We live so isolated in the western world. We work so hard and so long that we lose touch with ourselves and the relationships around us. We stop seeing friends and family for long periods because our busyness prevents us and as a result we live in an almost separate world.

It seems the age of technology, the fast pace of the world and society in general are responsible for this isolation. We used to live in vibrant and dynamic communities where people in local areas would know each other by first name and stop and say hello with everyone they passed. Children would fill the streets every afternoon after school and the weekends would be full of activities with everyone young and old in your area.

Now the streets are empty, where are all the kids? And what does this mean for the relationships we have with the people around us? We now sit inside on our latest gadgets, our iPhones and iPads, play computer games by ourselves whilst our next door neighbours do the same. When we pass each other on our way to school or work we don’t say hello and have a laugh, we ignore each other because we don’t each other. The once friendly community is dying. We don’t have to walk to friend’s places and knock on the door and we don’t have to see our friends to know what they’ve been doing, the beauties of friendship and togetherness has been replaced by superficial connectivity.

We work so hard to buy these big houses, but don’t have the time to get our friends over to see it anyway. When I was young it was common to have a house full of family, friends and even distant relatives every day of the week. But somewhere along the way this type of thing has died. We are always racing at the speed of light that we don’t have time for what is really important.

I spent three months living in Plum Village, a mindfulness practice centre in the South of France, the community here was vibrant. Plum Village reignited the community in me. It demonstrated that through an open and free community full of different people we can together make a big difference in our individual lives and the lives of the population at large. We see larger numbers of people suffering with mental illness than ever before and I think it may have something to do with this dying community. People feel this isolation and feel they have no way to turn. It seems everyone is racing, chasing after their goals and along the way they have completely forgotten the people around them. There’s no sense of belonging, togetherness, comfort, connection and trust.

These elements are what make the community of Plum Village so beautiful – the environment breeds belonging, togetherness, connection and trust. Whilst it is important to have a deep connection with yourself and have the ability to enjoy your own company, it is also vital to have a healthy and nurturing environment to continually learn and develop.

 In the documentary ‘I am’ by Tom Shadyac he describes the start of the fall of community. He talks about how tribes and small communities used to thrive. The sick would never be sick for long because the healthy would get them food and medicine and take care of them. The elderly would never go hungry because the younger and more physically capable would provide them with food. Women and young children would be looked after. But one day that all changed. One hunter thought why should I share all the food I catch with everyone else and started to store it away for himself. The next hunter thought why should I share my food with others who can’t do it themselves and stored his keep somewhere else too.

For the first time the old started to die and more and more people started to get sick. Soon the sick died. It seems this pattern has continued to evolve in large parts of the western world, where we now live isolated lives away from our family and friends. As a result people don’t have the support they need or the support to develop the tools they need so they turn to external things for their support in the form of drugs, alcohol, sex and unhealthy relationships.

Plum Village showed me the type of community so vitally necessary in the western world. Community is a critical cog in the functioning of society and with its decline we’ve seen a decline in our happiness.

“It is possible that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community - a community practicing understanding and loving kindness, a community practicing mindful living. This may be the most important thing we can do for the survival of the earth”.
— Thich Nhat Hanh

We don’t need to live together in the same house as our brothers or sisters to rekindle this loss of community; we just need to open ourselves back up. Put down our phones and open up our doors, whatever happened to just popping over to a friend’s place unannounced? Put down our computers and fill our streets back up with the noise of children playing with other children, learning, developing and gaining in confidence along the way. Turn our Televisions off and invite our friends over for dinner. Eat together, sit together, walk together, sing together, share together, practice together and work together. Be together. 

The Happiness Compass is striving to bring community back into our lives. Come and join us for our monthly walking meditation on Bondi Beach. Join us for sunset meditations, talks and other events. Take part in The Happiness Initiative and join The Happiness Movement. Community is here - Happiness is here.

By Evan Sutter