Previously I wrote about how community is like medicine. Our circle of fellow humans goes through this amazing journey with us . . . encouraging us, witnessing us, screaming with us on the roller coasters, and holding our hand when we take our last breath. My orientation in that article was toward what community can do for us, but it’s at least as important to look at what we can do for our community.
I was reading about a Native American grief ritual described by Black Elk, and while the ritual itself was interesting, what stuck with me was his assertion that long-held grief isn’t good for a person or the community to which that person belongs. That is, when someone is mired in suffering, this can have a negative impact on their community.
You can probably think of plenty of examples where a glaring state of imbalance, such as rage or terror, could result in behaviors that are detrimental to others. But the effects of less dramatic, often chronic negative states are subtler. What happens – besides their own discomfort – when a person is trapped in depression, anxiety, or grief for years? One repercussion is that they have a diminished capacity to fully show up in their community. We might think, “Well, the community doesn’t really need me to be at my best,” but imagine going to a place where almost everyone was depressed, afraid, or angry. Such places do exist, of course, and you can feel it as a palpable mass degradation of the human spirit.
These days we may feel that we don’t have any real obligation to our community, which is so different from how humans have operated for most of our history. Today community may be seen as an entirely optional part of life. We can live in near isolation while anonymous members of our community manage the utilities that provide us with power, water, and internet, take away our garbage, maintain our roads, even deliver our groceries. It feels like independence, but in truth we’re more dependent than ever on an infrastructure other humans maintain – we just don’t know who those humans are.
We’ve lost our sense of responsibility to our community. It’s due in part to the feeling that our government is huge, remote, and corrupt. But if our response is to disengage, the situation can only get worse. If anything, the sense of disconnection from our elected representatives and neighbors should magnify the need to do what we can to make a positive difference. It’s not just an obligation, it’s also an opportunity. If we can recognize and accept that our quality of presence affects others, this may inspire us to be our best selves. And it’s not just a matter of what we do but also who we are and how we are. Becoming fundamentally well inside helps heal the community. Imagine how healthily a community of fundamentally well people manages challenges.
If you’ve been struggling, I don’t mean to make you feel guilty as well; that won’t help you or your community. Rather than focusing on the negative impact your unwellness might have on your community, consider that getting well is good for you and it’s good for your community. Sometimes it’s easier to do it for others than for yourself.
Years ago, I read A Course in Miracles with friends. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s a book on spiritual awakening with a section of scripture and a year-long workbook of daily lessons. It’s not for everyone, but I gained some valuable insights from going through it. One of those insights occurred when I encountered this passage: “Lesson 66: My happiness and my function are one.”
Whereas I had tended to think of my happiness as a personal thing – sometimes even a selfish thing – this spiritual book was telling me that being happy (true, causeless happiness) is one of the greatest things I can do for the world. As I meditated on it, I saw clearly that the happy people I’ve known were like lights in every setting they entered. Without even intending it, they had a therapeutic effect on everyone they encountered. Not only did they tend to uplift those around them, in an unspoken way they communicated that this is a possibility for you, too. Happiness is a perspective, a choice. If I can choose it, you can choose it.
Being happy makes us more peaceful, compassionate, and creative. It gives us the freedom to see a bigger picture, rather than focusing on what’s wrong or bad. Even just one happy person in a room full of scared people can change the whole atmosphere – and the choices that community makes.
So I encourage you to consider this week:
- Who am I and what role do I play in my various communities?
- How have I been affected by the genuinely happy people I’ve known?
- What do I believe stands between me and being one of those happy people?
- What happens when I make a conscious choice of how I’m going to show up in a given setting?
- When I give, what do I receive?
- How do I feel when I put myself in service to others?
- Where could I dedicate myself to more actively resolve any unhealthy patterns of thought, communication, or behavior?
- How will I be different as I heal, and how will I affect my community differently as I release my baggage?
- When will I choose happiness?