By Emmanuelle Keogh
Travelling to another country and discovering another culture is a way of holding a mirror to ourselves as it gets us to see the way we are. Recently my sister and brother-in-law moved to Japan because of work obligations. What they have been sharing so far speaks of a way of living very different from ours. My brother-in-law has been telling me of his work place and of how all the workers (thousands of them) start their working day with a fitness practice which they do together. He was amazed to see everybody, from the lowliest worker to upper management participate in this physical activity. He described a sense of togetherness that was very powerful.
He also told of an afternoon when music came on in his open office space and everybody fetched vacuums and dusters and started cleaning. These stories speak to me of a collective way of life that is so different from our individualistic Western cultures. We exercise on our own. We have staff who clean our offices spaces and our bathrooms. In my work environment, I always let our custodian know how much I appreciate her work, but that is very different from me and my co-workers doing the work she does.
One instance of collective work I have experienced is when I go to meditation retreats. There, it is expected that retreatants participate in all the domestic chores. This experience is always so rich and positive for me, this sense of togetherness and solidarity—community indeed making the work lighter, even joyful. Whereas at home I have often felt lonely when doing my chores and, at times, resentful.
Reflecting on our individualistic way of life I see we suffer from a lack of social connection. We are social animals, and isolation causes suffering. We can get into crazy places in our heads and find it hard to be motivated to take care good care of ourselves. We experience loneliness, depression and anxiety. A recent book by Johann Hari called “Lost Connections” (I would recommend it) speaks of depression as an issue related to having lost our social connection to things such as meaningful work, other people, and nature. Connecting as human beings is crucial to our wellbeing. So as a new year’s resolution, I am pledging to foster that sense of community in my life: with family, friends, neighbours, co-workers, people in my community. I look forward to this and I invite you to do the same.