A village full of empty houses: on finding community in an overconnected world

Jun 11, 2019


The weight of my children on my arms as they snuggle next to me in bed in the morning.

My husband’s “how was your sleep” and goodbye kiss.

A text to my sister, “how was your weekend?”

A text to a client, “how is breastfeeding going today?”

Ten emails responding to clients and inquiries and contracts and a potential kijiji purchase.

An Instagram post seen by two hundred people, a Facebook post seen by another three hundred.  An inbox full of DMs, slowly waded through.


On any given day, I feel like there are a thousand little threads emanating from my body – my brain and my heart and my fingertips – reaching reaching reaching from the ones who live in my house all the way across the globe.


(some days, I feel like the threads get tangled, even; like I can’t keep up with the words and thoughts and questions flying into my eyes and ears, and the sentences and ideas and answers flying out of my mouth and fingertips)

And yet.

And yet, when I complete one of those forms that asks for more than one emergency contact, I’ve stopped even pausing to consider it, stopped feeling sad or wistful about it, mostly; now I just leave it blank.

And yet, when I deliver for-no-reason baking to my neighbours, even in the little village I call home, they open the door cautiously, peering around its edge; surprised and uncertain at the act of unsolicited kindness, and awkwardly unsure of “how to pay me back.”


It is true what they say:  we have never been more connected, and yet never more alone.  So many of our relationships, outside of only our closest family and co-habitants, have become digital transactions.


I see the very real ramifications of this every day, in my postpartum clients who, more often than not, just need to hear “you’re normal, it’s okay, you’re beautiful,” in place of any professional advice I might possibly give, and yet are feeling alone and isolated.

I hear, day in and day out, from clients and friends, that we are all deeply craving in-person connection, but can only attain it in a way that becomes awkward in the need to pull out phones and check calendars, and then to somehow wade past what each of us already knows about the other as is presented on social media, and talk about something real.

And it’s not lost on me that the work that I do, as a coach and doula and facilitator of women’s circles, would never have been paid work in the past because we just had these skills, and a different way of being with each other that allowed for interconnectivity that was narrow and deep, rather than far and wide.


In many ways, I think we often feel unsure of how to heal this particular wound of our modern-day society because we have lost the skills of community-building and community-keeping.  Just like the way we’ve lost the skills of facilitating a more easeful birth with just a scarf, or how we’ve lost the words that name so many of the wild ones with whom we cohabit the planet.


We have lost the skill of deep listening; of holding space.  As someone who has been doing this professionally for five years, I can attest that it really is a skill, and it’s one I admit I often find challenging.  And it’s a rare enough human capability that being truly heard often feels like an otherworldly experience.  So often our conversations become transactional, even competitive, as we spend our time formulating responses rather than deeply listening to the one who is pouring their heart out to us.  We are so high-strung for information and outcomes and generativity that it is hard to sit in silence and know that that, in and of itself, is outcome enough.  And we have become so uncomfortable with not-knowing and just being that when we are asked to bear witness to a loved one who is going through hard times, we Google and advice-pummel rather than move in to sit in the space of vulnerability we’ve been invited into.

We have become so obsessed with doing and busy and productivity that when the neighbours drop by with homemade cookies, or a friend wants to come visit, there is no one home, or, in fact, they don’t bother to show up at all but rather send a DM to schedule a time, maybe three weeks out.

And yet, and yet,

as always, paradox is ever-present.

I would never call or see my sister as often as I text her; our texts are a highlight of my week, all ridiculous stories and photos of my babies and her fur-babies.  I am grateful that my work can reach people all over the world, that I am just a Skype call away from supporting a woman for whom my particular alchemy of skills and ideas resonates deeply.  In fact, for the most part, living in a small surf town and raising my kids full time, I wouldn’t be doing this work at all if it weren’t for technology.  And I don’t know where I would be right now if I didn’t have monthly sessions with my mentor, who has been living in Australia for the last three years.

And so.


I believe this:  I believe we need to learn to listen again.

I believe we need to clear our calendars and put down our phones.

I believe we need to reconnect with a sense of service toward our communities, to show up at the soup kitchen and serve meals, deliver lasagna to that new mom down the street.

I believe we need to lean on our communities, too, and ask for that cup of sugar, see if your neighbour can water your plants while you’re on vacation – but ask; seek out the support you want to receive, while also giving the support you want to receive.

I even believe that having less *stuff* and living in a smaller space draws us out of the tiny empires of our homes and out into the community for entertainment, amenities and connection.


These are beautiful behaviours and practices but the deeper truth is this:  to weave ourselves back into the fabric of true community, we must contend with a shift to our very identity.


To know that we are still worthy when we have no advice to give, or nothing to say.

To know that we are still valuable when we have nothing to offer.

To know that we belong, even when we are not being productive or doing or learning or going going going.

To know, in fact, that belonging might be predicated on our ability to stay in one spot and rest, for a while.


To know that silence and not-knowing are fertile grounds, not sterile fields.

To know, in this world of overwork and monetized hobbies, that our heart-help is still needed, and that our two hands are all that’s required.  And to know that it’s okay to ask for help too; that being of service helps the giver as much as the receiver.


And we have to do all this in a world that is pulling us, hard, in the other direction.  To risk unbelonging (or at the very least, FOMO) when we choose not to participate in the culture in the way that has become the status quo (as in, busy, hyperconnected but disembodied, narrowly focused yet somehow always distracted).

And so maybe it’s hard.

But maybe you can do it anyway.  Maybe you can imagine, like I often do, what it would be like to be a part of the world in a different way.  Maybe you can ask, like I often do, not just what you would need to do differently, but what kind of person you would need to become so that you might reunite yourself with the world, once more.

The Becoming Podcast has been on a short hiatus while I focus on writing my book, but oh what a comeback episode I have for you!

This month, I spoke to Toko-pa Turner, who many of you may know as the unofficial patron saint of many of my circles and gatherings because of the sheer number of times I’ve quoted from the wisdom of her book, Belonging.

Toko-pa is a Canadian author, teacher, and dreamworker. Blending the mystical teachings of Sufism in which she was raised with a Jungian approach to dreams, she founded The Dream School in 2001, from which thousands of students have graduated. She is the author of the award-winning book, Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home, which explores the themes of exile and belonging through the lens of dreams, mythology, and nature. This book has resonated for readers worldwide, and has been translated into 10 different languages so far. Her work focuses on the relationship between psyche and nature, and how to follow our inner wisdom to meet with the social, psychological, and ecological challenges of our time.

Here’s some of what Toko-pa and I talk about in this episode:

> The dream that changed Toko-pa’s life, causing her to question her career and, ultimately, her identity

> How we can court our dreams to support us during times of radical transformation – and the reasons so many of us have a hard time remembering and working with what shows up in our dreamscape

> Toko-pa’s perspective on the message of Belonging after the divisiveness our society has experienced in the years since it was published

> What happened for both Toko-pa and I when we fell out of belonging from the ideologies of the “wellness world”

> How to build community when you’re under-resourced

> “The Big Lie” when it comes to belonging, and how we can reclaim a sense of belonging to the greater family of things, as Mary Oliver so famously wrote

Listen to the episode on iTunes


Show Notes

Toko-pa’s Website

Belonging:  Remembering Ourselves Home, Toko-pa’s book

The David Abram video about animism mentioned in the interview

Toko-pa’s self-guided program, Dream Drops

Companion, the program that accompanies Belonging


Also, while you’re at it, if you enjoy The Becoming Podcast, I would be so grateful if you would rate and review, and even subscribe to it on iTunes.  That goes a long way to helping more and more people find and benefit from hearing these interviews!  Thank you so much!