2017: The Year of Community
It’s been a while since my last post and there are some good reasons for that. Firstly, I took a long holiday and really tried to stay away from any tasks that usually occupy my time during the year. It’s been exceptionally useful for me to try and stop and to not do, especially because there are so many things I’m excited about getting stuck into this year.
On that topic, I have just moved into a new office space and have been spending the last two weeks moving in and sorting out all the little bits and pieces that goes into a move. It’s a thrilling experience and I am so happy with the new Carly’s Couch HQ! Remember that old feature called “My Dream Therapy Room”? Well it’s one thing scrolling Pinterest for inspiration and quite another to take ideas and make them into reality! I’m really enjoying the process and am feeling extremely grateful for this opportunity and for all the people that have been helping me along the way.
2017 is off to a good start (well apart from the fact that the world is falling apart and our planet is quickly dying in front of our eyes). On a personal level at least, I am feeling solid at the start of this year.
One thing I’ve been pondering over this break is the concept of community. It feels to me that any real discussion about basic human needs comes down to what we offer each other and what we gain ourselves through human interaction. We are social and communal beings but we are often made to feel like we should have to manage our difficulties alone.
Isolation and alienation are extremely difficult to experience, especially in an ongoing way. Many of the psychological problems people suffer from are caused by or aggravated by loneliness and isolation. We are not meant to live alone and we do NEED one another. Needing someone to talk to or lean on is not a sign of weakness. It does not mean you aren’t good enough because somehow you’re expected to do it all alone. We need to reject this concept. Before we do too much damage we must start to realise that we need the support and help of others.
Perhaps you are shy or you struggle to ask for help. I get you. It is hard sometimes. But isolation and loneliness is far far worse than the awkwardness you feel when you put yourself out there and ask for assistance. It’s not always about needing someone’s help, you might just need someone to be there with you. Community is not always about doing things for others. We gain immense support from simply having someone around to share the moment with.
Community is also about working towards a common goal. Think about the last time you shared a creative project or worked as a team to produce something. It feels good to co-create something and for there to be a shared goal that everyone participates in reaching.
It’s not always easy to work with other people. We tend to fixate in our ways of doing things. We forget to be open to other ways of being and doing. It is easy to get frustrated when we feel someone is impinging on our way of going about a task. The following guidelines will help you figure out how to think communally in a way that hopefully protects you from fatigue and frustration.
- Know yourself
What kind of a community member are you? Before you think about what others can do for you or what your community is going to offer you, think first about yourself and what you can offer the community. What are your skills and your assets? What can you offer? What do you not feel comfortable doing? In which contexts can you insert yourself and will you be able to withdraw yourself if you feel unsafe or abused? Giving of yourself is splendid but not if it is at too high a cost. This is all about getting in touch with your own boundaries. If you know yourself and you know your boundaries then you can enter into a community or offer yourself in a way that benefits the whole but is safe and comfortable for you.
- Choose a community
Every single one of us is a member of a community. Whether it is your family, your friend circle, your work team, or a sports team; communities are everywhere we look. A community is a group of people who have something in common. If you feel you need to branch out and find another community then by all means find some place new to feel that sense of belonging and shared experience. When I was in Berlin I joined some Facebook groups and even went to a meet up or two because I was looking for a community to belong to. The Internet is actually a great resource for finding like-minded people out there. My suggestion would be to take it to real life if you can because then you can offer each other something in a physical space and that might heighten the experience. You can start by recognising the communities to which you already belong. Ask yourself what you give and get in the community and what shared goals and practices you and the other members participate in.
- Share it
Perhaps you love wine and you would like to start a wine club so as to share your passion with those around you. Or maybe your contribution to every gathering is to bring a bottle of wine to share. No matter how you contribute, I am sure that you are bringing something to the party (so to speak). The key to any great community activity is the act of sharing. It doesn’t always have to be about sharing in the good parts. Sharing to cook a meal (and washing the dishes) is just as rewarding as sharing in the eating. Think about how you can create communal activities in your life. Are there things you hate to do alone? Make it into a communal activity! Additionally, if you have too much of something, share it. I once grew a whole lot of rocket. Now, there is only so much rocket one person can consume. It gave me such joy to create little packages of rocket to give to my friends and family, especially because I hate to waste. So find something you can offer or offer your labour and help contribute to the making of something. I know a lot of people love going to the Afrikaburn festival each year because it encourages community. How can you bring in these communal elements into your daily life?
One of the most essential elements of any community is working towards a common goal. This goal needs to be something all members need or desire and something that requires the work of more than one person. When we work towards a common goal we have to rely on others. This might not always be easy because we spend a lot of our time in isolation, working on projects alone. The biggest thing that gets lost when we are not in community is our ability to communicate. We forget how to find a way of expressing ourselves while respecting the other. This is especially tough if we have a different view of how things should be done. Learning how to share ideas and how to express oneself in a group is key to community involvement. It takes patience, courage, and the ability to listen and give space for the other. These are all difficult, life-long lessons. So first step in this process is to forgive yourself immediately for not being perfect at any of those things. You are allowed to struggle with this. The struggle is part of it. Feel your feelings. Trust your experience and honour yourself while staying open to the possibility of other realties. To be in community we cannot wish to dominate the other. True leaders don’t force their way onto others. Learn to notice the natural give and take that occurs, just like the ebb and flow of nature.
It doesn’t matter if you win or lose. There will be moments when you don’t feel any closer to reaching your goal. There will also be moments of sweet sweet success. There is no greater joy than the joy that is shared. There is something so unbelievably gratifying about putting in collective effort and seeing the fruits of your labour. My advice to you is savour these moments. Collective energy is a natural high. Feel it pulse through you. Don’t let the moment go by uncelebrated. If you feel something, say it. If you feel gratitude, say thank you. If you feel excited, shout it out. There is so much to offer someone else just by being there and offering your positive energy.
- Express difficulties
One of the worst mistakes you can make is to believe that sharing your pain, your struggles, or your challenges makes you weak or less valuable to the community. One of the things that alienates us the most is the belief that we are alone and that our struggles are not shared. If you can own your feelings and be brave enough to voice your pain, you WILL discover that you are not alone. We all have pain. We all have worries. Community life should allow for the expression of pain. Choose communities where you can feel this and reject those that make you feel shame. And if you see someone else is hurting, make an effort to show them you’re there. You don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to say anything. You don’t have to fix the problem or give answers. Just be there.
Please feel free to add a comment or to write to me on social media. What communities do you belong to? Have you had a recent experience of community that you’d like to share?