Community: The New Guru
July 3rd, 2018
Contributing writer for Wake Up World
“I owe you nothing.” I’m sure you’ve heard or spoken this popular meme before? Individualism and resigning to blowing off people is a modern norm. I believe it also to be a subtle and largely unrecognized effect of capitalism’s brainwashing and social deconstruction propagated by media and the powers that be.
After all, our entire economic system thrives on viewing others as competition, the enemy, and as objects to further our own success and agenda. Ironically, this system has expediently dehumanized and disenfranchised us from our richest commodity and sense of true security: one another. This in turn leads to apathy and violence if we aren’t aware of the effects and make other choices.
For thousands of years, humanity has lived in tightly-knit communities of accountability. Even today, we depend entirely on one another; it’s just less obvious, so it seems like we don’t have to. In smaller tribal networks we had to be more directly accountable because we couldn’t disappear from view as we do nowadays. Everyone had a purpose and function, the absence of which was immediately felt. Each of us was essential to the whole. This way, one was “held” in a network of belonging not only with other humans but with the more-than-human natural world.
Though we still live in connected networks, technology and massive population explosions have allowed us to live with less immediacy and accountability. Because economic channels are so diverse and removed from our immediate survival needs, we’re often not aware of whom we depend upon. This way of being is what has allowed us to even come up with the notion that we owe each other little to nothing.
Not too long ago such thinking was largely non-existent. The interconnectedness of all things was the rule of the land for which we were implicitly responsible. Nowadays, channels of commerce are complex and largely removed from hand-to-hand exchange. Yet we have reminders of days of old, which is why, for example, we revel in hand-made crafts and antiques.
The norm today, however, is that I don’t know the makers of my furniture, shoes, or shovel. Nor the canned soup I grab off the market shelf. Less in-person intimacy among us and more psychic closeness in virtual reality lends to isolation and fewer of the requisite interactions we need for true wellness and thriving.
I Need You
Thinking that we don’t need others is an illusion, and a hidden form of disempowerment. Yet, ironically, one we flaunt as empowerment. The more independent and entitled I am, the more people I can blow off and not care about, and the bigger and more powerful I feel. So goes the thinking. But this is often a puffed-up compensation for underlying vulnerability and insecurity. While autonomy is crucial for togetherness, we go to the extreme and try to be too independent, which can bite us in the rear when we truly need help. Beyond needing each another in emergencies, our mental health and longevity are greatly enhanced through close social ties.
While we need to protect ourselves from everyday kooks and vandals, we could find more accommodation for those meaningful to us, and show up for them. In the end, this is also to show up for ourselves and the still-vital aspects of our world with which we need to fall back in love.
Boundaries are crucial for healthy living, yet can also become separatist ego games. We don’t need to desperately cling for a fear of being alone, unless we are in a crisis of sorts, but we must be mindful and not act on the modern myth of staunch individualism. As the world becomes more unstable due to environmental collapse and the unsustainable systems we’ve relied upon for support begin to crumble and fail us, we will need each other more than ever. The time to begin building these bonds is was yesterday.
Relying on one another is deeply ingrained in our DNA. This is part of why we get upset when someone lets us down. Our extreme individualism is a modern epidemic that goes against everything that makes us richly human. Dan Siegel, a pioneering holistically-oriented psychiatrist, considers our relationships to be as an essential component to our minds as our brain and nervous system. In this respect, mental health depends upon the integrity of our relationships.
Popular memes that encourage us to easily discard one another, knee-jerk fears of codependency in favor of excessive autonomy, personal striving and gain on the social and economic ladder — all these seem worthy, until we consider them more carefully or face predicaments when our life immediately depends upon others’ support. These instances wake us up to our interdependence.
Overall, I don’t think it’s wise to pick an extreme of aloneness or togetherness, but to consider leaning into the way we are collectively and personally out of balance. This is likely the way denounced and discouraged by our sick modern culture, which usually means creating more community, not individualism.
Up-Close and In-Person
Never have we been able to be in touch with so many people we don’t know. Our ability to communicate and interact with perfect strangers on Facebook and other social media platforms has obvious benefits. But there are downfalls, as we invest our time and energy into relationships that don’t manifest in person. Virtual friends in distant places can only provide so much, especially when we really need help and support. A virtual hug will never be the same as one in-person. And even when together in-person, we are often distracted and ADD-like, unable to sustain focused and relaxed company with another. Constantly checking one’s phone is the most obvious example. We need to fulfill our need for in-person contact to create a milieu of belonging for which our nervous systems have evolved to thrive.
Indeed, we have abused the innovation of technology. In many respects, we would do well to swing the pendulum back to smaller, simpler ways of being. We do this for our own health and that of the environment. I am not promoting that we live inwardly more simply and dumbed down — which is not possible or wise — but that we live outwardly more minimally. Ironically, however, we need technology to clean up the mess our overuse of technology has created. For this, we can choose ways to cull our virtual realities (while mass society foolishly presses on to become even more virtual and artificial) while engaging in more traditional ways of being, together with each other and the land. While we minimize plugging into more technology, we must, however, continue to support technological efforts to remedy the ways we have injured the planet.
Especially, we can be mindful of how much we invest in virtual connections versus those we have in-person. My recommendation is to nurture and devote ourselves to heartfelt, in-person connections while also maintaining a strong sense of self and personal purpose. To this end, we can begin to care for others in our immediate, daily interactions in ways commensurate with the wisdom that we depend on them more than we’d like to notice or admit.
Grief, Buddhism and Healthy Attachment
We also can examine any “spiritual” beliefs about our independence and autonomy to see if these truly serve us. Practicing “letting go” and “detachment” are particularly problematic when used as defenses against admitting our fears of closeness and dependence on one another. This aloofness, especially when doused with a lack of critical thinking and noticing of ordinary reality, easily leads to less healthy bonding, less care, and less investment in our mutual welfare.
Instead of detaching from things, we can make friends with grief, which is our biologically inherited way of letting go (or actually, being let go) of the things we value and matter to us. In what is a long and nuanced discussion too much for this writing, even the unattached and “unhooked” ways of Buddhist teachings promulgate a disenfranchised social network, unless we are careful to modify these teachings so that we can be engaged and healthily attached to one another and the world.
Just to be clear, I am not promoting unhealthy attachment, but to revive a heritage of connectedness that might look strange to modern sensibility. This way of being together is one full of disappointment, in response to which we often detach from others to protect our tender hearts. Yet, a courageous path is to accept the sadness that comes with such connected community while admitting and embodying how much we truly need one another.
An essential tool on the journey into more intimate community is grief. For, without grief we store away too much pain and isolate from the world that both needs and nourishes us. Our relationship with grief is a measure of our ability to practically and generously love. This is because everything passes, and we can’t prevent losing what we love. This doesn’t necessarily mean we should love and attach less, but that we can welcome heartache when it befalls us.
Unfortunately, the word “commitment” is a curse word for many today. We’re so burdened by unwanted commitments that we cringe at the thought of something more we have to do. To boot, some of us also have control and fear of intimacy issues that don’t allow us to commit easily, and therefore to show up.
Showing up for one another seems easy, but apparently it’s not. I imagine those of you reading this article can think of as many people that don’t show up for you as those that do, or perhaps more? Showing up requires some selflessness, which requires emotional maturity, which happens not only with age but especially through inner work. So, it takes emotional work in order to show up.
In addition to grief, we can make friends with difficulty to develop more community and intimacy. You can see how the easy-fix, feel-good now, happiness movement works against nourishing the ties that truly make us happier, which is to feel fulfilled. For my part, I show up for my friends and family. Sometimes, I am too busy or overwhelmed with this or that and can’t be there. But In my heart I am happily committed to building bonds that last, and I show up for them.
I can imagine friends and new acquaintances committing to one another consciously, with express agreements of accountability. This would mimic the interrelatedness of traditional communities, of relying on another by necessity. Such is conscious community, being available to one another not only by chance, but committing to be available. To practically adapt this model to modern life, we could compromise with parameters that fit our individual needs and limitations. But the overall intent would be showing up, a desire that would come from the heart and maybe even informed by neuroscience. This intent would in turn be upheld and encouraged (because we all get disheartened and discouraged) by a natural, enjoyable sense of obligation (not an oxymoron!) to the whole, and thereby, also to ourselves.
We Need Each Other
What if it’s true, then, that our wholeness requires both being alone and being intimately joined with others? Indeed, this seems to be true. To thrive in community with others we need to bring the best of ourselves to the group; some of this goodness is cultivated alone in the ways that we recharge, process feelings, rest, examine our thoughts, enjoy silence and other non-human relationships. Similarly, to make our alone time rich and well supported, we need the input, care, and support of others. This way, rich alone time balanced with soulful community creates a sense of fulfillment greater than the sum of these parts.
We have so much to learn and to grow from community, which is why I call it the new guru. Actually, community is an old friend we desperately need to recreate. May we treat one another with the care we would in a tribe, and may we reclaim the capacities we need for the journey, capacities that have been discouraged and denigrated as useless, weak, and worthless. Some of these capacities for sustainable community include:
- good thinking and clear communication.
- embracing grief and difficulty.
- engaging inner work and enjoying the resultant ability to show up deeply and genuinely for others.
- caring for the natural world.
- engaging in art, dance, poetry, and creativity generally.
- eating and socializing with one another.
- spending time outdoors in nature with our extended kin of plants, animals, and bodies of water.
- creating sacred space to illuminate deeper dynamics and feelings.
What I’ve tried to communicate in this essay is what we need to feel truly connected to one another and with ourselves, as well as why it’s crucial. I hope this writing has helped surface in you the aspects of community missing in your life so you can create it for your personal and our collective wellbeing.
A Call to the Wake Up World Community
From Andy Whiteley, Editor for Wake Up World
Long-time Wake Up World writer Jack Adam Weber just lost his 5-acre farm and home to the lava eruption on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Jack has contributed over a hundred thought-provoking and challenging articles to Wake Up World over the last 7 years, all on the subjects of his passions: mind-body integration, good thinking and emotional transformation, political and GMO activism, and holistic medicine.
Jack began cultivating his beloved homestead from raw rock and jungle 17 years ago, transforming it into a thriving food forest and sanctuary where many have gone to heal and experience a life close to the land almost forgotten in modern times. Due to the holistic and land-based lifestyle he created, he lost not only his home and his entire neighborhood but an entire ecosystem that he says “grew, taught, and strengthened me” for almost two decades. Along with many others in this remote area, Jack had no homeowner’s insurance due to the high premiums and difficulty in securing reliable coverage.