So what does sustainable community look like? The answers look different depending on the people involved, their skillsets, their interests. Also the land, the climate, and the resources available to the community will define what is possible.
I believe there are some common ingredients though. The physical needs of human beings, and the desires of a happy life. The desire for community and connection, to be heard and witnessed in our growth and our journey. The resources available from the earth, and the spiritual sense within a human being, the striving upward. To find one’s own inner purpose and to live more and more from that every day. So what is a framework, a way of thinking about and relating to the challenge which can be applied to a wide variety of situations?
As a thought experiment, lets look at the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism, and what it has to offer as a lens to look through when building community.
The Noble Eightfold Path
- Right understanding
- Right thought
- Right action
- Right speech
- Right livelihood
- Right effort
- Right mindfulness
- Right meditation
If this is familiar to you, then this may be like greeting an old friend. If it is new, then I am excited for you to try this on, and hope that you may find it useful in other areas as well.
Let’s begin by assuming that we have agency in the world. That as people who are living and breathing in this moment, we are participating in defining the next chapter in human history. There are many who believe that the paradigms of the previous generation are concrete and unchangeable. I assure you, they have been here for a single breath, and the next moment when we exhale they will be gone, then replaced by the next.
Consider that every day this is happening. People are finding new ways of meeting their needs that come with less cost, less time, or with entirely new possibilities. And you may not have known it, but you are a part of this experiment, and this expansion of human consciousness. Humanity is listening to you, for the next step that only you can take. They are waiting for you to show the color and the nature and the intensity of your brilliance.
This is a different view than many people are holding. But is it not true? You may tell yourself that you are not that person, that you’re not here to change the world. But the truth is, you will change the world by your passage. You don’t have to do anything unnatural. Just by living from your own inner knowing, just by being yourself, you will cause ripples. The people around you will notice what you do well, or simply that you treat them well, and you will make a difference.
What comes to you when you search your memories for goodness and abundance of life? When have you found yourself fully supported and happy?
- What was the environment like? Was it natural, organic, straight lines, curved? The architecture and the spaces you found yourself in, what were they like?
- What were the people like? How were you spoken to? What were the people doing, and how were they interacting with each other?
- What tools and resources were available? What were people eating and drinking? What plants and animals were present?
- What were the guiding principles that brought people together? How did they make decisions? How did they resolve conflicts?
When you’ve played through your memories for a while, then tap into your imagination. What situations can you dream up, that would create the perfect conditions for life and happiness?
I invite you to consider that this life is here for your fulfillment and your self realization. Feel the love and support of the universe, that every breath you take, every bite you eat is provided by the earth and the sun. You are still here, being supported. So why not also be supported in ways of deeper fulfillment? In community, in friendship, in purpose, and in physical and financial well being.
So whatever your situation now, let go of the notion that you cannot achieve this kind of happiness, alignment and flow. Ask yourself instead whether you are willing to do the work needed to get there. It will certainly take hard work. But whatever you are doing now is probably hard work. Wouldn’t you like to be pursuing something that is truly worthwhile to you? An inspiration that gives you a reason to rise in the morning?
One of my teachers told me: When you have a vision, then hold it in your heart, not in your head. The head works best in service to the heart. If you put your head in command of your life, then you will end up busy, overwhelmed, and unsatisfied. Always come back to the heart, and ask “Is this still true for me?”, “Is this still worth it to me?” There will be many challenges along the way, and you may need to adjust your approach. Coming back to your inner knowing will bring back your confidence that you are on your path.
The mind is a useful tool for achieving anything you desire. When you decide, “Yes, I will do that!” then it is already likely that you will succeed. You should always hold that your desires are possible, but release hold of the way that they should be achieved. Learn to let go of upset if it occurs, ask yourself if your goal is still relevant, and refocus your attention. Then the mind can work with maximum flexibility.
Think about your capabilities and resources. Some you may personally own, and others you may have access to through friends or community. How can you use them to move closer to your goals? You may have negative thoughts or emotions, or believe that others do not want to help you. Bring yourself into a state of open possibility before you ask them. Consider that it is possible that they do care about you and want to support your happiness. Consider that there may be no conflict between their happiness and yours.
What are some ways that you can be in service to others? Here are some to consider:
- Can you grow food?
- Can you cook?
- Can you build things that others need?
- Can you mentor, coach, or teach others?
- Can you provide health or mental care services?
- Do you have passion and skill for arts or crafts?
- Do you have coordination and support skills for business or education?
- Can you coordinate events?
Any of these ways of being of service will help to define the kinds of relationships you want to pursue, and what is possible collectively when community forms.
If you’re developing a new phase of your gift to the world, then give that time. Don’t feel so much pressure to go back to what is comfortable and familiar, but give yourself time to explore this new skillset. One of my friends says anything worth doing is worth doing poorly at first. Practice being patient and loving with yourself, as you would with a small child. When you stumble, it’s ok. You can say “Oops!” and keep going.
Action begins at the individual level. Taking action in alignment with your values and your understanding will demonstrate integrity, and when you speak to people often the first things they are curious about are what you are doing now. So it’s good to lead with action, and have interesting things to talk about.
Personal action lets you run little experiments before getting a lot of people involved. People like to see proof of your dedication and proof that your methods are viable before they will want to get involved.
Actions could include:
- Becoming sustainable on your own homestead
- Getting your finances in order - reducing debt and building a nest egg
- Mastering a trade which will be valuable to the community
- Your daily work, a production or a service to those around you
- Studying, talking to people, planning and assembling information in a way that is helpful to the community
- In any way optimizing your lifestyle, being helpful to others, and learning more about the world
Remember to acknowledge and appreciate yourself for the steps you are taking. Remember that the size of the steps are the size that you have determined are appropriate for you. You can’t be anyone other than who you are, and you don’t need to be. You are only responsible for your own learning and growth. You can’t mess it up, truly, as long as you take whatever experiences occur as learning, re-center on your goal, and keep going.
The way you communicate is important. Others will align with you (or be repelled) based on the concepts you express and what they sense about your overall well being and happiness. People know that a person who treats others poorly is not well themselves. So be responsible for your own self care, but also remember to love and forgive yourself. Remember that you are doing the best that you can.
We want to try to communicate the core of what we’re about. It’s helpful to get clear on it, because most conversations are short. Everyone wants to spend the most time with people they feel are aligned, through similar values and perspectives.
One very powerful approach is to “Start With The Why”. It can seem a little awkward at first, to be leading with your life purpose, and asking others to do the same. But you can find more graceful ways to do it over time. Meeting and aligning with other people based on “why they do what they do” is truly one of the most rewarding and fulfilling ways of forming relationships. This doesn’t have to be grandiose, it’s just about leading with love. For practice, you could try saying things like these:
- I’m excited, I get to _____ today!
- I noticed [surroundings or something on their person], are you familiar with [permaculture, aquaponics, yoga, whatever].
- I’ve been working on ______ and I’ve noticed _____.
- Have you ever noticed _____?
I often say things like these to people I’ve just met. I’m testing the waters to see if they respond with excitement and interest to the topic. If they respond and start talking about their own experience, we have a shared interest. If they mirror my excitement, but don’t say much then they may be friendly towards me but may not know much about this topic. I might ask:
- What’s a good day look like for you?
- What can you tell me about this [town, community]?
- What brings you here?
If they can’t hold a conversation then they might be upset, anxious, or busy. Try to be understanding, and be supportive with your presence and a smile, even if you can’t find the right words. It helps to first be at peace with yourself. Many forms of meditation can help with that. Practicing gratitude and appreciation at all times, whenever you can think of it, will also bring your mind into a more relaxed, less anxious state.
When you discover a shared interest with someone, they will often ask for ways to become more involved, connected, or supportive. If you want to grow and attract community around you then it’s helpful to have thought through this, and to have ways of including others. Some ideas:
- Having regular events on the calendar
- Having a tour you give routinely
- Invite for coffee, or for a phone call
- Have a mailing list, blog, or podcast
This allows you to turn a conversation into a connection, and could make the difference between you doing everything yourself, and finding yourself surrounded by helping hands.
In the digital age, “right speech” goes far beyond verbal. Everyone has the power to be a publisher. With great power comes great responsibility, and as more effort is spent in publishing, it becomes prudent to think about your messaging and portray a clear, consistent message in all the ways that you interact with people. Not only the words that you use, but the colors, the layout, the visual quality. All speak to the level of care that you put into your work.
If you are not getting the level of engagement you would like, then you must consider: Is it because we are not communicating ourselves adequately, or because we are not focused on an area that others care enough about? Though it may be hard to acknowledge, you will have less pain in the long run if you are willing to listen to feedback and change your approach. If your goal from the beginning was to be of greatest service, then remember that. If that is still your heart’s intent, then you must follow where it leads.
To me, livelihood is taking action into the collective sense. Work places are one way we organize many human beings towards valuable service. Right livelihood will naturally flow when one has come into clarity and alignment in action and speech.
The difference between a business and a hobby is consistency, quality, and efficiency. Think of it from a customer’s perspective - when you don’t get these things you’re not satisfied. In the past we’ve achieved these results mostly through heirarchy and tight controls. People don’t like working under these conditions, but business owners need to create results somehow. So if you don’t like what we’re doing now, then what is a better way of achieving the results that we want? The book Reinventing Organizations by Frederick Laloux explores some of these concepts:
- Bringing workers, customers, and local community and ecology into the decision making process
- Allowing decisions to be made by the “boots on the ground”, and valuing all perspectives
- Creating organizations that value learning and allow it to continually happen and change the organization
Reinventing Organizations is a book worthy of its own post - there are so many concepts here that are valuable to be applied. But one more thought: Many people have been shown Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs - an individual’s journey towards self actualization. What if organizations were designed and piloted in such a way that they synergized with and nourished the individual’s journey?
Something I like to say is that a business is a vehicle for change. Money is the gas in the tank. When you get in your car, it is with the intent to go somewhere. We have businesses today that are stockpiling mountains of gasoline, and they have no idea where they want to go. This is a sickness. In biology, when a cell exhibits this behavior we call it a cancer. Our society is sick, and we need to understand what health means in order to move towards it. It is the “economic externalities,” the items which are not on the balance sheet, which truly capture the qualities that we care about. Human happiness, the health of the soil, the air and the rivers. So if our economic system does not measure the things that we truly care about, then why are we not changing the game and the incentives to be more in alignment with our values? This is a pressing question for the generations alive today.
One place we can start is by running experiments within new organizations. Including decision makers beyond a small class of “owners” is venturing into new territory in the western, capitalist paradigm. But I believe this will be critical in creating the kinds of sustainable and holistic organizations that will be the solutions to the unstable economic, political, and ecological effects that we are responsible for today.
How do we know what is right effort? How do we know that what we are doing is truly in service to ourselves, others, and the planet?
Right effort to me implies that we must get to know ourselves and our environment. We must ask questions and learn whether our actions are effective and appropriate to those who are receiving. What is the correct amount of effort, and the correct time? We should ask and wait for consent before moving in support of someone else. We must honor autonomy above all. We can understand those around us more completely by being present and listening in conversation, and also by observing all of the non verbal information we are receiving. The earth talks to us, the sky, the sun, the plants all talk to us, if we are listening.
Who are the people who consider themselves members of the community? Who are the other people, who stand in relationship to the community? Seeking to understand what their worlds are like is necessary in order to understand whether your efforts are well received. You may consider:
- employees, volunteers, contractors, coworkers, bosses
- business or promotion partners
- allies, beneficiaries
- the surrounding community
- government decision makers and staff
What are their proudest accomplishments? What has made them successful in their roles, and in their lives? What are their aspirations? And what do they feel challenged by? Encouraged by? These are the deep, meaningful conversations that people are yearning for, and they will appreciate you for wanting to know them and be supportive in meaningful ways. You will grow and learn in your own being, as you hear of the important learnings of others who have gone before you.
Another thing to consider: When something has economic value, you can be sure that it impacts the human experience in some way. When you know in what way it improves the human experience, you will know why people are paying for it. It’s not always what you think. Experience is subjective, and different people may buy the same product for completely different reasons. Economic interest is often at odds with a spiritual focus. Does it have to be? What are the ways that we can recognize this as a part of our society, and part of our own being? We should seek to come into healthy relationship with money, and still recognize that it is only a piece of the pie of human motivations. What are the signals and messages that the economic world communicates to us? How can we use it to understand the collective needs more deeply? What are the other things that motivate us, and how can we work with this understanding to create thriving communities?
Our awareness is like a juggler, with many colored balls being guided through the air at all times. You can only hold so much. What is important to hold onto, to remain present with throughout your day?
You know when you have been triggered into anger, sadness, or excitement how you can lose track of the needs of others. Sometimes you regret after the fact the words you said or the things you did.
Your body, your mind, and your heart all have needs, and all have stirrings and impulses which come up throughout the day. Finding ways to monitor and take care of your needs will reduce the “crashes” and emergencies that occur. Depression, chronic pain, and the anxious energy of the mind are all potentially longer term trends. These deserve attention and work as well. Rather than looking at these as enemies, try to see them as your teachers, guiding you back to the path of inner alignment. Without the bumps, how would you know that you have gone off the road? Guide yourself with loving hands, back to a place of healing, growth, and awakening.
Individually we all have responsibility to monitor our own state. No one can do this for us. But we are supported in community when there are examples around us, and teachers to guide us, and spaces dedicated to stillness and nature. When there is understanding of the journey that we are on, the efforts we employ, and we are given space and encouragement then we can flourish. Imagine what is possible in human development if we are fully supported in our self realization journey. What ways of supporting ourselves and each other will be required in order to reach the next phase in our evolution?
In order to create a culture of listening and service, we must first clear a space within us, and be clear and present where ever we show up in the world. This clear space provides the container for healthy relationships to form - with ourselves, with each other, and with our environment.
You do not need to be a particular religion or hold a particular set of beliefs in order to work on yourself. There are methods within Taoism, Yoga, Tantra, and Buddhism, Christianity, native traditions and many others. There are methods with religious underpinnings, and those which are not religious at all, but which work directly on transforming one’s heart, mind, body, and spirit. You can research, explore, and try them for yourself. Humanity has been working on these methods for thousands of years, and there are many which are powerful and effective. The result is to dissolve the traumas and conditioning which you have been holding on, and have been limiting you from achieving your full potential. This does not separate you from God, it paves the way for union with God, and union with all of humanity, and all other life.
There are many realizations along this path. Unity of all consciousness is one of them. This is not a belief, this is an experience that can be had and witnessed in the events unfolding in your own life. Say you go to Boise, Idaho and you come back and tell me about it. I could make a philosophical argument that Boise, Idaho does not exist. But however elaborate my arguments, you will not be convinced, because you have been there. You know the truth. Realizations of the spirit are like this. When your practice is sufficient, when you have dissolved enough of your own personal baggage to be ready, then you will “go there” and you will see for yourself.
Some of the broad categories of practice include:
- qigong, yoga, sitting and standing postures, hand mudras, dancing
- chanting, drumming, affirmations, appreciation and gratitude, toning, singing
- clearing the heart, body, mind, spirit of blockages, conditioning, and trauma
- working with the universe to manifest some outcome in your life
- connecting to guides, angels, deities and guiding spirits
- use of plants and psychedelic substances to enter altered states
A lot of cultural stigma exists around these practices. They may be considered strange, uncomfortable, or even threatening. Truly, it is every individual’s choice whether to engage with a particular practice, and you have to decide how far it is appropriate to expand your comfort zone at any given time. I started out my practice with a mindfulness meditation from Thich Nhat Hanh back when I was in college. At the time I found the practices useful, but wasn’t interested at all in the deities. I didn’t feel threatened - TNH was so loving in his approach. But I didn’t have the cultural background and they didn’t resonate with me. Later I was introduced to Taoist martial arts, qigong and meditation. My view was still secular at that time, and Taoism in general is a safe space for that view point, with no dieties and very little dogma - at least in the branches where I studied. Some of the early meditative practices I tried included:
- moving awareness through the body to different points as one is breathing
- moving awareness into the organs, and breathing into them to relieve tension and blockages
- scanning the body for blockages, and applying a dissolving method: ice to water, water to gas, gas expands and dissapates to the outter edge of the awareness (see BK Frantzis, energyarts.com)
- an inner dissolving method, for use with mental, emotional, and spiritual integration
It’s amazing how far you can come with these simple methods, and how they continue to be valuable in processing what comes up, and in maintaining alignments as your practice continues to deepen.
Sometimes our focus is on getting immediate needs met. We do what we have to. But there are many choices we are making in how we satisfy our needs, and what we do with the means that are available to us. Try this mental exercise: Say your goal in life is to have children, and support those children in being the best that they can. Well, what happens when those children grow up? Their goal also is to have more children? I had a friend once who was addicted to cocaine. He would work overtime so that he could buy more cocaine, and he would do cocaine so that he had the energy to work more hours. Well, he figured that one out on his own, but many of us are trapped in loops. When this happens we need some way to step outside. What is life really about, beyond the repeating patterns of our activities? Do you buy into the idea that the “economics game” is sufficient to describe all of your interests and pursuits? Or the “relationships game”? What about pursuit of meaning? And what is our relationship with the higher realms of consciousness? What does it mean to integrate our understanding of mind, body, heart, and spirit, and come into wholeness and unity within ourselves? What does it mean to be part of a collective, of human consciousness, and of consciousness throughout the universe?
Is it possible to create a state of ease, where instead of conflicting with each other for time, these aspects of life become balanced and integrated into all moments of life? Right now as you read this, your body is receiving support from the earth, light from the sun, air as you breathe, and nourishment from the food and water you have consumed. Why should it be any different, or require more effort for the realms of spirit, balance, and alignment? It’s only hard because we are out of practice. Once the rhythm is established it becomes as natural as breathing, and the benefits will be noticed by you, and by those around you.
If you’ve given up on these questions and simply want to be healthier, have less stress, more mental clarity, then that is possible, and these methods will benefit you. But the ultimate goal has always been higher than that. We live in a brief window in human history when the dominant belief is that the universe is a lifeless machine. And perhaps we have even begun to believe that we are lifeless machines. This is a dogma, as much as any religious dogma that you may wish to challenge. The open mind is exploring, always wondering what secrets the universe will reveal in the next moment. When you meditate, you empty your cup of agendas, desires, pains, and pursuits. Each time you do it will be filled with a purer, sweeter essence than it has ever contained before. If you are looking for the meaning of life, look inside. The joy, the love, the connection that you find there will begin to manifest on the outside as well. And you will know why you came to this inner peace, and it will begin to call you back into a deepening of your own connection and awareness.
How To Use This Framework
These are some broad thoughts I have on the self realization journey and how we might go about forming, congealing, aligning ourselves into a generative community. How the communities we live in can and should assist us in our journey. These principles could all be developed into more specific instructions and stages. In order to do that, we would need to integrate awareness of WHO the people are that are coming together, WHAT they are capable of, and WHY they do what they do. I plan to work on other articles that will be more specific to my situation, but I wanted to start out with a general framework, that could apply to more people and might inspire others in their conception of community.
Maybe you knew of the Eightfold Path already, and this is like meeting an old friend. Or maybe this is a new introduction, and you may find other areas of your life where this wisdom applies. Whatever the case, I hope you find this useful, insightful, and find nuggets here that inspire you forward on your journey. Blessings and best wishes to you!