Coming Into (Healthy) Community

This morning I woke up at 5:45am to the sound of rain. I then drove down to the sweet little house that belongs to my zen community and sat in meditation for an hour. After which I joined several of these lovely folks for tea and conversation at a comfy coffee shop down the street. After that, I met a dear friend for breakfast and had one of the most nourishing, affirming, and loving conversations I’ve had in years.

If you know me, you know I’ve struggled with the ideas of community and belonging for my entire adult life. I’ve been in dysfunctional and abusive communities; I’ve also been without community for long periods, wandering in the wilderness, talking shit to the lizards, and doubting I could ever really belong anywhere.

I allowed myself to be indoctrinated into ‘Community, Inc.’ – the industry that employ tactics and levers of professional community-building – because I desperately wanted to be part of things that ultimately didn’t want me.

Not everyone belongs in every community. Just like we can’t all personally be in a healthy relationship with just anyone – we have individual needs, values, priorities and gifts that belong among those who understand and share them.

This isn’t about judging communities as good or bad. (Though certainly all communities have challenges, and are at different stages of health and usefulness.) It’s about realizing that part of your life’s work is finding where you belong and can be the best version of yourself.

What I now refer to as ‘my community’ is an amorphous web of individuals and groups which have congealed around my true self (as opposed to my ego), and who reflect my heart. It doesn’t fit into a tidy box, and it’s not institutionalized. It’s an organic network of loving kindness and genuine care.

It’s taken me years – decades – to find ‘my people’ and I’m happy to report that I have, and they are an assortment of beautiful, scarred, simple and kind folk. Also, they love me – the real me!

So how did I arrive at this place of abundant kindness and joyful humanity?

  1. I stopped trying to be something I wasn’t. At a certain point I decided I’d rather be all alone than try to gain acceptance by jumping through hoops, contorting myself into something unrecognizable in order to fit in, or walking on eggshells in toxic circles.
  2. I spent a long time with myself really trying to understand who I am, and what I need from my relationships in order to be my best self.
  3. I sought out people and organizations that made my heart feel peaceful and set my mind at ease. I watched myself when I engaged with them. When I found myself becoming the best version of myself I’d ever seen, I knew I was in the company of kindred spirits.
  4. Once I identified the people and places that I knew were trustworthy and kind, I started very slowly investing myself in them – with no expectations. I just kept showing up and contributing at a capacity that didn’t overwhelm or drain me of my time, energy or other resources.

Over time I find that my capacity has increased, as have my contributions. My connections to good people have become stronger and the lifelong bonds are forming.

Healthy community, after all, must be built. It takes time. It requires sacrifice. It’s very much like gardening. You invest, you put in the work, you infuse it love, and you pour your time and attention into it… and then, before you know it, you look around and you’re surrounded by exquisite beauty.

I’m watching things start to bloom now, and I wanted to share this because I’ve written many times over how frustrated and alone I’ve felt over the years.

I’m happy to say that, at last, I’ve found a way forward into healthy community.

It’s not easy. Getting here meant *first* working on myself and making myself *worthy* of such extraordinary company.

Relationships – whether personal or communal – are a two-way street. There were plenty of times I was feeling lost and wanted the benefits of community; but I’d not be willing to do what was needed to be a mature, trustworthy, committed member of one. Cultivating healthy community requires ongoing work and the contributions of every member.

But in no other way can we reap the exponential benefits of collective effort for a collective good.

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