For much of my life, I struggled enormously with the notion of community. I always felt outside. For periods of times I would “join” a community and spend time there. It would be important in my life. I would get to know people. Then after some time, it would fade.
Often I would then struggle with the notion of which communities I should spend time with – how many, what percentage of my time should I give to each. Should I focus just on one? But I have a lot of interests.
My experience seemed like the other people in the community were very dedicated to it. They were clearly *in* it. They knew people, hung out, and went to movies with them. They’re inside. I am on the outside, showing up – eager, but not feeling part-of. I would get to know people but didn’t really become friends with them, at least in my judgment.
I’ve had two shifts that have transformed how I view this and how I show up.
1) The first was that I decided to embrace being a traveler. I’m a journeyer. An explorer. An experiencer. A psychonaut. I’m inquisitive and love to learn. I remember always being this way from a very young age. I would get utterly obsessed about learning Chinese calligraphy and then move on to knowing everything I could about dinosaurs. I heard an excellent teacher recently self-identify himself as a “Curiousist”! I like that… I also am a Curiousist.
I’ve spent time doing a lot of different things, and in the past, I have often judged myself for that. A significant shift for me was to accept and love myself for being a journeyer. For all the other travelers out there – travelers of the physical world, the mental world, the emotional realms, and the spirit worlds, embrace this part of who you are!
2) The second shift is a fundamental turning inside out of how I view groups and communities. I believe this is something that may be useful for many people who feel like an outsider, I know there are many of us.
I used to view communities & social groups as islands. A pre-formed, already established group of people that is pretty fixed. I arrive, I’m interested, and the aim is to travel through the boundary of the island, like entering through a cell wall of a cell in our bodies, and then there would be some kind of pop, and boom, I would be “inside”. In the group.
What I realized was that this view I was taking very much fixes people into a static picture. I noticed that I was labeling my friends: so and so is the AA friend, this other person is the kinky friend, these are the dance party people, those over there are the tech community., these are work people. This is not at all an accurate view of other people, as people are not at all fixed, but it is such a common way for us to divide up the people we know. This is actually how we make sense of the world – we create a fixed view of it all, which allows us to label and describe it. This works well of course, to a certain extent and can be very useful. The trouble comes because we forget that this is just a snapshot, and an incomplete one. We freeze our view of people and groups. And as time goes on, if we don’t remember to open this up, the conflict between reality and our fixed view can cause a lot of suffering that comes out in all sorts of ways.
The turning inside out that I went through was to start thinking from myself outwards, rather than from groups inward. I started to think about *my* community of humans, rather than all these islands of communities that I wanted to join but didn’t know how. Instead of thinking that on Saturday morning from 10 am till noon I visit my AA friends, who are all there “doing AA” because that’s who they are, and I go visit and spend time with them, I began to think of it as me going to be in community with such and such people, and together we would hold a meeting. Instead of thinking that tonight I was going to go to a kink event, and there I would meet the kinky people, I thought of it as meeting these people there that are interesting, and we would create some activities together.
In this view there is no barrier, no ocean crossing that I have to make in order to get on the “inside” – because there is no inside, there is no barrier. The people involved in the various activities are whole people, with all sorts of complexities and nuances. They are not just my “AA friends” or “kink friends”.
What this does is to turn community into a verb rather than a noun. In the same way that love is a verb not a noun, that relationship is a verb not a noun. Loving is a thing that we do, not some external entity called love. Relating to people is what we do, there is not really some cloudy entity called a relationship. In the same way community is about communitying, it’s about what we do.
This view brought a vast openness to my life. Suddenly I didn’t feel outside, and I didn’t feel pressure or shame when going to events, I could just enjoy communing.
Now, of course, it can be useful to view a community as a group, with some protective barriers to entry – there are benefits to that. But on a personal level, I found it transforming to see that there is another way to view things. I now choose to make this inside-out way my default view, rather than what I think is the culturally dominant one, the “island” view.