Where the heck have I been? Some of you have been asking me this lately, sending sweet little emails like, Are you okay? Or, Your blog sounds, I don’t know, different.
It’s true that I’ve been hiding out a little. Mostly, what I have been doing for the last several months is searching for what’s real in my life, what nourishes me most, what grounds me most powerfully in the tangible now of my life. I have been pruning, trimming, whittling away at what what no longer serves me, taking stock of all the blessings, choosing powerfully and intentionally what I want to keep.
Only some of this was self-inflicted. Sometimes the universal pruning shears come out and you are the unsuspecting, naked, bony tree shivering in the wind. The process can be painful, but I now see how essential it is for growth. Letting go of what no longer nourishes us leaves room for new fruit and stronger roots.
I am grateful for it, if not a little disarmed by the process. Growth can feel violent, like that line in Rumi’s Guesthouse about the crowd of sorrows: Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
In the wake of my clearing, I had the sense that my energy was too far-flung, dispersed in too many directions, that I had been tending too many things I couldn’t touch and that I was out of balance in some fundamental way. I realized I needed to bring my focus in closer and tend things much nearer to home. And when I say this, I mean really close to home, like my actual home, my family, my neighbors, my body, my heart, my community right here in Berkeley. I had to look hard at what’s most real and true in my life.
And of course, how do you reconcile being a blogger, surfing Facebook, emailing, texting, phoning, twittering when you are on a quest to ground yourself in what is real in your life? How do these things fit in? and what am I giving up by spending countless hours checking email and blogs and weather reports and celebrity gossip columns? What am I not creating in my life as a result of all of the life force I give to my “friends” in cyberspace?
And this is where it gets tricky to talk about.
I have a lot of friends in cyberspace. I know you do too. We love them! They are like us! They are kindred spirits. They are creative, they care about what we care about. We wish they were in our hometown. Sometimes we graduate to phone friendships and these connections deepen even more. Still more rare and wonderful is when we get to meet them in person and confirm, Yes! you are real! and you are even better in real life. These are incredible blessings.
And yet, I realized that part of that far flung feeling was due to how many of my friendships were far from home. At least for a while, I needed to anchor myself in the realness of people I could serve tea to, whose kids I could watch, who could brave Ikea with me or help me rearrange my furniture. I put a very unofficial call out to the universe, a prayer that went something like this: Ground me in what’s real. Help me find a community here. Help me feel connected in a new way.
And very soon after that, some magical things started to happen. My upstairs neighbor Holly asked if I’d like to cook with her every Tuesday night. Matt and I started going to the park in the evenings with Ben and getting to know all the dogs: Chuy, Fat Boy, Eddy… New friendships found me, other moms living merely blocks away. I noticed how often my neighbors just hung out outside waiting for a glimpse of someone to connect with, or to usher Ben into their house to play the guitar or pet their dog. It’s not as if I didn’t have these things before, but my attention was not there, I was not ready to appreciate them.
Some of the brightest spots in my week lately have been the nights when Holly and I cook or Wednesday nights when we watch Lost on our neighbor’s tv (we got rid of ours a while back) This sense of community is giving my heart stronger ground to stand on and a new place from which to create my life. It feels very basic, very elemental, this sharing of meals and borrowing of bread crumbs. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had this.
The other day, a new mom friend and her two year old were at my house playing. As we walked up I introduced her to my neighbors on both sides who happen to be outside their houses. A few minutes later, Holly knocked on the door to borrow our car for the last items in our recipe for the evening, Christina wheeled up with her baby in a stroller to see if we wanted to go to the park and Matt peeked his head out from our home office. Surrounded in that moment by literally ten people I adored, I could finally see it: I had built a community. These were the people in my neighborhood.
How do you find community? And how do you create balance between your online community and your actual life?
p.s. A great article from the NY Times Magazine yesterday by Peggy Orenstein: Growing up on Facebook