It was my birthday party in May and before we all started eating, Briana asked if I wanted to say something to my guests. Unbeknownst to them, I had been feeling a nauseous gurgling in my guts all day, so I was trying to hold it together and was caught a bit off guard. But I looked around at this group of shining faces and said the first words that came to me: “Community is medicine. Thank you for being here.” And that was enough.
Immersion in loving community is deeply fortifying, supportive, and uplifting. Studies show that when a suffering person holds someone’s hand, their suffering is reduced. I think the same is true of metaphorically holding many hands through community engagement. And while it’s therapeutic to be seen and held in our challenges, there’s also value in the way that being oriented to our community gives us a break from self-scrutiny and self-indulgence.
Like eating green vegetables or meditating, sometimes we can forget to prioritize community when we’re busy or immersed in a personal struggle. But as some wise person once said, our community is like our muscles. Besides supporting and empowering us, they need to be engaged regularly in order to stay strong. If you neglect your muscles, they get flabby. If you neglect your community, they probably won’t turn their backs on you, but for numerous reasons they won’t be able to support you as well as they could.
From our book, The Well Life, here are some actions you can take to mindfully build your community:
- Ask people for help – whether it be in your garden, with your taxes, or finding a great preschool. Learn what gifts and wisdom those around you have and give them opportunities to share.
- Be involved. Go to local meetings. Participate. Know your community’s plans for the future – and how you fit into them.
- Know the names of people you see often – the grocery cashier, the gas station attendant, the school principal, the guy who takes the same bus as you every day. Allow them to be real people in your life.
- Make eye contact with the humans you pass on the street. Be the one who says “Hi!” first.
- Protect the green spaces.
- Fix something that’s broken – a neighbor’s fence, your niece’s bike, the librarian’s flat tire.
- Support local businesses – even if it costs a little more.
- Learn about others’ traditions and celebrate together. Look for local festivals to attend, even if they’re for an event you wouldn’t normally observe.
- Stick up for someone – a disadvantaged person or population, someone being mistreated or disrespected, or someone who’s unable to stand up for themselves.
- Be curious. Attend lectures at the library, senior center, or local university, check out a high school science fair, and – foremost – learn what cool stuff people are up to in your town. What are people building? What are they learning? Who can tell you about the history of this place?
I want everyone to have the experience of being part of a healthy, loving, supportive community. I hope you’ll engage with your community today and be reminded of how nourishing it is.