Last year this time, so many of us in and around NYC were preparing for the very first SEEMA Summit on Sunday, March 8, 2020. South Asian women moving the world, making changes, and coming together to root for each other. There were incredible panels moderated and led by women. I spoke on Ayurveda and its relevance in modern times.
At the start of the day, when I led the meditation session at the Summit and looked at the room filled with inspiring faces, little did I know that would be the last time we would meet in-person as a community or that I would do a live in-person event. The world changed quickly thereafter as the pandemic brought everything to a halt. The availability of many places that we took for granted were no longer accessible, be they offices, yoga studios, coffee shops, homes of loved ones, libraries, restaurants. bars or coworking spaces.
We had to adapt, reinvent, evolve, connect, and communicate differently. Despite our fears of the virus, most of us reached out to others and offered help. Sometimes it was through Netflix suggestions and virtual hugs; at others when you heard of a friend/colleague/relative losing a job, or a loved one, to COVID and you patiently heard them out and asked how you could help.
The pandemic gave us the opportunity to build a community outside our geographic spaces. It taught us to reach out and stay connected in a more meaningful way.
NYC-based photographer Rashmi Gill delivered a beautiful baby boy in the month of October 2020. A pandemic baby meant her family, which is based out of London, were not there to help Gill. Despite being relatively new in the Big Apple, Gill found a local community of known and unknown people. They cooked for her, brought her food, gifted her Seamless gift cards, organized play dates for her older daughter Maya….
“This village has become like my family,” says Rashmi. She swears by the power of community and reminds us, “Finding your people is everything. Take and give with open arms.”
Community is not about an individual. It is about collectiveness. It’s something you choose for yourself. It is often what we find through the process of self-inquiry and self-discovery.
Latika Minocha, head of Partner Ecosystems, Qualtrics, and who lives in Singapore, said that, for her, “community creates the sense of security, sharing, and hope. We are in this together and this will pass. At work, I often connect with my peers in different parts of the world to see if we face the same experiences and work challenges and we learn from each other to resolve them. We also share best practices. Another community that is dear to me, is the Business Women’s Network for my company, where women support each other in their career growth and personal and professional development.”
Minocha talks about the importance of gym buddies, girlfriends, and family friends.
“Each of these communities provide a different perspective and fuel for my soul,” she says.
Community has kept so many of us sane during the dark hours of the pandemic.
Nupur Arora, CEO of Namastay Food and Bev Corp., New York, received a random phone call from a community member during the lockdown. The conversation rekindled her love for homestyle cooking. For Arora, that became the bridge that took her from her restaurant in Manhattan (that has suffered due to lack of business) and her community in Queens.
“Queens Curry Kitchen is built on the love I have for Queens, and the diverse cuisines it has to offer,” Arora says. “Community not only gives us the roots for a foundation but also branches to network and expand and do work that feels rewarding and fulfilling.”
Her local communities and neighborhoods in Queens have helped her establish a regular meal delivery service, bringing plant-based Indian food to people eager to eat healthy without having to cook every meal for themselves or their families.
Knowing you matter and have a purpose can do wonders for anyone’s mental health. The feeling of giving generously and being there for others has lit up so many paths. Deep connections, authentic conversations, and meaningful relationships have instilled faith that things will get better. But to experience this sense of belonging, one has to do some groundwork.
I saw a very close friend go through a complete emotional and mental breakdown during the pandemic. This person always chided me before the pandemic whenever I reminded them to build their village because we all need one. They told me their work was enough, and that humans drained them. Now when this person seeks company and wants others to care about them, those people lack the patience or the interest to deal with them.
The pandemic has been an exercise in eliminating fluff, helping us focus on who/what really matters. Being part of a community gives us a sense of belonging. It enables us to share experiences, interests, personal relatedness, and support unending growth of ourselves and those around us.
I personally found support in so many unexpected places. Be it our local spa owner offering to drop off soup when I was unwell, the family and friends in our safety pod, neighbors, networking groups, people in my yoga and Ayurveda community, or business colleagues, we felt each other’s pain on an innate level.
It does not matter whether your community is made up of five people or five hundred. What matters is having a reliable group of humans you have chosen to hold close and who have your best interest at heart. They are your safe space. Because no one can go through life alone and feel truly satisfied.
“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” ~ Dorothy Day