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Community is My Dharma: Joining the Circle

The urgency for global recognition in coming together to create a future for inclusivity, respect, and justice peaked this month with the civil rights suit against Minnesota police after the death of George Floyd. History has demonstrated the capacity for global change when we form a collective and amass our voices to reveal, retaliate, or resolve issues of the past. Sharing stories and receiving contrasting opinions and ideals not only educates and provides a rich foundation to evolve the present, the sharing of stories unites us globally as a humanity. Joining a community is a powerful way to learn more about other cultures and communities, and how to integrate with more awareness and compassion. Community provides a space for support through the simple act of being received by others for who and what we believe. When we come together, we widen the circle and welcome the multifaceted experience of what it means to be human. 

This week on the #PracticeWithClara Podcast, Clara and I discussed the power of community, our teachers and all those who’ve guided through challenge and inspiration, how inclusivity inspires individual growth and building relationships online spaces. Below are some of the paraphrased highlights from our talk. 

Community is My Dharma: Interview with Clara

Clara: I find that with adversaries or people who challenge us in our lives, what is reflected back to us is where we are lacking or a part of ourselves that we don’t like. Some of the greatest teachers are the people who challenge us because they’re the ones who literally reflect back to us where we lack. I find it really inspiring and important to work with people that you wouldn’t necessarily work with. 

Stephanie: There’s a huge capacity to learn and evolve when you come up against people who don’t share the same political or environmental views. 

Clara: And along with that, I feel like this was especially relevant at the beginning of COVID, is this idea of, “can I also surround myself with people that I don’t necessarily have the same opinion as? Can I respect their opinion as well as hold my own?” And I find that the further you go down your own spiritual path, you discover how you become a bit more dogmatic. I’ve had this in myself where I was like, “Wow. Well, if you’re not doing X, Y, and Z, then you’re not a good person”. Or you’re not walking down the ‘right’ spiritual path. So I find that at least for myself, I like and want to have people in my life who’ve challenged me in some way. So that I might have a conversation with a Trump supporter and recognize them as a full human and not as somebody who is less than myself.

I feel like being part of a larger community is to love and respect people who don’t necessarily hold the same values as you.

Stephanie: Last week you said that community is your Dharma, what is your definition of community and how did you know that this is what you wanted to do? 

Clara: Dharma has a couple of different meanings but in the context of what we’re talking about here, Dharma is your life purpose. Dharma asks how you contribute to your community. So it’s not necessarily the way that you make money, but it’s the way that you’re contributing to the greater good. You know that you’re doing your Dharma when it lights you up. And I find that for me, bringing people together has always been what lights me up. And I generally love bringing people together that necessarily wouldn’t come together. Because again, as I said earlier, we can learn so much from each other, especially, with people who aren’t necessarily as similar to us as our inner circle of people. 

From a young age, I used to throw parties or get-togethers and I would invite everybody I knew. To come to these parties you would be talking to people who were in film or dance or yoga. And I found that mixing those people together always made for an interesting party. And then that kind of builds on leading retreats and training in the yoga community. The people who come to [my retreats] are usually a hodgepodge of people. It’s a very, very mixed bag, which again, I love it because we have so much to learn from each other.

My Dharma is to bring people together, to hopefully create conversation, and or to have a strong intention.Our intentions might be very similar, but the way that we go about it may be very different. And that’s how we can learn from each other.

Stephanie: There’s a shift when the teacher accepts everyone, for where they are, and who they are, and there’s no judgment or the trying to mold any person into what the teacher may perceive to be ‘right’. 

Clara: Yes. And there’s space for the individual within the collective. Sometimes, what I find can happen within the collective is we get a crowd mentality where we think that if one person does it ‘this way’, the leader or whoever, then we all need to do it this way. I want to ask: Can we be an individual within the collective

When we sit in a circle we all step in as individuals to create a collective, but we’re still individuals within that. In this process you might ask: How are we contributing to the group? How are we feeding the group? And that’s why I feel like so many of my teachers were not necessarily teachers in that they didn’t have the role of teacher, but they taught me so much in their own individual way. 

Stephanie: Yoga has shifted more-so to the virtual realm- how has this made an impact on how you bring people together?

Clara: Collaboration is way more interesting to me than a monologue. So a dialogue is way more interesting than a monologue as a teacher. As a student, we all have something very interesting to offer to the group versus just the one person. And yes, the one person who’s standing at the front of the classroom has more knowledge than the other people. Let’s assume that’s why they’re teaching whatever it is they’re teaching. But I find that we are a lot more engaged as students, myself included, if we are asked questions, And if through the questions, we figure out the answer.
My father was really big on that as a kid, I feel like I never really got a straight answer from him. It was a lot of, well, what do you think? And if you’ve ever been in training with me, that’s one of, usually one of the answers. If you are one of the questions I always give right back to the student, when they ask me a question, I say, well, what do you think?

The more that you figure it out by yourself, the more embodied and powerful the answer is versus it just being given to you

Stephanie: How is the lack of physical space affecting the definition of community for you outside of the yoga practice? 

Clara: I think the biggest takeaway I found from COVID or this time, this challenging time that we’re having is, or the gift of it, is that we need to shift. We need to shift the way that we’ve been together because a lot of people are saying it’s never going to be the same. And that’s a really interesting idea.

It’s something I’ve been sitting with for the last couple of days. I’ve never thought about whether or not it’s safe to hug somebody. I would just hug them if I wanted to. I haven’t necessarily thought about it, and now I’m thinking about it all the time.

And I think we will think about it for a long time. 

I’ve been chatting with a couple of my yoga teacher friends, like when the studios open up again, and we’re wondering if we will be physically adjusting people? And what that will look like. And also as teachers, how do we feel in terms of the safety of ourselves and the safety of our students? And I wonder whether or not people will not come back and online is where people are going to go. And so if that’s the case, are we going to shift the way that we are online or is it working right now? I feel like there’s a lot. There’s a lot of open end questions I’m sitting with right now. And I definitely don’t know the answer to them because we’re still figuring it out.

Stephanie: What are the ways you’re creating an online community, Clara, to bring people together and make them feel seen and heard? 

Clara: Well, one of the biggest ways that we did it was through this podcast and the Instagram Live sessions. And the reason why is to stay connected to the community, even in our own homes. And then the other way was through the #PracticeWithClara Facebook Group as a way for us to share with each other because who knows how long this is going to be for…. So might as well hang out with the like-minded community people online. 


Watch the full talk below or listen on Spotify.