The Importance of Community

Recently I heard Dr Bruce Lipton explaining how ants will die if they become separate from their colony. Although humans will not die, one the human fundamentals is a sense of connection with others. Lipton talked about the film, Castaway, with Tom Hanks, in which Hanks draws a face on a ball and talks to it. After several years alone on an island, he makes a raft to try and find other humans, even though he could physically survive on the island. For him, the need to make connections with others was stronger than the threat of drowning at sea.

Few of us are ever in the position of having to make such a choice, but I work with so many people who feel a sense of separation from others, that I now realise that it is almost universal.

One of things that moving to Spain has shown me, is that, on the whole, the Spanish have a much stronger sense of community than the area in the UK where I lived for over 30 years. It is usual for Spanish people to live in flats; they seem to like being close to others, and the street substitutes for having a garden, with the added advantage that you can meet up with your friends and neighbours there on a daily basis.

The Spanish are remarkably friendly, at least in the Pyrenean area where I live. At first I was a little surprised when I was packing my bag at the supermarket checkout, and someone walking in greeted me with a cheerful “Hello. Good morning”. Then I realised that it is totally normal to greet everyone, whether you know them or not. Soon I was doing the same, and I had to hold back from doing it in the Sainsbury’s Local on my next trip to the UK!

After just a few months in this area, I am surprised how many people I know. I bump into others from my yoga class and they greet me like a long-lost friend (in this area with few resident foreigners, the English-woman on the yoga mat stands out a mile). I see the waitress from the café, and my hairdresser and they are similarly friendly. The weekly trip to market often takes a couple of hours by the time I’ve had coffee with whichever friend or acquaintance I meet there!

This week I helped a friend to put up a yurt on a piece of land she has bought. There were seven of us helping, mostly Dutch, with a Spaniard and me. Fortunately the Dutch speak both excellent English and Spanish. There were aspects of the day that were very striking to me, as a recently arrived foreigner.

Let me explain the pace of the day. I’m pretty sure that in the UK, a similar project would have been done as quickly as possible, with perhaps a quick stop for coffee mid morning, and a short lunch, so that everyone could get back to their busy lives.

This was a full day affair, and I have to admit that at times I felt a little impatient: “Why don’t we just get on with it?” But I soon realised that people have committed their day to building a yurt, and that it is about far more than just creating a structure. It is about the fun, the shared experience, the lunch (very important), the beer and wine, and about making the new yurt owner feel that she is creating something new in her life, in a beautiful place and that it is being built with love. There was no sense of “I’ve given up my time so let’s get cracking.” It was much more about the enjoyment of the day and celebrating this new construction.

To give you an idea, the first stage was to move all the yurt parts next to the already-built base. Then it was time for coffee, so that everyone could relax, and not rush, increasing the chances of getting it right. Next step was building the ‘walls’. It transpired that these hadn’t been put up correctly the first time, but there was no stress or bad tempers about changing them around. Time for another break (it was a hot day).

Then the insertion of the central cupola, and the commencement of roof building. This was tricky, but after another break, we found a system that worked well and there was a great sense of teamwork and camaraderie.

Another break before putting on the first of four covers. Then one person went off to cook lunch (having a vehicle that doubles up as a mobile kitchen is not unusual here!), whilst someone else went to buy ice and cold beers. Whilst they were doing that, we put the insulation on the roof. This made the inside of the yurt a comfortable temperature so we set up for lunch.

Lunch arrived at about the same time as the ice and cold drinks, but there was no rush to tuck in. Conversation continued for some while and I could hear myself thinking: “When are we going to eat so that we can get on with it?”  Eventually we ate a delicious meal (it was about 3pm by now, which is a usual time for lunch here), and there was more chat before work resumed.

At this point I had to leave, but photos I received later that evening were confirmation that the yurt did, indeed, get finished that day.

The Spanish are often accused by us very busy northern Europeans, of being very “mañana”, but I actually think they have the right idea.  Every Spaniard I have met takes a couple of hours off in the afternoon (midday falls roughly between 2 and 4pm!), when they eat a relaxed lunch and meet friends and family. You can’t do anything else at this time anyway because shops and offices are closed.

They also have time for a chat and people make eye-contact with other people, not with the screen of their phone!

I think that their innate friendliness has a great deal to do with their sense of community. If this fundamental human need is fulfilled, then the rest of life feels easier, because there is no sense of having to do things alone.

For me, I loved my day of yurt building, and the sense of being part of something, even when I often couldn’t contribute to the conversation due to my inadequate Spanish. It was also very revealing how my busy British brain kept thinking we should crack on, and the realisation that I still have some way to go before adopting a Spanish-style approach to life.

If you often feel separate from others, you might want to try my EFT tapping video on this very subject. You can see it HERE

Footnote: This is not an image of the actual yurt we constructed!

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