The concept of community and my place in it are ideas that have been rattling around and around in my brain for a while now; but especially this year, 2020! Questioning! Experiencing! Doubting! Wondering! Connecting! Isolating! Sharing….. So here I share with you, my story. My thoughts. Bear with me, if you please.
I am personally in a situation where “other people”, my community, is very relevant to my wellbeing. I am being supported financially by the community at large. I am receiving professional and psychological support, and I am also part of a larger yoga community, in which I share, contribute to and receive spiritual wellbeing from. These are only three aspects that come to mind. I didn’t even mention the wide array of interactions between friends, families, teachers, students, artists, performers, audiences; and many, many more.
Actually, when I take a step back, and think about it, it seems like each one of us is a part of a complex web of connection, simply by being, doing and sharing. Whether we are aware of it or not, is another question. Some of the people within this web, I’ll call them “sharer-receivers”, (because we share with and also receive from others), we have never even personally met or maybe never even become consciously aware of. I mean, think about a song you’ve heard on the radio in the background, or an advertisement on YouTube, a law-maker from a hundred years ago, the discoverer of tea, or a book you read written by someone centuries ago. It’s most probable that you will never personally meet these creator-sharers (because they create and share) in your lifetime or even give them and your connection to them a second thought. Well….. Maybe we should.
…And here we go, EXPANDING the mind…. 😉
It’s funny. I always thought that I understood what community was and means. When I looked it up, I found a very broad definition, indicating a group of people with common interests living in a common space. However, this idea of community seems limiting to me and considering the current culture of social distancing and isolation that is developing in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, this idea of community doesn’t seem enough.
My idea of what community means to me and how to be an effective part of it is being challenged to its core, sparking questions within me, like: What is community? What is the function and purpose of a community? Can we exist in isolation? Do we need others? How can I best contribute? How can I be present, when I’m not physically present?
I decided to write this piece because I had an experience which really got me thinking. A day or two before this experience I was inspired to dedicate my personal development and yoga practice to “community”. We, the country, had just been given the news of a partial lock down and I was devastated. The thought of having to retreat again, after opening up to myself and to the world around me broke my heart. In that moment, I felt compelled to be available and present for the people around me, as well as remaining open myself, to receiving connection, support and nourishment from others. So considering this desire, I was curious to observe how I reacted to the experience that I will share with you now.
Early Monday morning, on the 2nd of November, I was on my way to work. It was about 7am, perhaps just after. I was in very good time for my 8am online Meditation class. The first one for the new season in the Yoga studio I work with. Gratitude is the theme for this meditation. So I’m in that space, or making my way into that space of gratitude, preparing myself for my class, for my day, for my week, and as I crossed the road from the train station, a young to middle aged man stops me and asks for help. He was soaking wet. It was a rainy day here in Berlin. It’s not an uncommon thing for people, homeless people, beggars, to ask for money or food. However this guy didn’t seem to be in that situation. I stopped and he spoke to me. His first phrase was that he needs help. When someone asks for help, my ears get bigger. It’s part of my nature. He then went on to tell me his story, how he doesn’t know anyone in Berlin, how he was visiting the city to check out a new job he was starting soon, how he got locked out of his apartment, locking his wallet with his ID as well as his mobile phone inside, how he had been out all night in the rain, and how he had reached his limits and that no one wants to help him. He then thanked me for actually stopping to listen. It was raining at this time, and not lightly I might add.
He still hadn’t come to the point of how I can help, so I asked him how I can help him. He wanted me to lend him some money so he could get a lock smith to open his apartment. I didn’t have any cash on me. He wanted us to walk to an ATM so that I’d withdraw some money for him. Now that in itself raised many alarms in me. His demeanour was friendly. He asked for my name, he gave me his, he even wanted me to go on my phone to identify who he is with his wife on Instagram. He was desperate for me to believe him. He had an answer for everything. He said he would bring the money back to me within 3 hours. I really wanted to help this man. I couldn’t tell if he was running a scam or not. I was also thinking about work and that I can’t stay out here forever. I really didn’t know what to do in this moment. I imagined if it was me in his position and needed help, I would be desperate for someone to help me. But then I thought of my own situation and that if this was a scam and this guy does take all my money I wouldn’t be able to recover so easily and I didn’t want to be in that situation. I thought of the class I was meant to teach and my responsibility to be there and be in a good state for my clients. I really wanted to help him, but at the end of his story and our interaction I decided not to help him any further. He understood that it was a matter of trust and neither of us knew how we could develop enough trust for me to feel comfortable helping him on a rainy grey day like it was, on which we had just started a partial lockdown. The cards were not in his favour. And he was right, it was a matter of trust. I wanted to trust him, I wanted to help him, I wanted to believe that all was going to be okay and that I could help him without getting burned myself, but I didn’t. I told myself that I had to think of myself and what I need. I would often say that’s a good strategy and just like being on a plane experiencing difficulty, always put on your own oxygen mask first and then help someone else. So I told this man, “I’m sorry, I really want to help you, but I can’t. I don’t know you and I can’t take that risk. I really hope you find a way. Find a way!” His reaction was, “okay”. I carried on to work and he crossed the street. I checked to see if he or anyone else was following me. No one was.
What next? Round and round turn the wheels of reflection
It was a weird situation and I don’t believe that it was an accident. This experience has sparked another question in me, “Why don’t we trust each other?” If this guy’s story was at all true, and everyone thought like I did, would he ever find help? I don’t have an answer to any of this.
On the other hand, our current times have moved me to find community in isolation. I am personally a very tactile person. I thrive off sharing, touch and to a certain extent physical closeness. I have, however, more recently found that I enjoy time with myself and so called solitude. To be honest, I’m never really alone. I’ve been focusing on my self-love practice a lot more and it has given me so much. The fact that I am actively giving myself more of the attention I would normally focus outwardly has showed me that I wasn’t expressing as much care and love to myself as I thought I was, or as I could have. Or maybe I’m finding new ways. For me, right now, it’s cooking fresh food for myself daily, having a structure or daily routine, not filling my time with tasks, appointments and events. So basically having time “for me” where I don’t have anything to do and where if I choose to, I can do nothing. This last bit might be like nails on a chalkboard for some of you. But its funny how in so called solitude, I found community. A clearer vision of what community means to me and how I want to express myself in it. As well as accepting my expectations and desires within the group body. In other words, allowing myself to be myself in communion with others in community more fully.
For me, community is becoming a space: a virtual, physical, mental, emotional space where I can be, in relation to myself and others simultaneously. As a teacher, I ask myself, is it necessary to have a leader or facilitator to guide the space, or more accurately, to hold the space. I don’t know yet. Part of me thinks that having someone who can play the game of allowing and being, in order to give the opportunity for others in the community to also allow and be, is helpful and possibly offers a perspective that we’re not all used to embodying. Community is becoming, for me, a space for sharing, a space for expressing who I am. Sharing skills, ideas, hopes and dreams, fears, worries, challenges and ultimately, Love. Being a support for each other. I think it’s good to clarify what I mean by support. Support is not necessarily money, or taking on other’s responsibility. I see support as sometimes, just being there. Your presence is really a gift and it is worth much more than anything you can buy for the person. Sure these material things are nice to receive. But your presence can be a gift you share once and has a life time effect on you, the sharer-receiver, and the other sharer-receiver. A friendly word, a kind look, a hug – virtual or physical, an ear, a shoulder to cry on, an allowing stance saying you can be who you are and where you are right now, I love you, you are amazing. That phrase or whatever honesty you can share in that moment has the potential energy to lift you and the other person up really, really high. There have been countless experiments conducted on the power of thought, and brain heart coherence where intention and meditation have had significant effects on the physical body and our 3-dimensional reality.
The power of love and sharing that love is incredible. And it’s not airy-fairy or hocus pocus. It’s backed up by science and personal experience. I was once at a talk where we were investigating muscle testing and the power of our thoughts. I eagerly got called up on stage and I was asked to say my name. Something I know as true, right. I had my arms spread out in front of me and I was asked to resist the person’s push on my arms. My arms held strong as I spoke my truth – my name.
When I was asked to say a lie, which I didn’t have to share out loud, my resistance to the outside force was futile and my arms dropped like a sack of potatoes! Speaking something other than my truth.
Then the audience got involved. Community. I was meant to say something negative to myself in my mind while the community sent me loving thoughts, positivity and encouragement. What do you think happened? Did my arms drop? No. They did not. Although I was in a self-defeating thinking space, the love space being offered to me by the audience held my arms up. The love I received, without the spoken word, held me up.
What is possible? More questions than answers
When I think of these experiences, my mind blows up with the awareness of the multitude of ways we can be a community and share a space; 2 people in the same room, or 2 people on other sides of the globe. When I think of the inspirational videos, music and other literature created years before I was born that I experience in my present, and the soul movement I feel, it blows my mind to question what time and space mean to a community’s coherence. What community is cannot remain a 3-dimensional question. That is however, a whole other adventure 😉
I may have raised more questions than I’ve answered, but that’s okay. Asking the question is the first step to an answer and creating knowledge. And no matter how advanced technology becomes, I believe that the socialisation aspect (other people), will always be an essential part of our growth. We are built to be together.
The End….or, perhaps the beginning?