The Choice to be in Community

by Katie Dutcher

It seems that everywhere I go these days, I’m hearing about community and connection. “Find your tribe” is one cute way of phrasing it that I see on social media. And that prase, while perhaps a bit problematic, does point to the history that humans have of living in groups, of depending on one another.

We needed each other

Perhaps in the olden days, it used to be clearer, this notion of interbeing, interconnectedness. We could see it in how we bartered and traded with each other for goods or services, how we’d join together as neighbors for work: to build a barn or put up vegetables for the winter, and for play: to throw a dance or put on a play. Each task on its own was such a complex and involved undertaking that we needed everyone’s help in order to bring it all together. We each belonged to our place, our community. We needed and we were needed.

As industrialization and modernisation made work and play easier and more convenient, we moved into living in a way that feels more separate, more self-sufficient: each person, couple, or family in their own home, with our own medicine cabinet to help us out, TV and game system to entertain, buying food already harvested and mostly prepared.

When we made everything more convenient, we took away many of our reasons to join together for a common cause.

Let’s also remember that one part of traditional life was religion, with its designated places and times for gathering, for practicing ritual and ceremony as a community. Organized religion offers a group to belong to, explicit beliefs to share, and it tends to mean something to those who practice, if not in its content, then as an identity.

As participation and identification with organized religion has faded, some of us have lost both the coming together and the meaning-making. What we have not lost are our human needs for belonging, for being needed and loved, seeing each other and being seen, really seen. We want to matter, we want to draw close and be connected.

It was a simpler time?

Perhaps this sounds sad or nostalgic; perhaps it makes us want to return to a simpler time. At the same time, of course, the “olden days” weren’t perfect. There have always been those who have felt like they didn’t belong, even in the midst of a tightly-knit community, and the unspoken rules of a small town or a church have felt oppressive or even threatening to those who didn’t (or couldn’t) quite measure up or conform.

So for better or worse, we find ourselves in this modern age. An attitude of mindfulness would say, “ok, it is as it what?”

The Opportunity

The dark side (regimentation and regulation) around community has mostly vanished, along with the bright side (immediate belonging). Now, we find ourselves with a choice— an opportunity to find our own ways of creating meaning, of finding a sense of belonging, of connecting with folks who help us to grow in the ways that we want to grow, to come alive, to feel alive, people who inspire us to show up with more awareness and kindness. We can create our own rituals and ceremonies to bring us closer.

In short, we have the opportunity, and the need (can you feel this desire?) to form our own communities.

I want to be part of a community that is...

Heidi & Elaine creating cozy bonds through Marianne’s Mindful Relating Game, “Curiosity,” at the Waking Up in the Wild Retreat, November 2018

Heidi & Elaine creating cozy bonds through Marianne’s Mindful Relating Game, “Curiosity,” at the Waking Up in the Wild Retreat, November 2018

The word community has its roots in the word “common,” sharing similar qualities, gathering around a shared purpose or intention. And while perhaps in the past communities often tended to behave as if all the strength lay in the commonalities, shunning what was different, more and more, we understand that there is strength, inspiration, and vitality in understanding what we each bring to the table. The strongest communities are those with an unshakable and authentic common bond AND a celebration of our uniqueness.

At our recent celebration of Monterey Bay Meditation Studio’s third birthday, we shared together our responses to the statement, “I want to be part of a community that is ______.” These are some of the statements that arose:

“I want to be part of a community that is loving.”

“I want to be part of a community that is accepting.”

“I want to be part of a community where, however you show up, you’re ok.”

“I want to be part of a community that is oriented toward growth and evolution.”

“I want to be part of a community where there is accountability and compassion.”

What I hear in these statements is a wish for belonging, love, and unconditional acceptance. To be ok, just as we are today AND a desire to be encouraged and supported in our intentional transformation. A look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs puts love and belonging right in the middle. Self-actualization, achieving our full potential, is right at the top. In these statements, I hear a blend of these needs: to offer each other a sense of belonging AND a place to move in the direction of our highest potential. And I have to say, when I heard this, I thought, “I’m in.” I want this, and I’m willing to help create it.

How do we build community?

So how do we do it? How do we create the thing that is just what we need, with the culture and the flavor that feels right? I’m still learning this myself, but I do have a few ideas:

Just show up.

Be there. Belonging depends on trust, and we don’t usually trust what we don’t know. So show up, again and again.

Get curious.

This implies being willing to be surprised, being willing to be in a state of not knowing, willing to express not-knowing, and to listen.

Do something.

Participate. Here’s the thing: community requires responsibility; being needed means that your presence matters, and that is part of belonging. Ask for something. Give something.

Be what you wish to see.

If you want to be accepted, accept others. If I want to be part of a community where it’s ok to be who you really are, I need to commit to showing up as just me, not a pretend version of me. I need to let myself be seen and to be willing to meet others where they are. If we start living as if our desired culture were in place, we begin to nudge the culture in the direction we’d like to see.

Community at the Studio

When Marianne and I started the Studio, I didn’t know where we were going really, like not at all. Even though I see myself as a planner, for the big stuff, I seem to focus on one step at a time rather than a long-term vision. Step 1, open a meditation studio. Step 2…?

More and more, that “?” seems to be pointing toward helping to create a space for those who want to grow, to live intentionally, and to be kind together. It’s important to me that people feel welcome and nourished, whether they have meditated for years or are just trying it out today for the first time, whether they have lots of time and money to invest in mindfulness training or not, whether they see themselves as a spiritual seeker or are just looking for tools to get through the day with less stress. We all belong. If you want to belong, guess what? You do. You matter.

Connection. Compassion. Community. Interbeing. You’re going to keep hearing a lot about this from us. Some of the ways I’m enjoying fostering the growth and deepening of our community:

Conscious Living (a thread of courses and drop-ins),

Intentional Living (a 6-month supportive group)

Partnering with Monterey Sports Center to offer yoga for every body,

Planning free monthly events for our community,

Reading and responding to comments on social media,

Offering yummy multi-day retreats

And if what I said about the community we’re creating at MBMS strikes a chord with you, I can’t wait to be with you, just as we are.

Katie Dutcher