The astonishing power of community

This blog post by Marn Norwich was originally published by Creative Coworkers.

I moved to Vancouver 22 years ago with my sister, with little more than a manuscript of short stories, stashed under my airplane seat. We knew one person in British Columbia. We did not have jobs, and we weren’t students. We realized very quickly that to create our visions of fulfilling our purpose, we were also going to have to create community — from scratch. We could not flourish in a vacuum, and we were intent on flourishing. We were goal-driven, passionate young women, and we poured the same intensity into our community-creation project as we had our university degrees and artistic endeavors. If I thought it would be easy, it wasn’t: the experience was like working toward a whole new BA.

Most people would agree that community is a fundamental element in a good life. You know the refrain: Our roots are communal; our deep history led us from caves to forests and plains, always in community. And the chorus: If community was once the element that made life possible at the most basic level, now it is more necessary than ever to sustaining our spirits during our era of individuation.

Yet when we refer to community, we use banal language, flat words like “networking”, “involvement”, “resources”. These words serve a function, but they seem to chronically understate the astonishing power of community to connect us to each other and ourselves at a core level. Community is the ground-moving strength of the tribe that surrounds us in this time and place, the magical power of good intention, the alchemy of shared vision, the hope of one-hundred-thousand stars, the infinite possibilities of love in action.

Community gives us an opportunity to get to know the other spirits here with us on this epic journey, to merge with the thrum of life, to live our lives to their absolute fullest, to share the best of ourselves over the broadest spectrum, to know ourselves better through others’ wisdom and to truly know others — one of the hugest of privileges.

When I began to cultivate the art of community-building at age 26, it would have surprised me to know the number of different communities I would live, work and play in over the following decades. Each one has arisen out of a different circumstance, from serendipity to street signs, and in forms as varied as an inner-city commune, single-mother support group and a house-full of Greenpeace boys.

I discovered that my capacity to build community has as much to do with intention as legwork. Most fun, I cannot predict what or who will provide the link to my next community. During solitary periods, these communities were often about to explode into my viewfinder. This knowledge makes me wish I could return to my younger self and assure her that the life-bringing connections she needed to sustain herself in this sometimes-isolating new world were right there, just beyond the hoax of time.

Creativity + healing in community: the triple whammy!

This article by Marn Norwich was originally published by Creative Coworkers.

The once-pejorative concept of a triple whammy has taken on an upbeat, urban-dictionary twist in recent years. So it is this reclaimed phrase that comes to mind when I think of the powerful triumvirate of creativity, healing and community. When people gather together with the intention of mutual support and expressing their truths to themselves and each other, some immeasurable quantity joins them, and the magic begins!

I’ve witnessed this fireworks display on many occasions, and each time I am happily astonished. I’ve seen it happen in community centre workshop spaces, for women in Burnaby prison, for teenaged girls at an eating disorders unit, and for classrooms full of courageous people in drug and alcohol rehab centres. People come together as community, sometimes without prior knowledge of each other, break though their fear and self-consciousness, and write their truths. Then, sometimes with shaky hands and often through tears, they read their raw words aloud.

We, the group, listen. We listen hard, like new parents tuned to their babies. Our job is to hold these unpolished stones in our hands and warm them by our human hearts. It’s a form of alchemy that no one needs to be taught. The respect for each reader is palpable in the quiet space, and often group members call out their support and admiration.

The crazy thing is that even though people may be writing for the first time in years (or in their lives!), the pieces are often breathtaking in their fluidity, poignancy and rhythm, with turns of phrase that seem to have landed on the page from some distant star. It can be mindboggling to hear a roomful of wrenching truths, one after the other, each story a living history and testimony to what we can overcome.

The throat chakra or energy centre is associate with creativity and self-expression. When it is opened, we can transform the hardness of personal history into wisdom.

Healing can come through transformation, as in the act of moving from stuck to activated, from silence to speech. When facilitated in community, within a creativity framework, the power of this transformation is augmented by the loving kindness of our human families. Community is power, in so many ways. As much as creativity, it is one of the privileged gifts of our species.