Years ago I had an experience of oneness and connection with all of life. I belonged to everything and everything belonged in me. I felt connected to life in all its forms, no longer separate from the wind, the air, the trees and the earth. 

In this expansive belonging my ego-based identity of being a human with a particular skin color, faith and gender fell away. This experience was the culmination of asking many questions, the first of which was: Where am I from? 

Between 1947 and 1966 all my grandparents migrated from India to Pakistan. My Nana (maternal grandfather) possibly walked to a brand-new Pakistan in 1947. And so, my belonging began in the fault lines of decolonization, a newly formed nation my home and the world’s fastest growing city my neighborhood. 

At 18, I could not wait for the adventure of leaving the familiar and known. But once I left home, I saw how deeply intertwined my belonging was to my geographical home. It was only then I saw Pakistan and my life there as exceptional and soon enough I longed for all its familiarity and its flavors. 

Living in Montreal, I suddenly had a new identity and a new belonging. No longer surrounded by people who were like me, I saw that I was perceived as different. For years, I focused on these outward differences. As the labels of my various identities amplified in my intellect, my heart remained shallow. I started to define myself as woman, young, South Asian, Muslim, Pakistani or “the other.” 

I also saw other people as labels. I was fixated on identities, almost none of which are in our control, and formed judgments. Fueled by this “critical” mind, I found myself where many social activists do at some point: rage towards those with privilege and hopeless despair over the immensity of injustice. In all this ruminating and analyzing I was blocked from connecting with people and seeing beyond my judgments. 

But then thankfully my heart broke. 

And in the ravages of a broken heart, I realized that all the labels I had spent so much time learning about and the mountains of resentment and anger that I was harboring held no resolution for my pain and sorrow. For the first time I felt that I shared a common humanity with all other people, and I did not need the shelter and protection of sameness to pursue connection. 

With this critical break I understood I do not “come from” anywhere. I do not belong to a place or a tribe, or an ideology or a practice. I belong simply to the moment I am in with these two intentions: to give my attention to you and to act appropriately as the moment requires of me. 

This is a challenging transition. The mind has a need to make judgments as part of human survival. We are conditioned to look for differences, to compare ourselves, to keep score, and to make assumptions and generalizations, even though we know that this conditioning furthers suffering. 

Does this mean I believe we are all the same and we don’t make extra room for the voices that are marginalized? No. It means that we act upon our conscience and we fight for equity and justice but with the core beliefs that we belong to one another and that we heal through connection. I ask myself, is what I am thinking or doing fueling the consciousness of separation or is it abating it? 

Too often we have not been given the resources and tools to communicate across differences, and in these days, we get less and less chances to practice this difficult skill. I am confronted with a common prejudice or unintentional bias as a migrant not just in this land, but also in the land I “come from.” I can use these experiences as a reason to hate and rage at people and the world, or I can use them as opportunities to dissolve my ego further and deepen my trust for how life presents itself to me. 

The choice is yours, too: to burn another tree down when we are starving for air or to find the courage to plant seeds of kindness and acceptance in spite of unfavorable conditions.