In a culture that’s pretty caught up in the game of getting somewhere and collecting a shit load of stuff along the way, there is no shortage of pain, fear and emptiness. We can easily use one another to fill our voids, ease our discomfort, distract ourselves from our anxieties and project our discontent upon. Alternatively, we can align with one another to support our healing, evolve as a culture and make art out of our lives. I feel blessed to be surrounded and held by incredible communities. These ever-evolving communities have helped me build my spine, open my heart and sharpen my mind.
For some of us, there’s not much thought or intention put into who we hang out with or why we hang out with them. It may be that our environment dictates this, like a workplace or neighbourhood. It may be our lifestyle and activities of interest. Remember back in high school when you congregated with others because of the clothes you wore or the dope you smoked or the team you were on? As we carry on through life, it’s not uncommon to build community around our life stage or current context, suits hangin’ with suits, new moms meeting new moms. Connecting with people who are in like places in their lives offers us some belonging, context and support. I’d like to take this further in this discussion and look at what it means to consciously create community, sourced by the intention to further our development as individuals and as a culture.
Building Community as a Contribution to Community
When I caught word that there would be a series of articles written about community here at Beams, my arm shot up like a kid’s in grade school. ‘Ooooh please let me be part of the community writing about community for our growing community of readers, writers and evolutionaries!’
I’m what you may call ‘relationally oriented’. That is, relationships and community are what’s most important to me. I like people so much that I often forget how nourishing it is to be alone and in silence. As a child I reveled in talking to strangers, asked the Jehovah’s Witnesses to come back for dinner and led little revolutions at school. I have often found myself being the go-to person for support or perspective, connecting openly with people that I meet on the bus and repeatedly getting warnings instead of tickets when I get pulled over by the cops. My love of people seems to make me good with people. Being good with people has me attract people; which has me build skill with people, which…you get the point.
It’s important to me that people suffer as little as possible. I now make my living working with others in an attempt to reduce suffering, supporting people in building lives that nourish them and express their own unique sense of purpose. I’m dumfounded that I get paid to have conversations with people about how they can be in their own lives with more freedom and fullness. There just aren’t more interesting conversations.
The more people I truly get to know, be it work relationships, friends or family, the deeper into people’s worlds I am invited, the more intimate I become with the ache of others. I love the ache. The ache for more, better, different; the ache to be seen, met, admired; the ache to move out of pain, to wake up, grow up and make something of this precious life. And so it is in honour of the ache that I am moved to write this piece, to explore what can be created within a community of ‘hungry brains and thirsty souls’.
Community: What can it do for you us?
Consciously creating community asks for intention and awareness. We are asked to hold a raison d’etre; a reason for existence and to make something of this. For those of us looking to make meaning of our lives, press into what’s next for humanity, unearth our potential and offer something of value, building community around us, developing deep, trustworthy and supportive relationships can give us a ton of leverage in realizing these ambitions.
Gathering around shared values, ideals and purpose
What do you stand for? What’s important to you? How do you want to live your life? What change do you want to see? These are all important questions that when used to drive our engagement in relationships can help give rise to an intentional purpose for those relationships and make something happen.
Let’s take a look at Beams and Struts for a moment here. It started with seven, all of whom were friends before; gathering around
passion, ideas, the impulse to evolve and yes, even beer. This site is an example of something happening out of the coming together of a group of people driven by a shared intention. And it’s continuing to evolve, with an emphasis on building community, sharing ideas and expanding outward. There are a great number of contributing writers and this number continues to grow. This site has become a platform for emerging writers, idea mavens, artists and passionate humans who are courageously stepping out to share their values, ideals and leadership. For many of us, this site has opened new doors, pushed our creative edges, connected us with other like-hearted, vibrant souls and afforded new opportunities. For me personally, life has opened up and gotten better since being part of this community.
We are hearing more and more from those reading along in the discussion sections and we really encourage you to join in! This community wants to expand, including you in the discussion such that we can all broaden and deepen our perspectives, as well as the shared space they are being explored within. Check out the end of this article for a specific invitation around joining this discussion.
What’s kick-ass about bringing this kind of intention within a community is that within the collective ‘We-Space’ are a whole bunch of individuals, each offering their own unique strengths, skills and perspectives. This is where the leverage happens. We are suddenly able to accomplish things that we just couldn’t on our own. Something called Group Mind starts to occur where as we riff off each other, shining light on areas that each other couldn’t previously see, a wisdom can emerge that just wouldn’t be possible if we each hung out in our own respective caves contemplating an idea alone.
A dear friend, after stumbling with her words, clearly challenged by how I was being in a particularly neurotic and narcissistic moment, looked me straight in the eye and said “This isn’t who you are, you have so much more to offer.” I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. She looked like she had been kicked in the stomach. Challenging the people in our lives is difficult and takes skill. Perhaps this is the reason so few of us actually do it, or do it well. So often we look upon each other and see the ways in which each other could be or do better for themselves and others. But we keep this seeing to ourselves, or gossip to others about it, or if we do say something, it’s through criticism or sarcasm and thus doesn’t further our own growth or each other’s. This friend, on this day, gave me a real gift. It was hard to hear; harder still for her to say, but it was true. I know that I can count on and trust her to know who I am and give me a well-deserved smack when I disintegrate.
Most of us don’t want to be challenged. When it happens our faces flush, our hearts race, we become defensive, offended, enraged. But aren’t we aching to be better? Don’t we so deeply want something else? I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t criticize themselves, who doesn’t fear failure and rejection. The trouble is that most of us want to figure out our defects and fix ourselves before anyone else finds out. But that’s absurd, because we’re all doing the same thing. My therapist once said that our unconscious is public to everyone but us. Gross. Our blind spots are neon signs to others. We cannot hide them. If this is true, then our communities are goldmines for pointers towards a better self, if we’re willing to face the discomfort, humility and possible embarrassment that come with being challenged.
As much as we may want support, many of us don’t quite know how to ask for or receive support. Building a community around us opens up all sorts of opportunities for being supported in various ways, if for no other reason than sheer numbers. Knowing what you’re up to, what’s important to you and what you need makes a good starting point for inviting others to support you around it.
Consciously building community means that we give up the notion that we’re supposed to be able to do things on our own. This idea is rampant in our culture. A great example of this is around families with small children. Once upon a time whole villages, communities or multi-generational families raised children. These days it’s often mom and dad, or lonelier still, mom or dad. Nuclear families, I have heard them called. Just about every mother I know has struggled with the belief that she’s supposed to be able to run a household, have a career, be a full on loving and attentive mother who cooks nutritious meals from scratch, sustains healthy friendships and keeps things hot with her husband. For some, asking for and receiving support means to somehow be failing as a woman and mother. This is insane.
It was after I had my son that I became conscious of community in a new way. I had a great number of supportive friends and family, but I had no idea how different life would be as a mother, that I would need a different kind of support. I started building relationships with women who have similar aged children. But the intention we brought to these relationships was beyond planning play dates. We looked for ways to support each other in full and meaningful ways. We shared perspectives, tools, food, clothing and laughter. We took risks with each other, asking for support in ways that made us feel vulnerable and even inadequate. I could call any one of these women at 3am if I simply felt lonely and needed an ear. What this support offers is an increased ability to focus on what is important, to see the areas of ourselves that need more nurturing or growth and enough space to pursue practice around these areas.
What do you want or need to be supported around? We can engage our communities to support us around our fitness, spiritual practice, relationships, careers, parenting, money, purpose, creativity…the list goes on and on. But we can’t receive support from others without first noticing the gap between where we are and what we really want and need. We also can’t receive support if we assume that it’s burdensome to others. I get much satisfaction from being of service, from being able to support people in a meaningful way. It’s important that we remember that it feels good to give, that allowing others to support us actually supports others.
Who are you in relationship to your community?
What do you offer others? How do you know? What do you want to offer others? How can you be better for others so that others can be better for you? As we look to build relationships that offer us challenge and support, creating communities who come together over shared values and purpose, there are some ways that we can check in with ourselves, being intentional about what we bring. As we live better lives for ourselves and others, we become leaders for those yet to come.
Knowing your gifts and offering them…
We each have something unique to offer, we have perspectives, wisdom, experience, skills. What’s interesting is that we can often miss our own unique gifts or invalidate their value because it’s just what we do or how we are. I recently ate this incredible vegetable soup that a friend made. As I praised his culinary prowess, he shirked it off, saying that anyone can do it, that’s its simple; you just throw a bunch of vegetables into a pot. What a liar! When I throw a bunch of vegetables into a pot, it doesn’t taste like that! The beauty of this example is that when we’re truly expressing our gifts, it can feel effortless. Sure I could probably learn to make that soup pretty easily, but this man wasn’t learning to make soup, he made art out of food and you could taste the love of the craft!
As we get to know and own what we offer, we can contribute to our communities in unique ways. One of my gifts is being able to really see and connect to people and offer possibilities that may further what they want. And so coaching is an ideal expression for me. I also write…here we are…I can put ideas together and engage you in a conversation. I have been working on getting really clear on what my gifts are and how I can offer them in the best ways. I still doubt myself of course, knowing our gifts and offering them doesn’t mean that we don’t feel self-conscious or inadequate from time to time. It’s about having the courage to look at what we’ve got, look at what’s needed and see if we can fill that need for the sake of the collective.
Caring and sharing…(aka- giving a shit)
Don’t underestimate the power of simply caring about others. When we consciously create community, we look
around at who we’re creating with and get to know them. What matters to them and why? In what ways do they need support? In what ways do they want to be challenged? What can you uniquely offer to support their growth? It doesn’t take much, really. Or it can take a whole lot, but caring about others and showing you care can be a short note, a smile, an offering of something; your time, energy, skill. It is easy to get caught up in our own thing, in our own world and forget the small ways in which we can reach out, connect and be of service.
Knowing and respecting the pain of others.
It has been said that people will do more to avoid pain than to gain pleasure. And so we often find ourselves playing out habitual patterns or behaving in ways that are intended to protect ourselves from pain. We are all in pain in one form or another; we have fears, anxieties, uncertainty, heartbreak and the like. To be able to feel and meet someone in their pain offers a unique kind of support. When we know the ache of another, we are better set up to generate compassion towards them when they are acting that pain out, saying something hurtful or doing the same insane thing over and over again. A person’s current torment can be an access point to better understand their motivations, particularly if they contrast our own. To be on the receiving end of being seen and loved in the midst of
pain can be transformational. Having compassion and understanding for where people are and where they are not will expand your capacity to build relationship.
Admitting you’re an asshole. Knowing your asshole-ness.
One of the ways that I tend to hurt the people in my life is by evading relationship, lacking emotional depth and disappearing (either that or overwhelming the pants off them with my intense enthusiasm and breakneck speed). This may sound like it contrasts to my toting about how great I am with people, but it’s part of the shadow I deal with around all of the relationships that I hold so dearly. I can easily have people feel deeply met, understood and connected to. People feel that they can count on me, that I have their back and that I really care. And I do. But goodness, when I get caught up in something, when I jump on a new project or in a new relationship or am facing a deadline, good luck getting a return phone call, never mind a facebook message! It’s one thing to be someone who’s never really available. But for people who have felt intimately connected to me and then feel nothing at all, well, it’s really painful.
Knowing our habits around how we cause suffering in relationship is very valuable information. We’re all assholes from time to time. We can be inconsiderate, insensitive, selfish, cruel and on and on. I used to feel a lot of shame about my shortcomings in relationship as I truly hate letting people down. But that just made things worse as I scrambled to manage it all. I am continually working this edge so that the pain I cause is less, I am working to manage my speed so that I can attend to my relationships with more tenderness and let people know in advance if I’m about to disappear. Instead of trying to do it all, I will try to be more explicit with what people can expect from me at certain times. And I still let people down. And hopefully those people forgive me. Relationships are messy. We all hurt others. There’s no escaping being an asshole from time to time, but knowing and owning it can move us towards being more trustworthy.
Meaning. Challenge. Support. Passion. Art. Collaboration. Responsibility. Wisdom. Partnership. Courage. Vulnerability. Integrity. Practice. Awareness. Intention. Love. Community… So here’s the invitation:
I know you’re a mess and I know you can be an asshole and I love you anyway. I expect the same in return. Now let’s go make art out of our lives...
While we invite you to join the discussion in whatever way you feel you’d like to contribute, I do have a specific invitation in the spirit of creating community. We want to hear from you! So join the discussion on community by sharing about who you are, what you’re up to, what’s important and the like. Here are some questions to consider and get you started…
What change are you out to make? What deeply matters to you and why? What do you uniquely offer? How do you want to be supported or challenged?
Shamelessly promote your vision and purpose! Link to your blog or site or something that matters to you, I invite you to take a little risk. This world is changing; each of us has the opportunity responsibility to do work that matters, for and with each other. Let’s get going...