COMMUNITY

DEFINITION

Community A group of people living in a particular local area

A group of people having ethnic or cultural or religious characteristics in common

Common ownership

In this book you have all heard me talk about this so called “community,” but in this topic, I would like to explore it in detail with you, to find out what a community really is. Unfortunately, some people use the word in the wrong sense, I think. They talk about belonging to a religious, spiritual, hippie, or alternative community, amongst other types.

We see communities as being something distinctive, something separate from the rest of society.

For example: “He dropped out of society to go and live in an alternative community.” But as we will see when we explore this topic more deeply, you can never really “drop out” of society. After all what is society? It is merely you and I in relationship. So although we may not want to be part of mainstream society, we can never truly leave it, because society is all around us; although people would like to think it has something to do with being in a particular social group. That definition just seeks to divide us more.

Society

1. An extended social group having a distinctive cultural and economic organization

2. A formal association of people with similar interests

3. The state of being with someone

4. The fashionable elite

At every turn, we try to divide ourselves more; not only from each other, but from ourselves. We fail to recognise that the world we live in, is “society.” We may speak different languages, have different religions, do different jobs, but we are all still in relationship with each other. There is no escaping it. Whatever I do has an affect on another, sometimes positive, sometimes negative; but there is always an effect, a consequence of every action. In reverse, whatever other people are doing is having an effect on you. Do you see?

So although you and twenty friends have decided to drop out of society by going and living on a deserted island, you are still in the society. Just because you have chosen to give up the “evils” of the western consumer lifestyle, you are still in relationship with it. There is no escaping it. Society is all around us. The trees, and the foxes, and the rivers, and the oceans, are all part of the society, because we interact with them. The only way you can escape, is to leave the planet; only then, you would be in relationship with a new society, that of the stars. Whatever you did would have an effect on them and vice versa. No escaping. Ok?

So before you decide to escape society and run off to the woods and start a new community, away from modern society, remember what we just said. You cannot escape. And with that out of the way maybe we can continue…

Let’s run away!

It’s easy to start thinking about leaving the life you have created for yourself and heading off into the wilderness. I can see why people want to do it. I have often thought about it myself. “I’m sick of this lifestyle, I hate it, I hate what it is doing to the planet, the people and to me! Maybe if I just go away into a forest and create a little camp for myself. I can live off the land, and really get back to nature. I feel alienated in this society, I don’t belong here” And then I realise, that whilst I am away hugging trees and meditating on the nature of all things, more weapons have been built, more retail parks have been built, war is still raging (internally and externally), we are still draining the oil from the earth; so everything is still the same.

Running away to a forest is the psychological equivalent of burying your head in the sand (a reference to the popular notion that the ostrich hides from danger by burying its head in the sand). You can hope and pray for peace, and that everything will be all right, but it won’t! Do you understand? There is no point in running away to a monastery and engaging yourself in prayer to god every day, asking that peace be brought to earth, and that man wakes up to the trouble he is causing; that is a purely selfish approach to a real problem. All we are doing is saying “Hey, I can’t cope here. I don’t like it. You lot are “bad” people, so I’m off; see you in the next life!” That’s not a very grown up way of dealing with problems is it?

But it seems that many people think it is not only a good solution, but the only solution. Unfortunately, whilst you’re away on your mountain, praying for peace, and peace of mind, another child has been blown up by a land mine in some far away country, whose name no one remembers. Running away to an island, a mountain, or to the forest, just isn’t going to solve the problems that man is causing. Man caused them, and you are a part of the problem (being human that is), but you are also part of the solution! Because if you are feeling so discontented about the whole thing; so upset at the pain and chaos that man is causing for himself and his brother; then you are in the perfect place (psychologically) to do something about it. Do you see? You are one person in many tens of thousands that thinks this can’t go on.

This is not how life should be. But instead of staying to show the way, you decide to hit the highway!

Running away just means there is one less person with the awareness to show people a way out of the darkness. So to all those people who want to run away and start their own communities, fenced away from society (which you remember you can never escape) realise this: There is no such thing as an ideal world. And anyway, ideal sounds kind of like “idea,” which as we know, is created by thought, which is the cause of most of man’s misery! So before you get any “ideas” about what a perfect community should look like, and how you should interact with each other, and what you should do, and what you should all wear, and what you should talk about; remember that there is no running away from yourself, because you are society. All you are doing by creating another community is causing more division, and we certainly don’t need that!

Here I am

So now you’ve decided to stay, we can make some progress. Here you are living in society, disgruntled about the cities, and how so many people live so closely together, and what they do for a living, and you have decided you want to do something about it. What do you do? “The first thing people should do is pack up and leave for the country…” you say. Sorry, that isn’t an option, how are we going to move nine million people to the country? Even I would find it difficult to figure out how to house, clothe and feed that many people (actually, I would find it difficult trying to feed, clothe and house fifty!).

So no running away. We have to stay for now. We can’t just leave. We have nowhere to go. We helped create this mess and we are going to stay and help create something new. Oh, and you can stop your moaning about wanting to go and live by the sea in a little beach hut, with only you and the wind for company. That, as we say, is idealism, although it would be nice! You’re here, and you say you are unhappy with the state of the world, undertake a massive shift in your thinking, create awareness of self, and are ready to go to work.

Where do you begin? Let’s take this slowly shall we? You live at number 23b lower west street, some city, the world. You are in an apartment building with six other apartments, and you live in a terrace of some fifty or so houses – most converted to apartments; so if we do some simple maths, we could say that in your street, there are between three hundred and six hundred people, depending on how many people live in each apartment, I might be a bit off with my calculations, but it’s a good place to start.

How many people do you know in the street? Well, go on, have a guess! Two hundred and fifty? Two hundred and eighty? How about two? or maybe none? That’s not a very good community, is it? How are we going to build our new community if you don’t know anyone? Hmm, we’ll have to go back to the drawing board, because as we saw in the topic “friendship,” the chances of you talking to strangers are between zero and one percent (unless you’re my mum that is!).

No, there must be another way of creating our community which doesn’t involve talking to other people (sorry I’m being facetious).

Let’s begin again shall we? We are saying that in our small street there are perhaps 500 people, and we don’t know any of them well. We do not know what they do for a job, what religion they are, what their personalities are like, and we certainly don’t know if they are interesting in helping us solve some serious problems in the world. For all you know, they may be creating many of them, and would send you on your way with a resounding “piss off,” if you try to convert them to your idea of community.

Remember, we live in a society that the powerful have designated “community free,” whatever the posters may tell you. This is the age of the individual. Governments don’t want people to group together in their own “communities,” they want everyone to act individually whilst they decide what a community is.

And that’s it, isn’t it? Somehow, we have allowed the governments and the councils to break up our communities with the only reward being gratification, in the form of money and possessions. They don’t want us to think as a whole (a community), they want us divided, as it makes us easier to control.

Sure, they may set up a “community” hall, where the “community” can gather, but who really goes there? We are too happy with our individual lives, our families, our jobs, and our friends; why would we mix with people we don’t know? What would be the point of it? Everything we need socially and financially, has already been “provided” by the state.

So although we may hire the hall for weddings, birthday parties, and discos for teenagers to keep them off the streets, a hall isn’t really what I would call a community, whatever the government tells us. We are individuals living in the “wider community” as the politicians would like to call it. But it is purely an organisational method of control, and has nothing whatsoever in common with the communities that used to exist when there weren’t quite so many of us squashed up together in cities. But it’s not just cities that are the problem, even rural communities are only communities in name; they are just individuals who happen to be living in the same post code area, just as the people in the cities are. I think we have got ourselves in a real quandary here.

We say we are ready to help create real communities, but find we are going to have to start from the beginning again as there is no such thing as a community left. “But I am only one individual, what can I do; how can I change the system?” you plead. But you don’t have to change the system, you are part of the system, and by changing yourself, you are already starting to create something new. The only problem is everyone else!

And that’s where we are going to have to be careful.

Because attempting to change everyone else is the result of idealism, which is thought, and that can’t help us! So where do we start?

Letting go of the word “community”

We have said that we are under the control of the politicians, and the government, and that these days, community is a mere geographical location, not a state of mind; and that is where we have to explore this more deeply and very carefully. Let us leave the idea that a community is something we live in behind. Let us leave the idea that a community is something that the government tells us it is, behind.

Let us once and for all agree that a community hall, or talking with people you know, or having community barbecues or meetings isn’t a community; and let us try to explore the concept that community is not even something physical, but a state of mind you carry with you at all times. Let me explain.

I have told you that I spent some time last year in a buddhist community on an island off the west coast of scotland. It was a wonderful place; the island was only one and a half miles long by half a mile wide, and the peak of the island rose majestically out of the sea for several hundred metres. Oh, how I enjoyed walking to the top and sitting alone with my thoughts looking out over the ocean; it was so calm and peaceful, as I watched the wild ponies and the wild sheep sauntering around. It was just like paradise. At the centre, there were only fifteen people permanently living there, but we had up to sixty guests a week who came on “spiritual” courses.

I was one of the chefs there for several months, and coming from the area of society we would call “individual,” I found it hard to fit into a small community where everyone knew everyone, and what they were doing; but this changed. I started to realise that not only were we not doing this for money, but we were doing it for the wider community, and for each other. Although we lived in separate rooms, we shared a common space where we laughed and joked, argued over the nature of reality, and many other topics. I actually started to enjoy myself!

Here were strangers sharing their deepest thoughts with me; their hopes and their fears; and I was sharing with them. In short we were helping each other. But I couldn’t work out why.

“Why are we here helping each other?” I used to think. “Why is it nice to sit by the fire and talk about life with people I barely know?” “Why is it so nice to finish work and go for a run with one of the monks, and after my shower, sit down in the library, and talk to people about whatever comes into my mind?

Although the island was set up as a project, the interactions we had were in no way forced, they were very real. The point was to share the work that needed to be done, and share in that experience with each other. Nothing more. “There must be a point to all this” I thought; “there must be a bigger reason why we are all here,” but there wasn’t, we just were. We were in relationship with each other, for the benefit of each other.

What a strange idea, I thought. And indeed, it was unlike any other experience I have ever had. But I soon knew I couldn’t stay on this wonderful island; I had to get back to where the people had not discovered contentment in sharing. I had to leave.

As I got on to the boat and waved my friends goodbye, I realised I didn’t have to leave the island behind, although I was physically moving away from it. I could take it with me in my mind. I could take the sharing, and the discussions and the joy and the sadness, and use it to create a life for myself that was not divided. I would take away a new mind from the island. A community mind.

And I didn’t need to run away to an island to use it. I could use it anywhere in the world!

The community mind

Let’s face it, none of us like sharing very much. It’s not our fault, we have been conditioned to think like that by our parents, our teachers and our governments. I’m sure you’ve all heard the old saying “What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is yours,” and that pretty much sums up the modern world in which we live. We live an individual existence. Friends, lovers, jobs come and go, but at the end of the day there is still “me.” My house, my possessions, my money, my needs, my desires. We love being individuals; it makes us happy.

We have no one to answer to; we can do whatever we like (as long as we don’t break the law). We go on holiday, we go on courses, we learn more – all to benefit ourselves.

“Community, that’s so old school, the future is me!”

So we carry on living our lives hoping never have to do anything for anyone else. Maybe when we start a family, or get older, we might like to help out in the parents group or try running a stall at the school fete. We may even do some charity work for the local hospice; but at the end of the day, we come running back to “me.” Do you understand?

All of our so called “community” actions are external, but the “me” still exists. We want to give to make ourselves feel a little less greedy, but how much can we give? One percent? Three percent? Some of us like to show we care, by donating money to local charities, and we might drop a pound or two in the box outside the supermarket where we have just spent eighty five pounds. We will help, and we will share, but only if the cost isn’t too high; and I’m not just talking about money. We will help as long as it doesn’t eat into our “me” time too much; but this isn’t just about donating time and money to charity, this is about living in communion (sharing thoughts and feelings) with everyone; this is about opening up new relationships with everyone you meet (don’t worry there will still be plenty of me time). This is about developing a state of mind that says “Although I must look after my physical needs, if I give myself over to the community mind, my needs will be taken care of.” Do you see?

We are so scared to let go of our individual lives just in case this community thing doesn’t work out, when you decide, after all, that sharing everything with everyone just isn’t for you! But why isn’t it for you? Why do we hold onto our possessions so tightly, these dead items that alongside us will eventually turn back to dust?

First of all we have to start to change the way we think about what “my things” are. Of course, they’re are things you paid money for, or have been given, but it is only your mind that is clinging to them. I realised sometime ago that it didn’t matter if I didn’t have a lot of stuff anymore; I will die, they can’t come with me (remember there is no inter-dimensional shipping service), so I just gave them away. If I really “need” an item later I will create the means to get it.

Maybe we should consider sharing to be like a library service. Some of us only want our own copies, because they are “mine,” but the book is available to all who want to read it. You borrow it, and you give it back so someone else can share it.

So what if you don’t have a large reading library in your home, you only have it to impress people with! If you really want to read a book, you can get it from the library. So with that concept of sharing firmly in your mind, let us move on.

The library idea is a simple one. One person buys the book, and many people can share it for no cost. We could even buy books ourselves and give them away to people we don’t know (but they might think they’re contaminated or dirty, you know what people are like!) But sharing life is so much more than sharing books, it is about sharing time, space, (the physical and the not so) food, laughter, tears, wealth, poverty. We must share everything, as everything is in us, and we are in everything. Do you understand? We may think things are ours, but even the beautiful, and the exquisite, eventually turns to dust in our hands (if we waited around long enough).

So whose is it?

The beautiful table you had hand carved, eventually returns to the earth from whence it came, and try as you might, there isn’t a damn thing you can do to stop it. And the same goes for every possession. In the end they are not only worthless, they are nothing but dust. So can you see how limiting this idea of the individual is?

My stuff, my needs, my holidays, my pay cheque, my family, my beautiful home, will all become nothing, and so will I. To say they are nothing isn’t strictly true; they will transform, we should perhaps say. But as tangible items, they will be no more. No more ideas, no more grasping, no more becoming, no more greed. With our minds buried with our bodies, these too will die.

So I ask you now: How important is the individual in the world or the universe? A little, very, or not at all? How important are the politicians who make the rules we must conform to? How important is my boss who tells me off for being late, or for making a mistake? How important is the court that decides when I should see my children after divorce? How important are any of the powerful – who would seek to control us through their laws and their dogma? Not even a little. All these men will return to dust, the same as our possessions will, and we should all start remembering that the next time they come knocking on our door looking for re-election.

The idea of a community the government has, is people enrolled in a “neighbourhood watch” scheme to watch out our windows, in case anyone is seen lurking about at night; or reporting each other to the police if someone steps out of line. I

n the eyes of the government, community = control – nothing more. But they put out their media campaigns of happy smiling citizens all working for the benefit of the “community.” But it’s not our community people are working for, it’s theirs.

Making the shift

I think we have come far enough along in our discussion to start introducing something new. We have said that a real community is a place in your mind where you naturally want to help each other and share, and that community, as described by the government, is merely a convenient way to geographically organise the population. Which one would you vote for? The individual mind wants everyone else as far away from him or her as possible unless they are “colleagues” or “family,” and is constantly seeking more material wealth and individual happiness. But the community mind wants to create something for all, and wants to share life with everyone – not just people he knows. “But how do we get from the individual mind to the community mind, given that most of us live in large urban areas where we have to go out to work every day to pay the bills?

Although we would like to share in this vision, we actually don’t have the time or money to do it.” And it is a valid point when you are still thinking as an individual, not as the whole; the indivisible, which is society. But I understand your question.

The question is: How do I shift from creating an individual life for me and my family, and shift to a new way of thinking without suffering? The answer is: When you shift your mind, you will already know! Remember, when you think like an individual, you act like an individual, and when you think like a community, you act like a community. Does that make it any clearer for you? I hope so, as we still have much to discuss.

The mind that resists change

Many people have touted around ideas of the “community” owning the energy companies, and the banks etc. but it must be remembered that the “community” does own the energy companies and the banks etc. They are just not run by the people we would choose to run them!

But I know what people are talking about. They are saying that these “essential” services should be taken out of the hands of governments and profiteers, and put firmly back in the hands of the people, which is a thoroughly noble idea; but who would run these businesses? How would they get paid? After all, these huge organisations cost a lot to run. The people would still have to be billed.

“Ah, but hang on,” says one of you, “we would only charge enough to cover our costs.”

“But you have to make a profit of some kind so you can reinvest it, or need to upgrade equipment” argues another.

“Yes but we wouldn’t be making a huge profit like those greedy capitalists now…..”

And suddenly it all gets personal and everyone ends up fighting. Which is what seems to happen to most projects when they are entrusted into the hands of the community.

Why? Because they are thinking with their individual minds, not their community minds. So is it impossible to create such a world where people help each other, where stimulation and interaction occur with assistance, barter, and sharing? Is the situation we have created now so entrenched in the society, that there is no way out?

Must we must now follow the path that has been so carefully laid out for us by our governments and our parents? Must we abandon all hopes for this community we speak of, and return to our individual desires? Perhaps. Perhaps we are not ready for this kind of revolutionary idea – one where people share their time and their knowledge, and their feelings with each other; where we are compassionate and loving to all things. One where people give assistance where it is needed without being asked; where greed is a thing of the past and everyone can live in harmony.

Ok, maybe I am being just a little idealistic; maybe the individual has overtaken the whole, and “me” time is just what we ordered. After all, haven’t we given enough over the years? “For thousands of years, we have lived together in small communities, sharing the load, sharing responsibility, sharing love and sadness. That was yesterday wasn’t it? Today, we don’t have to think about anyone else.

We are free! Free I tell you! Free to live life to the full without a thought or care for one other solitary being on the planet,” you cry. “I want a break from other people, I don’t want to have to see the same people day in day out, I want to be able to come home, shut the door, turn on the tv, open a bottle of wine and chill out after a hard day – not start thinking about someone else!” “So we’re back to the old individual thinking, I thought we had got through that…”

“But perhaps we think individually, because we are individuals,” someone shouts from the back.

“We’re not joined at the hip with everyone else. We have individual brains and we should use them individually!”

And no one is saying we have to stop thinking (although it may help for some people). What we are saying is that when we think, we should be thinking about how our actions are going to affect other people. We are connected with everyone else; we are in relationship with every living thing, do you remember? When I do, so I affect others, and the same goes for everyone else. So let’s start thinking about this. We will start slowly and we will try to create this community mind together. Let’s face it; things aren’t going to change overnight are they? You and I accept that, but change they will, one step at a time.

What we are aiming to do is create a community mind web so complex that in the end there will be no control, and definitely no community halls, just society working in natural harmony with itself.

“Ha! Impossible!” you cry. And that is exactly the kind of thinking that will make everything impossible!

So how do we fashion this web? Well, let us consider the spider that starts in the centre and keeps spinning and connecting all the points (not that we are trying to ensnare any prey!). There is no idea in it, just a natural process, and that is what our community mind web will be like. Except there will be no one at the centre, and no one controlling how it is built. It is much like the internet, which is a loose connection of many computers all connected together, with no one computer in charge. But we do need a starting point. Any ideas?

How could we make a small gesture that confirms our shift to the community mind?

Well, as most people don’t like talking to strangers, and we definitely don’t like sharing things for no reason, there has to be some focal point, much like the conversation corners I was suggesting setting up everywhere, so random strangers could meet, chat, and leave again, now no longer strangers.

Let’s take the car, or the bicycle. In some cities there are bikes and cars available for community hire, and once you have signed up to the scheme you can just pick them up in the street. I am not sure how successful they are, but it is a good idea, only why would people want to rent a community car or bike if they have their own? Sounds a bit too much like the old “community hall” idea to me so forgive me if we ditch it as a starting point. You and I know that community is something we cannot cause to exist externally, no matter how much we would like it to, after all, if we can force something to happen, it is much easier than everyone arriving at the community mind by way of a natural process. But we must resist the temptation.

We must create the web without creating it, if you understand what I mean. We must (through our own change) cause something to be created, without it happening as the result of idea. But it seems that yet again we have hit a brick wall.

Creating the physical network

I don’t know about you, but I am ready to share, to collaborate, and to create with others with no financial gain for myself. But this doesn’t mean you can all turn up at my door and get free stuff! It kind of defeats the object of the game don’t you think? And given that most people are not ready to assume the monks mind where he renounces attachment to the physical, and does everything for the benefit of others, we have to take this into consideration when we look at our starting point.

Let me tell you a story. Many years ago, my mother joined what was then known as the baby sitting network (or circle).

You started off with no credit, and had to offer your services to baby-sit other peoples children to gain tokens that would allow you to call upon another member of the network to baby sit your children. So the more credits you gained (by giving your time to others), the more you could leave your own kids and go out for the night. Not quite the community mind we talked about but it’s getting there, one ring (the method of babysitting currency) at a time.

What a simple scheme, but I believe it is no longer in existence, because now people pay for babysitters or ask people for favours. But that’s life I guess.

So there you have it. A scheme that has no one at the top and no one at the centre, but through a natural process benefits all that belong to it.

Can you see how something like that could work for you and me? What could we offer to gain the magical credits?

“Yeah but we don’t need a scheme like that now, we’ve got money.”

But there again my friend, is the individual mind talking! Can you see how just picking one thing could offer, can change our thinking about how we live? Whether it be a buddhist community in scotland, or a city with a million people in europe?

Just one thing, that’s all we need to get started. What will it be? Will it be your time? Your knowledge? Your skills? And remember, we are not offering them for free because that would be a one-sided relationship. We are offering ourselves for the benefit of others, but that does not mean we should not benefit ourselves in some way. Can you imagine how one-sided the baby sitting network would be if everyone just took? That one person always gave their time and no one else did? That is not relationship, that is purely selfish, and gives rise to division

So, have you come up with your offering? Has your community mind decided what you will give? But wait a minute, you live in a city; how will you contact people in your area without talking to them? After all, we still don’t like talking to strangers do we? There has to be some neutral space, somewhere people can get together that where we can offer our services.

Somewhere we feel comfortable like a dedicated “community exchange network centre,” not run by the local council, not staffed by the do-gooders from the local church, in fact not staffed at all, (remember no centre). Just a place where people can commune not to receive, but to give! Someone once said “Give and thou shalt receive,” but I’m not sure who it was; someone famous I think!

Perhaps we could attach it to our new “conversation corners,” the two are surely linked. Unfortunately, “community exchange network centre,” sounds like a government welfare centre, so we better come up with a new name. How about…

Well, I’m not a genius in marketing. You think about it!

So where should we place these places of giving?

“And how will we know that the people who offer to do things for us, are not criminals, or paedophiles, or murderers” say the more sceptical amongst you.

But I offer you these words: “These are not just government exchange booths, but places where we want to do something different, where we recognise that we are in relationship with all others. Where you come to my home and I come to yours. Where I service your car and you cook for me, where I paint your lounge and you paint my portrait. And we all get rings. Fifty rings for a hair cut, twenty rings for mowing the lawn, five rings for a lasagne and side salad!” No one is in control, we are just existing within the community mind; and how nice it will be to know that the person who is making your new table is in the circle, a circle uncontrolled by human hands, one that exists for its members, and because of its members. Not because we are all in the same postcode district but because we want to give to others. And if we want to give more than we take, we just don’t accept the “rings,” but they are there just in case you need them.

A new light is shining

Hopefully this will give you something to think about.

I am not suggesting that the ring exchange is a perfect solution; I merely offer it to stimulate your own thinking. But hopefully, it will illuminate the idea that man does not need to be told how to behave by his government and local councils. He does not need to be shown a building that says “this is your community centre,” he knows what community is. He does not need to run off and live in the forest and wait until everyone else changes. He can stay right where he is and create the community mind.

It won’t be easy, but then nothing worthwhile ever is.

Start creating and soon our web will cover the whole globe. That should annoy the politicians and the businessmen!

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