way so we can attract in what we need. Step out of your comfort zone – push yourself.
  • Deeper connection: listen deeply to others. Concentrate on what we have in common instead of what might us apart.
  • Widen your circles: find a group that shares your interests or passions. Be open to connecting with people outside of your normal like-minded circle.
  • Follow the Love: open your heart – you get what you give. Be more loving and feel the love come back to you.

Our Conscious Cafe Circle: what were people taking away from the evening?


People thought the discussion was thought-provoking, enjoyed the different ideas expressed and liked having the opportunity to contribute and be heard.

More about Conscious Cafe Skipton events on our Facebook page.

Reflections on Love in Singapore

Hanna Krasnodebska with some of the members of the recently launched Conscious Cafe Singapore group

On Tuesday 26th February 2019, Conscious Cafe’s Singapore Group met at the cosy Reading Room to discuss the theme of “Love and Loving practices”, fitting with February’s holiday sentiments.

Hanna Krasnodebska, the group’s leader, started with the notion that love is an energy, and the highest frequency which connects us with the deepest part of ourselves; how love influences human biology, creating an internal environment for nourishment, connection and well-being.

The group discussed aspects of love in the context of forgiveness and gratitude, the giving and receiving. We talked about unconditional love, parental love as experienced from both familiar perspectives, that of a child in a family, and that of a mother who created and raised a family. One of our participants offered an insight: “a woman who experiences a rhythm of cycles has unique path marked with milestones of puberty, potential motherhood, life creating and nurturing family, menopause and becoming of a wise woman, a guiding elder.”

We explored self-love and how we find it challenging to accept ourselves as we are; how the family, community and wider environment influences us in our “quest for love and its expression”. 

The gathering comprised of women and we observed that it would be very interesting and complementing to have a male perspective.

All Good Vibes for Conscious Cafe Geneva

Since it’s humble beginnings, Conscious Cafe Geneva’s meetings have taken place at the MLC Café-Littéraire, a charming coffee-cum-bookshop in the heart of Carouge, run by the lovely Francis. Due to ongoing renovations, the café is set to close for while, which set group leader Debbie King the task of finding a new space.

“I thought it would be REALLY difficult,” says Debbie. “So I set aside a day to go hunting for one in Geneva, thinking it would be the first of several expeditions. And guess what – I found three! Not a single person refused me. At the venue I liked the most, the patron simply opened his arms and said ‘of course! Walk this way and look at this little room beside the bar which you can have all to yourselves FREE, whenever you want.’ AMAZING.”

Debbie left town feeling on top of the world, with the most powerful thought: the universe truly provides for a well-intentioned deed.

Becoming Homeless in an Age of Plenty


Survival is the most basic of human needs. Mikkel Juel Iversen is a film producer who runs a remarkable charity project, UnderOneSky which aims to support the homeless.  He facilitated a very moving discussion at ConsciousCafe in London which was not just about being homeless but also about being human.

There are an estimated 8,000 people sleeping rough in London annually and many more who have no home but sleep as and where a friend or family can offer a bed. 85% of rough sleepers are men. And, in 2016, 270,000 people had a homelessness related case processed by their local council. For many of us, losing our home might be just one month and one pay-packet away.

90% of people who are sleeping rough have some form of mental health issue – including disorders which many of us will be familiar with such as depression, bi-polar or addiction. Aside from that, the message of the evening which came through loud and clear is that all of us are human beings. Homeless people are not ‘the other’. They are no different from any of us and are in that situation because of many different reasons which our society has been unable to help them with.

One of the group shared how she always carries some food – often fruit – to offer a homeless person when she is out and about. She likes to engage with people and will often speak with them. She might start the conversation by asking how they are, and then if they feel inclined to talk she will explore how they found themselves on the street and how they feel about that. One time she suggested a woman make contact with her father whom she had not seen for many years.  Passing by a few weeks later, the woman told her she had been in touch with him and they were going to meet.

Sometimes a remark or a smile, nod or wink from a passing stranger can make all the different to a homeless person’s day.

Mikkel reminded us that everyone is an individual. Some days we want to talk to people and other days we don’t and so it is with all of us.  If we walk with love, compassion and empathy, that is what we are bringing to the situation. If what we offer is not welcome, it is not about us.

Another group member shared that she had been homeless in her life. ‘It’s important for people who are homeless to know that they are not invisible’ she said.

Some of the people living on the streets have struggled with  living in ‘chaotic’ households since they were very young. Some of them feel safer on the streets than in the homes they come from or in hostels where there can be no privacy and much drug-taking, drunkenness and abuse. It can be very hard for them to develop resilience and as soon as their lives improve a little, sometimes they self-destruct. Some people have had so much trauma in their lives, they simply can’t function.

Mikkel said that once a person becomes accustomed to sleeping rough, they develop a completely different set of survival skills to protect themselves.  It is important not to measure people in that situation by the same yardstick that we might make judgments about our neighbours.

The most important thing to remember when engaging with people on the streets is to only do what feels right to us. We too need to be in touch with our gut instincts.

People who are homeless are on their own life journey in the same way that the rest of us are.  When we meet them, we hold up a mirror very close to ourselves.  This is an opportunity for each of us to reflect on how we are feeling when we engage or do not engage with strangers on the streets. We can question why we feel this way and what do we need to deal with in ourselves?

Living on the streets changes a person and all of us have to learn to let go of judgment.

This was such a powerful discussion with everyone contributing and listening.  There was so much to reflect on and we continued talking over drinks afterwards. Each one of us left the evening feeling much more thoughtful and those of us who had not done so before resolved to take the first steps towards beginning to engage with people on the streets ‘when it feels right’.


Huge thanks to Mikkel for giving so generously of his time and for facilitating the discussion so gently. He started UnderOneSky six years ago as an initiative to offer support to homeless people sleeping rough particularly in winter when it is cold.  His teams go out on the streets in groups with parcels containing a number of items including a small gift voucher which enables people to purchase everyday things which they might be acutely in need of.

If you would like to learn more and donate, please go to https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/2017-18-winter-support-for-london-s-homeless#/

If you would like to take part in the work of UnderOneSky or observe what is going on, you are welcome to join the Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/432122693577153/ 








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