“The Sangha is a community where there should be harmony and peace and understanding. That is something created by our daily life together. If love is there in the community, if we’ve been nourished by the harmony in the community, then we will never move away from love”
~ Thich Nhat Hahn
Early in our human evolution, being part of a community or “village” was a great indicator of how likely you were to survive. Being together meant survival, being alone meant death. That innate sense of belonging is a part of us and without good relationships and that sense of connectedness, we simply won’t thrive. We will feel more isolated and lonelier with possible major impacts on our mental health. Communities matter and are the most important social units of our life and are central to the human experience.
So, what happened to our villages?
There’s an old proverb that says, “it takes a village”, used to describe how it takes an entire community of people to support a safe, happy and healthy environment. But, somewhere along the way the importance and meaning of the village has been lost; we’ve lost our people, our support and our communities.
The full quote, which is believed to be an African proverb, (there is also a similar quote from North American Indigenous people) that says, “It takes a village to raise a child”. Whether you are raising children or not, in our more fast paced, challenging times, raising a child, and managing life, has become a more solitary affair and many of us are “going it alone”. Making that sense of community, of belonging, all but gone.
Some of us have moved away from our families for various reasons and have re-rooted ourselves into neighbourhoods where we hardly know our neighbours. We are raising our children, making a living, taking care of a home, maintaining relationships and friendships, making meals, supporting our families and on top of all that, attempting to take care of ourselves. It can feel near impossible.
To further complicate an already complex dynamic, there are those of us who are now also caring for aging parents, sick family members or friends and trying to navigate systems that aren’t designed to support people in a care taking role. It can be hard and sometimes lonely to manage all those tasks and reaching out for help is not something many of us can do easily.
In a day in age where we are so connected, we have never felt more alone. From an evolutionary perspective, we were never meant to thrive on our own. We came from villages and the communities we lived in supported us through every stage of our life’s journey. We would share triumphs, accomplishments, and tears. Everything was a shared experience.
In more communal cultures, all of the day-to-day responsibilities were shared. Some community members took care of gathering or hunting food, and others took care of preparing meals or preserving foods. Some took care of the shelter needs, while others were responsible for making clothing. Then there were those that tended to provide care to the elders, be teachers to the next generation or to support the development and wellbeing of the younger children in the village. None of these responsibilities were solo jobs, but the job of the community as a whole.
As an individual, you needed only to turn to your community to receive the support and comfort required. Your village had your back, in every sense. Each member was looked upon for their strengths, their abilities, and their talents, each providing value in their own way. Our lost villages understood the importance of sharing the load. Perhaps a better quote would be, “it takes a village to live a life with purpose.”
Without our villages, we’ve seen a major impact on our mental health as feelings of isolation, anxiety and depression are on the rise. We are simply feeling more isolated and lonelier than ever before. The bottom line is, we need community. We need a village. We need meaningful connections.
The need for human connection
Many of us as young children may have thought that being rich and famous was the formula to a happy life. Maybe you even dreamed about the mansion you’d live in or the fancy car you’d drive or living the life of a rockstar. We had ideas of what it would be like, but what we didn’t know and that many of us are coming to realise now is that those things don’t make a happy life. So what does?
There is a 75-year-old study that was undertaken by Harvard University, one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history, on adult development. Psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and Zen priest, Robert Waldinger, now the director of that study, did a TedTalk in 2015 titled “What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness”1. In the talk he shares three important lessons learned from the study and some practical wisdom on how to build a fulfilling, long life.
The following three lessons were highlighted:
Social connections are good for us. Loneliness is toxic and it kills.
It’s the quality of the close relationships that matters.
Good relationships protect our bodies and our brains.
Social connections can provide protection, neuroprotection, and security during the tougher times in life. Having someone, or a group to share with, and lean on during these times helps us to be more resilient. What is equally important is that the relationships we cultivate be supportive, kind, and compassionate. The emotional benefits aside, those in meaningful relationships are better able to maintain a positive outlook on life and maintain cognitive abilities longer than their counterparts.
On the flip side, loneliness can pain us emotionally and has been shown to reduce our life expectancy. The same happens when we experience relationships filled with tension, harsh words, and conflict. Not coincidentally, these findings go to the heart of whether you are having your deepest social needs met and things like being supported without being controlled and being recognized and accepted as a unique individual are all vital to a long, happy life.
If this study isn’t enough to highlight the importance of meaningful connection and belonging, there is more evidence to support the need for human connection. New York Times best-selling author Dan Buettner, in his book The Blue Zones of Happiness, studied areas around the world where people live exceptionally long lives. While there are several key factors like diet, exercise and rest that contribute to their longevity, there are a number of other social factors that also support living a long, happy life. These include being religious or spiritual, having a life purpose, living together in multi-generational homes, and having healthy social networks.
Okinawa, Japan, one of the original blue zones of longevity, is considered to be a hotspot for people living extraordinarily better and longer lives than almost anywhere else in the world. They practice a tradition of longevity called Moai (Mo•ai (/mo,eye/), meaning a group of lifelong friends or a social support group that forms in order to provide varying support from social, financial, health or spiritual interests. The term originated hundreds of years ago as a means of a village’s financial support system. Moais were formed to pool resources of an entire village for projects or public works. For example, if an individual needed to buy land or take care of an emergency, the community would pool money to support them.
The term has expanded over the years to become more of a social support network and companionship. Traditionally, young children are paired into groups of five and they make a commitment to each other for life serving as a second family. They meet regularly with their moai for both work and play and to pool resources and to support one another and share in common work and purpose driven activities. Many of these moais have lasted for over 90 years.
Can you imagine? Some of us have been blessed to have a friend or two since childhood, but how many of us can say we have four or five? One of the women Buettner interviewed in his research, at 77 was at the time, the youngest in her moai. She said that it is the deep support and respect for each other and knowing that someone will step in to help no matter what happens. She was quoted as saying, “It’s much easier to go through life knowing there is a safety net.”
We know that belonging to a community provides a sense of support to help cope during difficult challenges, where people come together to help provide their wisdom and knowledge, and to celebrate life’s moments. It’s all about relationships with others and that feeling of connectedness. Especially now after a time of extreme isolation and loneliness caused by a global pandemic these last few years, we are all in need more than ever, for a sense of belonging and connection.
So how do we get back to living as a community and begin the work of rebuilding our villages? How do we find our very own moai?
Finding your village through retreats
Retreats offer a beautiful way to find a village or a community of like-minded individuals, whether that’s with yoga, spirituality, wellness, writing, meditation, or just a moment to simply recharge and refuel – whatever the style of retreat, it allows you to get back to a true sense of community and social support.
Often people go to retreats to find a sense of connection, to connect with those who share similar beliefs and values and to meet new people. They offer an opportunity to learn something new and meet like-minded people with similar interests, know-how and desires. You can get access to resources and knowledge around new interests or to gain deeper knowledge and understanding. Perhaps it’s a way to have unique experiences or have fun and build your network or contribute to a cause near and dear to your heart, to contribute to something positive.
What is unique about retreats, regardless of your reasons or need for going, is that everyone who is coming together are complete strangers. At the start of the experience there may be uncertainty, nervousness and even awkwardness around opening up and sharing, and being vulnerable. Yet, in a very short time, through the shared experience at a retreat, you are able to create powerful and meaningful connections. While many may not see each other again, the power of the shared experience follows them back to their day-to-day, in essence taking a part of each of the participants home with them in their heart. Some of the connections last well beyond the retreat.
To surrender to the retreat experience is to open your heart and your mind. And while many simply seek a getaway, a mini break from the hectic pace of everyday life, they come away with so much more. Side effects of having participated in a retreat include a renewed sense of calm, sense of self, and in some cases, a new sense of purpose or reason for being or Ikigai(ee-key-guy). A Japanese concept that combines the terms iki, meaning “alive” or “life,” and gai, meaning “benefit” or “worth.” To mean “that which gives your life worth, meaning or purpose.
In order to get back to a community or village for yourself, through the retreat experience, it’s important to choose the right type of retreat. You need to choose your village wisely.
Choose with your heart. Look for something that speaks to you and listen to your gut. Do the thing that makes you feel goosebumps from head to toe or makes your heart sing with excitement. As you are choosing, or researching options, be mindful of those thoughts or questions that arise, or those feelings of guilt or worry. It’s important to allow those thoughts to sway you from putting your needs first and stop you from finding your village.
Remember this powerful quote from bestselling author Marianne Williamson from her book A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of "A Course in Miracles, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be?”
How we are rebuilding villages
Our Ikigai, our reason and purpose for doing what we do, is to help build villages for others. To create a safe, encouraging environment where there is open dialogue, support, and compassion. A space where you can deepen your understanding of yourself and of one another.
Ultimately, we are rebuilding villages so that we can be your safety net, so that you have a safe place to surrender, to be held and supported and to be healed.
You no longer have to feel alone, to do it all on your own. It’s your time to find your village, to build your own moai, so that you too can live a long, healthy, and happy life. Be nourished by the harmony in your new community and be filled with love.
Find out more about our retreats and events to start your journey to rebuilding your village www.harmony-collective.com
The Harmony Collective
The Harmony Collective was founded by trio heart-centered wellness practitioners
Andrea Tesolin Embracing Zen Wellness https://www.embracingzenwellness.ca/
Catherine Henry Inner Peace Warrior: https://innerpeacewarrior.ca/
Melanie Groves Metamorphosis Healing: https://metamorphosishealing.me/
Your wellness is their passion and building connection and community for others is at the core of their business. They combine their breadth of knowledge and skills from both their corporate backgrounds in HR, Training, Marketing and Events and experience and training in the various healing modalities including Life Coaching, Huna and Reiki energy healing, yoga and meditation and mindfulness to create unique retreat experiences that support your wellbeing mind, body and spirit.
Find out more about us and our retreats: https://www.harmony-collective.com/