Ramblings on Community

Community – Form, Intention and Needs

The experience of community in this last year is one of organic form which honors the freedom of each individual and their intentions in life.  Each of us has our own unique path that we are following, and yet there is also commonality that becomes this vague, nebulous thing called “community.”  It’s not so much vague and nebulous as it is organic, flowing, as each of us moves in, around, and through the lives of the others.  There doesn’t seem to be a defined intention.  Intention sometimes carries a projection of the desires for the future.  Certainly there are individual intentions, but the best way to describe the intention of the community, as a whole, is to say that we strive to be present for each other.  Certainly that is my experience of it!

Community – Economic Realm

If there were to be an intention, not as a projection of some desired future, but rather the intention to be collectively supportive, I would say (and this is based entirely on a very recent conversation, so who knows how my thinking on this will change later), I would say that support really does come down to the economic realm.  The reality that I’m experiencing is that there are people who need to be supported by a community because what they offer is not valued by the society.  Here I want to make a distinction between “community” and “society”, the former being a microcosm existing in the latter.  A simple example of this is teachers, teachers of the arts, to be specific.  It seems that the collective body of work on the education of children has agreed that the arts—music, painting, drama, dance, singing, etc., is a vital part of a child’s physical, mental, and emotional health.  But what programs get cut first when there’s a state budget crisis?  The arts!  How do we measure the aptitude of our children when applying to college?  By the SAT’s, which measure math, vocabulary, and reading skills.  Where are the arts?  How do we measure school performance in the various iterations of the No Child Left Behind acts?  Through the measurement of academic (as in sciences) success.  Again, where are the arts?

And are people in the arts the only thing undervalued?  Certainly not.  What about farmers?  What about those with abilities to teach concepts like communication?    And yes, what about spiritual leaders, people who can foster our spiritual development?  Spirit–that subject that nobody wants to talk about because we live in an age where science and technology has eroded any acceptance of the idea that spirituality exists let alone should be discussed in an educational setting.  That spirituality exists, not as a scientifically provable concept, but that it exists as an individual freedom to have faith in something that science cannot, by spirit’s very essence, demonstrate.  And isn’t this sense of spirituality the source for the impulse for artistic activity, for the aesthetics and ethics in gardening, in agriculture, for the desire to hear and be heard and connect with other human and spiritual beings (and yes, our pets, plants, and rocks as well.)

And there are people who teach us these things, but they are not valued.  So one of the first things I see a need for community to address is to value each member of the community.  And this means to create a model, and here I am reminded of Steiner’s threefold economic model, but in the microcosm of a community, a model in which some people are in direct interface with the aspects that society overvalues, and those people are supportive of those in the community whom our current society undervalues.  The result, ideally, is that the community, as a microcosm, is balanced in its valuation.

At the moment, I see this as the first conscious intention that a community should have.  The second intention is that such a community should, by its own example, foster and nurture the revaluing of our entire societal structure.  We certainly can’t make dramatic, all encompassing changes, but we can take small steps that eventually expand beyond the confines of the singular, solitary, community.

Now, all this presumes that the community wants to move into this direction.  That’s an important point, because it isn’t actually necessary.  Underlying my two intentions above is, of course, a mutual agreement that this is a common desire and intention.


Inner and Outer Activity

In Chapter 8, “The Discovery of Inner Space” of A New Earth, Echkhart Tolle writes:

“Non-resistance, non-judgement, and non-attachment are the three aspects of true freedom and enlightened living.” (pg 225)

I’ve been practicing this, and I can definitely say that yup, that is true.  As the Borg say, “Resistance is futile”, and indeed, my experience of resistance is that I miss opportunities, because I’m stuck in a resistant space that potentially has a lot of charged emotions to it like anger.  Not resisting, I have the physical sensation of relaxing and mentally, not worrying about the future.  Non-resistance brings me back into the present and I am more receptive to opportunities.

My experience of non-attachment dovetails with the ability, described in Non-Violent Communication (NVC), of having empathy for others.  When I practice non-attachment to my own ideas, I’m much more open and interested other people’s ideas.  And this has a very interesting effect (which could be called the Dale Carnegie effect): when I show an interest in other people, they become interested in my ideas.

And non-judgment is a vital ingredient for empathy–not judging another person (or even myself).  I find judgement to be a closing, exclusionary activity.  When a person consistently says one thing but does another, (and here I dive into NVC again) I can observe the inconsistency and I can be aware of my feelings of frustration and need for consistency, but I do not have to judge the person as being “bad”.  Non-judgement is a path to accurate observation and experiencing my own feelings and needs, which allows me to come to decisions based on what I experience rather than on my judgement of a person or situation.

But I found myself in a quandary.  Accepting (non-resistance) without judging, combined with non-attachment, I found myself in a space of almost continuous inner joy, but I found it very difficult to engage deeply in any activity.  What does it now mean to say “I love you” to my partner, when I live in a space of non-attachment?  What motivates me to break the silence on a lovely walk with a friend when I am experiencing non-judgement?  Why should even bother expressing my needs (other than the bottom of Maslow’s core needs pyramid) when I live into non-resistance?

This bothered me in an abstract sense, as it seemed like I was losing something important in my experience of life.  The answer to this came in Tolle’s last chapter of the same book, in which he describes the three modalities of awakened doing: acceptance, enjoyment, enthusiasm.  Tolle writes:

“You need to be vigilant to make sure that one of them operates whenever you are engaged in doing anything at all–from the most simple task to the most complex.  If you are not in the state of either acceptance, enjoyment, or enthusiasm, look closely and you will find that you are creating suffering for yourself and others.”

Once I read that, I realized that this was the key to unlock my question.  I am still experiencing my degree of acceptance, enjoyment, and enthusiasm, even while practicing non-resistance, non-judgement, and non-attachment.  Indeed, one of the things I noticed first when practicing these was an significant increase in joy.  So I can say “I love you” to my partner in and as the result of the experience of joy and enthusiasm.  There’s a duality to this space, balancing the inner activity (and it is an active thing!) of the practice of inner peace with the outer activity of expressing acceptance, joy, and enthusiasm.