The Secret Sauce to Developing Sustainable Communities

Magic Dance by Karen Soul Spider Light. Illustration from The Wings of the Heart written by Kevin Red Bear Dubrow. A man goes on a journey to recover his heart wings and encounters the Sufi Whirling Dervishes who ecstatically dance with love.

By Cassandra Dara-Abrams

Many want to know the secret sauce for developing and sustaining community.

I'll tell you what it is: Heart.

Call heart compassion, empathy, loving, sweetness, or kindness; all these words come from the opening of one's heart. Human beings connect through their hearts, thus this is what sustains us.

It's not difficult or hard to share one's heart, though it is vulnerable. It's a whole lot safer to protect one's heart out of fear of being rejected by an individual or a community.

However, it's a whole lot more HUMAN to open one's heart. Seriously. It's not human to close off one's heart. You are robot, a zombie, or a vampire if you close off your heart from others, or even worse, close your heart off from yourself.

The culture in which we have found ourselves living, seeped in capitalism and narcissism, does not wish for hearts to open. When hearts open, humans share and connect beyond money, beyond status, beyond race, beyond class. When hearts open, humans hug, listen to one another, and have meaningful and silly dialogues. When hearts open, communities form and give us meaning and reason to live beyond work, food, and shelter.

Show me a community that does not sustain itself through heart that's strong, soft, sweet, developed and ever-developing, self-sustaining. Show me a community that's not rooted in heart that grows with its members and doesn't decay, disperse, or fade away.

Living with an open heart is being alive! It's being joyous and silly! It's celebrating and honoring others' victories and successes! It's celebrating and honoring one's own successes! It's crying about failures and set-backs. It's dancing. It's singing. It's laughing. It's bringing cough medicine to a co-worker at her home. It's giving your seat to someone else on the bus. It's being truthful and flowing with your life.

The more individual people who live with open hearts, the more organizations we will have based in heart. The more individuals who connect and share meaning with each other, the more leaders will step up who lead with heart. Men, women, girls, and boys - all of us - can be this. All of us must be this if we wish to develop and sustain communities.

Our hearts are stronger than the brain thinks they are. Our hearts grow stronger through sorrow and tears. Our hearts grow stronger the more they open. Our hearts grow stronger the more we share and connect with one another. Through nurturing, wounds to the heart become scars with thicker skin, with wisdom, with strength.

How do I know all of this? Well, it works. I'm a part of a community with roots in heart. I'm a part of a community that grows and nurtures its members. I'm a part of a community that has had many wounds. Through nurturing and allowing the heart to remain open, these wounds heal and become scars. These scars invite the community, its leaders, and its members to grow stronger.

I've learned that us humans need to be taught how to open our hearts. Many, from a young age, were told not to cry, not to touch, not to ask questions nor be curious, not to be silly, not to feel whatever they were feeling.

Don't fret though, you can unlearn the sense of isolation. You can unlearn the anxiety to connect. You can unlearn the embarrassment of being different. You can unlearn feeling you are not a part of something grander than you.

Open your heart to those in your communities. You can share hearty laughs with your co-workers. You can hold a friend's hand. You can and you must. Heart is what gives life to human beings. Heart is what births and grows communities.

I am tending to the heart's fire and keeping it alive. Will you?

Cassandra Dara-Abrams is a Chicago-based writer, artist, teacher, group leader, and yogi. She has passion for small group dynamics and processes, organizational development, wellness of the body and wellness of humanity. Cassandra is the founder and director of Brave and Barefoot. Within Brave and Barefoot, she leads a dance troupe for adults who love to move, grow, and heal. Brave and Barefoot Dance Troupe is currently making waves with their Bernie Sanders Boogie, a choreographed flash mob dance to promote Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders and the need to reclaim participatory politics.