Community Building

July 24, 2011

In this new world of electronic social networking, I believe we are hungry for face-to-face community, with its promise and paradox. (See more on that tension in this earlier post).

I am co-teaching a class for library school students developed by Kathleen de la Peña McCook on community building. Students are required to visit a library board meeting as well as meetings or programs of community organizations (cultural, civic, social services). I believe librarians from the public library (one of the few truly neutral spaces in a community) can play an important role in building community.

This morning, I am facing another day of grading papers, and thinking that grading is the worst part of teaching. I wish there were time to hand back an assignment for corrections, to coach, to help a student better understand the lesson. Still, I think these students are really getting it, so I’m glad to be part of this effort.

Over the years I’ve found community in a number of places–at work, in professional associations, Unitarian Universalist congregations, groups of friends, writing groups and yoga classes. I now (sporadically) participate in a Facebook community, which I find to be helpful for shallow connections. I am hoping that using my new space on the downtown square will result in some personal community-building.

Who and where are your communities? How do we stay connected in meaningful ways that call forth our best selves, that challenge us to deepen our lives, better understand one another, and grow together?


Engagement

June 10, 2010

Living in a vacuum sucks. ~Adrienne E. Gusoff

Today this quote on my Google home page made me laugh. But it also made me think about the seduction of withdrawal. It is a great luxury this month to have no particular place I have to go, no particular people I have to see, and no particular work I have to do. I can wander around the yard, take time to sit in the sun and pet the cat, read novels, take naps, write, draw, and generally do what I please. Dangerous stuff for an introvert who lives in the country!

So I want to fully enjoy this retreat from society, but also plan for my reentry, because I believe that engagement is a responsibility we have to the world. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us about the interdependence of all things, which he calls interbeing. “I am, therefore you are. You are, therefore I am,” he says.

So during this time of rest and reflection, I will consider how to best be of use. What is it that I have to offer the world? And where and how can it be shared wholeheartedly?


Aging and Community

May 23, 2010

How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these. ~George Washington Carver

Today, my mother-in-law Edna is in the hospital having tests to confirm a suspected stroke. End-of-life issues are so difficult. How do we determine when to intervene medically and when to let the aged die peacefully? Just because we can prolong life, should we always, despite the suffering it may bring?

What about more community-oriented solutions? As do so many in her generation, Edna tried to stay in her own home and had to move to an institution when she could no longer do so. Moran and Rollins predict that the baby boomers will “transform traditional models of independent living” in this article. And the University of Indianapolis Center for Aging and Community has this as a philosophy: “The University of Indianapolis Center for Aging & Community is guided by the belief that it must move beyond the medical model in its approach to aging issues, viewing older adults holistically and acknowledging that they are community assets.” Amen.


The Paradox and Promise of Community

April 11, 2010

There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace—and ultimately, no life—without community. ~M. Scott Peck

Participation in meaningful community is the greatest unacknowledged hunger of our time. ~Family Therapy Networker

We are individual designs in the fabric of life: We have our own integrity, but simultaneously we are part of the fabric, connected to and defined by the whole. Community is the human dimension of that fabric. ~Tom Atlee

The title of this post is the title of the first chapter in The Community of the Future from The Drucker Foundation. In this chapter, Margaret J. Wheatley (one of my favorites!) and Myron Kellner-Rogers explore the difficulties and the benefits of community. They lament that, “Particularly in the West…we move toward isolation in order to defend our individual freedom.” By doing so, we end up lonely and impoverished. They contend that we must live in the paradox of community: the conformity required to live together and the need for our own independence.

The authors describe communities that do not require members to forfeit their freedom. People in groups must know why they are in community, and their conditions of belonging can be kept to the minimum. One junior high school has only three rules: “Take care of yourself. Take care of each other. Take care of this place.”

“Our great creativity and diversity, our desire for contribution and relationships, blossom when the heart of the community is clear and beckoning, and when we refrain from cluttering our paths with proscriptions and demands.”

Have you experienced the joy of community in which people know why they’re together, have a “cohering center of shared significance,” yet keep the demands for conformity and sacrifice of one’s individuality as minimal as possible?


For, Not Against

March 12, 2010

Every value we hold dear is an expression of either support or opposition, and it is our perspective that determines whether we are for something or against it…being for something is a vastly more potent means of inspiring change because it carries with it the power of constructive intent. ~from the Daily Om, 3/3/10

As regular readers know, I have some degree of ambivalence toward social activism. (See Riding the Currents.) I believe so many good intentions to make the world a better place go astray and further polarize people. This may be largely because of the negative nature of much activism–protest marches as opposed to nonviolent demonstrations in favor of an ideal.

I want to be for the things I believe in more than I am against the views of others. Constructionist rather than deconstructionist. Here’s my list. Join me! What would your “for” list include?

Peace–in the world, in our communities, in our homes, and in ourselves
Social justice–ensuring all the opportunity for health and happiness
Economic justice–raising all boats through equitable policy and legislation
Intellectual freedom–to read, think, and believe as we wish
Human rights–the Universal Declaration says it best
Tax-supported government services–such as libraries and health care
Community–locally, nationally and globally
Respect for the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are a part
Simpler living–right relationship with possessions and the earth’s resources


Kindness Multiplied

January 27, 2010

No kind action ever stops with itself. One kind action leads to another. Good example is followed. A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees. The greatest work that kindness does to others is that it makes them kind themselves. ~Amelia Earhart

When my father died in 1967, his company newsletter said that he would be remembered for his kindness and his sense of humor. I would be very proud to be remembered for such important qualities. I love this quote from Amelia Earhart, because it reminds us how interdependent we really are, how a simple kindness reverberates, ripples outward, and often comes back to us.

What was the last kindness you received? Did you pay it forward?


Why and Where is War?

January 19, 2010

Every war is against the world, and every war against the world is lost. ~Alice Walker

Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him. ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

At the root of all war is fear. ~Thomas Merton

In a battle, the winners and the losers both lose. ~The Buddha

Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding. ~Albert Einstein

There is no way to peace; peace is the way.~A. J. Muste

If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Don’t throw anyone out of your heart. ~Neem Karoli Baba

We used to wonder where war lived, what it was that made it so vile. And now we realize that we know where it lives, that it is inside ourselves. ~Albert Camus

I have ordered a subscription to The Friend, the magazine of the Quakers. I am not a Quaker, but I deeply admire many of their beliefs and practices, not the least of which is their pacifism. I know that human conflict is complex, and that many have fought and even died for good causes. But I also know that it is important to speak out against war, to teach children how to be in community in spite of differences, to raise our voices against militarism. So today I offer the wisdom of those who have spoken much more eloquently than I ever could on this subject. Peace be with you.


The Wisdom Trail

January 18, 2010

My grandmother called a person’s spiritual path in this life “traveling on the wisdom trail.” She said it was a spiral, bringing us closer to the truth at our core each pass round. What this means is that we keep coming to the same places, intersections, and struggles over and over again, only each time we’ve expanded out, collecting more wisdom. Wherever you go on a spiral, there is no escaping from yourself…There’s no way to complete a journey on the wisdom trail, since it is a spiral of learning, healing, serving, learning. ~Dawna Markova

No Enemies Within, by Dawna Markova, is a wealth of wisdom. With quotes on every page, many of which I will be using here in future, and treatment of the sacred spiral, you might guess that I would relate to this book! Markova provides a friendly, readable yet profound prescription for healing through creativity, for becoming whole by “discovering what’s right about what’s wrong.”

The author describes the landmarks in our spiritual journeys: the enemies within, living disconnected, the turning points in which we reconnect with our lost selves, opening our hearts with acceptance, and using our imaginations and intuition to recreate our lives and make use of our own resources, so that we may ultimately serve and help others in community. Sam Keen said, “The word hero needs to be reserved for the man or woman who is willing to take the solitary journey to the depths of the self, to re-own the shadow, to exorcise the ancient warrior psyche, to discover the power and authority of wholeness.”

My enemy within at the moment is the pull of numbing activities (computer games, for example) that prevent me from participating in those things that nourish me: writing, friends, and yoga among them. May I set one foot in front of another to travel the wisdom trail, the spiral of learning and growth where there is no escaping from myself, where I come ever closer to the truth at my core. May you find your truths on the wisdom trail as well.


Gourd Afternoon

December 5, 2009


Blessed is he who has found his work. Let him seek no other blessedness. ~Thomas Carlyle

When we have the courage to speak our minds and use our voice to send the desires of our hearts from our inner world to the world outside, we take a bold step in making them happen. ~from yesterday’s Daily OM, “Freeing Our Inner Desires: Using Our Outside Voice.”

I have spent a lovely hour or two at The Gourd Place this afternoon, the always-interesting shop of my friends Priscilla and Janice. They have indeed “found their work” and have persisted in sharing their artistic vision for many years. You can read their story in Priscilla’s wonderful book, Gourd Girls, source of the Carlyle quote above.

There is something inspiring and uplifting about visiting them and the shop, about contemplating their efforts to live authentically, to speak with their “outside voices.” Today, as usual, the shop was full of well-wishers and positive energy. Janice and Priscilla have drawn around them a community of people who admire and appreciate their integrity and their found work. May we all strive to live in such a way.


Groupthink

August 29, 2009

hands
You don’t get harmony when everybody sings the same note. ~Doug Floyd

I have just read Doris Lessing’s Prisons We Choose to Live Inside, and it has caused me to reflect on my relationship to family, community, and groups over the course of my life. “Very few people indeed” Lessing says, “are happy as solitaries, and they tend to be seen by their neighbours as peculiar or selfish or worse.” She concedes that we are group animals, and the problem is not in belonging to groups, but “not understanding the social laws that govern groups and govern us.”

For groups exert pressure to conform. In groups, we believe we are acting as individuals, and can point to our differences of opinion as evidence. But there are underlying assumptions and sacred cows that are never discussed–that are usually not even noticed–by those within the group. Lessing holds that there are very few nonconformists, “original minds,” and that “on them depends the health, the vitality of all our institutions.”

I am in a period of very little interaction with groups but have felt hungry for community. Can I move back into community with an open heart that will also accommodate a cool, self-aware head? One encouraging passage in Lessing reports that “researchers of brain-washing and indoctrination discovered that people who knew how to laugh resisted best.” People who don’t laugh at themselves, she says, include fanatics, bigots, tyrants, and oppressors. “True believers don’t laugh. Their idea of laughter is a satirical cartoon pillorying an opposition person or idea.”

May I embrace my “group animal” nature without succumbing to groupthink. May I laugh open-heartedly and open-mindedly at myself!


In Praise of Slowness

May 4, 2009

There is more to life than increasing its speed. ~Gandhi

For fast-acting relief from stress, try slowing down. ~Lily Tomlin

Carl Honoré gives us a wonderful introduction to the Slow movement with his book, In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed. For a long time, I have included on my blogroll a weblink for Slow Down Now, the delightful “official” website of The International Institute of Not Doing Much. Honoré has produced a more serious work on this topic, described by the Minneapolis Star Tribune as “part reportage, part manifesto…an engaging, well-written journey into the various ways that people around the globe have attempted to live more patiently.”

Honoré is not against speed on principle, pointing out that “speed has helped us to remake our world in ways that are wonderful and liberating,” using the examples of the Internet and jet travel. He just cautions us against “accelerating things that should not be accelerated.” He is against overwork, sleep deprivation, children coming home to empty houses, and our society’s loss of the art of doing nothing. We must use speed and slowness in tandem to avoid the crazymaking do-everything-faster mindset. (The author’s wake-up call was when he found himself elated to discover “One-Minute Bedtime Stories” to read to his two-year-old son.)

In one of the bleaker passages he writes, “Time-sickness can also be a symptom of a deeper, existential malaise. In the final stages before burnout, people often speed up to avoid confronting their unhappiness. [Milan] Kundera thinks that speed helps us block out the horror and barrenness of the modern world: ‘Our period is obsessed with the desire to forget, and it is to fulfill that desire that it gives over to the demon of speed; it picks up the pace to show us that it no longer wishes to be remembered, that it is tired of itself, sick of itself; that it wants to blow out the tiny trembling flame of memory.'”

I do think we often use speed to avoid living fully, to “temporarily” escape the awareness of death, to self-stimulate. Honoré reminds us, “All the things that bind us together and make life worth living–community, family, friendship–thrive on the one thing we never have enough of: time.”

May we be mindful of our obsession with speed!


Let Your Life Speak

March 29, 2009

Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent. ~Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

Now I become myself.
It’s taken time, many years and places.
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces….

~May Sarton, “Now I Become Myself”

Palmer reminds us that the word vocation is rooted in the Latin for “voice.” He has come to understand vocation as a gift to be received, rather than a goal to be achieved. Watching his granddaughter during the early days of her life, he could see that she had inclinations, preferences, and her own personality from birth. He says, “We are disabused of original giftedness in the first half of our lives. Then–if we are awake, aware, and able to admit our loss–we spend the second half trying to recover and reclaim the gift we once possessed.”

And he says: As May Sarton reminds us, the pilgrimage toward true self will take ‘time, many years and places.’ The world needs people with the patience and the passion to make that pilgrimage not only for their own sake but also as a social and political act. The world still waits for the truth that will set us free–my truth, your truth, our truth–the truth that was seeded in the earth when each of us arrived here formed in the image of God. Cultivating that truth, I believe, is the authentic vocation of every human being.

And: Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks–we will also find our path of authentic service in the world. True vocation joins self and service, as Frederick Buechner asserts when he defines vocation as ‘the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.’

This small volume of essays from Palmer leads us through his choices about vocation, his depression and dark periods, and his ultimate realization that he is a teacher. He believes our shared vocation, leadership in the world of action, is an outgrowth of our inner journeys. We should support one another’s inner work by creating “communities of solitudes,” not abandoning or trying to fix each other.

More ideas from Parker J. Palmer here.


An Undivided Life

March 14, 2009

Here is the ultimate irony of the divided life: live behind a wall long enough, and the true self you tried to hide from the world disappears from your own view! ~Parker J. Palmer

I have just finished reading Parker J. Palmer’s A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life. How can every sentence from Palmer be exactly the sentence I would write if I could think and write as clearly and beautifully as he?

This book covers virtually all the themes I have explored in this blog–integrity, the open heart, connection, woundedness, respect, attention, letting go, and many others–in the investigation of an undivided life. Bringing inner and outer worlds together is a process Palmer refers to as the joining of soul and role. Rejoining, really, because in his view we were all undivided at birth. But he cautions that this process is much more than “embracing the inner child,” since “we carry burdens and challenges children do not have.”

Solitude Palmer defines as not necessarily living apart from others, but apart from ourselves. And community he says is not necessarily living with others, but rather “never losing the awareness that we are connected to each other…being fully open to the reality of relationship, whether or not we are alone.”

We cocreate each other in encounter, Palmer says, and he gives a specific method for establishing “circles of trust,” safe “communities of solitudes” where people can listen to their own hearts, discern their own truth, without being invaded or evaded by others. He likens the soul to a wild animal, shy and self-protective, and says we must not go crashing through the woods (arguing, preaching, proclaiming, advising, trying to be helpful). We must sit in silent attentiveness and hopeful expectancy if we want the soul to appear.

I already knew a little of Palmer, a Quaker, from the many times my minister/friend Marti spoke about him from the UU pulpit. But (as with most books), I have no idea by what route I got to this one. I am just grateful to have discovered it.


World Community

December 27, 2008

Today the planet is the only proper “in group.” Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy. ~Joseph Campbell*

The election results have had a significant effect on my outlook. I am almost tempted get that bumper sticker that says “Proud to Be An American.” But I won’t, because I don’t believe there’s any virtue in nationalism, as we are world citizens living on the earth interdependently.

Campbell’s words help me reconcile the enormous suffering in the world with our responsibility to live fully and joyfully. Carrying the weight of that suffering doesn’t help anyone. As Dorothy Day said, “No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.”

May we live more joyfully at the same time we open to the world’s suffering with our compassion. Awake and joyful living will show us the path to our right work for the welfare of all.

*Today’s quote comes from the Word for the Day at gratefulness.org.


Community

April 19, 2008

Once we become relatively independent, our challenge is to become effectively interdependent with others. ~Stephen Covey

Woke to gentle rain
Mist obscures the distant hills
Funeral today

We have lost something in our movement away from communal living. A lone city dweller might argue that the extended family brings too much closeness, calls for too much conformity, but (paradoxically), through it we may actually learn to be more tolerant of differences. Take the “crazy aunt” or that “funny cousin”–yes, they were labeled and talked about, but were still accepted as part of the family, and could count on the support of the group in times of crisis. Robert Frost said it well: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

I have had a love-hate relationship with community and family all my life. Because I felt like the “different one” in my immediate family, and because we had no extended family in our town, I have always had a certain craving to live anonymously, to be left alone, or at least not discouraged in becoming who I was to be. It is probably a big reason I didn’t have children of my own.

I am grateful, though, for my socialization, my ability to “look like” part of a group, to fit in where I can without self-betrayal. And I am so very thankful for my husband and close friends, who serve as my chosen community/family. May I continue to nurture my close relationships, and also be more open to the larger community around me.