Here is a summary of what I talked about this evening:
A number of people have asked if we can have a conversation about how to grow community. Many of us feel quite isolated, and are solitary practitioners, and so quite naturally the question arises about how we can change the situation.
Of course there are ways to reach out to create community, and we’re all very lucky to have the Internet available to us to help us in this regard. We can link up with people all over the world in events like this, and we can even home in on very particular interests that others might share, wherever they happen to be living. For example, I’ve started a private Facebook group for people who have difficulty sleeping. It’s linked to the sleep clinic program that I’ve started, and you can find details about it here. Private forums provide really good spaces in which to share stories, concerns and solutions. Those of you who are following the OBOD course will know that we have a whole network of groups around the world, and any member who wants to is encouraged to form a group, and there are suggestions on how to do this on this page of the website.
But let’s see if we can go deeper. I think the question, as well as being a practical one about how we can grow community and connections, is also about an emotional concern. At heart it’s about the problem of loneliness. In the way we’ve organised modern society, we often feel disconnected and alienated. In the UK, the sector of housing that is growing out of proportion is for single individuals, not families. In response, it’s not enough to simply say, ‘Well reach out and make connections’. The whole point about feeling isolated or lonely is that you feel you can’t. So I’m going to suggest completely the opposite strategy.
Last night I saw the most extraordinary film, The Fear of 13, which tells the true story of Nicholas Yarris, who spent over 20 years on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. For many of those years he fought to maintain his innocence, until – unable to get the DNA evidence examined – he gave up and wrote to the governor asking to be executed. The governor insisted on getting the DNA evidence, and when the results came back it was discovered that he was indeed innocent, and he was set free. So the irony here is Yarris got what he wanted – his life, his freedom – by giving it up, by surrendering. Here’s the point: not that we should give up, not that we shouldn’t fight for what we believe is right, but simply this: sometimes you have to doggedly go for what you want, other times you need to let go.
I found Yarris’s story utterly transfixing – he’s a master story-teller, a true bard. He now lives in Spalding, Lincs, and has recently published a book about his way of becoming a better person: The Kindness Approach. Here’s the trailer for his film:
You know that discovery we’ve all made that sometimes trying to change a situation just makes you feel worse? You’re stuck in a station waiting for a train that is delayed – the more you resist the reality that you’ll just have to wait, the worse you feel. And then you accept it and you immediately feel better. You decide to start chatting to someone on the platform. You start reading something that fascinates you. You start planning a creative project in your head.
Sometimes in surrendering, the completely opposite situation is triggered – as it was for Yarris. The train arrives earlier than expected. You bump into someone who gives you a job. I’m sure we’ve all got examples of how sometimes bad situations have offered unforeseen opportunities.
So here’s what I’m suggesting. When you next feel isolated or lonely, don’t fight it. ‘What you resist persists.’ So don’t resist. Try exaggerating the symptom in your awareness. Often something funny happens – the feeling disappears and you discover it could only exist by virtue of you pushing against it. The technique I’m suggesting is a kind of psychological judo, and it’s used in psychotherapy, having been originally developed by Viktor Frankl, who called the method ‘Paradoxical Intention’.
The feeling disappears because it is an illusion. You are not alone. You are an indissoluble part of the fabric of life. You could not survive for a moment without your sisters and brothers the trees! And that’s just one example. People say, “We all die alone”. My response to that is: You may feel alone when you are dying, but it will be the last time you feel alone, because the moment you die, the illusion that you are separate will fall away from you.
You might well say, “But I know this – I know or believe that I am One with all of life, part of the Web of Wyrd – but sometimes I can’t help feeling isolated and alone – out of touch with my community.”
Well here’s one way you can consciously open to that awareness of connection – through a meditation like the one suggested in the Tea with Philip recording above, where you sense yourself and your fellow meditators gathering in a Sacred Grove. You feel your body merging with the soil and roots of the trees and plants, you breathe in the essential oils, the phytoncides, that the trees exhale. You feel at one with the earth and the sky, the moon and stars, the animals and birds in the forest, your fellow meditators. All this community of life.”
And then, coming out of the meditation, you remember that what you experience in such states is causal – it triggers thoughts, feelings and experiences that affect every level of your experience in life, and ultimately your destiny.