“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” -Gandhi
I learned something important the other day as I was on my way home from a week away making sales visits across the frozen plains of the East Coast. It had been a challenging trip of flying and driving, driving and flying, staying in hotels and eating alone. I was sad and lonely. I was questioning the very premise of what I do. I was so in need of a friend. And while I am now committed and mostly capable of befriending myself, I realized how vulnerable it makes me to be without community. A brief meeting with a pilot, waiting for a plane reminded me about Charles Eisenstein’s video on Sacred Economics when I got it… Community can only be born out of feeling our need for each other. This is the root of many of our deepest problems – that we have largely un-learned this most basic truth about our survival- that we do in fact need each other.
Need is a tricky emotion to hold and move toward. I have a lot of old shame about the neediness that grew up in me in my family that was broken long before the divorce finally came when I was 13. I came to almost every friendship with a need that was palpable. I ached to belong, and was terrified of being excluded. I craved being part of something, anything where I had a place. But as it often happens with intense personal need, the more we crave, the more it eludes. I still remember when my first therapist planted the seed of an idea in me, that we have the opportunity to make a family for ourselves in the absence of one. I dedicated decades to cultivating relationships with friends who I always wanted to call my best, so they could be part of this new family of mine. I was blessed, I made a community of friends who could stand by me in my fierce neediness and show me how to tend my own needs.
This ability to hold your own needs is important to making community out of a sense of shared needs. People congregate around needs that they feel part of and that they can contribute to. I have initiated two positivity projects with the goal of creating community and have learned a lot about what it takes to engage people in a meaningful and lasting way in work that belongs to everyone and yet no one individually. The first project at my kids’ high school was founded following the tragic deaths of a couple of students. We started the Positive Change Club with the goal of renovating a central courtyard into a Positive Change Memorial Garden.
Many times during this project, I carried the needs of it alone. I didn’t know how to let go sufficiently to allow other people to take the lead. I had to learn over and over again how to pay attention to the community that was there, instead of lamenting what was missing.
The lessons of letting go helped make the second project that spun out of the Positive Change club a true community effort. Positive Community Cures Kitchen, engages teen chefs to make organic meals for cancer patients. So many volunteers are involved to accomplish the feeding of ten families per week it is mind boggling. But the sense of belonging to something bigger than oneself is palpable every time you walk into the bustling kitchen. Making communities work starts from being able to witness your own needs for belonging, and then being willing to feel the needs of others. The same is true about our most important personal relationships, intimacy and connection thrive when we don’t focus on our own needs, but rather when we can hold our own needs sufficiently to attend to the needs of the relationship. Amazingly, it is in looking outside ourselves, participating in something bigger than yourself, allowing yourself to feel the needs of others around you, this is how we meet our deepest and most abiding need to be seen, to belong, to be loved.