A few weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of finding your tribe – people who love you just the way you are and who cheer you on as you do courageous things.
Tribe-building is important and valuable, but it only takes you part way down the path to an openhearted life.
This week, I’ve been contemplating what we should do with the people outside of our tribes.
It’s cozy and warm inside a tribe, and the people are supportive and non-threatening, so it’s tempting to simply hide there and close off from the rest of the world. When you’re hurting, that might be the right thing to do for awhile – to protect yourself until you have healed enough to step outside of the circle.
But the problem with staying there too long is that it creates a world of “us and them”. When you stay too close to your own tribe, it becomes easier and easier to justify your own choices and opinions and more and more difficult to understand people who think differently from you. Before long, you’ve become suspicious of everyone outside of your tribe, and when their actions threaten your way of life, you do whatever it takes to protect yourself. Fear breeds in a closed-off life.
Last week, I knew it was time to challenge myself to step outside my tribe. I’d been playing it safe too much lately, so when I saw a Facebook posting for an open house at the local mosque, I decided that was a good place to start. I shared the information with friends, but chose not to bring anyone with me. Bringing friends with me into unfamiliar territory makes me less open to conversations with people who are different from me and I didn’t want that – I wanted to go in with an open, unguarded heart. That’s one of the reasons I’ve learned to love solo traveling – it’s scary at first, but it opens me to a whole world of new opportunities and friendships that don’t happen as naturally when I’m hiding behind the safety of a group.
I have traveled in predominately Muslim parts of the world and have always been warmly received, so I knew that the open house would be a pleasant experience. It turned out to be even more pleasant than I’d expected.
First there was Mariam, a young university student who served as tour guide to me and a small group of strangers. Mariam’s easy smile and warm personality made us all feel instantly comfortable. She lead us through the gym to the prayer room and told us why she’s happy that the women pray in a separate area from the men. “I want to be close to God when I pray, not distracted by who might be looking at me or bumping into me.” Before the tour was over, Mariam hugged me twice and I felt like I’d made a new friend.
Then there was the grinning young man at the table by the sign that read “your name in Arabic”. His name now escapes me, but I can tell you he never stopped smiling through our whole conversation and was one of the friendliest young men I’ve met in a long time. He told me, while he wrote my name, that he’d learned some of his Arabic from cartoons. Growing up in Ontario, he’d preferred Arabic cartoons to Barney or Sesame Street.
At the “free henna” table, I met Saadia, who moved here from Pakistan three years ago because she and her husband wanted to give their children a better chance at a good education. Her husband is a doctor who’s still trying to cross all of the hurdles that will allow him to practice in Canada. Before our conversation was over, Saadia had given me her phone number in case I ever want to invite her to my home to give me and my friends hennas.
What struck me, as I left the mosque, was how much grace and courage it takes, when your people have become the object of racism, fear, and oppression, to open your hearts, homes, and gathering places to strangers. Instead of hiding within the safety of their own tribe and justifying their need for protection and safety from others, the local Muslim community threw their doors and hearts open wide and said “let’s be friends. We are not afraid of you – please don’t be afraid of us.”
I experienced the same grace and courage among the Indigenous people of our community last Spring after we were named the “most racist city in Canada”. Instead of retreating into the safety of their tribes, they welcomed many of us into openhearted healing circles. Instead of being angry, they taught us that reconciliation starts with forgiveness and the courage to risk friendships across tribal lines.
I will be forever grateful to Rosanna, who invited me to co-host a series of meaningful conversations with her, to Leonard who handed me a drum and welcomed me to play in honour of Mother Earth’s heartbeat, to Gramma Shingoose who gave me a stone shaped like a heart and shared the story of her healing journey after a childhood in residential school, to Brian who welcomed me into the sweat lodge, and to many others who opened their hearts and reached across the artificial divide between Indigenous and settler.
The more I’ve had the privilege of building friendships with openhearted people whose world looks different from mine, the bigger, more beautiful, and less fearful my life has become.
This week, I’ve read Gloria Steinem’s memoir, My Life on The Road and there is so much in it that resonates with the way I choose to live my life. It’s a beautiful reflection of how her life has been changed by the people she has encountered while on the road. “Taking to the road – by which I mean letting the road take you – changed who I thought I was. The road is messy in the way that real life is messy. It leads us out of denial and into reality, out of theory and into practice, out of caution and into action, out of statistics and into stories – in short, out of our heads and into our hearts. It’s right up there with life-threatening emergencies and truly mutual sex as a way of being fully alive in the present.”
Another quote speaks to how much broader her thinking has become because of her encounters on the road. “What we’ve been told about this country is way too limited by generalities, sound bites, and even the supposedly enlightened idea that there are two sides to every question. In fact, many questions have three or seven or a dozen sides. Sometimes I think the only real division into two is between people who divide everything into two and those who don’t.”
We don’t have to spend as much time traveling as Gloria Steinem does in order to live this way – we simply have to open our hearts to the people and experiences in our own communities that have the potential to stretch and change us and lead us past a life with only two sides. Sometimes a conversation with the next door neighbour is enough to help us see the world through more open eyes.
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There was a time in my life when I was really lonely. If you had been an observer watching my life, you probably wouldn’t have seen much evidence of the loneliness. I was a busy mom with great kids, I had a good job with co-workers who were easy to work with, and I had a few friends and family members around to socialize with, so it didn’t look like a lonely life. But I was lonely nonetheless. (Which leads me to believe that many people who appear to have “put-together” lives are lonely under the surface.)
A full-time career plus small kids is not a lifestyle that leaves a lot of room for friendships. Plus, some of my friends were still single and childless, so we no longer had much in common or were available at the same times. And, even though there were people in my life who cared about me, I wasn’t finding people who wanted to talk about the kinds of things I wanted to talk about.
Together with my family, I went looking for community, and eventually we found it in a lovely small church where people were authentic and progressive. We were well cared for in that community, and people showed up to support some of the most difficult times in our lives. It was really good for quite a few years… but then one day it started to feel like it wasn’t quite enough. Even though there was authenticity there, I wasn’t finding the opportunities I longed for to talk about the things that were becoming increasingly important to me. Nobody was talking about the Feminine Divine, for example, and only a few people seemed to have the same curiosity I had around how our faith journeys might be positively impacted by other faith perspectives. I was curious about Buddhist meditation, for example, and wanted to explore more of an Indigenous approach to spirituality.
Though I found community, and developed some beautiful friendships there, I was still searching for my tribe – people who understood the kinds of questions I was asking and were as eager as I was to have deep and meaningful conversations about the quests we were on. (It’s worth noting here, that I don’t use the words community and tribe interchangeably. You can find one without finding the other.)
I spent a lot of time searching for the kinds of writers and thinkers who were talking about what I was longing to talk about, and my bookshelves were soon full, but that still didn’t feed my ongoing quest for conversation and connection. That was in the days before social media, and all of those people I found who seemed like kindred spirits were far away from where I lived and had only static websites where there was little opportunity for interaction.
When I started blogging a dozen years ago, I started connecting with other bloggers who had similar curiosities, and those connections deepened with the growth of social media, but I still wanted more face-to-face connections.
Things started to shift quite radically five and a half years ago, when I was on the verge of quitting my non-profit job and jumping into self-employment. Though I’d been to lots of conferences and retreats where I found people to connect with, the first time I really arrived somewhere and felt almost instantly that I had found my tribe was the Summer Institute of Authentic Leadership in Action. These people were speaking my language, inviting the kinds of questions that were burning in my heart, encouraging vulnerability and curiosity, and creating safe spaces for deep and honest conversation. I started crying shortly after I arrived – I was so overwhelmed that I’d found what I was looking for.
Since then, I have found the same thing in a few places and my tribe continues to grow. After years of reading her work, I finally had the opportunity to be in retreat with Christina Baldwin, and since then have become deeply connected with her and Ann Linnea and others who are practitioners of The Circle Way. I have also found those connections in the community involved with The Art of Hosting. And, more recently, I have found my tribe within Gather the Women Global Matrix, an organization that exists for the sole purpose of supporting women’s circles around the world.
What makes these gatherings more conducive to tribe-building than the many other places I looked? In my experience, it’s the circle that changes things. All of these gatherings have, at their essence, a circle way of gathering, where you don’t just sit in rows and listen to speakers on a stage, you gather in circles where all voices are heard and real connections are made.
Last week, I attended my fourth annual gathering of Gather the Women. Fifty-four women from seven countries gathered in a beautiful, lush, green retreat space in Florida. We laughed, cried, danced, sang, made art, created ritual, hugged (a lot), dressed as funny non-human characters, had ceremonies, and most of all, we talked. In small circles and large ones, around breakfast tables and under the trees, we talked and talked and talked. We talked about our heartbreaks, our families, our spirituality, our discomfort, and our strength. We talked about sex and gender and human rights and wine and food and our bodies and the earth and the animals and the Goddess and the government(s).
We talked about real things that matter. Rarely did we talk about diets or fashion or shopping (though we didn’t judge anyone if they wanted to) and nobody cared if we wore make-up or if our skin sagged.
We talked and we loved. We loved each other and we loved the trees and we loved the pelicans in the sky and we loved the dolphin and sea otter playing in the cove.
That’s what it’s like to find your tribe. That’s what it’s like to show up in a place where people are authentic and kind and openhearted – where they sit in circle and look each other in the eye. That’s what it’s like when fifty-four women show up to hold space for each other.
When you find your tribe, and they accept you for who you are and believe you are capable of greatness, it can change your life.
Because it’s become so important to me, I continue to grow this tribe, drawing in anyone who dares to be real and flawed and openhearted. Last night, after flying home just the day before, I gathered with my local women’s circle and the same things that happened in Florida happened there. We laughed and cried and opened our hearts. We created safe space for each other by honouring each other and not judging.
Here’s what happens when you find your tribe:
- you feel truly seen in a way that you’ve rarely been seen before
- you find safety and you learn how to create it for others
- you learn to be vulnerable because you’re finally in a place where your mistakes are not being judged
- you dare to speak of the longing of your heart and you invite others to do the same
- you grow, because you know that the people in your tribe are cheering for you
- you learn to take risks in looking into your own shadow and the group’s shadow
- you want everyone else to know how good it is, so you start growing your tribe the best you can
Because nobody’s perfect, no tribe is perfect. As I’ve said in the past, shadow will inevitably show up wherever people gather. Sometimes there is conflict or jealousy or frustration. That’s all part of what it means to be real and to let people see you for who you really are. Also, as you change and grow, sometimes you outgrow a tribe and realize it’s time to find/build another.
Just as I said last week about how it can take a really long time to tell your truth, it can also take a really long time to find and/or grow your tribe. Sometimes, in my long lonely years, I feared it would never happen for me. There were a few false starts during that time, and each failure sent me into despair. But each time, I rose up once again, more and more determined to find the kinds of places I could be vulnerable and openhearted. Now that it’s happened, I feel incredibly lucky and want to spread the love to everyone I meet. (Yes, that includes you, even if I’ve only met you virtually. My tribe is all-inclusive.)
If you have not yet found your tribe, take heart and don’t give up. Hold onto your intention and it will surely happen for you some day. (And, from now on, even if we have never met, you can consider me part of your tribe.)
Here are a few tips for finding your tribe:
- If you are interested in women’s circles, join Gather the Women and either find a women’s circle in your own region or gather some friends to start talking about creating one (Gather the Women provides resources to help with that.)
- Go to the kinds of workshops, retreats, and learning events where people gather in circle and where authenticity is at the heart. The Circle Way is one of those (note: we are very close to launching a new website that will be a useful resource), as are The Art of Hosting and Authentic Leadership in Action. (All of these are international networks.) Another event I’ve had the pleasure of attending and which has been a great tribe-building place is Patti Digh’s Life is a Verb Camp.
- Be intentional about the kinds of conversations you have. When you begin to be openhearted and you speak out loud your desires to connect with people in more authentic ways, you will eventually find others who have similar longings. (Note: This doesn’t happen with everyone, and you will likely face some rejection, but over time you will learn to discern which people are the most open to these conversations.)
- Find other resources, books, communities, etc. that inspire you. Some are listed on recommended reading list. Another organization for women’s circles (which I know less about) is the Millionth Circle, based on Jean Shinoda Bolen’s books.
I wish you well as you seek your tribe.
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The wonderful response to my last post reminded me of two really important things about human nature:
- We all want to find our tribes – those people who understand us and don’t turn us away for being different.
- We all (at least I think it’s safe to make a generalization) feel like mis-fits now and then. NONE of us fit cleanly into the categories, boxes, labels, etc. that the experts say we should.
Isn’t that the great thing about the internet, though? We get to find people who understand us. We get to put out tentative little feelers and have people connect to them. (Yes, I believe that they are real connections.) We get to form tribes that might not naturally happen in the circles where we find our real live bodies. (‘Course, some of my favourite readers are my flesh and blood tribe – lucky me – so I get the best of both worlds here.)
Judging from the response, many of the readers of this blog feel like they’re the same kind of mis-fit as I am. Which makes me wonder – are bloggers disproportionately scanners and/or creators, or is it just that we tend to attract like-minded people and that’s what drew you to my blog in the first place (or me to yours – whichever happened first)?
I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot in the last few days. First of all, when I re-launched my blog on its own URL last week I found myself thinking “What is this blog’s reason for being? What makes it unique or of any value? Is it just a place for me to sound-off about my life or is there a deeper reason for why I’m putting this stuff out there?”
Then yesterday I was interviewed by my friend Stephanie for an article on women in leadership and she asked me some fairly pointed questions about why I put my life out there into cyber-world in the way that I do. What do I get out of it as a woman in leadership?
With all this contemplation and the fun interaction on the last post, I came to the conclusion that I am here because this blog has helped me find my tribe. I have found people to connect with. People who understand my idiosyncrasies and connect with me because they have idiosyncrasies of their own. People who value my stories and support me through the tough spots. People who will be kind to me and share their own vulnerability when I talk about personal stuff like breast reduction surgery. People who will cheer me on when I try new things. People who will offer different perspectives when I develop a bad case of tunnel vision. And (perhaps most importantly) people who don’t mind hanging around and watching me fumble through new art forms, writing, parenting, etc.
And in the middle of all that thinking, I had an epiphany.
I have found a tribe of fumblers.
It’s true, isn’t it? We are all fumbling for words, fumbling for truth, fumbling for beauty, fumbling for wisdom, fumbling for art, fumbling for friendship, fumbling for peace, fumbling for significance, fumbling for faith, fumbling for connection, fumbling for meaning, fumbling for justice, fumbling for hope.
I have always been a fumbler. I like to try new things, explore new ways of doing things, take pictures, paint things, write stuff, go on adventures, offer friendship, teach people stuff… but most of the time, I’m just fumbling my way through. I’m not an expert on anything, and even when I get recognition for things people think I know, I feel like saying “hey – I’m just a fumbler like you! I don’t really know what I’m doing, but you can come and fumble with me!”
This is not an expert blog where you’ll find advice on how to live your best life, how to maximize your assets, how to find true happiness, how to move past the blocks in your life, or how to make a pile of money the easy way. You won’t find ten easy steps toward ANYTHING around here (unless it’s tongue-in-cheek).
But if you’re a fumbler, you’re more than welcome to join my tribe!
There’s a great line in a Bruce Cockburn song that says “come all you stumblers who believe love rules, stand up and let it shine”. Hopefully Bruce won’t mind if I tweak it a little for selfish purposes and say “come all you fumblers who believe love rules, stand up and let it shine!”
If you’re a member of my fumbling tribe, stand up and let it shine in the comment box! You are all welcome here!