Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
– David Whyte –
Community is one of those words I hear repeated a lot.
It’s most common meaning is a group of people living in the same area. Other words that come up in relation to definitions of community are things like: fellowship, sameness, interdepence, ownership, common, and unified…..
I think of community in broader sense than just being location based.
I see it as more like a network or a web that connects up lots of different people, even if they are in different place. So the people in your community might not all live next door to you. In fact, your community might exist on lots of different levels – local, national, or global.
For me, community is the nest or web of people that make up a place where you feel at home.
There have been times in my life when the idea of ‘community’ felt far out of reach. Too hard. Too much effort. I avoided people because I felt isolated, deficient, and conspicuous in my aloneness. I really was acting the drama as if I was alone, and the aloneness? The aloneness felt crushing.
And you know what?
When I declined your invitation to go out to coffee, when I left your party early, when I avoided your glance on the street, it wasn’t that I wanted to be alone.
What I was really saying was ‘I can’t spend too long with you because then you might see how alone I really am’.
I knew at a head and heart level that community was a good thing. But somehow not having a community made it feel hard for me to feel like I would ever have one. Because I didn’t have a strong community, I didn’t feel worthy of belonging to one.
Plus, I told myself, I was an individual learner, an introvert, I did my best work alone, and I hated team sports. Group work was messy and took ten times as long, I needed my space, I was just better off alone, really, please.
After completing an Off The Mat and Into The World intensive in 2011 I started to think a lot about community, and about how so much of the work we do in our lives is richer, more productive, and often more effective when done with others. I realised how sick I was of working (and feeling and being) alone.
Fast forward a year and a half later and I’m completely sold on the magic of group work, communities, and our collective power.
There are a whole lot of reasons why…
One is that people just need people!
Humans are hardwired to need to feel connected, to belong. When we don’t feel connected we suffer. When we do we can flourish. We define our identity partly based on the groups we belong to, and the people close to us. Other people are the mirrors that reflect back who we are. Communities can feed and nurture us in ways we can’t do for ourselves.
Another is that a kind of magic can happen when working in groups – a magic that is completely different to what happens when you do something by yourself.
Yes, group work can be long, and hard, and filled with arguments, and digressions, and personality clashes. But it’s worth it.
It’s worth it for those moments when all the diversity and wisdom in the room creates something incredible that could never have been done otherwise. It’s worth it when you go so deep with a group that everyone’s hearts are melting at exactly the same time. It’s worth it when all you can do is laugh, and the whole group bursts into giggles at the ridiculousness of it all.
It’s worth it when working in a group enable you to break open something inside yourself you’d never even thought existed. It’s worth it when you hear other people’s stories and realise how much humanness we share.
At a bigger scale, it feels really worth it when collaborating on a project together can make some serious change happen.
What Generation Zero, the youth climate change movement I’m part of, has done over the last fifteen months is an amazing example of this.
We’ve interviewed hundreds of politicians, made it on to TV and radio, made numerous videos,coordinated an open letter and avaaz petition to Parliament, run numerous stunts and events, held trainings and workshops all over New Zealand, and now we are collaborating with 350 Aotearoa on Power Shift NZ-Pacific, New Zealand’s first youth climate summit.
All in fifteen months, starting from scratch, with only volunteers and almost no money.
It shows the power that there is in groups formed around a strong common purpose and understanding. As a community of individuals, we have collective power we would never have alone, but we can also have the freedom and permission to be fully ourselves.
Group work, community, and collective power shows up in all kinds of places. At yoga studios, and churches. In flats,universities, and workplaces. In local communities, groups of change makers and activists, and in the thick web of the internet.
Here at The Yoga Lunchbox, for example, an intentional community has been created around people that love and practice, or are interested in finding out more about, yoga.
The Yoga Lunchbox has been successful because it’s built around a common interest – yoga – and because it allows for a diverse group of people to learn from and support each other, discuss and debate the things that matter to them, and feel connected to something bigger than themselves.
So, you know what?
The clichés are true.
All of them.
A small group of people can change the world.
No man is an island.
You can go fast alone, but far in groups.
Together we are a genius.
Together we are the ocean.
We stand on the shoulders of giants.
And when you are part of something bigger than yourself you feel connected and powerful in a way you never have before.
As I get ready to leave Wellington (for the summer at least) after three years here, building community and finding my feet, I’m thinking about the nest I’ve built and all of the beautiful people that make up the web of my community.
The thought of moving somewhere else and starting again, building up a whole new community, or even feeling disconnected from my community for a short while, terrifies me. Part of me doubts my ability to stay connected, or to begin again in a new place.
But I also have, somewhere in my heart, the faith that every person I meet could come to play a role in my life that I didn’t expect, that we all have the capacity to open to, connect with, and support each other.
We are all worthy of being part of a community and we all deserve to feel loved and supported in our lives and in our work.
We can go so much further together.
Howard Thurman once said:
Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
So find out what makes you come alive. Find the groups of people that share your passion and purpose, and that you can co-learn, co-create, and co-support in your journey.
Find ways to come alive together.
Because that’s what we, and the world, really need.