Some of us are lucky and are either born knowing how to self nurture and self love, or are mindfully taught and learn it from someone along the way. But for the rest of us, happiness is often a mystery to be unfurled, a mirage in the desert, and something continuously out of reach, no matter how hard we reach for it.
For the introvert or empath particularly, living in the materialistic box-culture we’ve created, where we have our little (struggled for) slice of ‘heaven’ (often a cramped and cut-off from nature-space), only venturing out to buy junk food from the store, meeting others to escape reality with drunkenness, or perhaps timidly (and hedgingly) showing up to support groups and libraries just so that we can hide from our (usually denied) sense of loneliness.
Sounds dramatic, I hear you say. But it wasn’t until I left the big smoke of the city to volunteer at a meditation retreat centre that I realized how detached I’d really become. OK, so we have work. That can give you a sense of community and belonging.
But often the companies we’re working for are questionable in the imprint they’re making on the world and others. It’s rare that we are equally morally clean in our work (think ‘right livelihood’ – Buddha’s 8-fold path), on the same wavelength as all of our colleagues, and consciously practice loving speech, intention and pure action such as working to better ourselves and the world around us.
With that in mind, here are 6 reasons that living in a commune (that prays and works together), or on a retreat can teach us the tools to be happy, tools that we might introduce into our daily lives and help ourselves heal for good:
For some, we may not have had a proper structure to our lives since school (if we were lucky enough to have gone, despite the indoctrination it may have given us). Either we haven’t worked, or our hours have always been haphazard. Structure and routine is actually incredibly important when it comes to happiness. Just as a child feels safer with a structured day, so do we.
And that doesn’t mean we can’t be spontaneous. How we react to a routine can often teach us a lot about our shadows (do we rebel against it, does it stress us out, do we beat ourselves up if we miss one section of our day or do we become control freaks?), and it can also help us feel loved.
Draw up a routine with space for spontaneity and special treats and get creative with it! Make sure you include a balance of spiritual/self-loving serious practices, such as meditation or an hour set aside for a weekly bath with flower petals and relaxing music, social and communal activities such as attending a community gardening group, and time for projects that can develop into the future, such as having a weekly driving lesson (yes, at the age of 30 I still can’t drive), or one hour of cycling a day to hanker to your dream of cycling to France and back (it will come sooner than you think if you start now.)
Usually these retreats, if not a juice fast or food-related retreat in the first place, are health conscious and designed to give your body, mind and soul a bit of a detox. I’ve found that, when you’re surrounded by people and there’re no other choices, you generally do just that. There’s no time to sneak junk food or sugary snacks because you’re surrounded day and night, and even if you did remember to, perhaps you’d chose not to anyway.
With all that meditation and yoga, or just plain good vibes, you realize you don’t need that crap in your body, and that the reason you might cram that stuff in the first place is because you are lonely and bored and because no-one is watching.
On retreat, because meals are communal you don’t really have a say when it’ll be ready or what it will be, you learn delayed gratification and to better appreciate your food. You try things you never usually would and like them.
You take time over your food and eat with a smile on your face because it’s been prepared with love rather than a rushed, got-to-get-some-stodge-in-my-body-otherwise-I-won’t-be-able-to-keep-going kind of intention. You don’t shovel, but marvel at the food on your plate and experience a deep gratitude for it.
You can learn ideas of how to make your own space at home more sacred and geared towards a loving existence and remove the negative images or symbol present in your personal living space. Or perhaps you realize that you don’t need most if not all of your personal belongings and can downsize to a van and whizz around Europe rather than carry on your mundane existence surrounded by shiny but perfectly useless stuff.
You can honour your shared space as well as your private space – enjoy communal areas with a sense of belonging yet still have the choice to retreat into your private room at the end of the day and be surrounded with solely your own thoughts. Just as it was when you lived with your family, but with people who are (mostly) on the same page as you and want to be there.
Again, as Buddha says in his teachings, the middle way is probably the best way to enhance your spiritual path and enjoy life. Not shut yourself up or become a hermit or ascetic but not submerge yourself in pure health-harming pleasure either.
With the retreat or communal way of life, we can learn to become balanced; not doing the same thing repeatedly as many forms of work will have us do, but leading varied and balanced lives.
This is the art of happiness, and it can be easily achieved with practice. Are you forcing yourself to do too much of one thing? Are you letting yourself do too much or being too hard on yourself? With structure you can ensure there is balance, and where the usually unavoidable section for ‘working or working meditation’ is, make sure that, as you would in a community, are doing something for the good of the whole as well as yourself.
As with all communities or retreats, often the thing you signed up for is not the best part you get to enjoy. The little extras I’ve already mentioned such as steam baths, yoga classes and communal dining can be ten times more satisfying than the course of work you came there to do. An inevitable thing that begins to happen, is that you can begin to heal. Meditating with others for example, is quite a different experience to meditating alone.
With others you become embraced. You create vibrations and do things without words that can excel to grand-scale healing if everyone lifts high (or goes in) enough. Of course this depends on the intentions of all of the group, but it is possible and it is the future of our world.
In a community, you are appreciated for your own individuality and unique light and loved for it. You are treated as vital, you add different flavour and skills to the group, and are shown direct evidence that You Are Enough. Just your existence is worthy and an achievement in itself. When we are given the permission to slow down we are able to see reality – and ourselves – for what it truly is.
And finally, an expansion on the last few points really, you enjoy the benefits of living with a deep sense of community. You have many mirrors to learn from throughout your day, and so are in an intense form of cleansing, having opened the door to your spiritual path and with the protection of a temporary tribe you are able to lovingly shift yourself this way and that until you interact in a more mindful and loving way towards others.
You can get to the point where you’re able to be comfortable with others yet have your own space, and enjoy interconnectedness in action, something quite rare when you don’t have the choice about who you’re interacting and sharing space with.
You are able to see the direct effect that humans have on each other. Especially if you are meditating together, you become a group consciousness, and when someone is acting with less-than-good intentions, the rest of the group know it. We can consistently reflect and work towards balancing not only ourselves but also the group dynamic, healing within a circle of community spirit.
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