Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: community

Where Do I Belong? Seeking Healthy Community

Here I am still seeking community. And strangely, I was listening to a podcast just this morning about ways to build community and why we should. Loneliness is rough. Almost all of us feel it more often these days and no one comes out and says it. I’ll be writing more about that later this week.

The following is a repost, something I wrote nearly four years ago. I’m feeling defeated and sad. It seems nothing has changed.

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Talking with a friend over the weekend, I found a few things suddenly come into focus. I love the way that works. I listen, I read, I think, and then while I’m saying something over lasagna, it all comes into focus on one point…like magic. My poor friend must have thought I was insane when I stopped in mid-sentence, “Shit! That’s it!”

Belonging to a community can be unhealthy. I know, you’re thinking…she’s lost her mind! We all need to belong to a community! Of course, we do…but, it can be unhealthy. You know that. You’ve probably been there. Belonging to a community is a relationship and some relationships can be unhealthy. When we come into relationships wounded and bleeding, the community probably won’t fix that, unless it’s a community of doctors.

In my life, I’ve always been hunting for a community to belong to. My family, my school, my work, my church, my homeschool groups, they all ended up in the same way. I walked in, I embraced it, I started to feel the ideas there resonate with me and then, at some point, I began to feel lonely. I started grasping at straws, maybe if I became more directly involved? What if I took the reigns here? What if I confided in another member how I was feeling? I became needy to those around me, or controlling, and then I felt neglected and misunderstood. And then I blamed them and left.

Am I alone in this? I doubt it. I’ve heard over and over again from several different ends of the earth, “I want to feel connected.” “I just want to feel like I belong.” “I need a community of like-minded people, but I just can’t find it.”

It made me think, do we all feel this way? Do most of us walk around thinking we’re alone in this world, that everyone else is part of a group, and we are the only one outside of the circle? Several times in my life, I’ve talked to friends from my past (thanks to social media connecting everyone) and found that when I believed I was hanging on to them and their close circle of friends, they believed the exact opposite. They thought that those were my friends they were tagging along with, my church they came to visit, my family they pretended to be a part of. It’s weird how different our perceptions can be of the same events.

So…what makes a community unhealthy? You. You make it that way. We need to start with ourselves, make ourselves healthy and ready for the give and take of a relationship. The relationship will not make you healthy and that’s just what community is, a relationship.

How does one start to make themselves healthy? Look inward, that’s a good place. For me, it was meditation that started me on the path to self-discovery. Ten minutes of meditation a day, helped me begin to take control of my own mind. One “7-day free trial” of an app, led to 21 days, a month, and then a year. That ten minutes, let to twenty, led to thirty, where I’ve happily been starting my day for several years. I never would have believed it would have the impact it has, but seeing is believing and here I am.

Journaling is the second thing. Whether you keep a notebook around to write in, an app to take notes in throughout the day, or sit at your computer tapping out words on a screen, writing can be very helpful to understanding yourself better, even if you never read those words again. There’s just something about writing out words that helps one to organize the thoughts, the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. You don’t need to even write whole sentences. You can draw pictures, make lists, or just scribble. Some of my journals have pages filled with hateful thoughts. It’s as if I wrote them down to let them go.

A long time ago, I was seeing a therapist and the one thing that actually did help to bring about big changes in my life was making note of my moods on a regular basis. She had me get out a notebook and just start making a happy face, a sad face, or an angry face at intervals throughout the day. Next to the face, I’d write a word or two about my activities at that moment. No judgement, no thinking, nothing, just make a note. Happy Face: reading, Sad Face: watching the kids, Angry Face: going to bed. At the end of the week I could flip through and see my mood changes. Was the week mostly happy? Mostly angry? Was I busy? Most of the time, I would feel like my bad mood had followed me all week long, but looking back at my notes, it just wasn’t so. The more I did it, the happier I found myself. Simple and effective. I loved it. Whenever I find myself stuck in a negative feedback loop, I go back to charting like that. And guess what? Wait for it…now there’s an app for it! The one I’ve been using lately is called Daylio. It’s free but if you pay $5, you can set as many reminders to “check in” throughout the day as you want. I like paying for apps like this. I feel like it encourages people to make them. Give it a try!

And finally, for me, there was spiritual guidance. That guidance did not come from a church when I started. Church is just another community, another relationship to navigate. My guidance came straight from God. I opened my bible and started reading, not to understand but just to listen. I started making notes in my bible, writing down questions, and spending time in prayer and meditation. And then I went to reading books about specific topics, bible studies, etc., all mostly Christian based. I’m not sure how these books came across my path. I usually found them through articles I was reading, discussions I had with friends, ads (yes, they come in handy from time to time), and searches for “best books on…”

Some of the books felt useless to me, some were handed to me with perfect timing. All I did was try to keep reading, writing, and praying. I tried to keep my mind and heart open. I still do and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. Finding Jesus saved my life. I feel like he was there all along, waiting for me to reach out for him, and when I did, I felt at rest, saved. I found myself there.

I’m not the perfect Christian. I don’t pretend to understand it all. I do try to listen, and I follow my heart. I apply what I’ve learned in other aspects of my life to my relationship with God. When I feel hungry, I find heathy ways to eat. Usually I eat something good for me. Sometimes I don’t. I do what feels good, what seems right at the time. I learn from my mistakes and I forgive myself when I screw up. I don’t adhere to the dogma of one human church or another. I love my neighbor as I would myself and I love God with all my heart.

Over the years I’ve continued to try to find a community to fit into, one I would really feel a part of. I’m still searching, but now that I’ve really started to know myself and accept myself (with all my strangeness, mistakes, and frailties) as I would any other friend, I know I’ll soon be able to contribute to a community instead of use it. And that means the right one will fall into my lap just as I need it.Do you know your true self? Have you accepted that person as good? Do you love her/him?

An Ambivert? Sunday Repost

I’ve learned a new word. Ambivert: A person who is neither clearly extroverted nor introverted, but has characteristics of each.

You guys! I cannot believe it! Another week has gone by already and here I am, spending most of my morning on the couch with a new novel, trying not to feel bad about “wasting” a day to rest.

Rest from what? Playing? Yes.

I’m a fairly social being and lately I’ve been feeling a bit…stretched thin. I need one day a week to be alone much of the day, with nothing to do but wander around in my own mind.

ambivert

When I opened up my old blog and landed on my post, Sick Of “Community” from September 2018, I knew it was the one I would share with you today. Why? Because I’m still sick of the word “community” but not the idea of it, although my idea has changed a bit.

Here’s what I had to say nearly four years ago. Keep reading to hear my newest thoughts on the concept.

Community. I hear that word every day. I see it in print. I hear people talk about it online and on TV.

“Get involved in your community!”

“Everyone should have a community of people they rely on!”

“Know what’s going on in your community!”

“Community brings people together!”

Ugg…I’m tired of hearing it and tired of trying to make it work for me only because that’s what everyone says is important.

I want to be a part of community in some sense. I enjoy the company of friends from time to time. I like having people to invite over for a BBQ, but is that community or just friends?

What about the past? I’m looking at rural farmers and fur traders, people that lived pretty isolated and only came together in groups a couple times a year at most. Were they lacking in community?

I’ve always had a hard time finding my people. It’s me, not the people. I just don’t feel like I really fit in. The more I try to work in a group, the more frustrated I become. I end up not helping the group or myself. It all seems so futile. Then I started thinking…maybe not everyone works well in groups!

Maybe being alone more will help me focus and create. Maybe, for me, Monday’s here, Wednesday’s here, Saturday’s there, volunteer at this, help this cause, etc., is just too much for me and I lose myself in it.

I’ve never been physically alone for an extended amount of time. The longest in recent years has been a three-hour stint sitting in the car waiting for my son. I read a lot. What would happen if I were alone for a whole 24 hours? 48? I’d like to experiment with that idea in the near future.

And now here I am four years later and not much has changed for me, other than a better understanding of my own needs and acceptance that this is who I am.

In the recent past, I’d begun to identify myself as an introvert. When people asked if I wanted to go somewhere or join something, I’d simply use the excuse “introvert” and walk away. But it didn’t feel right. I do enjoy the company of people, but not all people, all the time. I’m selective and I’ve finally decided that it’s ok.

Are there only “introverts” and “extroverts?” Is there more than a dichotomy? Could there be a spectrum? The answer is, yes. I’m starting to think there are no real dichotomies in this reality, everything has shades and leans one way or another, and nothing stays the same.

Why do we feel the need to label everything anyway? Maybe “community” can simply be the people that you choose to associate with, and those people are constantly changing.

Want to read last Sunday’s repost? Check out Slightly Painful Reminders.

Love & Friendship by Allan Bloom

Love & Friendship book cover on the top shelf almost out of my reach.

Love & Friendship by Allan Bloom called to me from the top shelf of my TBR pile. It’s just the kind of book I need right now, a long and intellectual treatise type of book on sex and relationships.

Snug in the middle of a stack of books far over my head, I didn’t have the patience to go get a step ladder to reach it. Instead, I stood on my tippy toes and pulled a few books off the stack with my fingers outstretched while my husband watched from his office chair.

I could hear his thoughts as I struggled, “Should I get up and help her? No…let’s see what happens.”

I didn’t drop them, not even a single one. So, there! I thought I would. Several times the thought of pausing a moment and getting some kind of help did cross my mind. But what can I say? I’m childish and impatient in most things, so I kept reaching and pulling books down a couple at a time until I got to the book I wanted.

This one is going to be fun. I read Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind, at the beginning of our homeschool career fifteen years ago. Seeing the author’s name is what made me grab this one out of the free book pile back in December and add it to my TBR shelf to read this year.

Looking for a new book to read this week, my eye was immediately drawn to Love & Friendship because it’s a subject I’ve been agonizing a lot over the past couple of years. The past few weeks of having an empty nest have brought it even more to the forefront of my mind.

Once I had the book in my hand, I flipped it over for a bit more information. Is this the book I need to read right now?

“Allan Bloom argues that we live in a world where love and friendship are withering away. Science and moralism have reduced eros to sex. Individualism and egalitarianism have turned romantic relationships into contractual matters. Images of sexuality surround us, but we are unable to deal with the hopes and risks of intimacy.”

Yep. That sounds exactly what I need to be reading right now.

I read the introduction this morning and realize this will be a slower read than usual. My competitive spirit made me hesitate for a moment. If I read this, I may not read anything else this month. My number of books/pages will go down.

Screw statistics! This is where I need to be.

“Isolation, a sense of lack of profound contact with other human beings, seems to be the disease of our time.”

This was published in 1993, ladies and gentleman. Thirty years later, are we any closer to a solution or are we moving further from the sense of intimate community we once created to help us move out of the world of animals?

I’m looking forward to reading this in depth, but I’m also worried that it will depress me further to dwell on how far away from the ideal we have traveled. I’ve spent my adult life attempting to create a better world (in my home and personal relationships) for the people around me. I continue to try to make that circle a little larger, a little more intimate and emotionally close. Is anyone else out there making these efforts?

Have you read any of Allan Bloom’s work? Have you read Love & Friendship? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Birds and Bees

Photo by Thomas Bonometti on Unsplash

Humans are fascinating.

A dove doesn’t look at a phoebe nest and try to make one like hers. A wolf pack doesn’t see a flock of birds and consider flying. Cats don’t see squirrels and think maybe they should try living in a big family of other cats.

But humans do. They look at a pack of wolves and relate to the family structure. They see a bee hive and wonder how they could make buildings as solid. They see birds and consider ways to fly.

Animals don’t attempt to make others live the way they do. They simply be and run off (or kill and eat) those creatures that don’t fit into their ways.

Humans are different.

We try to respect other animals and their ways. We don’t try to make wolves live the same way as domestic dogs. We don’t try to make one kind of bird make nests the same way another bird does. We allow them their space and glory in their differences.

We keep them out of our spaces as best we can but attempt to live in peace with them.

What if we gave other humans the same respect we try to give animals?

Has Someone Changed The Message?

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This picture made me think, but probably not in the direction you imagine.

It immediately brought me back to the movie. Rowdy Roddy taking off the glasses, staring incredulously, and then putting them back on. It’s a family favorite here and has become code for “Are you seeing what I’m seeing?” I love the movie because it fictionizes common human behavior, groupthink or “community.”

I personally don’t think any group is trying to deliberately control the people, but I do believe there are in individuals who want the power to move things in the way they believe is best for everyone. The trouble is there is no “what’s best for everyone.” What is best for everyone is simply allowing people to the freedom to take care of themselves without infringing on the people around them. Just about everyone can agree with that. The trouble comes up when we try to define how. The devil is in the details, as they say.

I liked seeing this movie reference on Instagram because it highlighted something I had just started to notice all over social media and news outlets. These were the words we were passing back and forth to each other the past month, but recently something has changed. This week some are beginning to say something else. Has one of our cue cards changed?

Humans are such community-minded beings. We have evolved in ways to help us fit in and work together. When something changes we generally all adapt and do the same until one person questions it and then some follow that person until there are enough behind him that more feel safe and then we all do what he suggests until someone else questions it.

It reminds me of that “People Are Sheep” video going around a while back where people were in a waiting room, instructed to all stand at a sound. Then when a new person came in they saw it and did it too, not knowing why. I didn’t take it as a negative. It’s just what our instincts tell us to do.

What is it that does that? Are there some people that want to follow and stay with the group, some that are more likely to see something others don’t, and some that simply don’t want to be a part of the group?

Sometimes it does feel exactly like subliminal messages are being sent to the community.

You Can’t Make Me WANT Your Social Gathering!

I had the book “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community” by Robert D. Putnam on my reading list because it was on Mark Manson’s list of “5 Books That Explain Why it Seems the World is so Fucked.” SEEMS is the operative word here, by the way. It really isn’t and he was right about this book! It’s a great read for those that think that social media is what is killing our desire for community. The book was written in 2000, before the advent and spread of Facebook. And he writes about things that have been in decline for the previous 30 years or so. He writes about my generation, the one that seems to have picked up the anti-community ball and ran with it.

The first thing that I found so intriguing about this book is that I have always believed I was in the minority when it came to my feelings about social gatherings of all types. I have never been a “joiner.” I have never wanted to be part of a club of any kind that wants to meet on a regular basis, other that maybe a book club or writer’s club…which also doesn’t seem to exist anymore. And even if it did, I’d be too scared to attend without a wingman. When I have been coerced into joining something, I find the group so desperate for leadership and volunteers, that I feel like I’m on a sinking ship trying to escape with my life. It turns out I am not in the minority at all. It’s more of a generational thing.

It also turns out that a lack of community isn’t a new thing. It looks to be cyclical. It isn’t that the world has always been a wonderful hodgepodge of community involvement and now because of social media addiction, everyone stays home. It rises and falls in popularity, mostly during times of crisis or scarcity. When there is a big war or famine, people tend to group together tightly for a generation or two, then the feeling wanes and we go back to our independent loner natures for the most part.

Weird to find, once again, that we aren’t in the throws of end times, but merely experiencing a low in the natural cycle of humanity.

There is one problem that I see becoming prevalent. Humans have a natural hormone response to being near each other, it doesn’t work through the computer. Bonding with and caring for others doesn’t happen through pictures and written words the same way it does through interpersonal contact. Is social media bringing us closer? In some ways yes, but not if we limit our interaction to online.

We should be spending some time together in a physical way: dinner parties, bar-b-ques, and community projects, are all ways we can build social capital that allows us to trust each other. It makes us happier people. In the past, we (most of us anyway) felt compelled to put in the effort of going to see each other. How else are you going to know what kind of a monster your cousin married? How would you get to know your nieces and nephews? And how would your Mom know you were happy and healthy? But now we have social media. We can see what everyone is doing without actually going. But it shouldn’t replace actual, in person contact. It should be enhancing it.

We can’t blame social media for what’s happening. It’s only building on how our generation has been feeling. It’s escalating our isolation from each other, but it didn’t create our need to isolate ourselves. That is a whole other ball of wax and this book gets into the patterns that have been manifesting themselves for several generations. And it does so without making us feel negative and hopeless at the end!

The answer isn’t more or different government, more voting, social media/internet bans or regulation. The answer is more socializing. And we have to want that ourselves. We cannot be coerced into it or made to enjoy it. We have to become aware that we need it and then seek it out. Personally, I think it’s a cycle we will work our way through all by ourselves sooner or later. Eventually, a few of us will get lonely enough, unhappy enough to want to change things. We’ll start seeing people more often, doing things together in small groups that build up into larger groups again. These things will build trust between us and will open us up to relationships and happiness we can’t get alone. We’re social animals after all and, contrary to popular belief, I think we’re smart enough as a species to know when we need to do something for our own immediate good. Those that aren’t and don’t have friends and family to pull them along, won’t make it. Evolution is alive and well.

The whole time I was reading this book, I kept thinking about when it was written, 2000. What would the author think about the state of community today? Has it gone the way he imagined it would? Does our current situation surprise him at all?

One really funny thing before I end this! I keep notes about the books I’m reading in a paper journal. I keep the journal and my favorite mechanical pencil with the book, underlining passages and making stars where I have a note in my paper journal as I go. While reading through my notes to refresh my memory about this book, I found myself trying to use my finger to scroll up on the paper page! I think I’ve been spending a lot of time reading articles on my phone lately.

On The Road

Campgrounds and RV parks remind me vaguely of a gypsy camp. People come in from the road throughout the afternoon. They’ve been driving from who knows where, from every direction, but they all know to come here, hook up to power and water, do laundry, go grocery shopping, visit with new people, and share stories. It’s interesting to see people doing the same basic things in so many different ways.

After we get settled, we usually take a walk around the park to look at other people’s set ups. What kind of truck do they have? RV, tent trailers, tow vehicles, etc., it’s all very interesting and each has its positives and negatives. People’s rigs reflect the kind of people they are, the kind of traveling they do, but the common denominator is that it’s all mobile, we can all be back on the road in a few minutes.

We talk with people, compliment their pets, ask where they are from and where they are headed. It’s short term community. A friend of mine once told me that camping was just pretending you were homeless for a few days. I thought it was a funny way to think of it, but it’s kind of true in a way. The reality is that it’s so much more. To me, it’s remembering our ancient nomadic past, an echo of our pre-agricultural eras.

Humans weren’t always so sedentary. Before we invented farming, humans used to travel constantly to head to a better climate or a better food source. We owned nothing, we stayed nowhere. I’m not feeling nostalgic for those days, by any means. The invention of farming allowed humans to stay in one place, build communities, and eventually invent the smart phone with unlimited data and excellent coverage, so that we could leave all our stuff behind and hit the road for fun! I wouldn’t change that for the world.

Camping in all its forms, from tents and gear packed in the back of a Subaru to a full-size house bus with a tow vehicle, reminds us that we can live with less than we have at home, that we can pack up some of our stuff and leave. The longer we live in our smaller, mobile space, the more we learn what is really important and/or actually needed.

Staying in the same place, with the same people, while beneficial in many ways, weighs us down. We become accustomed to it, even like it, but we start to think it’s the only way and should always stay the same. But life can’t always be the same. We’re forcing ourselves into a mold we can’t even see. We become bored and weighed down a little at a time and don’t even know it, until something shakes us and then we have to adjust, sometimes painfully.

To keep our bodies reasonably fit and ready for action, most people would say consistent, daily exercise is far better than suddenly having to run for your life. The same goes for our mental health and growth. When we deliberately choose to move out of the familiar space to see new things and meet new people, we waken something in us that we bring back home. It renews our thinking, planning, expanding brain, and makes life better back at home.

Traveling is one thing, but camping and rv-ing are different. Something about being on the road at a slow pace, coming to a common resting area, and gathering for a short time only to move on again in the morning, just does something for me. It feeds a spot in my soul that I didn’t know needed to be filled. I gain so much every time I go out.

We all know humans started as hunter/gathers, but agriculture helped us to stay in one place and thrive like never before. We are more than we once were. We do more. We create more. Camping, maybe, allows us to go back in time and relive the old ways in new ways to remind us what we have. We go out heavy and return light, back to a our home base where we continue to grow long after our return.

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