“The happiness I have found in life always comes back to connections and relationships. That is the most important thing above anything else – it always has been, it always will be…”
I walk my bike carefully up a very steep hill. There are lots of trees surrounding me and the wind is carefully stirring each of the autumnal coloured leafs. I hear birds sing against the backdrop of those rustling leaves. The sun is out, and I feel its warmth on my skin.
It is an altogether tranquil scene, yet I feel unmistakably anxious.
Beyond the steep hill looms a large house. I am contemplating what I will find beyond the door I see ahead. I know that there is some sort of “community” beyond that door, and that I have committed to working in their garden for the next week, for which I will at least receive food and a place to sleep.
But what else I wonder?
Most people, it seems to me, would like to both be loved and give love. I don’t mean the desirous kind of love, where someone might value another for what they represent to society, or for whom they might perceive, or want, that person to be. I mean the kind of love that accepts another exactly as they are, from one moment to the next; completely; utterly.Born into love?
Whilst we may be full of unconditional love when enter into this world our unconditional loving might quickly disappear if we find ourselves surrounded by people who expect us to behave in certain ways if we want their “love”. Such conditional love, particularly if it does not align with our core sense of self, might be challenging to try and obtain, and perhaps even debilitating. Eventually we might even come to believe that how others want us to be is in itself completely valid, such that we not only end up judging ourselves, but others too, for not being that way.
Such judgments towards ourselves and others can often get in the way of sustaining relationships with others. It is quite possible, however, with a lot of hard work, support (unconditional, of course), and commitment, to break down these barriers to loving ourselves and others. And this is very fortunate because it is the quality of our relationships that are perhaps the biggest sustained contributor to our happiness and well-being.
Yet despite the importance of relationships for our happiness and well-being, it is all too rare to come across groups of people who emphasise the importance of the relationships in their lives ahead of all other considerations. Yet perhaps even more rarely to come across those who have committed themselves to putting in the necessary energy to move towards accepting and loving others unconditionally.
But it seems I struck at the heart of love within this particular Oregonian community. This group of beings were committed to meaningfully relating with one another, and fortunate for me, with all those that they encountered. I could sense this as soon as I parked my bike and began fully meeting the eyes before me. There was a holding in those eyes and I knew I would be able relax into being exactly who I am. And so I did.
It takes time and commitment
The original members of this community had first come together 40 years ago. I witnessed just a snapshot of their history and what I perceived was a highly functional and committed group. They made it look easy. However, I have dipped my toe into enough intentional communities over the years exploring better ways of living to know for certain that it has not been easy. It never is easy to work on our relationships – it is often difficult, it takes time, it needs commitment. But it was undoubtedly worth it as they were all still together after many probably fraught years, and they were happy.
They were perhaps the happiest group of people I’d ever encountered. By basking in their love, that happiness, it seems to have made it that little bit easier for me to love, to be happy. Thus I left with a great deal of hope for the future for my own life – that in continuing to focus on relationships and re-learning to love unconditionally then happiness will follow.
It was just love, but that’s why I was there.