“No person, trying to take responsibility for her or his identity, should have to be so alone. There must be those among whom we can sit down and weep, and still be counted as warriors.”[i] —Adrienne Rich
Sometimes when my heart is hurting, or I am feeling angry, lost, or disempowered, I can feel the tug inside to want to shut down or escape. For my introverted self, my typical pattern has been to go inwards and feel like I need “alone” time. While I honor the capacities that I have cultivated to compassionately tend to and support myself amidst the pain and discomfort I may be experiencing, I also have come to see the ways in which isolation can breed more dis-ease, stagnation, and may hold back the healing wanting to happen.
If you have been following my work for a while, you know how much I advocate for us all finding ways to invite support and connection in our self-care journeys. This emphasis in my approach has been born from the learning in my own healing path; I have come to see that relational support is absolutely essential for my own well-being, even as it often feels quite vulnerable to make contact with others when I am most in need of connection.
While reaching out to a friend, family member, or a health professional can break the spell of the isolation and help create generative, healing movement, I have also discovered the profound benefits of being able to lean into the holding of community.
The Benefits of a Personal Community
I am a huge proponent of “communities of practice,” a term that was coined by anthropologists Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger in the 1980s to refer to communities that engage in processes of collective learning, or “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”[ii] Sadly, these are not all that common in healthcare outside of addiction support groups, so most people have not benefited from all that they offer.
I first came to realize the healing power of this kind of community experience when I was a participant in groups that were not framed around healing. They were about developing leadership skills or spiritual growth. Yet, because I participated in these programs in the midst of my healing journey with chronic fatigue, I saw what happened as a result of being in them.
My energy increased, my nervous system relaxed, my inspiration in life expanded, my clarity of purpose ignited, and I felt myself become more comfortable in who I was and who I was becoming. I felt more alive and at ease in life as a whole. As I observed the other participants, I saw similar patterns (even if there was often a bumpy transitional period in the transformation and growth that was happening).
There’s something almost magical that happens when we are held in a collective where it is safe to be vulnerable, to face and embrace our shadows, and to let ourselves be seen in the raw, humble beauty of our imperfect humanness.
When I talk about a community of practice around your healing, I’m not just talking about any kind of community. There are particular qualities and commitments that need to be a part of such a community so that it is safe, honoring, and truly supportive.
You need to be discerning that the person or people leading the group have done enough of their own healing work as participants to have the capacity to be with people in their raw vulnerability and shame; in the tender, young parts; in the woundedness; and in the golden shadows that are waiting to be revealed. You need to trust that they know how to guide you and the whole group toward the vitality and healing that is in the center of all of that.
In addition, the participants in the group need to be in a place in themselves where they can hold the process with confidentiality and deep honor for having the opportunity to support and witness others in their vulnerability. This vulnerability is woven into every aspect of healing, and part of what keeps us stuck in our capacity to create the change we seek is in not acknowledging the deeper levels of what is calling out for healing.
Rarely does a surface-level habit change result in sustained change without the deeper work.
I am continually amazed how much we can open and shine, and how freely we can move forward, when we witness others, are witnessed by others, and share ourselves in community. The reason that so many of my programs are designed for intimate groups is because members can support one another over time. There is simply nothing else like it when it comes to sustaining long-lasting change in our lives.
The Power of Realizing You Aren’t Alone
So much of what keeps us stuck on our health and personal journeys can be freed up in cultivating an intimate community that is held with consciousness and guided by intentionality. Why? Because we can finally see that we are not alone.
Others can totally understand what we are going through (even if they haven’t experienced exactly the same thing). Yes, we all are living unique lives, but shared human themes and patterns underlie the details of our experiences. In community we are able to reveal and see the deeper layers and witness and love each other into our healing.
This is an excerpt from my new book, The Vitality Map: A Guide to Deep Health, Joyful Self-Care, and Resilient Well Being.
[i] Adrienne Rich, Later Poems: Selected and New 1971-2012, (W.W. Norton, 2013), 128.
[ii]Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner, “Communities of Practice: A Brief Introduction,” April 2013, http://wenger-trayner.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/07-Brief-introduction-to-communities-of-practice.pdf