“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”-Brene Brown
On Friday I wrote about the wonderful community that was created after a yearlong yoga teacher training. This weekend I decided to try a different yoga community and signed up for a 2 day discussion group. It was wonderful to get deeper into a particular topic and have it presented by someone with different experiences and perspectives. It was also great to be in the presence of new people who share a similar path as I was able to meet some great folks. What I came away with at the end of the weekend was that the greater community I was attracted to had to do with people walking their spiritual path in search of greater knowledge and understanding. It got me thinking…WHY do I feel part of a community?
Of course with my psychology background I was particularly interested in the ways the mind was involved in communities. I discovered an article called “The Psychology of Communities – 4 Factors that Create a “Sense of Community”” by David Spinks*. I will comment on each one and how they relate to what I will call my spiritual path walking community (“my community”):
Membership is the feeling of belonging or of sharing a sense of personal relatedness.
It includes five attributes:
1. Boundaries – How do people become members and what are the boundaries keeping others out
2. Emotional safety – By building boundaries and including the right people, you create trust and a feeling of safety
3. A sense of belonging and identification – Members must feel like they fit in and that this is “their community”
4. Personal investment – If members contribute or make sacrifices to the community, it enhances their sense of community
5. A common symbol system – Sharing a symbol like a sports team jersey…creates a sense of community…
The beautiful thing about my community is there are no boundaries – everyone is welcome. I can’t really explain it, but the essence of my community immediately creates a safe place for people to share. I mentioned that in my yoga teacher training it didn’t take long at all for people to profess their vulnerabilities, and I found the same thing this past weekend. People feel comfortable and supported and who doesn’t want that? Definitely the sense of belonging is there because I already named it “my community”! This was something I was actively seeking and I am so grateful to have found it. I feel I personally invest in the community from a time and money perspective, but more importantly because I am able to make contributions to the group. My community doesn’t have just one symbol, it has many; it has shared songs, movements, theories, etc. that creates a sense of membership.
The second element is influence, or a sense of mattering. It has to work both ways, with members feeling like they have influence over the community and the community having influence over the members.
Influence also speaks to the concept of giving first before asking for anything…
Each member should know that someone is listening, no matter what…
And for a community to have influence over its members, it simply has to become a place that they care about. It has to provide them with value that they don’t want to lose.
Yep, I experience this in my community. I feel like I definitely have an influence within the community through contributions I make and questions I ask, and the tenets of the community continually guide me. I care about my community and it has a value in that it provides a place of belonging where I can share, discuss, engage, and know that I will be heard and supported.
3. Integration and Fulfillment of Needs
This essentially means that by joining a community a member gets what they hoped to get by joining.
It reinforces the idea that your community, like any other product, needs to solve a problem for its members in order to make it worth their time and contribution.
A reward might be something specific like an answer to a question or networking. Or it could be something a bit more intangible like a sense of belonging, a support network, thoughtful conversations, inspiration, etc.
Members need to feel rewarded in some way for their participation in the community in order to continue to contribute…
I definitely got what I wanted by joining my community. I was looking for a group of like-minded individuals that were actively seeking to evolve and learn about spirituality. And maybe heal some too. I found all that and more. Every time I participate in anything from a yoga class to a two hour workshop to an entire weekend workshop I experience the sense of belonging and support I was looking for. It is really transformational in my life.
4. Shared Emotional Connection
All healthy communities have a story. Members will have a history of experiences together and the belief that there will be more experiences together in the future…
These experiences form a long lasting, emotion connection. That’s why a community that goes through a crises often comes out much stronger because they’ve now shared a difficult situation, forging a strong emotional bond amongst members.
This factor is believed to be the “definitive element for true community”…
That last line hits it home for me. That is my community. We go through trials and tribulations, we come together to make sense of it and share what we are going through. Sometimes it is just sitting silently next to one another, sometimes it is verbally supporting one another, and other times it is through a hug. My belief is each one of my community members has experienced something that has initiated their seeking of the spiritual path. While we are all at different mile markers on that path, when we come together it is as a unified group. For that I am eternally grateful.
Have you found your community yet? Does it have the attributes described? Do you feel heard and supported in a place of belonging? If not, it may be time to seek your own path. The journey and destination has immeasurable benefits for your mind, body and spirit.