The word is just so…oppressive. Instead, last year, I chose a focusing phrase for the year: “open-hearted presence.” All year, when I started to feel my heart close to an experience, I’d take a deep breath, open it back up, and neither attach to nor resist anything that was happening. The phrase and the practice changed my life.
This year, my phrase is “intentionally-focused community.”
Why am I telling you this? I’m telling you because I hope you’ll be encouraged to choose a focusing phrase for your year, and then practice it until being human becomes a little more beautiful. I’m also telling you because you are a part of the community I’m going to be particularly focused on this year.
What do I mean by that? I can explain it quickly, but to do so I’ll have to start ten years ago this week, when I published my first blog post.
The Beginning of the Story
Six months before that day, a client of mine said, “Hey, these ideas of yours are really helping me. It’s a shame you only get to share them with thirty people a week.” I thought about that for a while.
Then I wrote my first blog post.
It took me almost a month and all of my courage to write those first 782 words and to push the publish button on the first Saturday morning of 2012. It took me six days to write my second post. Six hours to write my third. Six weeks later, my ninth blog post went viral.
In two months, I’d gone from reaching thirty people a week, to a million.
Several viral blog posts later, my daughter and I wound up on the TODAY Show. That morning, a well-known author saw us on the show and connected me to his agent. She very quickly became the guiding light of my literary life.
Three years later, Loveable was published.
Loveable has sold tens of thousands of copies and has been published in a second language. But even more importantly, it has become a magnet for the most graceful group of people I’ve ever known. I think of it as the Loveable Learning Community—LLC for short.
The Rest of the Story
In the spring of 2018, the Loveable Learning Community gathered in the analog world for the first time in Waco, Texas, with Ashton and Brynn Gustafson. We called it the Loveable Retreat Weekend. There, Donna and Gary Urban offered to host the next retreat at their 4U Ranch, a short drive outside of Park City, Utah. Planning got underway.
In the meantime, the Loveable Learning Community began to gather on Facebook Live in the form of our weekly Human Hour conversation. It was graceful and inclusive and we picked up new friends every week.
In October 2019, forty of us gathered in Utah for the 2019 Loveable Retreat Weekend and, despite being a words-guy, I was left speechless. By its warmth and tenderness. By the quickly forged sense of belonging. By the very special nature of this growing community.
Then, to be frank, COVID triggered in me a digital identity crisis.
I was not interested in being yet another platform flooding the digital world with content. I was bothered by the limited depth and connection of Facebook Live gatherings. And analog gatherings were off the table for the foreseeable future.
So, in 2020, I hunkered down. I wrote a book that picked up where Loveable left off, exploring the boundary-lands between shame and loneliness, and the risks and rewards of lifelong belonging. In February 2021—despite pandemic fatigue, cultural upheaval, and countless other stressors—the Loveable Learning Community rallied around the launching of True Companions, and for that I will be forever grateful.
After the launch, I hunkered down again with my digital identity crisis, and my sense of clarity began to grow. In September, I announced my vision for my online presence. Then, last month, I completed a weeklong training about how to create and choreograph deeply meaningful online and analog gatherings.
From that training emerged a vision for the Loveable Learning Community in 2022…
The Next of the Story
In 2022, the Loveable Learning Community is going to:
- Replace Facebook Live with the depth and richness of monthly Zoom gatherings,
- gather again in-person for Companion Camp 2022 on October 15, at the 4U Ranch,
- and we are going to start a book club ahead of the publication of my first novel, The Unhiding of Elijah Campbell, which releases on October 18. There is as much to learn in this novel as there was to learn in Loveable, and I’ll be bringing a free copy of it for everyone in Utah!
Of course, the activities of a community may not be as important as its pillars. Activities are the what of community; its pillars are the how. So, at this inflection point, let’s be clear about the pillars of this Loveable Learning Community. There are three of them, and they are right there in the name.
Loveable. We are here in this community not because we always feel loveable, but because we are on a journey toward that quiet center within us where our worthiness is self-evident. We are hoping to brush up against that center, perhaps even stand on the solid ground of it for a moment or two, and we are wildly hopeful that we might someday rest in it always.
Learning. We recognize we are lifelong learners and that residing peacefully in the space of unknowing is actually one of the deepest forms of wisdom. In the words of Elijah Campbell—or, more accurately, the ghost of his beloved grandfather—“I guess you could say, humility isn’t modesty about having arrived; it’s the acceptance that you never really will.” We seek to embody this kind of humility.
Community. We do not gather based upon shared beliefs, overly-simplistic political platforms, nor any of the exclusion all of that entails. We seek to be radically inclusive, with only one pre-requisite for participation: the desire to become a healthier person and a truer companion. We embrace how dramatically different we are from each other, and we view the occasional disagreement as an opportunity for deeper connection rather than defensive protection.
This is who we are.
And in 2022, I’m more intentionally focused on this community than ever. There are no membership fees. No expectations. (However, you will get an early access discount code for Companion Camp!) In order to receive occasional notifications of opportunities for deeper learning, growth, and connection, all you have to do is complete a quick three-question survey.
I’ve loved my first ten years with you. Can’t wait to see what we do together in the next ten!
In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.
Connect with Kelly
Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.