"We are knee-deep in a river, searching for water," writes Kabir Helminski, a contemporary Wisdom teacher in the Sufi tradition. Indeed we are. Here we live in 1%, the wealthiest part of the world, surrounded by uncommon beauty, medical advances to keep us alive, the most creative people and experiences at our fingertips, and we are searching…I don’t want to minimize the challenges many of us face; physical and mental illnesses, grief, abuse, poverty. These are all very real and when we face them they change our perspective entirely. But much of the time we are searching for water are knee-deep in the river.
For instance much of what I hear from folks who are searching is the need for community, to escape isolation. That is easier for some by virtue of being affluent, extroverted, mainstream, and healthy. But as the saying goes, “if you ain’t lookin you aren’t gonna find much…” There are a lot of us who “ain’t lookin”, expecting community to come to them. It’s as if people expect a marching band to appear on their front porch and parade their way to the nearest community celebration, banners proclaiming their arrival, the names of the newcomers in large print. That is not how community happens. I met a couple this week who belong to a newcomers group, they are all new to Halifax and meet regularly to discover the city and each other. This couple are knee-deep in water but they can sense the damp water around their feet. They are feeling the effects of community.
The first barrier that often exists between us and community is ourselves, our inability to show curiosity about the people and the places around them. How often have we heard someone new to a place ignore the tales of their new place in favour of “well back home we…” While those who are the hosts, the familiar, the people who have been there for decades, should be interested in what newcomers have experienced in their own towns (lots to learn from newcomers) it’s not all that interesting to have every morsel of wisdom you pass on responded to with “but back home we…” Soon you just give up.
Listening is also undervalued. When I have been a newcomer I have tried to bite my extroverted lip and just listen to what my host is telling me. Earlier in my life that was very hard and I was a terrible listener and missed out on so much. I am better at it now, due mostly to being convinced others have more to teach me than I them. It is easier to be humble when you know how little you actually know.
We don’t need a hundred friends or a group to hang out with every night. We do need a place and a people to call home. I have thought about what will become of me in 8.5 years when I retire, my daughter is out of the house (and likely out of the province) and I don’t have three jobs to juggle. I have a long history of Board membership and volunteering with non-profits so there is that. I’ll take a course or two from a local university. I’ll work part-time or volunteer at a drop in, likely for the homeless or near homeless. But that still leaves a gap of community. I’m not there yet but I am pondering, listening for the Spirit.
But one thing I know. As I search for the water I will feel the river swirling around my feet. I will know community is all around me, there for me to engage and discover.