Ep 10 My Love Story Part 3 (The Importance of Community)

I wasn’t actually planning on doing a part 3 to my story, but after the questions that I have been getting I think there is an important focus I would love to address.

You hear me over and over on this podcast state that my journey to unconditional love has required me to let go of seeking love outside of me and to find the love that exists inside. The love that is everlasting and always present in each and every human if we can but let go of the judgements and egoic mind that block our awareness.

While it has been crucial for me to go inward for love, what does this mean in context of community? Especially if you find yourself going through any type of challenge in which you feel isolated and alone? I’m looking forward to going deeper into the need we all have for belonging and community.

As always, before we start, I invite you to join me in a short three breath meditation to settle in to your own heart.

While my last episode focused on the rejection and judgment that I have felt in my journey, I have to also bring attention to how important community has been in my journey as well.

When I first stepped away from the high demand high control religion I had been born and raised in, I had a pivotal conversation with a concerned family member about the importance of community. She asked me what I was going to do if I was distancing myself from the core community I had been part of my entire life. This is a massive fear people face when leaving or watching those they love leave. And for good reason. Community is essential to our survival and ability to thrive.

World renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow, in his iconic pyramid of the hierarchy of needs lists the need for love and belonging just above our needs for safety. It’s that important to our life.

I will forever be grateful to those who have been my support through this traumatic journey. First and foremost is my amazing team. Kristi, Brittany, Aubrey, Kathleen, and Valerie. Not only have they literally kept my entire business running–often times without me, they have shielded me from hurtful emails and messages and valiantly taken on the responsibility to respond to each and every person who has sent me any type of message–kind or not–with a loving and generous response.

While it often felt like I was rejected or misunderstood by the majority of people in my life, three close friends provided constant support. Kristi, Brittany, and Robyn.

Two of them are still in the church and one of them left about a year before I did.
Two of them live far away from me so their support has been virtual.
One of them lives close by and her support has been in person.

They have all been a listening ear.
They have each held space for me without judgment.
None of them have ever tried to influence my decisions or tell me what to do.
None of them have ever tried to sway my beliefs or convert me to their way of thinking.
They have only loved me and honored my journey. They are all rockstars.
I don’t know what I would have done without their friendship and support.

My friend who lives close by and is also still in the church, invited me to attend the local Buddhist Sangha with her. This introduced me to a whole new community of people. We have attended weekly together for the past year and I will love her forever for consistently inviting me to a community experience that feels safe and accepting to my spiritual path.

The Buddhist Sangha here is super casual. We meet in a house owned by the Universal Unitarian church and the sangha rents the house out on Monday nights. People come from many backgrounds and beliefs. There are no official Buddhist monks or nuns officiating, rather it is a secular practice of Buddhism. We meditate together and there is a rotating group of volunteer teachers who take turns teaching on a mindfulness topic and we discuss and share insight as a group. Every week I leave feeling like my heart has exploded in love.

Three small things that have impacted me from the Buddhist Sangha…

First, is the tradition of bowing in respect after anyone shares a comment or asks a question. We put our hands together in prayer pose at the heart, and bow. It’s akin to the yogic tradition of bowing and saying Namaste–which translates roughly to “the light in me honors the light in you”.

The amount of bows in a single night at Sangha is A LOT. At first observation I thought it was excessive, until I tuned in to the spiritual meaning, and now every time I do it my heart bursts with love. It is a practice of radical inclusivity and belonging. Even if you don’t agree with someone’s point of view, we bow in respect and honor the light within them that connects to the light within ourselves. Because it is the same divine light. We are one. The diverse people and insights shared every week have taught me so much. There is no correlated curriculum, and no dogma of only being allowed to think or believe in one certain way. Questions are encouraged and welcome and there is no one right answer. All people are respected and valued.

Second, is the ability to sit with what is. Most weeks we go around the room and introduce ourself and share an internal weather check in. What is your current state of being? I hear everything from “grateful to be here”, to “feeling anxious” “feeling grief” “feeling happy” “feeling worried”. It’s across the spectrum. And if anyone shares what we have learned to label as a negative feeling, there is no need to fix the person or see it as something that is wrong. We bow and honor that we all experience our own internal weather. Sometimes we feel sunny and sometimes we feel stormy or rainy. It’s so refreshing to accept whatever is without having to apologize or pretend that everything is sunny when you actually are experiencing a hurricane inside. Everyone will simply sit and be there with you and not make it wrong. It just is.

Third, is the closing chant that is repeated at the end of Sangha every week. One person will read the words and then the rest of us will repeat the words. Those beautiful words are:

May all people, without exception, find happiness..
May all people, without exception, be free from suffering.
May all people, without exception, dwell in peace.

Every time I hear it I am struck by the same four powerful words…

All people without exception

Radical inclusivity. How can you get more inclusive than all people–without exception?

Our minds make exceptions all the time for those we don’t wish good things upon, whether that includes ourselves or people we judge as undeserving. It is such a beautiful phrase to help us return to oneness instead of separateness.

In addition to Sangha, I have been attending my local yoga studio 5-6 times a week for the past year. I love the new friends I have met and have had some treasured experiences there with the people. While most classes I attend are yoga flows, one class is a yoga meditation and philosophy class. Those classes have been such a gift to my life and my feeling of community. These are my people.

While those communities are in person, I’ve also joined new online communities. Every New Moon and Full Moon I join in ceremony with women all over the world who are practicing ancient Earth based traditions. Those ceremonies have been massively healing and supportive to me and I love connecting with Mother Nature and her seasonal cycles. We celebrate the equinoxes, the solstices, and the midpoints inbetween. We relate all the symbols of nature to our own life and set intentions for what we want to nurture and let go of the things that are no longer serving us.

I also joined an apprenticeship with Miguel Ruiz who is the Author of the classic book The Four Agreements. He is a descendent of the Toltec tradition, which is an ancient Native American practice that originated before the Aztecs in Mexico. We meet regularly and discuss the Toltec philosophy and I am excited to travel to Mexico in a few months to journey through the pyramids of Teotihuican with his family.

I’ve met so many amazing and diverse people in these online communities from all over the world. Humans are so rad!

I should also mention two more online communities that have supported me. I spent six months in a Faith Expansion support group led by an amazing therapist. When that concluded I joined a Faith Deconstruction and Reconstruction group led by a spiritual director. Both have been very healing and helpful in addressing the trauma of leaving a high demand high control religion. It’s one thing to happily go explore spiritual traditions all around the world, and quite another to process all the trauma from 40 years of dogma. The combination of both has been really balancing for me.

I have long had a desire to explore spiritual practices all across the world and I have been so delighted and fulfilled in being able to gather treasures from what the world has to offer. It has been so expanding to my heart and my world view.

We need community. All people–without exception–need community. We cannot survive without it. We are programmed to need each other.

The most healthy communities are ones that provide safety to be yourself and safety in asking questions. I would also add that the most healthy communities are the ones that teach from a place of love and inclusion rather than a place of fear and exclusion.

Community is really two or more people in relationship with one another. Our families provide community, our jobs, our friends, our faith, our village, our country, and beyond. On a macro level, all of us humans are in community because we are all connected. Some of the micro communities that make up the macro are healthy and some are not.

I have always loved the analogy of the physical body as it relates to our human community. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul teaches that we are all part of the Body of Christ. While some apply this image only as an exclusive community for those that believe in the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth, I believe this image is meant to be far more inclusive…yes, to include all people–without exception.

In 1 Cor. 12 Paul describes how just as a body has many parts, they are all part of one body.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.

16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.

17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?

18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.

19 If they were all one part, where would the body be?

20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”

22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,

24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,

25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.

26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Such a beautiful imagery of the entire human race. All people without exception.

Just as our own human bodies can suffer from an imbalance or dis-ease, it affects our overall wellbeing. “When one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”

While it is not likely or desirable that all humans will ever think and believe the same, it’s important to remember we are still part of one body. When any human anywhere on the planet is suffering, it still affects the whole. And when any human on the planet is healing, this too affects the whole. We are all all connected and so advocating for healthy communities of love wherever you may be, is important to the overall health of all humanity.

Last month I went to a Holotropic Breathwork class offered for the first time at my beloved Yoga Studio. I really didn’t have a clue what I was in for. I love using breath as a practice to regulate my nervous system and so I signed up ready to be led by an expert.

Holotopic breathwork is a practice that involves controlling and quickening breathing patterns to influence your mental, emotional, and physical states. What happened in that class was life altering for me.

I was in a room with around twenty other people. Before beginning, she taught us how healing it is to do breathwork in community. We often try to heal in isolation, but she reminded us that we are all connected. She also told us that there was a high chance we would cry, scream, laugh, and everything in between. She invited us to not judge ourselves or each other and to hold space for being vulnerable. We were there to help detox our emotional bodies and clean out all the mental and emotional gunk we accumulate.

The lights were turned down low, she turned up the music, and began to lead people through the powerful cleansing tool of breath.

Within seconds I was already crying. So much trapped emotion surfaced for me. Before long I heard several other people sobbing in the room. Which of course magnified my own emotional experience. There were moments I couldn’t breath at all as my body just tensed up in fight or flight to keep itself safe from the emotions I was feeling–which is a very familiar pattern for someone who has been processing trauma the past few years. At a rather climactic point of the class the facilitator had us all scream as loud as we could. Here we were in the dark, in a safe space, people were screaming and as much as I wanted to scream out all the emotion I’d been holding in, my body wouldn’t let me do it. I guess I wasn’t ready for that part yet.

Immediately afterwards, she invited us all to laugh. My mind immediately judged. There is nothing funny about this, how could I possibly laugh? It’s sort of like when an amateur photographer tells you to pretend you’re laughing and you fake it for the picture. But to my utter amazement, I heard someone else laughing, and so I started to laugh at their laugh, and before long I was laughing uncontrollably in the way you do when you’re in utter joy at something so delightfully funny, except there was no joke or funny situation I was laughing about, I was simply laughing to laugh. I was simply laughing to enjoy being a human who has the capability to laugh. It was 100% authentic and not forced. I obviously couldn’t force myself to scream, and I wasn’t going to force myself to laugh. I just let happen whatever was natural and flowed forth. She then had us do several long holds of breath and then class ended with a beautiful guided meditation.

Everyone’s experience with holotropic breathwork is different. What was so profound to me personally, was the feeling of community and connection I felt on an emotional level. I have gone through so much suffering and pain the past few years, and quite honestly, I’ve had tunnel vision. I’ve often been so focused on my own suffering that I have been unaware of the suffering of those around me. People can do such a great job of hiding their pain, that it can be easy to assume that we’re the only one feeling it.

Being in a room with so many other people who were sobbing and grieving gave me a visceral awareness of the suffering of others. I was not alone in my suffering. Not only was I not alone in my suffering with those in the room, but immediately I felt connected to all the people suffering across the world. I felt connected to those suffering on the other side of the world from the ravages of war and poverty. I went from a micro awareness to a macro awareness and felt so profoundly connected to all people, without exception.

As different as we are, we are also very much the same. We all have human hearts. We all have the same basic needs. We all just want to be loved and belong. I left that class physiologically altered. It was such a powerful emotional cleanse on every level. And of course, I’m already signed up to go again for this month. I could just do the same breath patterns on my own at home, but just as the facilitator said, there was something so powerful about healing in community that it is so worth it to me to have the collective experience.

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

We are all connected. While no one is alone in their suffering, it’s important to remember that no one is alone in their healing either. When you take the time to heal yourself or heal your community, it affects the whole human race.

Today in my yoga philosophy class we watched a video about Amma, a living female guru in India known as the Hugging Saint. Look her up on Youtube for a documentary on her life titled “Embracing the World”. She has traveled the world offering hugs. Yes hugs. In the past 30 years she has hugged more than 33 MILLION PEOPLE. The video footage shows her in massive arena’s of thousands of people who come to see her and she stays for hours on end to hug every single person who comes. People break down in tears getting a hug from her and she has the most joyous loving presence. It’s so moving to watch her love people. And the people who come to her are of all walks of life, all backgrounds, all races, ages, genders, beliefs… it’s so beautiful to see the healing power of a hug. We need each other. We need community.

And while I teach that we are all love at the core of our being and we need to learn to go within for the love that we each seek… in the end, the reason we must discover the love within is so we can then give it the world from a place of wholeness and help others discover the love within them as well. This helps heal suffering of the whole body. If one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. We are one. We are connected.

A few days ago as part of her school assignment my daughter asked me a question.

“Mom, what religion are you?”

That one question made my whole life flash before my eyes. I saw the 40 years I spent in a high demand Christian religion, I saw the time I spend each week with the Buddhists and yogis, I saw the time I spend with the Women’s circles in Earth Based ceremony, I saw hte time I spend with the Toltecs, I saw the time I spend each day reading spiritual texts like A Course in Miracles, The Bhagavaghita from Hindu Scripture, and the poems I read from RUmi and Hafiz who are Islamic mystics…or the aprocripha texts that were banned from the Bible and hidden away for nearly 2000 years.

“Mom” she said again, thinking I didn’t hear her.

“What religion are you?”

I turned to her and smiled. “My religion is love, sweetie.”

She thoughtfully paused a few moments before saying, “I like that. Can I be that too?”

“Of course sweetie. All people can be love. All people without exception.”

The light in me honors the light in you.


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