Community – A Personal View

Posted by Simon Matthews, Friday 23rd October, 2015

I am not a sociologist, nor a philosopher. The thoughts that follow are borne out of personal experience and are more wonderings and musings than well-constructed theory. I am a psychotherapist in private practice and I also lead workshops for groups. I love my one-on-one individual work and consider it a great privilege to work with people in the intimate space that psychotherapy opens up.  I am honoured by the trust that people place in me as they reveal their vulnerabilities and humanity.

Any yet every six weeks or so I feel another pull – a longing perhaps – to enter into community space with other people.  More than that it is important to me that the people who share this community space come to it with some sort of shared purpose. When I go one layer deeper I find that I long for a space where people come together to share their common humanity, feel their emotions (whatever they are) worship, dance, celebrate, enquire and wonder.  As I look back at my life from the vantage point of fifty-one I see now that this has always been there, this longing.  When I was a young teenager it manifested itself through school chapel, Christian holiday camps and I became involved with evangelical Christianity. As a university student I played the drums in an evangelical rock band that toured round the UK.  Later I would study meditation and join in meditation groups, a more Eastern influence, before becoming involved with psychotherapy and therapeutic workshops in my 40’s.

The Rhythm of Life

As I contemplate the last 40 years of my life I find myself wondering whether I have intuitively connected with a rhythm of life that has somehow always been there? Recently I accompanied my 2 year-old daughter to a Steiner-Waldorf playgroup and noticed how every 6 weeks or so the teachers would organise some sort of ritual celebration for the children. This might involve celebrating the onset of autumn, maybe a saint’s day. The ritual would involve some sort of shared creative activity (cutting & sticking things mainly…) and then dance, celebration.

The point of these observations and reflections is this: maybe this is how it’s meant to be? maybe human beings, whatever they did for a living, always got together every 6 weeks or so and engaged in some sort of shared community activity of a ritual nature in this way? maybe my longing is tapping into a deep need of the human soul not be separate but to feel itself in union with others? I’m not an anthropologist, but I have an inner picture of people going home from such occasions refreshed by this contact with their fellow beings and returning home to tend to their crops or wherever, maybe already looking forwards to the next excuse for a gathering!  I see this in the behavior of my wife as I write this, who is busy preparing for a wedding this weekend when she will meet up with her ‘tribe’. There will be much sharing, drinking and celebrating – and there will also be the ritual that forms the centre-piece of that occasion.

Perhaps in the pursuit of Individualism we have taken things a bit too far? The ‘Cult of the Individual’ was a reasonable response to the power of the Church of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance saw an extraordinary flowering of individual creative activity. Yet 600 years on we in the West have forgotten about the value of community – especially those in English-speaking countries and especially those who live in the big cities.  Community is alive and well in the so-called 3rd world and still flourishes in many Mediterranean countries.  And in the English-speaking countries of the West you may or may not be surprised to learn that depression is at epidemic proportions. If you are British you are twice as likely to suffer from depression and/or anxiety as our neighbours in Continental Europe. Twice…100%…that’s a big statistic in epidemiological terms. It’s more complex than this obviously, but i do find myself wondering whether our self-enforced isolation from each other has something to do with this.

Longing to be Seen and Heard

You may well say “I’m not isolated…I see my mates at the pub or football field or school run” and this might well be true. But I think it’s about quality not quantity. It can be very lonely in a crowd, and what I suspect we long for is deep attention – the ability to be with a person or people who really want to listen attentively to us, who have a capacity to empathise with us and who won’t try necessarily to ‘fix us’. Does this sound good to you as you read this? Do you know this in yourself? I think we all do.  It speaks to that part of us, lost in the mists of childhood that longed for the undivided attention of our parents and just to be heard, seen and loved unconditionally.

It’s hard for our partners to give us this kind of attention. All too often our needs intermingle with theirs and get confused. Throw in a the needs of children and family and our need for deep attention can become swamped, suppressed and forgotten.  It’s hard for our friends to meet this need as they often feel a responsibility to help us out of our feelings and to cheer us up. That’s not quite what we’re looking for. Psychotherapy helps and there is undoubted value in a regular session with a caring individual who is not only totally available but also trained to offer insights and perceptions into the root causes of difficult feelings.  A therapist can also help answer the question that all clients want to know, in one way or another: “am I bonkers…or is this normal?”. The answer to this is that there is no ‘normal’. But as with all things, to really know this one has to experience it directly. This where community comes in.

When we gather at a group workshop (such as the Hoffman Process or The Path of Love which I facilitate) we get to see people of all ages, backgrounds, belief systems and professions. Not only do these gatherings offer an opportunity to receive the quality of attention that we long for, but also we find that underneath all those different skins there beat hearts that are remarkably similar.  Everyone longs for loving connection with themselves, with others and with some sort of higher power – be that God, Nature, Science, Truth. How reassuring it is to actually witness and experience this cannot be overestimated. There’s a collective sigh of relief…a letting go…a relaxation into a reconnection with our basic humanity. Nobody knows quite what they are doing here (apart from a few enlightened beings), we’re all making it up to some extent and that’s just fine.  This is especially precious to those who have been wandering through life looking at everyone else thinking: ”they seem to know what they’re doing” or “they seem to have life pretty sorted” You know who you are…

It’s taken me nearly 40 years to work this out, but I have now realised that this ‘coming together’ in community with other like-mined people is not just what I do for a living – it is a fundamental need of mine. It feeds my soul – it stimulates my mind – it connects me with my emotions and my heart and the dancing is definitely a bonus as I head deeper into middle age (yes…I think at 51 I have to admit now that it’s here) as after many hours sitting in chairs practising individual therapy it’s important to get off my arse from time to time and shake these old bones. Come and join me will you?

© 2012 Simon Matthews

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Simon Matthews

Psychotherapist

Simon had a career as a business entrepreneur before starting to study as a psychotherapist in 2004. He qualified in 2008 and is now a UKCP accredited therapist in private practice. Simon is also a supervising teacher of the Hoffman Process and a facilitator of The Path of Love, the international spiritual transformation process.

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