On Feb. 10, the Asiyah community convened our second Village Gathering—an opportunity to come together and dive deep into thinking about community formation. This time around, our conversation centered on what it means to belong. Our goal was to further Asiyah connections/community-building and envision what belonging to Asiyah might be, especially in light of the Asiyah Cultivation Crew’s (ACC) active planning of a partnership structure for Asiyah.
As with the first Village Gathering, we used the World Café format, which creates a container to harness the collective wisdom of the group in an easy and accessible way. And wisdom was definitely present among our thoughtful and engaged group!
VISION FOR ASIYAH
I kicked off our gathering by recollecting a sticky note that has been at my desk ever since the first Village Gathering: how do we create intimacy while keeping an ethic of welcoming? Or, in the language of the day: how do we create a sense of belonging while inviting others to belong? An answer Amberly and I have come across in researching this is: boundaries. Healthy boundaries help people on the inside feel the safety to be vulnerable, but also allow for the visitor to peek in without being asked to precipitously commit.
I reflected on a recent experience in a meditation practice, of an unclenching and softening of the heart which I connected with the work we’re trying to do here at Asiyah. But this work has barely begun. Creating a thick sense of communal belonging, can, I believe, foster the release of getting in touch with our hearts.
In order to build the world we want to live in. A world based on love, a world based on compassion and generosity, a world based on seeing the full humanity—the full divinity—of the other.
Amberly followed by outlining the top priorities for 2019 that the ACC determined last month:
Define a membership structure to sustain Asiyah and increase ownership of the community
Diversify the voices heard in community gatherings, specifically amplifying underrepresented voices.
By end of year, execute two cafe proofs-of-concept: (1) a presentation to the community with full details of the cafe vision/plan, (2) a cafe pop-up
THE HEART OF THE MATTER: OUR WORLD CAFE CONVERSATION
Amberly then refreshed us on the World Café model, which is based on the idea that when a group of people are gathered and engaged around an issue that they really care about in an authentic, open-hearted way, collective wisdom emerges. The conversation takes place among groups of four or five people seated at separate cafe tables over a series of rounds, during which everyone has the opportunity both to speak and to be an active listener by taking notes and sketching or doodling ideas on the paper table covers. At the end of each round, the conversation groups mix things up by switching tables—creating rich cross-pollination of ideas, insights, and deeper questions.
Our three 15-minute rounds addressed these three connected questions:
Think about communities that you belong to, or have belonged to: What gives you a sense of belonging? What do you need to feel like you belong?
In the communities to which you belong—both formal or informal—what do you give, and what do you get?
How might "belonging" be defined for the Asiyah community?
We weren’t seeking set outcomes or solutions; rather, our goal was to build community, learn together, and create actionable knowledge that might inform future steps. Plus, we got to play with markers and eat snacks.
Once we finished the third round, we taped the table covers to the wall and toured our collective-wisdom gallery, looking for common themes and ideas and jotting them down on sticky notes. When we came together at the end for a final conversation as a group, it was amazing to see all the points of connection and intersection that emerged.
WHAT WE LEARNED
Belonging is (re)membering. The basic building block of a sense of belonging is having a place “where everybody knows your name,” to coin a phrase. It’s that basic human need to be seen and be in relationship. In some sense, everything flows from this, and the work of growing community is creating pathways for this to happen.
Contributing is caring. Another basic human truth, it seems, is that the more time and energy we give to something, the more we care about it. This bucks my assumption that someone would only spend time on something they cared about, which is probably a necessary precondition. I think there’s a virtuous cycle that happens: caring leads to contribution, which leads to more caring. This also connects to the first point, because being asked to pitch in is a such a crucial way we feel seen and valued.
Holding each other. Dominant culture places such an emphasis on self-sufficiency, but we know this is a lie. We need each other. In particular, people pointed to the need to be taken care of in our most vulnerable moments: births, deaths, illness. Belonging looks like a meal train, a shiva call, a hospital visit. We call it chesed in Jewish.
A purpose beyond self. When we have a shared vision and project to pitch in on, all of this comes together. Over the past year, we have been growing community from a set of guiding principles: co-creation, spirit at the center, a commitment to accessibility and emotional integrity. Amberly & I have intentionally not plunked down a set of core values, figuring they would be necessarily informed by the community that grew around our first efforts. A year in, I think we’re ready to sit down (next Village Gathering, anyone?) to outline a first pass at what those are.
In many ways, this exercise feeds into a parallel process the ACC has been undergoing on membership/partnership. We have made some great steps, but there is still some work to be done to bring this to fruition. Will you be a part of that? Express your interest and see what unfolds!
A heartfelt thanks to all the folks who brought their bodies, minds, and hearts to our first Village Gathering, and special kudos to our co-hosts Hannah Anderson-Baranger and Marti Epstein for creating a beautiful café space and making sure we were well fed!