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"Eat, Pray, Love" Your Way to Closer Relationships

04/08/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Last week, we baked a cake together. The cake was called Community and the ingredients were all the layers of relationships we have in our lives: ourselves, partners, family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and even the world itself. To read last week's post, click Here..

Now that we have this lovely cake, heated by the fires of the Great Mystery, how about we slice it up and share it? How do we share ourselves in community, and how do we build one that isn't fake, competitive or surface level?

I think Elizabeth Gilbert was onto something with her memoir, "Eat, Pray, Love." Hers was indeed a path of self-discovery on how to truly create a sense of inner peace and community within herself. First she ate her way through Italy, then she prayed her way through India and finally she found love in Bali.

Turns out this eating and praying and loving thing could work in a broader context too. Over the years of leading and participating in various groups, I have found there are a few tried and true tricks that can turn an everyday book club, board meeting, cocktail party or girl's night out into something moving, insightful and deeply nourishing. It's time to move beyond empty-headed networking chatter or fast food friendships.

Here is my "Top 5 List" of how to turn any gathering into something memorable:

1. Eat-
Food, food - glorious food! Let's start here. Sharing delicious, decadent and healthy food together is relaxing, helps stimulate conversation and elevates our mood. Doesn't matter if it is at work, at play or for fun, everything rolls easier with a tasty morsel or two. And don't be stingy- always have more than enough! Bring lots of chocolate, fruit, nuts and lovely sparkling waters. Sit on the floor and spread the food out in the middle as a glorious centerpiece. It is a great beginning.

2. Pray-
Prayer can mean so many things to different people. The idea is to get out of everyday reality for a moment or two and into something luminous. Group prayer can be incredibly powerful. However, if prayer is not your thing, creating rituals is a fantastic way to bring your group closer together. Simply put, a ritual is anything special you repeat over and over again. This could be lighting candles at the table, it can mean holding hands and meditating to get centered, it could mean dancing, as Dr. Cara Barker beautifully shared in her most recent post . As corny as it sounds, absolutely nothing moves people farther and faster than sharing some sort of ritual experience together. Once you get the hang of it, many of us hunger for more.

3. Love-
The Beatles said it "Love is all you need." But, if that is a stretch in your group, how about starting with a little Appreciation and Gratitude? How often have you shared a special experience or moment with someone, and never bothered to let them know how much it meant to you? I love to end our family dinners with something we all are grateful for- it makes our meal so much more meaningful. Ending any sort of gathering that allows time to share something that you appreciate lifts everyone into a more connected and grateful space.

4. Take a Risk-
I am not saying all of this is easy! If you want the fruit at the end of the vine of an enriched community life, you have to stretch out your hand. Don't be afraid to share that your life is not so rosy. People respond to the shadows of life with a deep empathy impossible to reach when the sun is shining. Inevitably, being brave allows others to do the same. This risk can apply to talking to your teenagers, to your co-workers or to the friends you have always kept at arm's length. They are waiting for you and the time is now.

5. Build a Routine-
Call or email a group of people you really enjoy, and see if they are all willing to get together once a month. This is usually manageable for most people. It allows you to begin to develop closer relationships without interfering with the daily grind, and becomes something everyone can look forward to. Even though you only gather once a month, the anticipation, and the reflections afterward, give a lot of mileage.

In times like these, we can help keep each other afloat- if we are willing to try. Our collective fear increases the need to huddle together, and in a way that acknowledges the Truth of our nature.

I am a part of a wonderful group of women, called "Mother Madness." This group of 20 have been meeting monthly for over 5 years and represent a variety of ages, stages, professions, political affiliations and philosophies. We live in Yankee New England and this kind of gathering is not common.

Like pilgrims we come once a month. We have pillows arranged in a circle, loads of treats piled in the center, candles and music. We all breathe deeply and welcome the faces. As we settle down, we close our eyes, hold hands and take a moment to let the world go. We then "smudge" each other with this great smelling sage, that smells slightly of pot, and somehow it relaxes us even more.

We pass a special "talking stick" that means whoever has that thing is the ONLY one who can talk, and she can say whatever she wants, for as long as she wants. One by one we talk, share, cry, listen, laugh and sigh. That's it. Marvelous medicine I highly recommend. We eat, we pray, we love, we take risks and we have a lovely routine. They are my rocks. We are each others rocks. I don't know what I would do without them or this container of community.

Who are your rocks? How do you build a special connection and community? I'd like to hear! Feel free to leave a comment in the box below or email me directly at: karihenley@comcast.net
Next week I will dedicate the entire article to sharing our "back stories" of who keeps us afloat and how we nurture each other in special ways. Look for several of our regular Huff Po featured writers to share as well!