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Building community after isolation

building community camp site at dusk
Camping dawn. Photo by Sarah-Jane Cobley

This year we cancelled our annual NVC Summerfest and instead we attended a self-catering NVC Camping Space as a way to explore building community after isolation. To support ‘social distancing’, the campsite provided each household a toilet, a tap and a pitch that was ten metres distant from the adjoining ones. So, physically we were protected.

But how are we doing emotionally when we keep physical distance? What happens when there is strong longing for personal connection, seeing each other and hearing each in the flesh? One person expressed her sadness that she is missing hugging, and for her ‘social distancing’ doesn’t mean that she wants ‘social distance’. No, not at all! It means keeping physical distance.

She was very clear and definitely wanted to socialise. She said: “Please include me and talk to me. Just keep two metres away. Please accept when I bring my own chair, food, drink, etc. It’s not personal. I’m a vulnerable person and I want to stay safe and healthy. However, after months of isolation it’s my first chance to meet people and to spend some time with them outdoors.”

Other people expressed their joy at being in nature, close to the elements, meeting friends and having a chat in person. I experienced it in a similar way. Shantigarbha and I enjoyed each other’s company in these months of isolation, however coming together with like-minded people in the spirit of NVC brings a different kind of connection. It’s really about being part of a community, even though we only see each other once a year.

When I speak about ‘community’, I mean the people you share time, space and resources with. It’s the people you eat with, the people you share space with. It’s the people you share common resources with, whether it’s a well or a website. Inasmuch as you share resources, you also share risk about how those resources are used.

This week of camping was all about building community. Some were regular Summerfesters and other people were new, so the emphasis was on ‘building’. When I arrived with Shantigarbha, we came more or less as an individual bubble. We hadn’t had many connections during lockdown or after. I assume it was similar for others who came on their own or with their support bubble/family/partner.

After a week of getting to know each other or deepening our connections and finding out what works and what doesn’t, someone said: “Now I feel I have fully arrived. I could stay another week. Six days is too short. Can we meet next year for 14 days?’

I felt pleased hearing this, and I interpreted this comment as ‘More of the same, please!’ It resonated with other group members. And the idea came up that next year we will have a wider team of organisers and if possible we will meet for ten days. Some of these days will be more structured than others, to meet needs for ease, connection, freedom of choice, structure and spaciousness.

Looking back, I find rich learning in how we developed a mutual understanding of living together and how each of us contributed to the group and to the communal space. I had no expectations and I’m happy how far we could get in this process of building community.

Learning from my experiences and trusting in the process of NVC played an important part, especially when uncomfortable things popped up. Living in the spirit of NVC is all about connection; with self, with others. I’m curious what will happen over the next few months with this momentum of wonderful experiences.

This October Shantigarbha and I are offering another NVC Year Training with the topic of Building Community. I could imagine it’s more important than ever after a time of isolation that each of us finds their own community for connection, belonging, support, care and inspiration.