In her retelling of the ugly duckling story Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of Women Who Run with the Wolves, observes, “[W]hen an individual’s particular kind of soulfulness, which is both an instinctual and spiritual identity, is surrounded by psychic acknowledgment and acceptance, that person feels life and power as never before. Ascertaining one’s own psychic family brings a person vitality and belongingness.”
I love this. We need to—we must—experience non-judgmental connections if we want to feel like we belong in our own lives and feel permission to really SHINE.
Did you know that finding a team of similarly enlightened souls is strongly associated with greater happiness and longer living? Have you found your “psychic family” yet? Let me tell you how I found one of my communities (and I’d love to hear your story as well).
A few years ago, I joined a delightful club called the Marathon Maniacs. The Maniacs are an international group of runners who cheerfully compete with one another for how many 26.2-mile races they can do in any given year or in a lifetime. I wanted to join the club for one simple reason: I’d met its members and they were fun. Really fun!
At the starting line of many of the races I participated in, I saw them clustered together wearing yellow or red jerseys with bold letters proclaiming, “Marathon Maniacs.” They high-fived each other and reported how many races they’d completed in, special homage going to those who’d reached milestones like 50 or 100. While I was standing around alone, knowing I might spend the next five hours running in solitude, the Maniacs had found their tribe. I wanted to be a part of a supportive group like that.
Fortunately, the Maniacs are happy to have new members. Fast or slow, thin or bulky, serious or recreational—all runners are welcome, as long as they love to run and can meet the qualification criteria. The quick way to qualify for this loony club is to run back to back marathons (one on Saturday and another on Sunday, for example). I took the slow way: three marathons within 90 days. And they let me join.
In my early days of membership, I was too shy to wear my jersey to races, feeling like I really didn’t belong with only a measly 16 marathons under my belt. Then one year my husband and I took a driving vacation around the Southwest of the U.S. to participate in a marathon in Park City, Utah one weekend and another one in Santa Rosa, California the next weekend. I decided to wear my Maniac “uniform” so I could be easily identified by other club members. The experience was extraordinary.
From across the parking lot in Park City, I heard a man’s voice, “Hey Ponytail Maniac! Get over here.” I didn’t realize at first the voice was calling out to me, but soon I was enveloped by a small group of runners asking me where I was from and how many States I’d run in and where I was on my marathon count. No one ever asked how fast I was or if I was a serious competitor. They only wanted to celebrate that we were all there to reach a mutual goal to run this race.
During the race itself, as the course weaved its way in and around Park City (which sits at an elevation of over 7,000 feet and was therefore quite difficult for someone like me who lives and trains at sea level), several Maniacs passed me, and without fail, they shouted enthusiastic encouragement. By the end of the race I knew I’d found a true community, a tribe. I’d been understood, accepted, and enveloped in support by others who knew my struggle first hand because it was their struggle, too.
Who are these people in your life? These are the ones who understand your particular variety of soulfulness and can come alongside you to cheer you on, saying, “Hey, you’re one of us. We get you, and we’re all in this together.”
We all need community. When you’ve been plugging along in this marathon of life for a while, you get tired. It can be hard, exhausting work. You’ve been laboring your whole life to keep your desired pace. And often, on an extra steep hill, fatigue and self-doubt set in. What you need are people who can surround you with “acknowledgement and acceptance,” as Dr. Estes says. You need your like-minded soul-mates.
If you’re struggling to find community, here are a few suggestions:
- Follow your interests. Join groups and clubs. Writing groups, book clubs, recreational sports teams, genealogical societies, religious associations, knitting circles, and many other groups have open meetings. Give them a chance, even if you’re shy.
- Ask for what you need. Why not be a little bit vulnerable and let people know you’re looking for a place of belonging? What do you have to lose?
- Be brave and keep trying. Breaking in to new communities isn’t easy. You’ve got to have a certain amount of courage to make meaningful connections. If you give up too early, you may not move through the awkward early stages of relationship to find real connection.