More than 25 years ago, I saw a movie that crystallised a deep longing I’d held perhaps all my life. You might remember the film – Witness? If you don’t remember the film, you might remember a relatively young Harrison Ford playing a cop who has to hide out in an Amish community. He’s deemed an outsider but the community takes him in anyway and protects him.
One particular scene did me in. The Harrison Ford character participates with the Amish people in a ‘barn raising’. (A barn raising is an event where the community comes together to help an individual or family build a barn, which was for early settlers their most important and costly building.) I was so inspired watching all these Amish people working together in friendship that it moved me to tears. I saw the film four times within the next fortnight just for that one scene, and I cried each time.
Obviously something about seeing people work together selflessly and for the common good touched me deeply and inspired me to create yoga community wherever I go. This commitment has dovetailed with my teaching and become integral to my yoga practices.
As further evidence of my dedication to community building is the fact that I live in a co-housing arrangement. We are three couples living on a 4 acre property on the mid-north coast of New South Wales. We call ourselves The Shedders because the original dwelling on our property was an old green shed, which is now our yoga studio.
The six of us have been sharing our lives for the past seven years. I wish I could communicate the joy it is to live together and support each other.
Generally, as people age they become increasingly cut off from society, and that sort of isolation is now understood to be a factor in poor mental and physical health, perhaps even early demise.
We Shedders are in our sixties and seventies and live as healthily as possible. We’ve extended our social reach into various local communities. There’s The Shed yogi students, some of whom who travel long distances to come to classes. There’s our ‘Wingsong’ choir, Heather’s ‘Growing Friends Garden Club’, Daniel, Mike, and Rick’s men’s group, and several other community involvements, as well.
Last week I was bursting with pride when I attended the Garden Club’s cancer fundraising and saw what a difference Heather has made in that community…. And heard our neighbour, Stella, a cancer survivor, speak passionately to that audience about her experience of battling her illness. In her talk, she acknowledged the medicos who gave her such caring support, her family, and us Shedders.
My heart swelled all over again when our choir performed at the Wingham showgrounds pavilion, kicking off last weekend’s Akoostic Festival. To my mind, there’s nothing like singing out in harmony.
Here are some of the benefits of community that I’ve experienced:
1. Mutual support and inspiration.
2. Good health. Dr. Timothy McCall in his excellent and useful book, Yoga as Medicine, makes many references to the importance of being part of a group as a means to create health on all levels.
3. Practice in friendliness, compassion, joy and equanimity. These can’t be learned from a textbook or a DVD, but they are skills that can be best refined within a community.
4. Karma yoga – doing volunteer work and helping neighbours. In community we can be a greater force for accomplishing good.
Here’s a quote from an article I wrote for Australian Yoga Life on the topic of community:
In whatever way we choose to cultivate and participate in community, the truth is that ultimately we are all one. Building community helps us to let go of the idea of separation and lets us feel we are part of a larger whole. In the yoga sense, fostering community acknowledges that we come from one divine source and are intrinsically inter-dependent.
In these days of global financial insecurity, planetary climate concerns, and terrible environmental disasters, we can be like those Amish barn raisers harnessing the power of community. Instead of the building taking weeks, it’s done in a day, with camaraderie, good will and spirit.
(Click here to find out all about The Shedders.)