Tonight, I sat in a kitchen that was swirling in chaos. Three little kids ran around screaming and playing after dinner was finished. Plates were carried to the sink and people shared in doing the dishes. Others sat and talked, keeping company with the latecomers. Kids were rounded up for the trip home, and for bedtime. Some people went to their spaces to relax for the evening, while others prepared to celebrate a birthday nearby. I was grateful to be in the midst of the chaos, taking it all in, contributing as I could, and feeling really happy.
I feel blessed to be a part of a wonderful community of spiritual seekers who have chosen to live in community. People have chosen to come together to share their lives and their paths, living near each other, often co-housing. And I realize that living in community is what I have been wanting for a long time. Gone are the years of my life when I wanted nothing more than a door to close on the world, with abundant spacious silence and full control of every inch of space. I have grown to value the sweetness of sharing life and space with others who are mindful, supportive, and loving of each other. No, it isn’t perfect. But yes, it is possible.
I have come to see what is truly possible in living in community through the window of my own life these last few months. Having broken my leg in January, I found myself incapacitated, unable to do very much for myself at all. I was welcomed by amazingly kind beings who have cared for me with such openness and gentleness, and every possible need – body, mind, and spirit – has been attended to. It is my sincere hope that I will be able to pay forward such kindness and generosity to others in gratitude for the kindness and generosity that has been offered to me.
How many people have never experienced this kind of deep loving community? Probably the majority, unfortunately. As we have come to have more and more of our own things, the need to share has become less and less. As we moved from our front porches and conversations into our air-conditioned houses and televisions, we let go of connecting with our neighbors. As we found our way into paying for so many services, we fell out of the simplicity of helping each other out – and we lost the connection and exchange of energy and care in the process. Our technologies have sped us up more and more, and communities have appeared on the internet that have incredible possibility, but people feel more disconnected and isolated and lonely than ever. Personally, I am grateful for my Facebook community. But how many of those wall posts were actually able to bring vital care into my life when my leg was broken? How many words on a screen can soothe the heart when there is loss or heartbreak in the same way that a hug and a kind touch can?
I used to see community through the lens of location. I lived in a wonderful little historic town, picturesque, and filled with many interesting people. I loved it there, and spent nearly ten years of my life there. My life was blessed by many enduring friendships and sweet connection. But beyond the two or three deep friendships I found, my experience of community was that of crossing paths with neighbors and shop owners, having coffee with other locals, and the occasional big neighborhood potluck or party. Something was missing in there, and I couldn’t quite name it. Now I understand the difference. There is something in spiritual community, perhaps a shared agreement and commitment to spiritual practice, that feels distinctly different to me. It feels more like family.
As the economy continues to falter, and as people struggle to take care of their basic needs, coming together into community is going to be more and more necessary. In so many movies, we are shown catastrophes of various kinds, and the “every man for himself” thinking comes into play in vivid and disturbing ways. If things get harder in our world, and the luxuries we’re used to become harder to come by, this could be a reality. People could be wildly battling inside of shops, windows broken out, over boxes of crackers and cases of water, fighting like wild dogs to meet their needs for survival. But it’s not the only option, nor the wisest. What if, instead of seeing each other as opponents, we were to come together, share what we have, and trust that more will come as needed? I have much more hope in that. It challenges us, for sure, to step past some very old and deep conditioning that drives us to hoard – or attack – for our very survival. But with conscious choice, it is possible to step into living in a more humane way – seeing our brothers and sisters not as opponents, but as friends. When we choose to come together to create a solution by finding ways to meet everyone’s needs with love and respect, life is simply more wonderful. And even in the midst of a catastrophe, this love can carry us far.