It wasn’t until I came to yoga that I heard the phrase, “Finding my tribe.” When I first heard it used by a yoga teacher, it did not resonate with me, but then again, many “yogaisms” don’t. For example, I also don’t resonate with the oft-used yogaism, “Finding your juicy spot.”
Recently, in one of my meditations, I was presented with a thought that made me reconsider the idea of “Finding my tribe.” Often, when a thought arises in meditation, we chalk it up to a disturbance from the subconscious mind and dutifully let it go and return to a present-moment anchor such as breath-awareness. Having practiced mediation for over twenty-five years, I have become aware that there are different kinds of chatter. There is the subconscious chatter which makes up about ninety-five percent of the noise and, then, as I have learned, there seems to be about five percent of the chatter that is different. This is a voice that is distinctly different. These are thoughts or ideas that pop into mind and seem to come out of nowhere, but under close examination appear to come from a source of wisdom or insight.
In this recent meditation, the message of needing to “Find my tribe” came to me. I wanted to brush it off as subconscious chatter, but after my meditation I dedicated some conscious time to the message. I realized that very early on in my life, I had a tribe – a spiritual tribe that I talked to and connected with regularly. Every day I would connect with my tribe and feel a sense of happiness and peace. As I suspect happens with many kids who know that their tribe is a spiritual tribe, they abandon it for fear of not fitting with the other kids who clearly seem to have a more terrestrial tribe. I spent the better part of my adolescence, teen years, and young adulthood struggling to find a tribe to fit into on this earth but it never really happened. In university I struggled with feelings of profound loneliness. To combat this feeling, I overloaded my sensory systems. I exercised like mad and I drank alcohol to excess. The physical discomfort I felt the next morning was a salve for my much more intense feelings of being lost and alone.
I discovered meditation while in university, and I don’t think I am over-stating it to say that it saved my life. Slowly, I began to have small moments where I did not feel as alone, in spite of the fact that I was sitting on the floor of my dorm room all by myself. I really had no idea what I was doing but I knew somehow I need to be quiet and still. Over the years my dedication to the practice would ebb and flow but in retrospect there was a change happening. About ten years ago in my meditations, I realized that I was not alone. I realized that I was spending time with another entity that would sometimes provide me with important information. It took me awhile to separate the wheat from the chaff but eventually I could see that some of the information was provided by spirit. I realized that the more I got to know this spirit, that this was the guide that introduced me to my tribe when I was a child.
When I was presented with the information that I needed to “Find my tribe”, I realized that I had become separated from my tribe. An, there was importance in getting reacquainted with them. My meditations now are often about the journey back to the tribe. The loneliness has largely abated and there is renewed purpose in my inward and outward journey. I have come to realize that as I relocate my spiritual tribe that many of them also exist in physical form. The journey of going inwards to discover spirit, to re-discover my spiritual tribe, is presenting me with my tribal members incarnate. I notice when we look in each other’s eyes and deep into the spirit, we have become reacquainted. I know I am slowly finding my tribe and I know they come from all walks of life.
We all need a tribe. We are social beings who cannot survive well alone. Increasingly, we are become more and more distant from our tribes. It used to be that people lived more communally and felt a sense of belonging. Now more people describe feeling lonely and isolated and it is affecting our health. This excerpt from Psychology Today, September 11, 2012 exemplifies the importance of the tribe, or the clan, as they call it.
The Power of the Clan
The people of Roseto, Pennsylvania, knew this well.
Back in the 1960s, if you had stumbled upon the small town of Italian immigrants, you would have seen people returning from work at the end of the day, strolling along the village’s main street, stopping to gossip with the neighbors, and maybe sharing a glass of wine before heading home to change into dinner clothes.
You’d see women gathering together in communal kitchens, preparing classic Italian feasts, while men pushed tables together in anticipation of the nightly ritual that gathered the community together over heaping piles of pasta, Italian sausage, meatballs fried in lard, and free-flowing vino.
As a community of new immigrants, surrounded by English and Welsh neighbors who turned up their noses at the Italians, the people of Roseto had to look out for each other. Multi-generational homes were the norm. During the week, everyone went to the same workplace, and on Sundays, everyone went to church together. Neighbors wandered in and out of each other’s kitchens regularly, and holidays were joyously celebrated communally.
The people of Roseto took care of each other. Nobody in Roseto was left to struggle through life alone. Roseto was living proof of the power of the clan. And while they smoked, drank booze every night, and ate junk food, the people of Roseto had half the risk of death by heart attack as the rest of the country, not because of genetics, better doctors, or something in their water supply. Researchers ultimately concluded that love, intimacy, and being part of a tribe protected their health.
John Bruhn, a sociologist, recalls, “There was no suicide, no alcoholism, no drug addiction, and very little crime. They didn’t have anyone on welfare. Then we looked at peptic ulcers. They didn’t have any of those either. These people were dying of old age. That’s it.”
Then Everything Changed…
As time went on, the younger generation wasn’t so thrilled about life in Roseto, which to them seemed immune to modernization. When the young people went off to study at college, they brought back to Roseto new ideas, new dreams, and new people. Italian-Americans started marrying non-Italians. The children strayed from the church, joined country clubs, and moved into single-family suburban houses with fences and pools.
With these changes, the multi-generational homes disbanded and the community lifestyle shifted gears from nightly celebrations to more of the typical “every man for himself” philosophy that fueled the neighboring communities. The neighbors who would regularly drop in for casual visits started phoning each other to schedule appointments. The evening rituals of adults singing songs while children played with marbles and jacks turned into nights in front of the television.
In 1971, when heart attack rates in other parts of the country were dropping because of widespread adoption of healthier diets and regular exercise programs, Roseto had its first heart attack death in someone younger than 45. Over the next decade, heart disease rates in Roseto doubled. The incidence of high blood pressure tripled. And the number of strokes increased. Sadly, by the end of the 1970s, the number of fatal heart attacks in Roseto had increased to the national average.
As it turns out, human beings nourish each other, even more than spaghetti, and the health of the body reflects this.
Intimacy Is Preventative Medicine
While we are not likely to go back to living in small, intimate communities with multi-generational family homes, the need to find tribe is more important than ever. Lissa Rankin, M.D., lists seven ways to discover your tribe: http://lissarankin.com/7-tips-for-finding-your-tribe.
I would add to this list and put it at the top: Discover your spirit. Our ego can confuse us with who we think our tribe should be. You may want to think your tribe are yogis and yoginis. You may think your tribe is in your church congregation. You may think your tribe is your softball team. Maybe you have found your tribe and maybe you haven’t – only your soul knows for sure. Check in with your spirit and find out. When was the last time you sat and visited? Like the Italian immigrants of Roseto, maybe after work you should sit down with the “person” who shares the “house” with you – your spirit. Maybe your loneliness can be relieved by being guided back to your authentic tribe. Don’t be surprised if your tribe isn’t the group you thought they would be.