HWW Life Practice #6: Community
“Healing is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is healing. To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation”
- Wendell Berry
The Harvard Study of Adult Development, begun in 1938, revealed some poignant insights into the importance of community to our health and our happiness. In tracking the lives of over 700 men from different backgrounds, including Harvard undergraduates as well as men from the poorest neighborhoods in Boston, the study found that strong relationships – with family, friends, and spouses – strongly influenced health and well-being. The men in the strongest relationships with their community, regardless of socioeconomic status, were less susceptible to chronic and mental illness and cognitive decline. Their relationships had a greater impact on their quality of life than wealth, fame, IQ, or social class.
The study’s current director, Dr. Robert Waldinger, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says that the Harvard study “has shown that the people who fared the best were the people who leaned into relationships with family, with friends and with community.”
I’ve always consciously cultivated strong connections to my community. I’m still close with many of my high school and college friends, people I’ve known for over 40 years, in some cases. I’m also still friendly with some former colleagues with whom I spent some of the most gratifying years of my professional life. I tend to these relationships to keep the flame alive (this is the practice part), speaking on the phone, making time to see them as often as practical given busy lives I let them know I’m here for them, that I care about them, that I would be there for them, no questions asked, if they ever needed me.
Jim Rohn, the entrepreneur, motivational speaker and author of The Art of Exceptional Living and Twelve Pillars, has said that you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Choose to spend time with people that are more evolved than you in one area or another, pay attention, and see what you can learn. And seek to be an exemplar of something, sufficient to be emulated yourself. Hold yourself to high standards and watch the people around you elevate themselves; they won’t want to disappoint you.
I never fully realized the power of community until just after my prostate cancer diagnosis (read my story here). After the terror subsided and I emerged from my incapacitated funk I started telling my closest friends about my health crisis. It was in this vulnerability, the sharing of my deepest fears and anxieties that my community brought me exactly what I needed.
Two friends, one new and the other one of my oldest and dearest, gave me gifts that would change my life forever. One directed me to a medicinal cannabis oil protocol called RSO (aka Rick Simpson Oil), while the other resulted in me getting in touch with Dr. Geo Espinosa, Director of the Integrative Urology Center at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. Learning about the cannabis oil treatment for prostate cancer and becoming Dr. Espinosa’s patient gave me the courage to postpone my prostatectomy and attempt to manage my illness with lifestyle interventions. My community delivered for me in my time of greatest need.
I surround myself with people who will hold me accountable, people that I look up to and want to emulate in some way (for embodying agency or high moral character or deep compassion – or all of the above), people that are committed to living the best version of their lives possible. These are people I want to connect with, to whom I’m not afraid to reveal my vulnerability; I can show them my true self, not my polished, professional self, not my sanitized, curated social media self. These are the people that will hold me accountable to my most cherished intentions, and who will do everything they can to help me get there.
Start with an inventory of your top 5-15 relationships in each of the following categories – family; friendships; professional. How important are each of these relationships to you? Would any of them benefit from an additional investment of time and energy on your part? How about from a little emotional distance? What are you offering each relationship and what are you receiving in return? Develop an action plan to strengthen the relationships that matter most to you and to disengage, even if only just a little, from those that drain you of energy.
If there are no mentors or teachers on your list, people that you can learn something from, someone to hold you accountable to your commitments, then you have some more work to do. Find someone you admire and start building a relationship. Find a way to reciprocate your mentors' generosity by offering something of value in return. Give as good, if not better, than you get.
By skillfully weaving your relationships into a strong, supportive network you’ll ensure that it’ll help you from falling through the cracks. It also connects you to others’ networks, so you can do the same for them.
In his landmark book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman cites the importance of Community to our health. Goleman cites studies done over two decades, involving more than 37,000 people, which show that social isolation doubles the risk of sickness or death.
So: get busy with your own rescue. Start today. Not tomorrow, not next week, not as part of your next New Year’s resolutions. Today. There’s no time to waste.
The good news is you’re not alone. We’re here to help. Let us show you the Health Warrior Way.
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