Feeling alone in a crowd...
Have you ever walked into a room full of people, and just felt like you stood out like a sore thumb. Do I have something on my face? Did I accidentally..somehow without noticing, smear an entire bottle of mustard on my face....? Or we can feel invisible...like we accidentally mistook our invisibility cloak for our new hoodie, on our way out the door.
I know I have felt that way. I love being in a community, I long to feel like I belong, and I know that finding those groups of people can be the hardest thing in the world.
I had an experience about 17 years ago, when I decided to join this small group. It was a particularly dark time in my life emotionally–I call it "the dark night of my soul", and I generally felt alone and disconnected most of the time. I walked into that room, and I felt nothing but warmth from that group of people. They fully accepted me from the moment I walked in the door.
I was a wallflower back then, I had so much social anxiety about speaking up...I continually told myself lies...like "who am I to have anything of value to share?" I hadn't learned self-compassion at that point, and one thing I was VERY good at was self-flagellation.
The day I met this group of people, I found some courage buried deep in the corner of my left ventricle...and I spoke up. I contributed to the conversation, and everyone else appreciated my thoughts. From that first evening they welcomed me with love and acceptance. It was profound.
My life changed that day.
That group of people became my closest friends during an important season of my life. My husband Dave was in that room that day, and clearly that worked out for me.
Finding community in 2017 can be hard. Especially if you aren't already a part of a tribe.
Below are some of my thoughts on community–17 years after that life-changing moment.
We know that communities are built on connection. (Obviously...)
Connection happens when we feel safe and we experience a sense of belonging—acceptance just as we are.
Connection happens when we are open, authentic, and vulnerable in sharing our true selves.
Connection happens there is a flow of energy between two or more people. I think it really feels like an electric current. You can almost feel the vibration that comes when we are tracking with others.
Connection is disconnected when there is an energy block. Blockages can come from many things like feeling judged or misunderstood.
Connection is reconnected when we are aware, understand and own these blockages. A big part of that connection starts with understanding our worldview. Worldview is a cumulation of all of our life experiences that results in the lens through which we see the world. Essentially none of us can fully be objective, because we see things through our personal lens. However, when we are aware that we have a worldview, we can learn to be mindful of our judgments when they happen, and suspend them.
Safe, open, and connected communities don't happen on accident. They are quite intentionally cultivated.
I know that might sound ridiculous, but in exploring community–both in my personal journey, and in my work in community mental health, I have really come to believe that safe communities are created when we are deliberate about the culture we want to create.
Think about the feelings you have when you join a community. What supports you to feel safe? Safe like the feeling of sinking into a big ole giant, soft pillow. Have you felt awkward in a group of people? What are some things that make you feel awkward in a group? What are my issues–what can I own in this disconnect? I have found that asking myself these things and deconstructing my feelings has helped me to learn so much about my interaction with culture of communities.
To live a wholehearted life, we need both solitude and deep connection with others. Connection starts when we have safe places of belonging.
We live in a world that is becoming more and more fragmented and isolated. We live closer together than ever, but we can feel such emotional distance...
We live in "silos" in our towns, and it is fairly easy to go for long spans of time without really meaningful interactions if we aren't intentional about seeking them.
So that makes developing a deep sense of belonging harder to cultivate now than other points in history.
However, it is very possible when we are mindful about our role in building connection. We can only be responsible for ourselves, and for how we influence the creation of safe places.
One of my favourite authors–Parker J. Palmer, describes the soul as a wild animal.
"Just like a wild animal, it seeks safety in the dense underbrush, especially when other people are around. If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out. But if we will walk quietly into the woods, sit patiently at the base of a tree, breathe with the earth, and fade into our surroundings, the wild creature we seek might put in an appearance. We may see it only briefly and only out of the corner of an eye - but the sight is a gift we will always treasure as an end in itself."
Our culture does not generally foster those quiet spaces where the soul can show up. One of the loudest offenders of this safe space is that of advice-giving, and fixing. When we seek to fix others, we negate their process of discovering and listening to their own inner teacher.
Refusing to listen, or pay attention someone who has a different worldview than we do is another offender of safe communities.
Instead, when we choose to just be with, listen to, and accept others as they are, we create safe spaces where we can all do the important inner work we need to do. Together and in solitude.
I have found that as I practice self-compassion and mindfulness supports me to accept myself as I am.
When I learn to accept myself, and treat myself with self-compassion and kindness, it makes it easier to extend that compassion, kindness, and grace to others.