I have a warm feeling in my heart.
Recently, several community events at Evolution Yogi Cafe, located at Agama Yoga here in Koh Phangan, Thailand, particularly the celebration of International Yoga Day, have left me feeling inspired to share on the topic of community.
Community is a support network, a place to fuel, a source of inspiration, and a pool of people who bring color your life. It is a beautiful opportunity to be there for others, to practice compassion, and embrace mutual understanding. All the different communities all over the world relate to each other in one way or another. Especially through food!
When zooming out, the world makes up one single community as a whole. Communities can be seen as a “web of mutuality” (to quote Martin Luther King, Jr).
Community is about growing together. As humans, we have a natural need for a sense of belonging, which connects us to our relationships. Being rich in resources, when things get tough, we can find nurturing comfort and a safe haven in a community where we can find each other, and see ourselves.
The Internet, of course, adds another dimension, as it provides a platform that allows communities to connect in a globalized world, and share their experiences.
I could speak to social media’s role as the means of networking the global, digital community. But that’s another blog. I could explain in detail Agama’s current full-on digital expansion. Agama Yoga Retreat Thailand’s new website has just been launched. Evolution Yogi Cafe’s social media channels are exploding with engagement! But I humbly invite you to explore all of those avenues yourself and become connected! And I could draw attention to our Yogi community here on paradise island, in Koh Phangan, Thailand. But I kindly extend a warm welcome for you to come discover the magic that captivates the many.
GLOBAL COMMUNITIES THAT GET IT RIGHT
“A human being is a social being. We live in a society and like to share our feelings, happiness and sorrows with our friends, relatives and others. This wish of togetherness and belonging leads to create a community as a whole.” ― Haile Selassie, Former Emperor of Ethiopia
Many organizations and institutions around the world support communities that help people: find greater meaning in their lives, achieve a means for support, and become motivated to get involved on a more collective and less individualistic level.
The list of online food sites, intentional communities (usually presenting a variety of alternative living styles), communes (small communities, rooted in the principle of sharing), and ecovillages (communities that aim to become more socially, economically and ecologically sustainable) is exhaustive.
Examples you say? Well: Happy Cow (online vegan and vegetarian guide), Ananda Sangha (a global movement based on the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda), Pachamama (a commune in Costa Rica based on the shared experience of awareness), the Fellowship for International Community (a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting cooperative culture), Centers for Spiritual Living (an organization of more than 400 spiritual communities around the globe), Polestar Yoga Community (in Big Island, Hawaii), Eco Truly Park (Peru), Inan Itah (Nicaragua), Synchronicity Artist Commune (Los Angeles, California), Tamera Peace Research Village (Portugal), Svanholm (Denmark), Community of the Ark (France), Tinker’s Bubble (England), Free and Real (Greece), Findhorn Foundation (Scotland), and Kommune Niederkaufungen (Germany) will undoubtedly get you inspired!
A longing for togetherness lies in the core of all of us. Beneath the surface, Shakti wants to be witnessed by Shiva. We naturally care for the people around us, and the people in our lives (who might not be physically near). People generally love festivals, parties, and social gatherings, which shows how much we value sharing time and experiences.
But where to begin? Start small, making a difference with little things with your friends. Where to start? With yourself! Lead by example and inspire others. Live your philosophy. Be open to ideas. Connect other people. Share food. Here are some more ideas: actively come up with initiatives that promote community, union, and peace. Encourage interaction, propose activities, organize community events, and express your love and care. Donate things you are not using and are in good condition. A local initiative may evolve into a global trend, you never know- it wouldn’t be the first time!
Invite all the other “competing” Yoga schools in your local community to your campus for an open event that serves the greater whole…
Attempting to surpass illusionary barriers by engaging in conversation with someone who you consider to be (very) different than yourself. Supporting initiatives that focus on community thriving. Spending less time behind your screen and more time outdoors, connecting with others via what’s happening in your area. And of course, personally welcoming newcomers into your community will make a huge difference in the lives of others.
OK, even more things you can do to start making a difference in your direct environment: “random” acts of kindness, acknowledging the presence of a passerby in public (greet them and smile!), doing volunteer work, making Karma Yoga a part of your daily life, meeting your neighbors, and consuming local products all help to build strong communities.
SANGHA (COMMUNITY) IS PARTICULARLY VALUABLE IN YOGA & SPIRITUALITY.
“The spiritual path is a slippery road. When you are part of a sangha, if you slip, others will lift you up. That is the benefit of sangha. We need the support of others, so let us walk together.” -Swami Satchidananda.
Yoga, like food, connects people in a special way, it creates a powerful union. When people start Yoga, they often don’t quite know what they’re getting into. And once someone gets hooked into Yoga, and the practice begins to have its effects on their 5 kosas (bodies), people begin to discover the treasures this ancient practice holds and at this point, there is usually no turning back.
Yoga Relationships are cultivated differently. Being part of a Yoga sangha helps us in our practice and our ability to share our deep and often profound experiences. Sangha is spiritually valuable, if not essential, to keeping a steady sadhana (spiritual practice).
There are various spiritual “hubs” around the world, such as Rishikesh (India), Bali (Indonesia), Boulder (U.S.A.), and Srithanu, Koh Phangan (Thailand) where Yoga communities are thriving. In bigger world cities, such as San Francisco, California, New York, Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin, London, Barcelona and Tokyo to name a few, the Yogic lifestyle has become trendy, leading to the establishment and development of smaller scale modern yogic communities.
THE AGAMA YOGA COMMUNITY
Evolution Yogi Cafe lives on a beautiful Yoga campus in Koh Phangan, Thailand.
One experiences a beautiful peace and harmony when that individual truly feels integrated into their community. And at Agama, our spiritual community is world-renowned.
We don’t all live together in a commune, however we all live relatively close to each other. Whether people stay long-term, or come and go throughout the month, we are indeed truly a spiritual family. We keep our community alive through sharing practice and supporting each other in the sometimes complex issues that can arise.
At Agama, the community particularly comes together on the campus in Sri Thanu for a wide variety of recurring events. Some of them happen weekly (bhajans, satsang, Q&A), others occur monthly, such as the Advanced Transfiguration, Shivaratri meditation & Yang Spiral (Full Moon) Meditation. There are also yearly events: Mahashivaratri (The Great Night of Shiva), Goddess Festival, Rites of Passage for women, Rites of Passage for men, and Navaratri.
Personally, it is particularly valuable to have inspiring role models around me. I am grateful for the opportunity to mingle with, and learn from the exceptional people who share my interests and spiritual aspiration. I also feel a great joy to have the opportunity to practice together and elevate each other, raising the common vibrations!
Community has also given me a new sense of responsibility, a bigger realization that my thoughts, words and actions have a direct impact on my environment. I feel a sense of loyalty to the community, it is not imposed, it blossoms from my heart! I remember once when earlier this year one of our advanced Yoga teachers had a scooter accident after a dog suddenly ran into his bike. He didn’t have insurance at the time and all the community got together and within 2 days we covered his hospital bill! I thought it was beautiful and remember that when this happened I realized how strong our community is, and how meaningful the gesture was.
When I sometimes trail off, the Agama community is always there to gently and lovingly guide me back on track. It’s normal to fall, sometimes not feel like doing Yoga, or to not see a situation in the wisest way possible (to put it lightly). Yet here’s where peer support at Agama truly shines. The community here plays a role in supporting each other in their sadhana (spiritual practice).
In our Yoga community, my idea of privacy has shifted in that I no longer want to keep as many secrets as I did before, stepping into the vulnerability of showing myself to others as I am, and dropping the fear of what people might think of me. I’m learning that to show your vulnerability is actually a great strength, not a weakness as often seems to be the credo in the West.
At this point, I’d like to recall my previous mention of the village of Srithanu (where Agama’s campus is located) here in Koh Phangan, Thailand, as a spiritual hub. It has become a popular hotspot community for digital nomads who practice Yoga and spirituality. New vegan and vegetarian restaurants are popping up everywhere! It’s beautiful to see how the rapidly expanding Yogi community in Srithanu is organizing a greater number of women’s circles, meditation gatherings on the beach, making music, playing Acro Yoga, and dancing at the popular Ecstatic Dance events. It’s all happening right now- and only getting stronger and growing daily!
In a recent effort to unite the Srithanu spiritual community, Agama invited Koh Phangan’s top Yoga centers to the campus for the celebration of International Yoga Day on June 21st. For the first time ever, the island’s top centers were all represented in the same place, at the same time in the name of Yoga!
Having Yoga schools in Srithanu join forces on International Yoga day was a big step! Our concept of community is transcending illusory borders like never before, no longer limited to the confinements of one school. In the past, there has been a lot of competition. It is so beautiful to see this all moving in a different direction. In the direction of Union- which is what Yoga means after all!
In further efforts to strengthen community, Agama’s brand new affiliates program aims to promote the island’s many complimentary organizations. Partners already include Phanganist, Happy Cow Vegan Guide, local accommodation resorts/facilities, and a long (growing) list of online platforms through which you can find Agama Yoga and book your courses and retreats).
And of course in any community comes…
After saying so many good things about the community, I need to also shed some light on some aspects to be mindful of. The first is: living in a bubble. The comfort a community provides can lead people to start living in a bubble, disconnected from the rest of the world and even judging towards it. But this danger is miniscule when we hold this awareness. The second is: gossip. Gossip is everywhere. Just because we call ourselves spiritual Yogis doesn’t mean we do not gossip. We are still human. We however try to be conscious of it and avoid it.
However, it still happens, and nothing is so black or white. The people in our lives make up an immense part of how we experience life and perceive ourselves. I believe that we at times gossip in an attempt to connect with others (and sometimes we think that saying stuff about others is a good way to do so). Talking about each other is not always gossip, sometimes it’s a way to express care and concern. If you hear that someone has a problem, you may not go directly and ask if they need help, but just to have the awareness of a particular situation does tend to give people a compassionate readiness to be available for support. However, when badmouthing people, gossip is of course downright poisonous.
We all seek to find our tribe. And more often than not through the food we eat! When people find that sense of belonging, they tend to be happier and healthier. If you are considering creating or joining a community, you might want to check with yourself what your values are, as you’ll be wanting to be a part of a group of people who think alike. Ask yourself for what purpose you’d like to join a particular community, and also look into what the community’s overall relationship to society is, and what might be expected of you.
We can seek groups who motivate and drive us in the direction of our life goals, or the attainment of that which we are motivated to do. Communities have the power to add new dimensions to our lives and deliver unexpected gifts for the greater good. The love and support in a spiritual community can revolutionize your life. We can all somehow contribute to a more peaceful society through the supporting power of unity and community. What footprint will you leave in history?
With this, I hope to have left you with some inspirational food for thought regarding your involvement in a community that lives up to your values!
Aldona from Agama.