This blog is the transcript of Episode #53 of “Under 10: A Mini Podcast on Intimacy”. Listen along here.

Last show I explained why communicating in bed is essential for having the pleasure and connection you want. This week I want to take a step back and ask a question that sits at the heart of every growth and healing path: What does it take to truly change?  Week after week, clients come to me to work on their relationship challenges. And week after week, the two of us – or the three of us if it’s a couple – attempt to change what isn’t working into something that is.  It can feel like a long road and often a daunting one. In this episode, you will hear my perspective about the essential role of community alongside personal healing work to right what is wrong inside and among us.

I’ll start with a personal story.

Almost two months ago, while tending the fire in the wood stove that heats our home, I grazed my left hand along the handle of the hot steel door and singed the skin near my thumb.  At the time that it happened, it stung.  But I didn’t think much about it. I applied a salve and it slowly began to heal.  Eventually the skin smoothed, but it left behind a round, purplish blotch that became a scar.  I only recently started putting Vitamin E oil on it, in the hopes of returning the skin to its original hue.  I’ll admit, I judge the mauve colored, mottled skin as ugly. And I wonder, each evening as I apply the Vitamin E, if change might come. It’s so far not visible, at least from what I can see.

As I was reflecting on the blemish on my hand, I realized that the larger project of healing from the wounds and scars left in our hearts by our life journeys is similar.  We may not recognize the problem early on. In some cases it can be years later that we realize help is needed. By then, it can feel overwhelming to reverse patterns that have become so normal that it’s hard to know where to begin.  Our recovery efforts especially at first can seem fruitless; we can wonder if we are making any difference.

In the face of all of the challenges, it regularly humbles me to see how diligently so many of us are working to heal long standing wounds and create a better world, applying the healing salve day after day to war torn skin, which on the surface may seem unchanging.  Through all of the obstacles, what keeps me showing up for my clients and my own healing journey is a conviction in a truth I have found through years of this work. Which is that healing change lies in our blueprint.  I have come to believe that is in our human design to be healthy.  And when we are out of balance, and when we bravely draw the right healing resources to us, the system can ultimately heal old skin in ways that can feel miraculous. In the right environment, it’s been shown to me in myself and others that we have the ability to move ourselves from where we are to where we can be.

From what I can tell, what is needed to activate our innate ability to change and evolve are things that are both simple and far from easy to apply.  We need to bring light, air and voice to the dark, suffocated and silent places inside. We need to bring attention to what we have been avoiding the most, attention that is patient, kind, forgiving and welcoming.  We need to allow ourselves to be complex and full of contradictions and be diligent about ridding ourselves of rigidity, shame and absolutes.  Where there has been density, compression and aloneness, we need spaciousness, openness and togetherness.

Within community, so many of these needs can be met.  We can share our story with multiple ears and eyes at once, even a short chapter at a time, with people who need nothing from us. We can hear others tell us, “We have heard you”, “You are lovable” and “Me too”.  We can cry on shoulders and be sung to and sing to one another. We have the potential for safe touch, not just from our intimates, but from many bodies. We can feel welcomed through our contradictions and know we are just like everyone else in so many ways.  We may have access to different generations to hold and guide us and keep us accountable to the community’s values. We can pool our resources so that the abundance may balance the impoverishment around us and within us.  Especially when our families of origin were unwell, through community we can learn that healthy, loving relationship is possible, and from there, we can practice healthy, loving relationship towards ourselves.  With the power of healthy community on our side, to stand with us and face the power of our pain, we may be able to say to that pain, “You are at last, outnumbered”.

My life’s work is helping people find wholeness. And I will admit to you that I don’t believe the institution of one-on-one therapy or coaching is enough on its own.  Often I feel like I am attempting to fill the role of the village as I witness, love and guide my clients.  Yet as any mental health professional will tell you, one person alone could never be the village.  What is needed to complement the deep work of therapy is the help of the multitude to wrap around all of us. In his beautiful book, More Together Than Alone, Mark Nepo writes, “…the work of community is the practice of care stitching the world together”.  Community stitches together the fragmented parts of us in truly expedient ways.  What I can do in a year of coaching with a private client, I believe loving, healthy, and authentic community can exquisitely stitch in moments.  We have much to learn as a society about how to activate our design towards wholeness.  I believe continuing to find ways to be in connection to one another is essential to our capacity to heal.

The madly genius novelist Tom Robbins famously wrote, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood”. I think he’s right.  That it’s not only possible to learn and grow as adults, but what we do as our grown-up selves can also contact the younger parts of ourselves inside and change their experience for the better, too.  I think individual coaching or therapy with the right loving, skillful guidance is invaluable and completed when we have community filling in the many gaps around our personal work.  Together, I believe private work and communal participation hold the key to activating our blueprint for health, both forwards and even backwards in time.

For this week’s homework, journal about what conscious, healthy, and supportive community would look like for you. Would it be a small group of people with many things in common?  Would it include many people of diverse backgrounds?  What would you rally around? There are infinite starting points. It could be a book club, a walking group, a prayer group or even a group that gathers to pick up trash. Think about, if you were going to join or start a group, what the elements would be.  With life still blockaded in many ways by the pandemic, explore in mind some creative workarounds. Consider prioritizing health in a wholistic sense, not just in a myopic sense, as you imagine navigating community choices.

Next episode, I will share with you what I have learned about how to grow healthy community, including lessons from being a member of several very unhealthy communities.  Though you may have known many communities that lacked what you needed, it’s possible – with careful planning and humbleness along the journey – to grow the community that can grow you back in infinitely rewarding ways.  I pray that in 2022 we may find our ways back to each other and start reactivating our blueprints for living life more together than alone.

Photo by Neil Thomas on Unsplash