Meditation. Community. Nature.
Over the last few months I have been thinking and writing about three practices which can be a great support for our meditation practice as we seek to live the mindful life: Silence; Solitude; and Simplicity.
But meditation alone cannot be said to constitute a holistic spirituality. The fuller picture, for me, would need to include two other elements: community and nature.
All these three, Meditation, Community, Nature, are really about connection, or reconnection. Or even better, affirming our sense of belonging to all that is within and around us.
The story, in short, goes like this: everything is, in fact, already connected (everything already belongs to everything) but the human mind, through the less enlightened aspects of our drive to survive, has developed the compulsion to separate, to divide. Or, rather, to think and behave as though we were separate – that we do not belong. And we have done this in three ways: we have separated from aspects of our own selves by repressing those things which make us uncomfortable or which do not appear to serve our most immediate survival needs; we have separated from other humans in an ‘us-them’ mentality in order to dominate; and we have separated from the rest of nature in the sense of seeing ourselves above and better than and in this way having the right to exploit it for our own ends.
So, here then is the full richness of our spiritual work: patiently and with much perseverance, to reconnect – to re-affirm our belonging – in each of these three ways.
Importantly there will be overlaps in each of the three areas. But one might suggest that meditation is primarily about re-connection with ourselves – the work of integration of personality and of memory through embodiment and presence. And that nature connection helps us to reconnect at a heart level with the rest of nature – which I would like to reflect more on another time. But here, a word about the work of reconnection with other humans through community.
I remember from a very long time ago someone giving a talk about community and, using the metaphor of creating a garden, his suggestion that basically there were far too many people wandering around with clippers and rakes when what was needed was people with spades and forks ready to do some of the deep work of digging and laying foundations of good, rich soil.
This image has stayed with me as I have, over the years, tried to play my part in community building only to realise just how difficult it is, how resistant most of us in Western society are to the idea, but how absolutely essential this work is for the health of ourselves and our society.
And, yes, the work is slow, painstaking and profound – it is indeed digging that is needed. But just to make a start I would like here to pose three questions for us to reflect on for our own situations in regard to community building. And these are: i) who is my community? ii) how can we work to deepen our relationships within it? iii) how can we widen it – make it more inclusive?
- 1. Who is my community?
There is no fixed way of expressing human community. In fact we are all part of community in some way or another, so, in the first place, rather than rushing to join something new it might be better to start by simply asking who I am already in community with – and how that plays out in my life. Is it primarily family or a small network of friends? Is it my neighbourhood? Is it some faith based or activism based community? Or is it (probably) a mix of all of these? And perhaps when I have recognised what community/ies I am a part of, the starting point might simply be gratitude, that these are the people I have been given – and who I have a sense of belonging with.
- 2. How can I work to deepen relationships within it?
But then, is there anything I can do to enrich and deepen my relationships with these people? Now this is the beginning of experiencing both the joy and the messiness of community. Very often I will not want to go deeper as I sense (rightly, as it happens) that if I do I will become aware of aspects of myself which I am really trying to keep hidden. But at the same time there are riches to be uncovered here as we discover mutual acceptance and, indeed, celebration of one another in all our glorious difference.
- 3. How can I widen it – make it more inclusive?
But let the work not stop there. But let us keep asking the question ‘who is left out?’ Or perhaps more enticingly ‘in what way are we the poorer because certain people do not feel included?’ And then, ‘what can we do about this?’.
This is a phrase often bandied about and will mean many different things. Usually the phrase is used to refer to a group of people who have decided to live together with the intention of addressing the sort of questions I have posed above.
But, in my mind, it may not necessarily mean actually living in the same house. The key word is, simply, ‘intentional’. And this means to deliberately bring awareness to the shape and structure of the community I am involved with and to seek to deepen, widen and enrich it.
At heart, those who are engaged in ‘intentional community’ are simply those who have recognised that this is a vital work for humans to be involved with in our day – especially in Western society which has conceded so much communal ground in the shift towards a consumerist society.
Meditation is never a solitary activity.
And anyway in the end we never meditate alone. As anyone knows who has practised for any length of time, all your relationships are there with you – in your wandering thoughts and emotions. We meditate as community whether physically present or not. And the natural outworking of this will be to pay some intentional attention to the community of which I am a part.