The Comfort of Community

The world is spinning faster for many of us as we look at the events happening at the same time, both Internationally and locally.

I’m beginning this article with a story. It’s one that you might want to read to other people. It seems appropriate, no matter what time of year or situation we find ourselves in. So, here goes:

It’s the old story about a man who had a conversation with the Lord about the difference between heaven and hell.

“I will show you hell,” said the Lord, and led the man into a room in the middle of which stood a very big round table. The people sitting at it were hungry and desperate. In the middle of the table was an enormous pot of stew. The people around the table were holding spoons with very long handles. Each person found that it was just possible to reach the pot to take a spoonful of the stew, but because the handle was longer than anyone’s arm, no one could get the food in their mouth. The man saw that their suffering was indeed terrible.

“Now I will show you heaven,” said the Lord. They went into another room, precisely the same as the first.  There was the same big round table and the same pot of stew. The people, as before, were equipped with the same long-handled spoons. But here they were well-nourished, laughing and talking.

At first, the man could not understand. 

“It is simple but requires a certain skill,” said the Lord. “You see, they have learned to feed each other.”

Take a breath and reflect: what was your experience reading this story? Did it warm your heart? Did the tale make you wonder how you could be part of a group or community where everyone fed each other intellectually, spiritually, or emotionally? 

You probably already have read the scientific findings that people who belong to one or more active groups tend to keep their cognitive ability and overall health well into their later years. 

My Great-Aunt Anna was an example of this evidence for cognitive, as well as physical, longevity. She was  98 when she passed away. For at least 40 years, she had belonged to a group whose members called it the “Blah, Blah Club.” They talked about current events, politics, authors, poets, and anything else that captured their interest. She was a brilliant woman up until her passing. 

You and I, all of us, need to belong. It’s an integral part of being human. One of the Cambridge Dictionary definitions of belonging is:  “To feel happy or comfortable in a situation.”

The question for all of us becomes: “How can I experience some comfort during these times of worldwide suffering, turbulence, and uncertainty?” 

One answer is: “Find communities or groups where you’d like to belong because they allow you to participate in something that warms your heart or nurtures your spirit.” 

However, it’s one thing to be aware of scientific research about the benefits of belonging. Finding a group we’d love to belong to is quite another. One way to go about it is to look at the following:

Where would I experience the most benefit: 

  • A book study group where we read fiction? Non-fiction? Science?
  • A library where I can read to children for one hour each Saturday?
  • A place where I can serve food to un-housed members of my community?
  • A group that shares the same spiritual path as me?
  • A group in which we all share the same hobby?
  • A community that visits convalescent homes and hospitals on various holidays throughout the year?

The point is to find a place where we give and receive comfort, ease, and a sense of belonging from our participation. It’s not enough to simply give because, after a while, we’ll be exhausted. We must also receive some positive energy as well.

You may notice I’ve left out joining a group that follows the latest news. We now possess the ability to hear about world events minutes after they’ve happened. This differs from how it was as recently as ten years ago when it took time for world news to reach us. Twenty years ago, we wouldn’t have seen or heard details about the suffering occurring around the world. 

I remember a client who joined a news discussion group and discovered she was more exhausted at the end of each meeting than at the beginning. It’s easy during difficult times to find ourselves agreeing with each other about how world events are causing us to feel stressed. It leaves us to experience helplessness when we want to create positive change instead. 

A far more helpful, beneficial, and humane approach to dealing with adverse events is to find someplace where we know our presence can make a positive difference. The enjoyment of being in such a group can help us focus on the life we want to create, not just for our immediate circle of family and friends but for people around the world.

When the world around you is in turmoil, and there’s conflict almost everywhere you turn, this is the time for you to find a community that will give you the comfort and encouragement to continue making the difference you want to make.

Here’s to your well-being!

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