We all need community and a sense of belonging.
In her retelling of the ugly duckling story Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of Women Who Run with the Wolves, observes, “[W]hen an individual’s particular kind of soulfulness, which is both an instinctual and spiritual identity, is surrounded by psychic acknowledgment and acceptance, that person feels life and power as never before. Ascertaining one’s own psychic family brings a person vitality and belongingness.” I love this. We need to—we must—experience non-judgmental connections for the sake of our well-being.
Where we misplaced swans find our team of similarly enlightened souls may be different for each of us, but we know that having a sense of belonging and contributing to a vibrant community are strongly associated with greater happiness and longer living. Have you found your “psychic family” yet? Let me tell you how I found one of my communities (and I’d love to hear your story as well).
A few years ago, I joined a delightful club called the Marathon Maniacs. The Maniacs are an international group of runners who cheerfully compete with one another for how many 26.2-mile races they can do in any given year or in a lifetime. I wanted to join the club for one simple reason: I’d met its members and they were fun. Really fun!
At the starting line of each race I participated in, I saw them clustered together wearing yellow or red jerseys with bold letters proclaiming, “Marathon Maniacs.” They high-fived each other and reported how many races they’d completed in, special homage going to those who’d reached milestones like 50 or 100. While I was standing around alone, knowing I might spend the next five hours running in solitude, the Maniacs had found their tribe. I wanted to be a part of a supportive group like that.
Fortunately, the Maniacs are happy to have new members. Fast or slow, thin or bulky, serious or recreational—all runners are welcome, as long as they love to run and can meet the qualification criteria. The quick way to qualify for this loony club is to run back to back marathons (one on Saturday and another on Sunday, for example). I took the slow way: three marathons within 90 days. And they let me join.
In my early days of membership, I was too shy to wear my jersey to races, feeling like I really didn’t belong with only a measly 16 marathons under my belt. Then last year my husband and I took a driving vacation around the Southwest of the U.S. to participate in a marathon in Park City, Utah one weekend and another one in Santa Rosa, California the next weekend. I decided to wear my Maniac “uniform” so I could be easily identified by other club members. The experience was extraordinary.
From across the parking lot in Park City, I heard a man’s voice, “Hey Ponytail Maniac! Get over here.” I didn’t realize at first the voice was calling out to me, but soon I was enveloped by a small group of runners asking me where I was from and how many States I’d run in and where I was on my marathon count. No one ever asked how fast I was or if I was a serious competitor. They only wanted to celebrate that we were all here to reach a mutual goal to run this race.
During the race itself, as the course weaved its way in and around Park City (which sits at an elevation of over 7,000 feet and was therefore quite difficult for someone like me who lives and trains at sea level), several Maniacs passed me, and without fail, they shouted enthusiastic encouragement. By the end of the race I knew I’d found a true community, a tribe. I’d been understood, accepted, and enveloped in support by others who knew my struggle first hand because it was their struggle, too.
Who are these people in your life? These are the ones who understand your particular variety of soulfulness and can come alongside you to cheer you on, saying, “Hey, you’re one of us. We get you, and we’re all in this together.”