Wednesday, February 18, 2009


I am back, refreshed, from a wonderful retreat at the Bethlehem Retreat Center in Nanaimo, BC. The weather was crisp and sunny and Westwood Lake was covered with ice. I balanced my time between being quietly alone at the guest house and attending community prayers and dinner with my friends at the House of Bread Benedictine Monastery. As always, my body and mind relaxed completely in the quietness and the concerns and busyness of life in the city seemed far away.

Early on my last morning there, I sat by the window watching the sun rise to bathe the peak of Mount Benson and to awaken the three llamas sleeping under the bare fruit trees in the field behind the guest house. I drank a cup of tea and thought about the community of women who had created this lovely place of peace and about the importance of community in all our lives.  

Some people define  community as a group of interacting people in a common location (this was obviously prior to the internet!) and others define it as a group that is organized around common values. Whatever our definition, we all belong to a number of communities -  our personal community of friends, the soccer community, our faith community, the caregiving community, the university community, the equestrian community, the environmental community, and so on.  

We are hardwired for community, for belonging, and when we lose our sense of community our health suffers. Dean Ornish, MD, President and Director of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute at the University of California's School of Medicine in San Franscisco, spent his life studying heart disease and wrote a book called, Love and Survival: The Scientific Basis for the Healing Power of Intimacy (1997). In an interview with Bill Moyers, he said, "I am coming to believe that anything that promotes isolation leads to chronic stress and, in turn, may lead to illnesses like heart disease. Anything that promotes a sense of intimacy, community and connection can be healing."

So, what do we do when life's busyness makes connecting with loved ones seem difficult or impossible? How do we maintain this piece of our mental, physical and spiritual health?

The first step is intention; we become clear that we want to maintain certain relationships (- and that we may need to let go of others  for a while). Then we make a realistic plan for keeping in touch. My husband developed what he called his Keeping in Touch (KIT) List. On it were the names of the 4-6 people with whom he wanted to stay in touch, even if life was very busy. He kept the list on his desk and made sure that every 10 days to 2 weeks, he sent them a note or called them on the phone or had lunch or a cup of tea with them. Sometimes, all he had time for was a quick voice mail message or a quicker prayer but he honoured his intention to stay connected.

Family caregivers in the Well Spouse organization in the US send each other round robin letters or emails with short or long entries written when they have a free moment and then sent on around the circle. It doesn't have to be much, just as long as whatever you do allows you to feel connected with your community. As the Sufi poet, Rumi, said in the thirteenth century:

There is a community of the spirit.
Join it, and feel the delight
of walking in the noisy street, 
and being the noise...
Why do you stay in prison
when the door is so wide open?

Sharing life, no matter how difficult, eases the stress and lightens the load. Try it and see.... 



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