Finding Our Tribes

May 31, 2014

by Kim Childs, CPPC

Last mindexonth as I watched my students in The Artist’s Way bonding with each other, I grew aware of some jealousy bubbling up in me. It made me realize that, since becoming a workshop facilitator, I’d spent more time creating support circles than cultivating my own. In the last year, I’d also let my social life get a bit too “virtual” as I single-mindedly focused on becoming a certified coach and building a new business.

While my online connections are wonderful, they don’t take the place of real people in my space, and they aren’t necessarily the people I call when I really need to talk. I know what that support looks like, because I’ve had it.

In the summer of 1997, I hit bottom in my personal and professional life, and depression was setting in. In the midst of that funk, I spotted a pink flier announcing a workshop on The Artist’s Way in my town. There was one spot left in the group, and I grabbed it.

Soon I was meeting weekly with a handful of kindred spirits who wanted what I did—a more authentic life and a way to express our passions. We entrusted each other with our once secret desires to sing, write poetry, pen novels, and paint. We helped each other through dark and doubtful moments, we celebrated each other’s progress and triumphs, and we stayed connected after the course was over.

And, as often happens on the road to recovery, I also discovered parts of me that needing healing.

I found a therapist who steered me to Al-Anon, a 12-step program for those affected by addiction in others. That’s where I was astonished to hear many versions of my own life story from men and women who had walked a similarly painful path of trying to cope in relationships with alcoholics and drug addicts. My circle of support now included Al-Anon members who shared secrets, supportive phone calls and Saturday mornings with me.

As my healing and recovery journey continued, I quit my radio career and headed to the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, where I planned to volunteer all summer. In fact, I stayed for two years because I found yet another tribe there—people who were committed to growing themselves as spiritual warriors. My fellow yogis and yoginis were of different ages, races and backgrounds, but those differences melted as we chanted and danced ecstatically, held rituals, shared deep truths, drummed around the fire and practiced yoga on and off our mats.

It was a magical time.

When I left Kripalu and moved to the Boston area, I began leading others in transformational workshops. For 12 years, I’ve watched my students open up to each other in the safe space that we co-create. While they often enter the class feeling stuck and “terminally unique” with their neuroses and fears, they soon relax into the awareness that they are not alone, and that they can be authentic and connected—a powerful combination. When the workshop is over, many of them continue to meet, sharing support and inspiration for the journey ahead.

Now here I am, wanting the same thing for myself again.

My years of moving around to follow my bliss left me with lots of dear friends in faraway places. Many of my local pals have moved away in recent years, while others can be hard to pin down, and so Facebook is where we catch up. I have 600 friends on Facebook and, while they provide a warm and necessary sense of community at times, I’m more deeply nourished by face-to-face contact and rich conversation.

Psychiatrist Ned Hallowell noted in a recent interview that, while we’re all super connected electronically these days, we’re rather disconnected interpersonally. “People don’t have that sense of affiliation, of belonging, of company, of people to turn to at hand,” says Hallowell. “There’s an awful lot of unacknowledged loneliness out there—people surrounded by people, but not really connected.”

I hear this from friends and coaching clients, too, and it’s got me wondering: How can we do a better job of connecting with our flesh and blood tribes in this digital age? Positive Psychologists stress that strong social ties and relationships are crucial to our mental and physical well-being, but we’re often too busy typing, texting, surfing and posting to make a call or plan a visit.

It takes effort to maintain real relationships amid busy lives, but I know from experience that the fruits of those efforts are sweet, indeed. The other day I received an invitation to join a local women’s spirituality circle and I replied with a resounding “Yes!” I’m also creating a peer support group with fellow coaches in my area, and making plans to attend more gatherings this summer and spend time with people I love.

In my husband’s native Wolof language, there’s an odd phrase that sounds like, “Neet, neet-tay garabum.” When I asked him to translate, he told me, “People heal people.”

Yes, especially the kind you can reach out and touch.

Kim Childs, CPPC, is a Certified Life and Career Coach specializing in Positive Psychology, Creativity, and Midlife Transitions. Click here to learn more and schedule an initial consultation.