As I write I am on a beach in Thailand and am aware of the faint sounds of voices and guitar nearby. I’ve grown to know and look forward to this sound as the sound of people gathering to sing yoga songs together (aka Kirtan). It’s been happening every evening since I have been here. The first time I heard a familiar chant on the breeze, a wave of recognition, of intimacy flooded me. I wandered over and sat with the group and tears of homecoming trickled down my face. In a foreign country, I found my people (so to speak). I felt like I belonged, like I was a part of some silent extended yoga family where I understood the language and in turn I was understood. I found community.
These past three months of travel have been an exploration of community. It all began with my Mexico retreat where 15 yogis joined me to do some big inner work and lots of yoga. At one point late in the week’s retreat I looked around the quiet circle of practitioners gathered at 6 am for breathwork and meditation and it sunk-in how special it was. How many people would take a week’s holiday to get up that early to sit and watch their breath as the sun comes up? I felt such kinship with these yogis, sharing the common bond of wanting to know more about ourselves. Together we looked challenges in the eye, we overcame fears, we learned about new ones, we looked at ourselves a bit closer. We grew a bit. Or at least I did. I was sad when our group disbanded-going back to places around BC & Ontario, knowing how precious this shared experience was.
FromMexico, I went to Sweden to facilitate two workshops at Veda Yoga in Vaxjo. Veda is owned by the lovely Linda Wikstrom, a true yogi. Her space is reverent and quaint. I offered a Partner Yoga and Thai Massage workshop as well as an Ashtanga based “Planting Seeds for the New Year” workshop. It was heartwarming to reconnect with students I saw when I was there last. There was much yoga conversation with new and old friends on the mat, over tea, over dinners and sitting on the studio couch after hours. All of which fed my soul. It’s such a blessing to feel belonging while in a foreign country.
From Sweden I went to Thailand to stay near The Sanctuary Retreat center hoping to find a community to immerse myself into. I learned alot there through having very clear feelings of not being in alignment with my surroundings (sometimes) and other times feeling completely at peace on my own. From the contrast of belonging to the exiled feeling of separateness, I (re)learned the value of a spiritual practice. We need ways to reconnect to the parts that are always clear & stable inside of us when our external world is anything but clear and stable (which is where yoga comes in). Throughout this sandpaper period, I longed to be around people who value the same things as I do. I fantasized about returning to the welcoming walls of Purple Lotus, of sitting across the table from friends and feeling seen and accepted. I’m completely aware that that street moves both ways. I spent too much time thinking about my own resistance to my surroundings followed by an investigation into why it was so difficult to see the divine in everything and everyone.
Wikipedia says “in…communities, intent, belief, resources, preferences, needs, risks, and a number of other conditions may be present and common, affecting the identity of the participants and their degree of cohesiveness.”
Yes, the role of identity needs to be addressed when contemplating community. Perhaps the safety net of community gives our identities validation. We feel safer to be our real selves. We feel more confident in expressing ourselves. However, there is very little risk in being vulnerable amidst a group that shares your views and interests.
Yet we need that. Community is for personal growth what a wall is for a balance pose. It stabilizes you. It allows you to take baby steps and learn self-resilience and self-confidence. Because inevitably, you fall out of the pose and the wall is there to catch you.
“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
This is one of the happy side effects of yoga. We come to the mat regardless of physical, mental or emotional challenges. It’s enough to show up as you are. The action of showing up implies a degree of self-acceptance. We are saying, “I see value in working on myself, I am worth spending time on.”
A sense of belonging is one of our intrinsic needs. We source it out in the places we hang out in like yoga studios and gyms, where we volunteer or what we “Like” on Facebook and the people who share our hobbies. Community nourishes us on a foundational level.
Exploring opposite ends of the spectrum is always good learning. I often take for granted the comfort and support that my communities bring to my life until circumstances change and no longer have access to them. I miss the studio, the faces and the hugs. I miss being a physical spoke on the wheel that makes the place move forward.
However, I’m betting when practitioners walk into my first class back after 3 months away I’ll be running around excitedly like a puppy who hasn’t seen his human in a while. I’m full of gratitude to have this soft safety net of mutual support to come back to and for all the layers of community in my world.
May I nourish them as much as they nourish me.