Note: Feel free to skip the explanatory preamble if you’re looking for a meditation to help you build community.
As a little girl, I wanted to change the world. As a teenager, I joined the Mormon church because I found communion there when I desperately needed it in my life and because I trusted people who told me they had the truth. I believed this truth would lead to happiness but I found myself deeply depressed for several periods throughout fourteen years. In fact, the only time in my life I’ve been depressed longer than a couple of weeks of commonplace grief, was while I was Mormon. I felt trapped and I felt grief that my hopes for making the world a better place were not coming to fruition. My faith only isolated me from the wider community to the point that it was hard to connect with others. I viewed non-Mormon people as prospects for my church and longed to convert them so that we could have a meaningful relationship of shared beliefs and values. The Mormons with whom I shared beliefs and values were too different from me in almost every other respect. When I left the Mormon church, concluding that I didn’t believe in free will, I didn’t believe in a prescriptive God, I didn’t believe that perfect love could ever be communicated or acted out in a highly structured system of rules and force through fear, shame, guilt, and reporting on each other, I lost my community.
I found intersectional feminism and social justice. I was drawn in by the wise analysis of power versus oppression and the call to equality and to help the vulnerable and afflicted. I found a community here but the one I found turned out to be a different version of what I had already experienced. Rather than being limited to theories, practices, and works of love, humility and unity, social justice and feminist principles get used as tools of power and oppression in a horrible irony. The goal posts are always changing so that people never reach purity or righteousness, and they use new language and rules to signal their righteousness and superiority over others and their rightful place within the tribe. They appoint hierarchical leadership and they excommunicate through shunning. I’m not the only person to discover that they’ve stumbled into The Church of Social Justice.
There are true principles in both churches and I’m grateful for the foundational understanding that they’ve given me. I continue to operate from what I’ve learned from each belief system. I still passionately identify as an intersectional feminist.
But I’ve been longing for something more. A better set of theories and practices from which to engage with people and to select from those people whom I want closest around me.
Without entirely understanding why, I felt compelled to take up a position as a community manager within the coworking space in which I operated a small creative agency. I’ve been drawn over the past two years to some people working in something called collaboration design. As they passed some books along, all the pieces have come together to form a new belief system. I realize that the past few years have been difficult, operating without a belief system. My behaviours haven’t been aligned with some of the values that I have, without being grounded to any foundation of what I know to be true. I’ve been shifting about, trying on different practices and theories to see what feels right and what works. Nothing has felt right or true in a way that allows me to be at peace and patient when things don’t work out as I expect.
Just a couple of sentences and paragraphs within Small Arcs of Larger Circles by Nora Bateson, and Community by Peter Block caused a bunch of puzzle pieces to suddenly shift into place. I have been waking in the middle of the night, immediately thinking about what I’ve read, feeling as though my brain is on fire with connections and my skin is newly alive. It is good to have a home again within myself, good to be operating from a foundation.
Here is that foundation.
I’m yearning to be a servant to a community, a facilitator, and I’m yearning to learn from them, too. But because people are so vulnerable to forgetting what moves them and are so susceptible to fear and grumpiness from reading world news, or from having our feelings hurt, etc, or because I am, I thought I should write for myself a meditation to read for when I want to remind myself of what I believe so I can get grounded.
A Meditation for Building Community
All people are valuable to a community either by contributing positive energy and ideas or by offering challenges for others to respond to.
I can learn from other people and I can teach them. As we each teach what we know, trading information around like commerce, we raise the level of consciousness and happiness together.
People are vulnerable ecosystems where I should tread lightly with opinions and judgments lest I wear a permanent path to certain conclusions. I will never know their landscape if I’m always taking the same route. I want to know people for who they are, not for what they can do for me, or for who they are only in relation to me.
If I want to connect people to each other to foster community around me, I need to know who they are in relation to each other, too. I can observe and learn what they offer each other. I can know people by watching how other people know and experience them and that is as valuable as how I experience them.
The person I feel uncomfortable around today may one day become a friend. Someone I dislike today may become someone I respect and enjoy later.
I will take the time to know people and allow for the possibility that I’m wrong in how I perceive them, or to allow them the freedom and space to change who they are. I will support people as they engage and change.
By being present with people, listening intently to understand and creating maps of them in my mind, withholding judgment and choosing confusion over the need for certainty at the expense of their emotional safety or reputation, I will create a home for them. Even expressing strong opinions that are positive can create reticence in someone else to express a contrary opinion and if I want to know what other people really think, which I do, I should be mindful of when an opinion can be oppressive even in its joy.
I want to be people’s home and I want them to find a home within each other. It is the only way that people can feel comfortable to be the degree of vulnerable necessary to really learn from each other. If people don’t feel safe, if they don’t feel respected and able to be imperfect as they stumble along, they will just protect their egos and people can’t learn and grow from a place of ego.
People may not like or understand me right away but this can change. I may not communicate well, creating confusion around my values and intentions, but in time, more interactions will come to the surface of other people’s awareness of me, and my missteps will fade into the background. People see each other through their own filters. They pattern match with other people they have experienced. One aspect of my personality or behaviour may stand out to someone, reminding them of someone else they don’t like, and it will take time before more exposure to me gives them new information that doesn’t fit the pattern, allowing me to be a new, complicated person to them.
If I make a mistake around someone, I can try to correct it, or if that will only generate awkwardness and more mistrust, I can just let it be and trust them to give me the benefit of the doubt. Most people I surround myself with will do this because I gravitate toward people who are self-secure and don’t need to criticize or dislike me in order to like themselves. If people are merciless with me, they are not my people. I will have to accept, though, that I can generate mistrust and I need to allow time and more positive interactions to earn that trust back. I am not always in alignment with my own values and it’s okay for people to mistrust me and to revise their opinion of me. Accepting this holds myself accountable and reminds me of my responsibility to do my best to communicate my values in all of my interactions. If I stay grounded in my values, it will guide my behaviour toward consistency so that I make sense to people.
We are all enough as we are right now because this is all we can be, until we become home enough amongst each other to scaffold our understanding and development.
Nothing good comes about through force. Patience in all relationships leads to quality connections and enduring binds that can support an entire community through any hardship. And if we are to make it to the end of our lives with the least amount of pain and the most amount of happiness possible, we absolutely depend upon each other to comfort us when we’re afflicted, supplement our efforts around a goal, celebrate with us, and spread beauty and joy by sharing our talents.