Community In Place
“Real change begins with real people in a real place, here, and now.”
“Human community cannot change in the ways it must now, if we are to survive, separate from the places where we live.”
There is a popular belief that “philosophy” gets in the way of what is important—making money, surviving, acquiring power, having fun, projects, accomplishments, etc. Though that seems to be the case for a lot of people, underlying and informing all human thought and action, from the most conscious to the most contracted and instinctive, is a set of conditioned beliefs. Engaging and affecting those beliefs as individuals and place-based communities is what practical philosophy is essentially about.
For human society to transform in creative ways it is necessary that we begin to wake up out of conditioned beliefs. Escaping conditioning is of course neither possible nor desirable—after all, without conditioning our heart would not beat. At the same time evolution is now challenging us as a species to recognize that conditions, thoughts and beliefs, or in other words our stories and trajectories, is not what we are.
Only by waking into what we truly are—universal consciousness discovering itself through individuals, life, relationship, existence and place-based communities—will real change to underlying belief structures, and therefore a positive human transformation, become possible.
Another way of understanding the collective and personal stories we are shaped by is to see that they are the great and not so great myths through which life becomes conscious of itself. It will take time, attention and a lot of cooperation to re-create (discover!) new myths through which to describe, shape and celebrate what humans are capable of becoming as an awakened, participating and healthy part of the Whole.
The sort of transformation that is being pointed to here requires willingness and the courage to let old and no longer useful ideas, stories, movements, beliefs, die. This will be almost impossible for as long as we remain identified with our beliefs, that is, believe that our stories, what it is we think and feel and believe, is who or what we are.
Discovering and co-creating in consciousness a new set of stories also takes being open to other ways of seeing things, and equally important, a desire to discover new ways of experiencing ourselves. The beliefs and stories that people share the most, the ones that determine some of our most ardently defended experiences of self, are the ones that say we are separate, that is, separate from each other, separate from life, and separate from the Universe.
All human suffering (as opposed to pain) is connected to that illusion of separation, a separation many are willing to defend to the death. More simply said, it is our illusions of separation that are the sources of all anger, loneliness, hate and fear.
Often the best anyone can do is describe their sense of a larger reality forever shifting, moving, changing, arising and falling away, the fluid dynamics of the whole of existence, so to speak, in order to inform positive and creative changes to our underlying social and individual structures of understanding.
I am attempting here to address awareness and connection in the context of community, rather than the specifics of particular projects, or what should be done. An essential element is the process, that is, how we go about things. Process in this sense becomes the way individual actions and activities join together and inform the dynamic context of our relationships—with ourselves, others, and the world around us.
Process is also, to a great extent, shaped by how well we are able to keep important questions in front of us as we go about our daily lives and interact with each other. It is the questions that we are actually willing to live and be transformed by that matter, much more so than answers. Answers never matter for long because they are always trying to stop the world where the answer believes it to be, at in any given moment. In reality all of existence as we apprehend it is mutable, eternity, transcendent of time and space, somehow also here expressing itself in these dimensions of time and space through constant change.
Contemporary human global society, fractured and conflicted in so many ways, is essentially united in its opposition to evolutionary change, and everywhere committed to ideologies disconnected from the earth. This inherent alienation destroys indigenous (local) culture, diversity, and the natural world. We are all shaped by that schism. The very nature of existence dictates that everything must change creatively if it is to survive as a healthy part of the whole. Equally important is the need to maintain continuity with our roots, the past and tradition. What’s called for is balanced perception, sometimes known as the middle path.
Clever and powerful technologies divorced from life, along with a philosophy of domination based on fear, have nearly destroyed the once-amazing diversity of human cultural and individual perceptions, along with the natural world. The promotion and manipulation of brand-name identities enforces dependency upon an increasing separation from each other, other life forms and the earth. This addictive behavior is often called “progress,” an event-driven affair of predictable appearances and superficial values.
Any society based upon such values is compelled to oppose healthy cultural and evolutionary change, unique perspectives, and traditional place-based communities. The focus becomes uniformity and the regulation of ideas and ideologies, rather than an engaged and enlivening consciousness—that is, separation rather than participation. The more we separate from each other and the rest of life, the more we will find unique viewpoints and bold tendencies disappearing into a look-alike world of corporate-controlled, media-determined virtual realities.
Losing touch with our roots, intuitive insight and the authenticity of local community takes us down a destructive path. Not being open to questions that are meant to renew the possibilities of change merely sustains ignorance. As environmentalists and community activists we need to realize that saving bits and pieces of the environment and/or culture, without also changing the way we live in relationship to each other and the rest of life, simply doesn’t work.
“Bits and pieces” is not what Life is about. The alienating and powerful influences of separation that we are confronted with see only a Universe of bits and pieces, rather than a whole, and they are empowered every time we oppose them on such terms. Another way of saying it is that by living our lives and caring for the natural world and human culture in fragments, our efforts become co-opted by the very forces we believe we are opposing. This fundamental cause-and-effect reality, sometimes understood as “means shaping ends,” will almost always overwhelm our efforts after a while.
Feeding a lot of society’s alienation is an infatuation with diversionary stimulation and an attachment to unconsciousness. We need look no further than drugs, television and consumerism to understand this. Waking up is the only response, through awareness shared as a part of community rooted in these places where we live. In this context, our actions are no longer about bits and pieces but rather about something whole, involving us in a world that is greater-than-human in scope.
Technologies and ideas are not bad. That is a given. The shift I’m suggesting here has to do with what it is we perceive ourselves to be a part of. Is it really a world of over-consumption, clever techniques, power over and idealized self-images that we want to participate in, a world that ignores spirit and basic values like honesty and caring for others, and uses the earth, life and the natural realms as mere resources to serve our illusions of separation?
Or, do we want to embrace a world already here, one that we are a part of whether we like it or not, a world that is served with useful ideas and appropriate technologies? Do we want to thereby join with each other in recognizing that diversity, living community, honest work, the natural realms, art and the realities of spirit are beautiful possibilities that enable a positive human participation in the dance of creation?
Exploring these possibilities and learning how to live together with our diverse and sometimes opposing views, as a conscious part of the place we occupy, is the beginning of something that is both new and ancient. Joining together in broader circles of place-based community is a further part of this creative and evolutionary process. The mistake that is so often made is to try to begin at, or get quickly to, a larger level of organization through the use of existing dominant counter-life paradigms.
Real change begins with real people in a real place, here, and now. Learning to identify with our center rather than with the shape of our boundaries is a part of it. The latter identity is never satisfied, always seeking to increase in size and ideology, opposed to life, and compelled by the inadequacies inherent in periphery and superficiality.
Scale is also important. World-level organizations can play a necessary and helpful part, but we need to re-understand that life serving world-level organizations are possible only as much as they are not based upon narrow and alienating separatist and nationalistic ideologies. The ethics that inform such possibilities begin in diversity and in real local communities linking together through an interconnected (“organized”) world already in place—the Earth.
Corporate-controlled media and most educational institutions teach a system of alienated values and an ideology of fear in order to dominate language and the imagination, and it has become very difficult to communicate other ways of seeing the world. Indigenous culture has become a symbol for a different kind of imagination, an imagination that has reverence for life, intuition, mystery and the Wild, the experience of a whole Universe founded on beauty, truth, love and the self-organizing principals of life emerging into consciousness.
Native cultures such as the Apache and the Gwich’in evolved over hundreds and thousands of years, out of circumstances local in nature, centered in connections, community and a spiritual commons arising out of context and place. These nations were originally made up of smaller nomadic groupings identified with and immersed in a local environment that uniquely shaped their world views. It was the health of the individual groupings, connected to their own identities as a part of the places they occupied, that made possible the vigor and extended reach of the tribe as a whole.
Neither the environment nor human culture will be saved, restored or otherwise preserved, unless contemporary human society, via local community, recovers its connections to the Earth. It really is as simple as that. And, just as simply, human community cannot change in such necessary and essential ways separate from the places where we live. Working for the environment and social justice separate from participation in place-based local communities will almost always in the end become another part of the problem.
This is our place, all of us together, where we find common needs, appreciation and real problems that we can solve together. The center needs to hold in a rooted way.
Nothing I’ve written here is meant to imply that urban and world communities are not valuable and essential human cultural and economic dimensions. The problem, once again, is what is missing for humans as a whole, to be awakened, evolving and fully present participants in the creative cycles of Life. This place where we live is, at least to some extent, why a lot of us are here, and this is also where our responsibilities and possibilities lie.
Some of the changes that are urgently needed have to begin in places like this. It is fundamental. Large urban communities, on the other hand, must begin to find their own connections to Place in larger and different ways. Urban interests also need to realize that self-identified, place-based rural communities integrated into a healthy environment make healthy urban realities possible.
It is all about beginnings. We must start somewhere. Like a seed, do we take root in the Earth, this real place we are already a part of, or in the illusory worlds of our imagination, separate from ourselves and life? If we step into new beginnings apart from ourselves, our imagination defeats us. By starting here, where we are at, our imagination and our efforts become a creative and healthy part of the whole.
A goal, for some of us, is about a direction, a focus, rather than a place not here. It is my effort and what I am willing to give to the journey that counts, rather than how far I actually get. Before anything real can occur I have to be here, that is, who I am and where I am at, this place where my own insecurities and possibilities lie.
We are a part of what is becoming, in a real sense, only from where we are at. I also believe that it is through our shared efforts that we creatively shape our common human destiny. I think it was Gandhi who said, “Anything we do as individuals will appear insignificant in the end, but it is very important to try.”