I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I’ve been pretty lonely lately.
Here I am, Executive Director of the Foundation for Intentional Community, and while technically I am living in a community, my current transitional and transitory lifestyle, including working remotely, is leaving me isolated a lot of the time. It feels terrible, and it’s hard not to feel bad about myself for being in this situation.
And here we are on Giving Tuesday, the non-profit response to Black Friday, when, rather than buying a bunch of stuff, you’re supposed to support the causes you believe in and feel like you’re part of something. But for-profit or non-profit, it’s all fueling what is increasingly being identified as an epidemic of loneliness.
Last March I left my long-term home of Twin Oaks Community (14 years of membership total, 19 years in the area) and have been a nomadic communard, driving 25,000 miles, visiting over 20 communities, and attending 5 conferences. As much as moving on from Twin Oaks was the right thing, I acutely feel a painful, gaping hole where there had been a deep familiarity of people and place.
Being so used to having people around me all the time, even if they drove me nuts sometimes, the feeling of disconnection makes me realize how much we need each other to feel complete in our experience as social animals. I frequently feel both a sharp pain of something missing along with a numbness, a combination of sadness and despair, that can easily lead towards depression.
We in the FIC have been talking a lot about loneliness lately. All of a sudden a convincing body of research is being reported on and picked up by politicians that shows the impacts on health and society of pervasive and increasing social isolation. This has always been part of the reason why people start and move to intentional communities. Now we have the data to back up our assertion that there is a real problem here that we are addressing. The thing we do best at the FIC is connect people to communities, so this has become core to our messaging right now, a reminder that the antidote to loneliness is community and that FIC is a place where you can find community.
So it feels both ironic and somehow fitting that right now I am having the exact experience that we are trying to speak to as an organization. Knowing that I am part of the 40% of the US population that suffers from loneliness helps me feel empathy and compassion for others and myself. It makes what we in the FIC are saying and doing feel a whole lot more real and authentic, because it’s something I know I need.
I need community. Having had it, I can see the negative impacts of not having it. But I also feel extremely grateful, because unlike most people who are experiencing loneliness, I know I have options and that FIC’s resources are available.
Gratitude has become an important practice for me in dealing with loneliness.
I’m very grateful for the cohousing community I temporarily live in right now. It is a beautiful community, a reflection of the love and care the members here have for the place and each other. There are lots of communities out there that I’m connected to that would welcome me. And I have lots of people who love and care about me and are there for me, even if they’re not physically in my day-to-day life. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t know there were people out there I could reach out to or places I could go.
I want this for everyone. I feel so sad for people going through what I’m going through and having no idea how to fix it. This is why I’ve dedicated the last 20 years of my life to living in intentional community and helping build the movement. This is why I work for the FIC.
I really don’t want to ask you to make an end of year gift right now, but the reality is we do need your support. And I can tell you as someone who is suffering from loneliness right now that I’m excited to take advantage of what the FIC has to offer me to find where I belong, and I want to help more and more people do the same.