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In Bloom: What is community?
Healing, hoping, and creating a feminist future together
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Hello to our Bloom community,
Greetings from London! It’s Zoë here, writing to you from the shortening days where late summer births autumn. This summer’s weather has brought uncharacteristically warm days — a joy for a native Californian such as myself, but simultaneously a conflicting reminder of the climate catastrophe. Which I’ll be discussing later briefly as part of my deep dive…
Today’s theme is community: after we ground ourselves with a mindfulness exercise that extends loving-kindness to our community, and root ourselves with updates from our own Chayn community, we’ll be diving deep into what we really mean when we say the word ‘community’. You are receiving this email because you subscribed to the Bloom newsletter.
On that note, we wanted to start by sharing some good news from our community. Our podcast, Less than 2 percent, on survivors’ experiences reporting sexual violence in the UK, has been nominated for The Lovie Awards in three categories: Best Co-hosts, Public Service and Activism, and Crime and Justice (Episode). The Awards honour the best of the European Internet, and guess what? You can help us win! Just go to the website here, make an account, and cast your vote before 6th October. Thank you for your support!
Ground: Settling into our bodies and the present
Today, we’re going to be doing a meditation exercise recommended by one of our trauma therapists Aishwarya, adapted from an exercise by Emma Seppälä and Eve Ekman at the Greater Good Science Centre. If you want to do this as a guided audio meditation, you can access an audio recording here.
Close your eyes and sit comfortably with your feet flat on the floor, if possible. Relax your whole body. Take a deep breath in, and then breathe out.
Keeping your eyes closed, think of a person close to you who loves you very much. It could be someone from the past or the present; someone still in your life or someone who has passed, or even a spiritual teacher or ancestor. Imagine that person standing on your left side, sending you their love. That person is sending you wishes for your safety, well-being, and happiness. Feel the warm wishes and love coming from them towards you.
You can make this space even bigger by adding more people to it, visualising each one individually and feeling their warmth, kindness, and loving wishes for your wellness coming towards you. When you feel ready, go to the next step.
Now we are going to send loving-kindness to loved ones. Bring your awareness back to the person standing on your left side. Begin to send the love that you feel back to that person. You and this person are similar. Just like you, this person wishes to be happy. Send all your love and warm wishes to them. Repeat the following phrase, silently: May you live with ease, may you be happy, may you be safe.
Now we’re going to send loving-kindness to neutral people. Think of an acquaintance, someone you don’t know very well and towards whom you don’t have any particular feelings. It could be a neighbour, or a colleague, or someone else that you see around. Send all your wishes for well-being to them, repeating the following phrase, silently: Just as I wish to, may you also live with ease, happiness, and safety.
Finally, we’re going to send loving-kindness to all living beings. Expand your awareness and picture the whole globe in front of you as a little ball. Send warm wishes to all living beings on the globe, who, like you, want to be happy: Just as I wish to, may you live with ease, happiness, and good health.
Take a deep breath in. And breathe out. And another deep breath in and let it go. Notice the state of your mind and how you feel after this meditation. When you’re ready, open your eyes.
Root: Connecting with the Chayn community
As always, we have some updates from the Bloom and Chayn communities!
New languages: Do you speak Hindi or French? Then you can now take Bloom in those languages! We’re delighted to be launching Bloom in Hindi with ‘Healing from sexual trauma’, and in French with ‘Society, patriarchy, and sexual trauma’, with another course coming soon in both those languages. Bloom already launched in Spanish earlier this year with the courses ‘Healing from sexual trauma’ and ‘Society, patriarchy, and sexual trauma’.
Live courses: As you may remember from our last newsletter, we won’t be running any more live courses this year for Bloom. This was an incredibly difficult decision to make, but as we expand Bloom into other languages, we don’t have the capacity to ensure that we’re running the live courses with all the time, attention, and care that requires. However, you can still take the other Bloom courses - Creating boundaries, Managing anxiety, and Recovering from toxic and abusive relationships - by using our material from last year. You can sign up for this here.
Bloom training: We’ll be running another Bloom training on 5 October! This workshop covers how we run Bloom, what it involves, and shares some of our learnings so far. It will include practical exercises and plenty of peer discussion with other organisations working in mental health, survivor services, tech, and more. Tickets are at different price levels, so make sure to book here!
We’re still looking for therapists to partner with us! ! See below for details:
Trauma-informed therapist partner [USA & Canada based]: We’re looking for a trauma-informed therapist based in the USA or Canada to partner with us, delivering remote, short-course therapy to survivors.
Trauma-informed therapist partner [French]: We’re looking for a French-speaking, trauma-informed therapist to partner with us, delivering remote, short-course therapy in French to survivors.
Trauma-informed therapist partner [Portuguese]: We’re ALSO looking for a Portuguese-speaking, trauma-informed therapist to partner with us, delivering remote, short-course therapy in Portuguese to survivors.
Branch: Exploring together
For a lot of people unfamiliar with Chayn’s work, the words ‘digital’ and ‘community’ don’t really belong together. Communities are dynamic, complex, living, and breathing relationships, while anything digital is impersonal and distant, and anonymity is synonymous with harm. I so firmly believe in Bloom as a community. It’s hard to explain - truly, I struggled to find a way to put my feelings into words for this newsletter, to find the right examples to ‘prove’ that what we’re doing here can be described as a community.
As those of you who’ve done Bloom courses before know, people taking part in Bloom don’t see each other. With the exception of our infrequent ‘live’ sessions on Zoom (which are always a highlight to us on the team), the only people Bloom users can see as they watch our videos are the people in them, i.e., us, the team - most of whom are survivors. And sometimes share their own stories of healing. But we constantly remind everyone, including at the end of every session: that we are not alone, we’re in this together. It’s bittersweet, that reminder; we wish there weren’t a need for our community or services, because their existence means that people all over the world are being traumatised at an alarming rate. But given the world we live in, coming together with the knowledge that it’s never the survivor’s fault, and that we are not alone, is essential.
There are a lot of ways in which our courses being online actually helps create a safe space for connection; for example, disclosing our trauma is a deeply personal decision, and a complicated one for many. Our 1-1 chat provides an anonymous safe space for users, such as yourself, to anonymously disclose traumatic experiences and receive support. I feel this sense of community, and I know many of you out there feel it too because as one of you said: “I felt that no matter what race you have, what age you have, whatever trauma you have experienced, you are an important and loved person. It is life changing.”
The concept of community also allows us to deconstruct Western, colonial ideas of how we as individuals and as societies should operate. We talk a lot at Chayn about the importance of decolonising therapeutic practice by prioritising not only individual but also collective care; you may remember Nooreen’s excellent newsletter on collective care and decolonisation.
Communities are a meaningful social unit in many other ways too. Let’s think for a moment about climate change. When it comes to action against the current climate catastrophe, people often draw a contrast between individual action, for example taking the bus instead of driving, and systemic action, for example investing in bus infrastructure. More specifically, people often say that focusing on individual action is futile, because effective change will only ever happen at the systemic level. I agree to some extent, but more to the point, this conversation reinforces a colonial binary between the individual and systemic as the only two levels on which change can occur. Communities exist somewhere between individual and systemic — a collection of individuals large and interconnected enough to be able to pool resources and support people, but without the access to formal power to be able to impose any kind of mandates on non community members’ behaviour. Rather, communities gather individuals and individual actions into powerful movements for advocacy and collective action. Mutual aid is a great example of a very important level on which communities can act.
As an example, I read an article a few months ago about a restaurant owner who serves food in jars that customers are encouraged to bring back for discounts. The story stuck in my mind not only because it’s a great eco-friendly scheme, but also because it illustrates the kind of creative, community-based initiative that exists somewhere between individual and systemic action. That is, it requires individual action - people committing to coming back to the same restaurant multiple times and remembering to bring their jars with them - but it’s not quite systemic either; that is, a government couldn’t mandate this kind of scheme be implemented across all equivalent institutions, because its infrastructure wouldn’t operate well in other contexts. It needs a community to come together and commit to a combination of actions that suits their collective needs. And it works.
But what are communities a meaningful social unit for? That is, when they work well, what do they do? I’ve been reflecting on the communities I belong to: woman, LGBTQIA+. Sometimes it feels like the category ‘woman’ — which applies to almost half of the population — is too big a group to be a community as a social unit, with a scope too large. But time and time again, I see the power of grassroots women’s movements across the world pulling together and pooling resources in a way that is simultaneously unique to their community and universal to the fight for gender equity. I believe in that.
And I belong to other communities I’m not so sure about - is having a mental illness a community? Does it matter which one? Common experience is often used to define community. But it’s also crucial to unpack how we’re defining that common experience. For example, many racialised activists have spoken about the importance of not allowing racial or ethnic groups to be defined solely by the trauma they’ve experienced in our white supremacist world. What does this mean for us at Bloom, and Chayn? What we do as a community is literally defined by trauma — this is a community of survivors of gender-based violence.
Firstly, it goes without saying that not all communities have to operate on exactly the same principles. But also, I think back to the trauma-informed principles that guide our work. In particular, I return to my favourite principle: hope. (Don’t tell the others I have a favourite!) In moving through trauma, we are guided, always, by hope. Our communities create sanctuaries of certainty that another future is possible, and embark on a journey towards that future together.
Perhaps that’s what makes me so sure Bloom is a community — our togetherness in hope. While unfortunately united by the reality of trauma, we come together in the belief that the reality of trauma isn’t and shouldn’t be the only one. To do that, we need to move through our current reality. On that point, I want to end with a quote from the most recent Community Health report from an organisation that works on digital rights, Team CommUNITY:
‘Healing occurs when we turn our attention, our most valuable currency, towards pain and not away from it’.
As a community, we are healing: holding and moving through pain. We know that a world without violence is possible, we deserve that world, and we’re going there together.
Thank you for being our community, friends. For anything urgent, you can always reach us at email@example.com. Until next time.
With so much love,
Zoë and the Bloom team