I was lucky to start 2020 with a 10-day silent retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in San Francisco, where I had a touching experience of silent community. It was eye-opening; I realized that to connect and to feel part of a group, we don’t have to talk. In fact, the sense of love, community and belonging is even greater in silence.

These 10 days gave me a chance to think about how much I care about community and belonging, and how much more of it I want to cultivate in my life. My intention grew through out the year, as I completed the second year of my Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification Program, and at almost every module, we talked about community as an integral part of a happy and balanced life. Community seems to be the fundamental piece of life. We are alive when we are connected.

2020 was a first for my generation - we suffered together, globally, at a scale we had not experienced before. Yes, we suffered differently. Some of us just had to stay at home and be bored, while others lost jobs and income, felt hungry, invisible, and depressed. Some of us felt we could go on, while others felt they absolutely could not go on anymore. Alongside these differences, there was an understanding that everyone in every part of the world was affected to some extent. When we spoke with people in remote corners of the world (and we definitely did more of that!), COVID was the first thing we asked about. We wondered about their health, we asked about their families, we donated more, we spoke more about those things that really matter in life: safety, equity, justice, giving. Even if we ourselves weren’t in a tight spot at that exact moment, our nervous systems remained attuned to those around the globe. In limbic resonance, we suffered together. In my life of 32 years, 2020 was the year I felt a global sense of community with all inhabitants of the world. I felt like we were all on the same page. There was a deeper sense of solidarity. And while I wish this pandemic to be gone as soon as possible, I will continue to sense and appreciate this global community as we move into 2021.

During my 10 silent days at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in January, I also became very attuned to the nature around me. I sat on a bench outside the main meditation hall for hours, taking in the sun, the hills, the grass, the sky and the trees. I walked around the grounds, alongside creeks, through the woods, paying attention to my body and breath, loving the uniqueness and wonders of each living creature.

Before 2020, my definition of community was focused on human beings. This year, my definition of community expanded to nature and all its inhabitants: animals, trees, plants, forms, emptiness. Contrary to human beings, who were disregulated for the most part of this year, these non-human living beings regulated and relaxed me.

One week, as Mudita Mindfulness Community, we were doing an informal practice of noticing trees as friendly beings around us. That happened to be the week we drove down south and during that 6 hour drive, I saw millions of trees on both sides of the highway. I had such a high from feeling interconnected with them and feeling their presence persistently for that long of a duration. I wasn't traveling south just with my partner. I was traveling with millions of trees!

In all those moments of 2020 when I felt alone and disconnected from humans, I connected myself to the countless non-human beings around me: the rare trees on the Parisian streets, the clouds in the sky, the grass in parks, the southern seas, the beaches, the mountains, the snow. I watched my plants at home budding with new leaves and flowers, I watched the landing of a butterfly, I became friends with a baby cat named Elizabeth outside our apartment in Istanbul who lived happily in her loving community of cats and humans.

With so much time in quarantine, the rare times I could walk or simple things like going out to buy bread felt more important. I discovered parts of my neighborhood in Paris that I had not noticed before, I remembered the beauty of the Bosphorus, I walked in parts of the French countryside I had never seen before. Putting on a jacket, pausing my day for an hour, and going outside to take in whatever I could from the outside world with my five senses replenished me when I was most restless, tired or agitated.

“Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn't crowded with ten thousand things,
this is the best season of your life.”
-- Wu-Men

Our minds have a tendency to get small and fixated in the humdrum of daily life. We lose the larger sense of who we are - part of this expanding universe and complex nature. With so much time indoors this year, I cherished the outside and the expansive even more.

The learnings I want to remember in 2021 are to look for community and belonging, and to notice those contexts that strengthen it: silence, nature, and maybe others I am yet to discover.

From one of our hikes this summer

For Your Reflections

  • Does community matter to you, and if yes, why?
  • Did you have a stronger sense of community and belonging this year? Or maybe a weaker sense of it?
  • What communities support and nourish you?
  • What communities do you notice around you, even if you are not part of them?  

Continue reading this series: Trust

Go back to the beginning: Fundamentals