19. Enter The Dojo: Becoming A Community Creature
In order for us to collectively step into a new societal narrative, we’ll first have to identify and evolve beyond the outdated narratives within ourselves. Plotting out a wider course for societal change is useful and essential, but it’s infinitely more potent when it’s matched with an ongoing process of individual transformation and personal behaviour change. As Dieter Duhm observes ‘It is not possible to create a non-violent society when the impulses of hate and violence within are suppressed but not dissolved. A revolution that has not taken place inside cannot succeed outside. This is what we learn from history’.37 And if we wish to undergo such an inner revolution, then joining a mutual aid community may be one of the best places to start, as the task of maintaining a baseline of functional harmony in such close knit social settings, inevitably requires us to keep stepping up how we relate as individuals. Just as cultivating a practice of mediation can produce a certain set of results in our psyche, and being in a romantic partnership can compel us to master a specific kind of emotional maturity, it’s been my experience that participating in true community can offer up it’s own unique set of rewards.
For this reason I like to think of Collectives as the ultimate Dojos for the Self, a place where we can train to relate more compassionately and authentically with each other, and humbly turn to more experienced community members for guidance along the way. Such a process can be thought of as a journey towards becoming Community Creatures, a term I first came across in the work of M.Scott Peck. If I had to use just two words to describe the essential qualities of what I believe it means to be a Community Creature, they would be stable and fluid. A Community Creature is stable in the sense that they have a clear sense of what their strengths and weaknesses are, they know what they stand for and have developed an ability to identify and meet their own basic and complex needs. A Community Creature is fluid, in that they are open to growth, not rigidly set in their ways, and dynamic enough to adapt their approach to harmonise with the ever evolving context of close knit community. From my experience with participating in community so far, these are two of the most important qualities that the ‘Collective Dojo’ provides us with the opportunity to train towards.
As Carl Jung was supposedly fond of saying, ‘in sterquiliniis invenitur” or ‘in filth it will be found’. Which alludes to the idea that what we most need to find, will often be waiting where we least want to look. And when we participate in mutual aid communities we are provided with countless invitations to discover our very own diamonds in the muck. As undoubtedly, along the way, we will be faced with having to accomodate a broad range of differing opinions, to reach compromise on issues we feel passionately about and to move past conflicts that may have caused deep division within the group. And in moments such as these there is a very good chance that we’ll be confronted with those aspects of ourselves that we might have been doing our best to avoid. It’s also highly likely that at some point in our Collective journey we’ll be invited to identify, and then ultimately let go of, many of the traces of hyperindividuality, rivalrous behaviour and dominator culture that we might have picked up from being raised within patriarchal and postcolonial societal models. And it’s these exact kinds of experiences, that while humbling when they arise, when embraced, can make participating in community such a deeply transformational experience.
But before we can become more graceful in our relations with others, we’ often first have to cultivate a greater sense of harmony between the many aspects of our own self. In this sense it can be helpful to view ourselves as a kind of ‘community of one’, a sort of constantly shifting democracy of the many different sub personalities (or parts) that comprise our individual persona. There are a number of different psychological models that attempt to map out the many parts of our selves38, but one of the more comprehensive frameworks is that of Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, originally created by Richard C. Schwartz. IFS provides a means for us to create a healthy sense of community within ourselves, by encouraging the different parts that make up who we are to dialogue with each other and develop a sense functional harmony. It’s just one example of the kinds of modalities that can be ‘trained with’ in the Collective Dojo.39 Some examples of other systems that can be collectively trained in include Non Violent Communication practices and Authentic Relating exercises. But naturally, over time, each Collective will settle upon its own set of preferred practices for empowering one another to relate more effectively with ourselves and each other.
As Richard Bartlett explores in his series of articles on Microsolidarity 40 becoming a Community Creature involves finding harmony between the many aspects that compose our inner ’community of one’, but also includes improving our ability to maintain highly cohesive relationships at the one to one level, ’Pod’ level (3-6 people) and ‘Collective’ level (12-200 people). While experiencing greater levels of cohesion at each of these levels requires the mastery of slightly different skills and abilities, the underlying process remains the same. It involves becoming actively aware of the kinds of subconscious patterns of behaviours which may be causing tension and misunderstanding in our relationships, and then working towards increasing our capacity to respond more compassionately and skilfully to ourselves and others.
So far my own experience in participating in community has shown me that I still have much psycho-emotional integration to do before I reach my own optimal levels of stable fluidity, and that there are still many lessons for me to learn before I can consider myself a bonafide Community Creature. But I also recognise the huge amount of benefit I’ve received from being part of a community that has helped me to more fully know myself, and then given me countless opportunities to be true to what I’ve discovered.
And as I’ve become more self aware, I’ve gotten clearer on what it is I can offer up to the world, which seems be a common side effect of forming such deep connections with a group of people who fill us with inspiration. Let’s take a closer look now at how participating in Collectives can help each of us get closer to our true calling in life. A process the Japanese refer to as finding our Ikigai.