Around 1975 I came to the conclusion that unique opportunities and achievements could be realized within “a well considered matrix of intentional spiritual community”. Since then I was twice involved in “community” and have confirmed this premise and learned to recognize the obstacles we face as well. Also around that time I decided first to work on freeing myself from my own personal doubts and fears. Many have done this personal work to the point where one finally has to face the fact; that in our culture we can only fully & truly address our doubts and fears, through attention to our honest open relationships with each other.
I truly feel that dedication to a holistic life; in relationship, is a crucible for our refinement. A more focused integrated, holistic lifestyle can be a catalyst for clarity and the fulfillment of our life’s dreams. You and I are like mirrors for each other and if I want to truly know & respect myself I must be dedicated to understanding & respecting you as well. Through our mutual dedication of respect, our agreements become empowered by honesty, trust and trustworthiness.
With a foundation of dedication to fellowship ideals we can begin to imagine how true spiritual fellowship in community might manifest. First of all on a practical level several considerations come to mind.
- First among these is “the therapeutic value of holistic living”; living in relationship with our social & environmental culture; which is to actually know and relate to all the people and things within our environment.
- Second is “the value of shared goals and resources”.For one person to have a garden, or a business, or a car & truck or a swimming pool, or any other resource or responsibility becomes overly burdensome. But for 20 or 50 or 100 people to share the benefit and responsibility of those resources; they become much easier to bear.
- People in the all the arts; including healing, education and spirituality, are especially benefited by community fellowship.
- Part of it is shared resources, but more importantly is a critical mass of energy and environment which nurtures & supports sustainability of vision and ideals.
- Thirdly those of baby boomer generation and beyond “we all must recognize the dangers of an uncertain future; or for that matter even the risks of the status quo”. How are we to live long and well?
Intentional community will obviously reflect the intention of everyone who is a part of it. As a gardener one would see the value of preparing the soil and recognizing appropriate timing & placement. With that in mind I can image some ideas, possibilities and structures which intrigue me.
For example I could ultimately envision an international network of Intentional Spiritual Communities associated in such a way that members could act as world citizens, working and traveling for extended periods of time.
Right now I’m personally willing to dedicate myself to any branch of that broader network wherever individuals embrace a serious commitment to a spiritually universal & holistic community. Each group or community would reflect the intent of its members. For my part I would like to promote the establishment of “a network of new age universalist holistic spiritual retreats”. As each aspect unfolds its way it deserves broader consideration, and we can address those details elsewhere, but for now let me conclude with a few suggestions.
· I favor the term new age with a very specific intent. For me new age implies an ageless ideal; one might say a vision that is forever new, meaning it never grows old because it is always vital in the present, unencumbered by the burden of limiting conditioning we all carry in our assumptions.
· Any group endeavor, if it is to grow strong and healthy depends upon direction and balance; it has purpose & order. It is time to awaken a new order, one of service & loving honor; in this way higher group endeavors are guided by service and humility.
· In this way the least becomes first. Today it seems everyone wants to be a teacher, or some sort of celebrity. The type of fellowship envisioned here allows us to be first and foremost humble students, serving “the One within all”. I am certain, in this way, we can find our way.
Can we have freedom, security and wholeness in our lives simultaneously?
I’ve always felt an important quality of life issue was the value of experiencing an ever present sense of integral living. By this I mean a sense of connectedness between the multi-various aspects of our lives such as our selves and our friends, our family and our community, our food and our earth, our work and our joy. It seems logical to suggest that one might feel a greater sense of satisfaction and purpose when one is connected with ones social and environmental surroundings, however if we look at the structure of our society we see that it is arranged in such a way that we can most easily isolate ourselves from our social and environmental surroundings. We are happy to live as strangers to our neighbors. We find comfort in fences and airtight homes.
This social structure suggests that we are fearful, we feel vulnerable, and we distrust our surrounding. In the reality of being connected we fear lose of control, freedom and happiness. Therefore it seems the primary obstacle to developing a greater sense of wholeness is our lack of trust and trustworthiness. Thus we erect barriers in order to reinforce and sustain our fragile sense of security. Rather then building trust we build barriers. Perhaps rightly so we erect signs, which say no trespassing, for trust is earned by demonstrating reliability and we are all wounded by well-earned mistrust. Therefore we create social and environmental structures, which provide a degree of safety and thus address our primal fears, while we sacrifice to some degree less tangible quality of life issues such as wholeness.
Thus the question arises can we have freedom, security and wholeness in our lives simultaneously?
Many people are afraid of the idea of spiritual community, and rightly so; after all community is really all about constructive relationships and we need to face the fact that we’re mostly spiritually and psychologically immature. Never the less; in business, community, and personal relations we can and indeed must come to clear agreements which enable us to transcend our faults and weaknesses. When clearly and constructively directed, community efforts can accelerate our spiritual awakening. And if one looks at it closely one sees that community is the only source of what little security we can find.
Through developing a high level of trust and dependability in relationships, constructive modeling occurs and constructive modeling is the key to success in community and its absence foretells of any group endeavors ultimate failure. Community demonstrates the maxim, that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. A certain harmonious blend of differing ingredients creates something new, savory, potent and nourishing.
When we look deeply enough for the roots of our motive we generally find motive in our primary instinctual conditions desire and fear, desire for what we want and fear of losing what we want. This is root of the realization more eloquently voiced by the Buddha so long ago. Therefore we pursue our path seeking happiness and the avoidance of suffering. This is our Universal religion. Only our means varies.
Periodically we see a revival of a wide spread interest in communitarian concepts. Shared purpose is universally and rightly perceived to provide opportunities for people to gain some sense of influence or control over the quality of their lives. Actually this interest or desire for community takes on such multifarious forms as to be truly universal or homogeneous throughout all climes and times. The powerful need for the security of the group or love of family and association could, with much justification, be considered as an inmate part of life. This urge for security, though a broader sense of self, is so powerful as to often override the ego’s very powerful urge for individuality.
Community or culture is essential to the survival of even the simplest of life forms. Ultimately it is true all life forms are connected and interdependent within the grand eternal divine essence of life. From this spiritual perspective it’s helpful to recall, the Buddha identified the fellowship of truth seekers to be one of the important treasures of life which helps lead us toward the realization of truth. The development of this true “sanga”, fellowship, by its very nature provides us with an opportunity to secure great spiritual wealth. For this reason alone communitarian fellowship should be not only highly prized, but also highly respected and honored. By this I mean our relationship with the divine nature of others should not be taken lightly.
How ingrained are we, that we so often view our relationships only as the vehicle of either pleasure or pain? Whether consciously or subconsciously how often do we think of a relationship as having a powerful potential to please or to distress? This subtle believe is the acknowledgement of our own need for fulfillment. The dilemma of life is that we see ourselves in a state lacking completeness. The Course in Miracles states, that a belief in a power outside of ourselves is a belief in a false magic. The true power of miracles is secreted within our hearts. It is this true power within us which we need to identify with, not with a power separate from what we are. Our belief in separation is the cause of all our delusions. We must learn to accept the responsibility of understanding both our difficulties and the means for their solution.
A conditional, limiting mode of thinking is at the very core of what the Buddha and others have described as the cause of all suffering the essential obstacle to our enlightenment, which finally leads to the end of all suffering. Until then our relationships with each other are like many rocks in a river, being polished smooth by each other. Unless we discover the source of our fulfillment, our sense of completeness, within ourselves, relationships alone cannot provide us with a lasting sense of peace and security because our own sense of lack propitiates a fear of loss and a sense of conflict, which leads to a desire for control. So long as we are unknowingly motivated by this subtle sense of fear and conflict we are as though looking though distorted lenses, and we will be unable to clearly perceive what is in the best interest of others and ourselves.
A balanced community structure of general consensus with regard to broad community principles, policies and motivation with regard to commerce in services and production, should be designed to promote respect, fairness, security and achievement for all. Once a Statement of Purpose is embraced and basic operating principles are agreed upon teamwork, which provides for authority, responsibility and accountability, should be instigated to undertake projects, which are integral to fulfilling the stated goals and objectives of the community. There’s a book entitled “Enlightened Leadership” which provides outstanding guidelines for those who are directing any enterprise or group effort. This book along with the principles addressed by works such as “A Course in Miracles” should help any team building effort to stay focused on the reality of what works.
If communities are committed to continually illuminating their highest shared values and continually learning how to appropriately honor and respect any expression of those values, then a culture will be nurtured which truly values humanity and those who honor and serve the good of all life. When a communities cultural foundation is strong and stable, then issues are always about principle and shouldn’t need to be about persons. When we stand honestly before the mirror of our shared principles, it will perfectly reflect, “who is the fairest of all.”
One of the reasons Intentional Community has a valid purpose is because our general culture may not always seem to enable nor embody our highest values. If we are to be truly free and fulfilled our culture and institutions should be guided by and embody our highest shared ideals. Personally I belief politics, as we know it, corrupts because it is susceptible to the dominance of individuals or elitist groups. Thus I personally believe community leadership depends upon a clear model of community service rather than power and promotion.
Power should always be restricted and judicious, because personal freedoms need to be respected. Therefore obligations, demands and restrictions in any community should be minimized by consensus. Group objectives should be achieved through cooperation, never by imposition. Therefore I believe it’s important for all members in any intentional community to consider, discuss and clearly express the communities purpose and values. We all know that actions speak louder than words, so I believe it’s essential for members to live by example, as words alone are hollow without any real manifest substance. Truly the ultimate success of any community depends the wisdom and maturity of it’s members and the values they embody. It comes down to integrity and personal responsibility , therefore our culture needs to promote the development of these qualities while protecting against the exploitation of our almost inevitable, if only occasional failings.
The Institute for Community Economics Inc. offers resources for community development. One economic model suited to intentional spiritual community is the Community Land trust.
A Community Land Trust is a community housing development organization that:
(i) Is not sponsored by a for-profit organization;
(ii) Is established, and carries out activities to:
(A) Acquire parcels of land, held in perpetuity, primarily for conveyance under long term ground leases;
(B) Transfer ownership of any structural improvements located on such leased parcels to the lessees; and
(C) Retain a preemptive option to purchase any such structural improvement at a price determined by formula that is designed to ensure that the improvement remains affordable to low- and moderate-income families in perpetuity;
(iii) Has a corporate membership open to any adult resident of a particular geographic area specified in the bylaws of the organization;
(iv) Whose board of directors includes a majority of members who are elected by the corporate membership and is composed of equal numbers of lessees, corporate members who are not lessees, and any other category of persons described in the bylaws of the organization.
After a theoretical foundation of the innate nature and purpose for community development, consider a conceptual image of what might constitute a viable model for a New Age Community. A critical factor in describing New Age thinking is that, the souls which participate proceed with minds clear of prejudice and eyes open to the spiritual reality of the here and now. Something New Age requires a state of mind in which each individual participates actively, equally and honestly within the appropriate context.
In order for basic human needs to be fulfilled we must learn to create community structures, which are open to equal and free participation. Equal and free participation means that the rights and aspirations of minorities must be respected and honored. So long as those rights do not actively harm others meaning there is no negative intent or reasonably perceivable injury. Free, here however does not mean without commitment or responsibility. Freedom also means that the right of a certain acceptable, selective level of nonparticipation must be respected, since the tendency of insecure personalities is often expressed by attempts to control conditions external to themselves, rather than by dealing directly with their insecurity. Insecurity imposed on others can only create destructive codependency. Any demands placed upon one must be reasonable acceptable to all and should create no minority perception of undo burden upon anyone. At the same time each individual must be willing to accept the fruits of their actions or lack of action and must learn to honorably and graciously earn the trust, fellowship and support of one’s peers.
Decision making power should always be restricted and judicious, because personal freedoms need to be respected. Therefore obligations, demands and restrictions in any community should be minimized by consensus. Group objectives should be achieved through cooperation, never by imposition. Therefore I believe it’s important for all members in any intentional community to consider, discuss and clearly express the communities purpose and values. We all know that actions speak louder than words, so I believe it’s essential for members to live by example, as words alone are hollow without any real manifest substance.
Truly the ultimate success of any community depends the wisdom and maturity of it’s members and the values they embody. It comes down to integrity and personal responsibility , therefore our culture needs to promote the development of these qualities while protecting against the exploitation of our almost inevitable, if only occasional failings. Agreeing to clear conditions which lead to a member being sanctioned are essential, for establishing a sense of fairness and acceptance in the community. Any conditions and actions leading to a ban should be serious and irreconcilable and a permanent ban should be reserved for only the most serious cases, such as unrelenting personal attacks; threats, clear intimidation and defamation. What else? Perhaps less serious infractions should be relegated to a suspension policy.
Any obstacle faced, challenges our understanding and beliefs, but also offers an opportunity to demonstrate a desire and willingness to grow. This is very important work in any community. Negativity, coming from anyone, suggests someone is feeling missed or dissed; misunderstood, mistreated or disrespected, which in turn fosters a need to be heard and considered. Avoidance only leaves residual trauma and perpetuates disconnectedness and suspicions regarding one another. Trust and trustworthiness arise through mutual respect and understanding. The seeds of which arise from honest constructive communication.
Once a policy is clearly established one would hope a simple review regarding the policy would quell most issues. In any case I think you’ll agree mutually constructive communication should take precedence over policing. Perhaps members might volunteer, and be accepted, as mediators for parties seeking resolution of disagreements. This is all part of a constructive approach to honing skills and developing relationships of understanding respect and trust. As a community we should hope to see each sincere theosophist rely on constructive communication which builds understanding; rather than lingering resentment, which works counter to our shared ideas.
It should be the special skill and responsibility of individuals in leadership positions to be sensitive to the rights and opinions of all participants. Leadership should be an earned responsibility to serve the agreements of consensus. Leadership responsibility should be based upon each individual ability and willingness to serve the various needs of each individual affected by the activities of the community. This type of leadership is empowered by example rather than command. These points of recommendation are suggested to avoid the most undesirable illness of power and influence manipulation. A balanced community structure of general consensus with regard to broad community principles, policies and motivation with regard to commerce in services and production, should be designed to promote respect, fairness, security and achievement for all.
Once a Statement of Purpose is embraced and basic operating principles are agreed upon teamwork, which provides for authority, responsibility and accountability, should be instigated to undertake projects, which are integral to fulfilling the stated goals and objectives of the community. There’s a book entitled “Enlightened Leadership” which provides outstanding guidelines for those who are directing any enterprise or group effort.
Dedication of the Heart
While the practical aspects of community culture and development are critical points which require consideration in order for any community to succeed, the mysterious alchemy of mind and relationship remains the heart of the matter. In order to truly prosper and transcend all the various and subtle pitfalls and obstacles which stand in the way of any cooperative endeavor a critical mass of participants most possess a fairly profound level of spiritual maturity and dedication. Such individuals while seeing both the opportunities and the obstacles will finally ask themselves the question, “What do I have to offer the world and the future?” “How can I contribute to manifesting my highest ideals?”
If you deeply consider the difficulties and obstacles in the way of achieving this goal you’ll begin to understand my hesitancy. For me there are both personal and social obstacles.
Am I capable; or even suited to addressing the challenges of community development?
Are others capable; or suited to addressing the challenges of community development?
My answer has always been no, and with caution that hasn’t really changed too much, but I now feel the risks might be manageable under certain conditions. And more importantly I feel that we all have an obligation, not just to try, but to succeed in serving and contributing to our social culture and our world.
Once again I would suggest that in order for community to succeed there needs to be several rare ingredients;
A spiritual community needs a shared commitment to some high ennobling ideal in order to discern the nature of constructive and enabling guidance and direction.
Participants need a strong commitment to developing a high level of spiritual maturity; so that they might, to the best of their ability both embody and demonstrate their ideals.
All participants need to exercise thoughtful communication, respect, honesty, trust and fairness.
These are just a few of the traits which help create enabling opportunities. By establishing personal working relationships attunement arises constructively, with creative power and expression rather than though controls and suppression.
The intent here right now is not to create an entire model for Intentional Community; that remains the task of dedicated communitarians. Yet I have more to suggest..