Belonging to a Community Is What Unites Us All

Warm autumn greetings to you, our OHI community. I love this verse because it says so much about what we are doing here at OHI. People come here seeking a new healthy and healing lifestyle, and then while here they find a community to which they can belong. They no longer feel alone because they have bonded with others in a way that transcends the week or weeks they spend here.

You may recall that in our Spring newsletter, I mentioned that the OHI Community is the one place I’ve experienced where people truly work to love their neighbors as themselves. A sacred practice which many major religions espouse. Then in the Summer newsletter, I touched on the idea that community is so important to human beings that it is in our DNA. In his famous hierarchy of human needs, Abraham Maslow put “Belonging” at the third level. It includes needs such as acceptance, feeling supported and understood, having relationships and friendships. When these needs aren’t being met, we feel rejected, neglected, and lonely. It is this need to belong, that I want to expand on here.

The Need to Belong Is a Primal Force

For our ancestors, it was the difference between living and dying. Belonging to a community was integral to survival. That hasn’t changed all that much since then. Of course, we are no longer threatened by saber tooth tigers, but our mental health is wholly dependent on belonging. It’s easy in today’s busy society to miss opportunities to connect with our fellow humans. Then, if or when, we run into some difficulty, perhaps we suffer a loss or find ourselves stressed at work, we don’t have that support person we need. Suffering alone seems to make any problem worse, and if it continues it can even be harmful to our health.

According to the July 2012 Journal of the American Medical Association, living alone increases your risk of heart disease by 24%. (1) This is true because people who lack a social support group are more susceptible to the effects of stress. And, being alone can lead to loneliness which in turn can lead to depression. Belonging can defeat depression. A study in 2009 at Colorado State University found that mild to moderate depression can be alleviated more effectively by social interaction than by a prescription antidepressant. (2)

Making Genuine Connections Is the First Step in Belonging

What we need is more one-on-one, in-person communication. When I was young, a wise older man told me, “You need to have a belly-tobelly conversation if you want true talk.” At the time, I thought he was just trying to be funny, but it turns out that science supports his approach. It’s called the Belly Button Rule. According to Dr. Albert Mehrabian, professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA, when you are engaged in a conversation with someone and the two of you are genuinely interested in the topic and each other, you will point your navels at each other. Observe people talking in public sometime, and you’ll see that this is true. You’ll see people facing each other, even making eye contact, but their hips will be turned away from each other. Those people are not really interested in the other person or what they are saying. Here at OHI, I see lot people leaning in to each other having genuine conversations.

 ‘Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.’ Romans 15:7

Belonging begins with acceptance. Accepting others, as well as, being accepted. According to Karyn Hall, PhD in Psychology Today, “One of the best ways to communicate acceptance is through validation. Validation builds a sense of belonging and strengthens relationships.”

How Belonging to the OHI Community Begins

Guests who have gone through our program many times described to me how the belonging process occurs. They say that it’s a learning journey of coming into wellness and wholeness. You start out on a path that is both a collective effort but with individualized objectives. It begins with detoxing, fasting and following a strict diet, with a wonderfully supportive group around you.

You find yourself sharing things that are more intimate than anything you’ve ever shared before. I’ve told complete strangers here at OHI more about myself than I’ve told my loved ones.

People even say, “I can’t believe I’m telling you this.” It’s an emotional outlet that enables people to feel and share their emotions.

Everyone is exuding this positive energy. This release of energy helps you transform. You feel, “I don’t want to leave this place” because there is a sense of safety while at OHI. And, the people you meet – many will become lifelong friends. You build friendships that last for years because you let your guard down and felt free to share your most intimate concerns. The next time you feel stressed, you might want to pick up the phone and call one of your OHI friends. A study conducted at UCLA in May of 2000 by Shelley Taylor (3) uncovered a third response to stress (after fight or flight). The researchers called this response Tending and Befriending. Tending is any nurturing activity that protects someone and makes them feel safe. The act of sharing what’s going on with you will have a calming effect.

Belonging to OHI’s Community Helps You Persist and Succeed

Renowned psychologist, Albert Ellis said, “The art of love is largely the art of persistence.” Persistence is one of OHI’s 5 Ps to Optimum Health, and having the love and support of belonging to community makes it easier to stay the course and persist until you reach your goal.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ Galatians 3:28

Each week when people attend our program there is a great balance in the community as some people return for a second, third, or fourth week. These returning guests help the newer up-and-comers by sharing helpful tips and how-to’s that enable them to quickly assimilate into the OHI culture and community. Veteran guests understand – physically and emotionally – what the first weekers are experiencing and, by giving them a hand up, help them achieve their goals and their sense of belonging even faster.

I have found that when you have a sense of belonging, you want to give back or pay it forward. It’s not only lending a helping hand but also a sharing of wealth. So, as you enjoy your Autumn, and refine your sense of community and belonging, we ask that you remember us when you plan your year-end donations.

Yours in prayer,

Robert P. Nees, Jr., Senior Pastor and Chairman Optimum Health Institute of San Diego and Austin

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