Soul-Nourishing Gifts of an Accidental Tribe
I’ve told this story so many times in conferences and workshops over the years, I can’t believe I haven’t shared it here in Pathways until now. This is the story of why I am passionate about creating community. Here it is.
When I reach down into the core of my being to examine my passion for community, I find a bejeweled memory that is more of a feeling, or essence, of something I experienced firsthand in childhood while sitting at the feet of my mother’s eight sisters snapping beans for canning, sorting and passing down clothes from my older cousins, playing with my new baby cousins and listening to adult discussions, sometimes over my head, but centered around how best to care for children and homes.
In the small community of my mother’s biological family, I had many mothers ready to care for me, which they did many times during my childhood. A trust in others, and this world, was placed in my being through their care and commitment to one another…and it is still there.
Looking back, there were signs all around me at that time that the world was changing, and quickly. I remember examining the loose stitching and thin material of a size-seven girl’s dress in the new K-Mart and deciding I preferred my mother’s home creations; going to a new “burger” restaurant and enjoying the truck-bed ride with my cousins more than the dry sandwich; discovering that store-bought pickles missed the flavor of the joy of preparing them; and listening to my paternal grandmother say that my grandfather would not be “doing trade” with the new and novel “grocery” store in town, as their produce didn’t pass his inspection.
By the time it was my turn to have a baby, the memory of a tribe of mothers and fathers to care for me was only that, as many of us did what nearly 75 percent of the U.S. population now does every five years, on average: We moved away. The first six months of my premature son’s life were spent indoors, battling severe exhaustion from an extended hospital stay, early induction, colic, undiagnosed dairy allergies (for my son) and unbelievably, teething that began at eight weeks like popcorn (a family tradition on my husband’s side, his father later told me). I was a modern woman, right? I could figure this out and push through the peanut butter days with my supportive husband for relief in the evenings, right?
Sitting alone on my sofa, nursing my premature son with CNN on in the background for company, I was too tired to name the thing that wasn’t right with this unforeseen scenario, but I could feel it in my gut. Something was very, very wrong…
As I have shared in many conferences and workshops over the past 15 years of holistic parenting advocacy, while I gave birth to a baby in December 1997, I did not become a mother until my son was 7 months old, after a woman I met in a Lamaze class invited me to attend a meeting in a park of mothers who were interested in “natural” living. It was a ridiculously long ride to get to the meeting, 25 minutes glancing at my son in the mirror set up in his car seat. But my curiosity, and probably that core essence in my gut, led me out of my isolation and to a large circle of radiant women sitting under tall Virginia pines in a public park.
In July 1998, I sat on the ground in a circle of 25 or so women and shyly turned away to nurse my son. What happened next is the truest thing that has ever happened to me: When I turned back to the group of women, finally relaxed and ready to be present, something held tight and low in my being unraveled—a knotted, ancient grief that released in an instant. While watching a 2-year-old bolt through the middle of the circle and plop on a welcoming lap beneath the bouncing breasts of a woman casually holding up her shirt, I felt a sensation above the top of head opening, expanding and then…POW! I got The Download. “Oh,” I thought to myself. “I’m a mother! Did anyone else feel that?”
I looked down at my son as if for the first time, with new eyes and a new understanding. I knew. I knew things that I did not know until that moment. Who I was. Who he was. Who we were together, inseparable, bonded and one. With the immeasurable support of this circle of women (and men) intent on exploring wellness and making informed choices for themselves, I was empowered to create a foundation of joyful wellness for myself and my family over the next few years that would last us our lifetimes.
And that is why I am passionate about creating community. I have yet to tell this story in a group and not choke up at the memory of it. (I am writing this now at my kitchen table 15 years later and still, predictably, verklempt!)
Over the years, after I’ve shared this story, many people would come up to me and say things like, “Oh, you need to read the physicist David Bohm’s work on how information gets transferred through quantum downloads in groups.” Others have quipped, “Monkey see, monkey do!” Back then I thought, “Who cares? I got just what my son and I needed, right when we needed it!”
Today, with the hindsight of 15 years of activism for holistic parenting, I am more curious about the insights and practical possibilities of quantum physics suggested by human consciousness research, especially as it relates to creating family wellness (and it does; see our feature on page 10). In Pathways, we explore this emerging science and its relationship to wholeness (what we are naturally) and healing (how we become whole again).
Clearly, something big is unraveling and downloading in many of us—so many, in fact, that social scientists Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson have a word for us: Cultural Creatives. In 2013, Cultural Creatives are becoming more sophisticated about finding each other and engineering our own brand of community. That circle of women I joined in 1998, as we lugged our treasured lending libraries around in our car trunks? That collection of families grew up to become the nonprofit Families for Conscious Living, and its legacy lives today in the core insights of more than 300 international Pathways Connect Gathering Groups.
Dr. John Edwards of Cape Coral sponsors the South West Florida Pathways Connect Group. On Earth Day, April 20, 2013, the group is hosting a statewide event, engaging hundreds of families about the conscious-choice message of Pathways. Visit greenfamilyexpo.org to read about their keynote speaker, Ina May Gaskin, and all of the day’s events. photo by Erica Sharp.
How do we find each other? Through every electronic means possible, sure, but the real social aggregate might surprise you. As Robin Grille, author of Parenting for a Peaceful World, shared with us in Pathways Connect’s December 2012 orientation and training class, “We are like herds of animals traveling the savanna, and we find each other at the watering holes of shared core values. But when we meet, we find that our ability to connect easily is undeveloped. We end up glancing at one another across the watering hole, wondering what the next step is.
“Intentionally creating connection can feel like asking someone to dance for the first time. It can be awkward, but it can be done, and the rewards of dancing together are worth it. When we connect and commit to each other, we become an ‘accidental tribe.’” (Pathways Connect Gathering Groups can find this in-house, audio recording on the materials page of the website.)
Bill Kauth, a psychotherapist and co-founder of The Mankind Project, has studied the ins and outs of creating community for decades. In their book, We Need Each Other, Kauth and his wife, Zoe Alowan, write, “Most research indicates that when we ask people what they really want, they always say love, family and a community of friends. It’s what we all want. Given this deep hunger for community, why is it not available, and how might we open ourselves to the community we have been longing for?
“Why is it so hard? The answer is that our current culture conveys the message that we do not need each other. The truth is, we do need each other…. Social, psychological, political, and economic design factors are all in play here. As I speak with fellow elders, we recall a once-vital sense of community that has been lost. And it is lost forever. We can’t simply go back to what we remember. Our circumstances have evolved well beyond that. We must create something as yet unknown….
“Most people are willing to unplug from the system only when they see repeated examples of a better way to live. They need to see a workable alternative and feel invited to walk toward something better, not away from something bad. Those of us who are already, as Gandhi said, ‘becoming the change we want to see,’ might just be the inspiration for those who follow.”
Kauth is right: We can’t go back, and honestly, who would want to, and forfeit the wisdom of our experiences as individuals and societies? Going backward is not what we’re being asked to do or want to do as Cultural Creatives. Instead, we go forward. But how do we get past the initial hurdle of awkwardness and onto the connection and fun of an accidental tribe?
After searching for and then working with a communication specialist to create a program for Pathways Connect facilitators and members, we are very happy to introduce Meg O’Shaughnessy and The Heart of Listening! In The Heart of Listening, Meg offers radically simple tools that:
- Tune us in to our own heart’s innate intelligence
- Deepen our capacity to listen with fresh ears and an open heart
- Empower us to express ourselves from a deep place of self-connection
As Meg says, “Compassionate Communication invites us to come home to our own aliveness and self-connection, opening us to increased clarity, calm, empathy and receptivity in every interaction. I hope you’ll join me on this journey to discover a new energy of connection in our listening and a freshness and confidence in our heart’s expression.”
Each month, in Pathways Connect Heart of Listening teleconferences, Meg will highlight a diverse array of practices—from nonviolent communication to Heart- Math’s heart breathing—that create a safe atmosphere of respectful understanding between gathering group members.
The new Pathways Connect Orientation and Training Program includes ongoing classes as well as special presentations from many of the authors and activists featured in the pages of Pathways. Who knows? Perhaps, as Pema Chodron says, things fall apart so they can fall together again. Our ancestral avenues for building connection through biology and geography are, for the most part, no longer possible. But they are also no longer obstacles.
Perhaps the community we intentionally create with the dynamic new understandings of heart communication, quantum-physics wisdom downloads, and “monkey see, monkey do” antics in our accidental tribes are just the gifts our children and our children’s children want us to pioneer and model for them. Maybe, as Kauth and Alowan write, by courageously taking up the challenge of creating community, we are giving ourselves and others something to run toward, instead of away from.
Oh! Did anybody else feel that?
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #37.
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