Because more of us are moving to cities than ever before, loneliness is increasingly part of the urban landscape. According to a TimeOut City Index Survey, 55% of Londoners admit feeling lonely and in Tokyo, some residents have started renting hugs or even cats to beat the blues. Olivia Laing, author of “The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone,” describes feeling lonely as “being hungry when everyone around you is readying for a feast.”
To satiate that hunger, many of us turn to the digital world to find a sense of belonging. While smartphones, social media, food delivery apps, streaming video and the like make us feel we are connected 24/7, the irony is we are actually spending increasing amounts of time alone--online, but alone. The more we immerse ourselves in virtual distractions, the less we engage in our physical environment.
Brene Brown, renowned author on vulnerability, writes that social media is great for developing community, “but for true belonging, real connection and real empathy require meeting real people in a real space in real time.”
In other words, true connection happens face-to-face.
This is where Amsterdam's Mahara Holistic Lifestyle comes in. Dubbed an urban temple by its founder Michelle van Coeverden, Mahara is difficult to define. It’s a cosy living room AND meeting place, vegan restaurant, hair salon, cabinet of curiosities, or tiny venue where concerts or workshops regularly take place. Out back, there’s also a garden and yurt. Like Ruigoord but with urban roots, Mahara offers a sanctuary for people looking to meet, discover and create community.
"For me the living room is a big part of what Mahara is. When the door is open, you can come home and find time to talk, for sharing, inspiration, laughter, crying,” says Michelle, who explains that after returning to Amsterdam from years of traveling, she wanted to create a space for people to gather year-round. “I look at Mahara as a place where bees come home to the hive—those who feel the buzz come in.”
Though only entering its third year, Mahara generates a fluid yet fierce sense of community. “I think the idea of community used to be more fixed, but now it’s nomadic. The more we wake up and find the center in ourselves, the more we can recognize it in others and fall into community straight away,” says Michelle.
What she says mirrors a recent article published in the Atlantic about how in the 21st century, community has shifted from being a physical place we were born into to something we actively seek and that matches our identity. In our increasingly complex world, we are looking for those who reflect our life interests and goals--in other words, our tribe.
Mahara offers what bustling public plazas or town squares have done for centuries. It is a focus point that’s open and accessible, where people come to gather together or alone, free to people watch or join in the discussion. Many of those who frequent Mahara also support Ruigoord, the former ADM, or Bajesdorp, all alternative hubs that spark creativity, free thinking and a loyal community.
For Michelle, who dreamt of creating an inviting, collaborative space as a child, “it’s super exciting to see my dream coming into reality.” She says she couldn’t have built Mahara without the on-going help of community. She likens it to the Amish practice of barn raising, when an entire town works together to erect a barn for whoever needs it. “When we come together, we can move mountains.”
As Mahara expands into its new digs next door (called Araham, opening in April), Michelle encourages others to visit, especially city dwellers who think community is elusive. “I’m challenging those in the mindset of community to show yourself and get involved. The more we share, the more complete the whole picture becomes," says Michelle.