Hi friends, welcome to my birthday month, whoop whoop! Aging tends to have a negative connotation in a culture obsessed with wrinkle-free skin and youthful stamina, and I admit there is a part of me that isn’t super pumped about having to add another candle to my cake every year. Luckily, though, I really wouldn’t want the process to be the other way around Benjamin Button style. We may “lose” conventional outside beauty with age, but we certainly make up for it in the internal beauty and wisdom that only year upon year of living on this Earth affords us. When we get older, we stop caring about the stuff that really doesn’t contribute to our well-being or happiness. We become more efficient with our time and better able to discern what activities deserve our attention and energy. We stop relying on the mirror to tell us what we’re worth and instead, develop a keen sense of what we bring to the table as a whole person- mind, body, soul. Most significantly, we slowly begin to expand our awareness beyond the self and understand the true value of community.
I was recently watching a TED talk about the factors that most highly correlate to living longer (into the triple digits!) Exercise, diet, not smoking…those things made the list but weren’t anywhere near the top. Number two was having close relationships (the kind where you feel comfortable asking for even the biggest favor) and number one was social integration (feeling like you’re part of a community). I don’t know about you, but the latter was a bit surprising. I am incredibly fortunate to have a very close-knit circle of people who I rely on 100%, so I had never considered that I might need anything else. But research suggests that being integrated into a larger network of humans, believing that you are an important piece of the puzzle that is your neighborhood, city, or country, is crucial to your well-being.
Turns out, connection, community, and camaraderie can actually be a matter of life and death.
Never has this been truer for the people of Houston than over the last few days. As our city crumbled underneath the weight of torrential rain, so did the masks, titles, and beliefs that had previously disconnected us from one another. Without regard for race, religion, gender, sex, or social status, we became a team against the destruction and loss from Hurricane Harvey. I personally experienced the power of community like I never had before, showered with messages from people all over the country asking about my well-being and asking if they could help in any way. I saw many of my students pull together donation campaigns and organize volunteer efforts overnight. And the Houston yoga community didn’t hesitate to offer free classes or open their studios to anyone needing a bit of fresh air during the storm. Having closely witnessed that incredible level of support and courage, I have no doubt that Houston will recover, but I do wonder…will we be able to rebuild our city without also rebuilding our own walls?
The recent devastation Houstonians faced created an opening in all of us, from which love and compassion and an uncontrollable desire to help poured out. But will we stay open once our highways and bayous have dried up? Can we continue to prioritize relationships, remain accountable for the way in which we interact with one another, and seek common ground from which to cultivate community once tragedy no longer binds us together?
I believe the answer is yes, but only if we remain soft, permeable, and above all, vulnerable.
Brenee Brown, social researcher and author, writes:
“Our rejection of vulnerability often stems from our associating it with dark emotions like fear, shame, grief, sadness, and disappointment—emotions that we don’t want to discuss, even when they profoundly affect the way we live, love, work, and even lead. What most of us fail to understand and what took me a decade of research to learn is that vulnerability is also the cradle of the emotions and experiences that we crave. Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability and authenticity.”
The intention for this month will be to embrace vulnerability as the path to deeper connection and more meaningful lives. Yes, vulnerability is scary, but it is also the only thing that will keep us connected long after Hurricane Harvey dissolves. Instead of hardening back up, let’s continue to show up for each other wholeheartedly, share with each other openly and fearlessly, and allow ourselves to be affected, moved, and transformed by the community that surrounds us.