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The Benefits in Belonging

Updated: Nov 22, 2022

By Jessica Kay Lee | Edited by Centered on Taipei Group

“The need for connection and community is primal, as fundamental as the need for air, water, and food.” - Dean Ornish

Human beings are inherently social and connected creatures. It is our birthright to want to belong. For millennia, we’ve foraged and procreated together for survival purposes. Survival then grew into codependency; codependency developed into communities; communities imprinted into deep-rooted cultures, and cultures blossomed into historical civilizations.


The accidental and fascinating discovery of “mirror neurons” in the 1990’s further revealed humans’ sociobiological ability to emulate emotions through empathy, anticipate one another’s next move, and unconsciously share the same brain activities during storytelling and communicating, suggesting that we are indeed connected, down to a cellular level. (1)


So, when communities break down like we experienced during the pandemic, isolation and loneliness can have a serious impact on our collective health and wellbeing. According to the World Health Organization, COVID-19 triggered a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide.(2)


During times of social isolation, our bodies go into the fight-or-flight response, activating physical inflammation as our immune system readies for bacterial battle. (3) But as the saying goes, too much of anything isn't good for anyone, including that of an overstimulated immunity response. A wide body of research has found that the state of loneliness is linked to higher risks of serious illnesses, including that of heart diseases, cancer and Alzheimers. (4)


While science verifies the costs of isolation in numbers, our own pandemic experiences show us firsthand how tough it can be when personal freedom and communal connection are taken away from us. Chronic insecurity affects not just our body, but also leaves our minds, emotions, and spirits more vulnerable than ever.


As we finally bid adieu to the end of a dark era and usher in a new post-COVID world, how do you see yourself going about life differently?


For me, I choose community.


 

At my core, I've always been a happy introvert who thrived best independently. Early on, I didn't even mind the social distancing, until days became months, and months became too many years.


Growing up, I gladly assumed the role of a “floater,” one who floated in and out of different groups - outgoing enough to get along with the pack, but never able to fully commit to groupthink or conformity. If anything, I was always more drawn towards one-on-one relationships. It felt easier, where I felt most like myself. One-on-ones allowed me to be with someone exactly as they are, with no pretense. It allowed me to see the soul of someone without external influences or expectations. One-on-ones allowed me to open my heart and connect with someone deeply, intimately, authentically. This must be part of the reason why, I am so drawn to one-one-one meditation coaching today!


As I got older and practiced more self-awareness, I realized it’s not that I can’t do groups per se, it’s that I never quite knew myself well enough to discern what types of groups I truly belonged to, or needed. Frequent moving around during my teenage years, also made it ever more challenging. While childhood friends grouped up into cliques, I was left to explore my options. It was good in the sense that, I had many types of friends, but hard in the sense that, I always felt like an outsider. It wasn't until I hit my spiritual motherhood years that, I realized beyond the one-on-ones, I too, craved to belong.


But with whom? I'd asked myself. Where do I find my people?



It was when I finally decided to begin my self-healing journey that aligned relationships and opportunities started showing up on my doorstep. The moment I chose to open and heal my heart, the universe granted me loving support. From new mommy groups to yoga classes to writing societies and meditation circles, my hidden communities suddenly appeared left and right, arms and hearts wide open, ready to receive all of me.


I still remember the day I curiously walked into my first-ever women’s circle tucked away in a small yoga studio at a random back alley venue. I was completely taken aback by being invited into a safe space, where women were openly being vulnerable. People cried, shared their deepest, darkest secrets, held each other in warmth and love without any care of who each other were or where we’ve been. Right there and then, I was introduced to a new reality that there is such a thing called group belonging. All along, my community did exist, I just needed to look a little deeper.


I felt a similar connectedness the moment I joined Teachers College and met my grad school pack of leaders, teachers, and healers. Though we had just met, we were undoubtedly each other's people. There we were, men and women and mothers and grandmothers from all over the globe. We never needed to say much or see each other over the years. But therein lies a simple knowing that, we know one another wholly and have a special place in each other's hearts for a lifetime to come.


When I was writing my thesis on the intersection of maternal mental wellness and mind-body & spiritual interventions, my research always highlighted the importance of “peer support” in any patient's healing and recovery process. Peer support goes beyond just weekly meetings, but also involves emotional, affirmational, informational, and practical support that not only helps lower mood swings and anxiety by combating feelings of isolation, disempowerment, and stress, but having a trusted community also helps build up one's self-esteem, confidence and self-worth, and thus live a fuller life. (5)


When we are so lucky to connect with communities who just get us and allow us to be us, the hard times truly become less hard. I can personally attest to that. Through community, we find ourselves being less alone, for we get to see that we do indeed belong, that there are others just like us in fundamental life approaches, shared passions, and at times, self-doubts and insecurities. In community, we get to let our guards down and lean on one another as kindred spirits. We come to realize that we’re actually not one in a million, but all in the same, in the best possible way.


Today, that need for a safe community exists ever so strongly within me - so much so that it has led me to give birth to THE LOTUS POND (TLP). On the surface, TLP is a consultancy business, aiming to inspire and guide others using a holistic wellness approach. But truth to be told, TLP is my humble attempt to build a safe, loving, global community where souls can simply be vulnerable, authentic, and live a life led by love and compassion.


Whether via in-person circles, or online connections, or simply through the words on the pages of this magazine, I hope that you know that you always have a safe community in TLP to rely on.



 

Self-Reflection Journaling Prompt

Take time to process the words you’ve just read. Close your eyes and reflect upon the following questions. If you’d like, take a journal/pen to expand on your thoughts.

  • What type of community do you belong to right now?

  • How does it feel to belong?

  • What other types of community support do you need right now?

  • Where can you find them?

  • Who are the souls you are looking for today? What's their energy like?

  • What's stopping you from connecting with them?

  • How has your perspective on community shifted over the years?

  • What's different now, than before this?

  • What can a community provide for you, versus doing it on your own?

 

References (click for supporting evidence)

 

Writer's Bio


Jessica is a Certified Meditation Coach with a Spiritual Psychology Masters & Maternal Wellbeing Advanced Certification from Teachers College, Columbia University. As Founder of THE LOTUS POND (TLP), Jessica offers 1-on-1 Meditation Coaching, Group Meditation Circles, Seasonal Workshops, and Holistic Wellness Education via journalism and creative media content. Contact her at align@thelotuspond.org.

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