I had to pull the car over to watch the mesmerizing display of ornithological acrobatics. The starlings were clustering again in their beautiful, synchronous murmuration, a pattern too breathtaking to be mere chance. This aerial spectacle benefits the birds by providing warmth and creating an opportunity to exchange information. But it’s also a defense mechanism, an instinctual Darwinian dance birds are called toward. Starling murmurations only happen when there is a hawk or falcon nearby. Each bird attunes itself to seven nearby birds in an attempt to keep those birds between itself and the predator (yup, exactly seven, look up the mathematical phenomenon scale-free correlation if you want to know more). Since every other bird in the flock is doing the same thing, the result is a hypnotic, pulsating dance in air.
This feels like a divine breadcrumb on my journey to understanding, as I too have that many people who stand between me and that predator we call adulting. The women in my flock protect me when life circles too closely with its heartache and suffering. Like a starling, I have deep-seated flock needs. There is safety in numbers, the co-op a haven against lonely, sad and confused. Bird flocks aren’t coordinated by a single bird. When one starling changes direction or speed, each of the other birds in the flock responds to the change. So my tribe is governed collectively. Everyone gets a turn being the strong one, the one that needs support, the one that is angry or hopeful or just so completely over it all. I am all the more grateful for them because they are family that chose me willingly.
We all long for community, to feel the presence of others flying alongside us. The earliest humans roamed the earth in clans, designed to seek the security of others. To find a group of like-minded people, speaking the same language, a group that supports each other as a collective. As Ram Dass stated, “We are all just walking each other home”. And sometimes flying too. In a culture that is more likely to alienate us than connect us, fellowship is harder to cultivate.
I recently read that most Americans spend about 41% of their life in front of a screen. How do we find our people in a society that is ever more isolating and separate? How do we sift through our numerous Facebook friends to find those very few who are truly our people? The members of any true flock will share three distinct qualities.
Your flock will love you unconditionally. They are proud of you and don’t care when you screw up. Often, they are the ones who will lovingly point out that you’re screwing up, but they do this for your benefit and not from schadenfreude. Your flock will never feel gleeful at your misfortune nor judge you harshly for lapses in judgment. Your people will celebrate your victories and commiserate in your defeats, but never compete with you. They instead lift you up, wanting you to be the very best you possible. My people are vastly different in how they see the world but they share the view that I am a badass at doing Erin. They love me unreservedly for me, even when they don’t agree with me. When we are together, we talk about real things, about deep things. We rarely agree on politics or religion or even what we should order on the pizza. That’s how you know it’s real. The flock has a group mind but only because it is made up of individuals; each unique bird with has its own ideas and peculiarities.
Your flock will fill your spiritual cup. We all know that person who is exhausting to be around, the one that leaves us feeling existentially drained and depleted. Energy vampires make us feel needed, but it’s only because they, well, need us. They’re the insecure ones, the Negative Nellies, the Debbie Downers, the gossipers, the guilt trippers. They cannot create or sustain their own life force in any positive manner, so they latch on and feed off of others, slowly sucking the life from them. These are not your people. Your people leave you feeling better, not worse. When you are with your people, you feel loved. Supported. Inspired. Courageous. Accepted. You needn’t wear masks or be on guard or act in any special way because your flock loves you exactly as you are.
Finally, your flock will be unflinchingly loyal. They willingly put themselves between you and that predator we call adulting, remember? Your tribe runs in when the rest of the world is making a beeline for the door. These people will take your dreams, fears and heart secrets to the grave. My friend Alli says that if I jumped off a bridge, she wouldn’t jump off after me, but she’d definitely run to the bottom to catch me. And all the woe to the poor fool who does me wrong, because my gang will cold shoulder them the second they suspect I’ve been hurt. But true loyalty means they also are the first ones to call me on my horsecrappery, often being the ones to speak the very words I need, but don’t necessarily want, to hear.
If you’re still searching for your tribe, take heart. Your seven (or three or nine) birds are out there. Cultivate these qualities in your own behavior and know that your vibe will, in time, attract your tribe.