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In order for us to collectively step into a new societal narrative we’ll first have to identify and evolve beyond the outdated narratives within ourselves.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 the sociologist and co-founder of Tamera 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’.
And if we wish to undergo such an inner revolution then participating in 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 truly leaning into community can offer up it’s own unique kind of inner growth.
For this reason I like to think of closely woven communities and 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. Stable in that the person has a clear sense of what their strengths and weaknesses are, an understanding of what they stand for and an ability to identify and satisfy their own needs. 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 their community. In my experience these are two of the most important qualities that the Collective Dojo provides us with the opportunity to further cultivate.
As Carl Jung was supposedly fond of saying ‘in sterquiliniis invenitur' or in filth it will be found. This 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. This is due to the fact that undoubtedly at some point along the way we will be faced with having to accomodate a broad range of differing opinions and reach compromise on issues we feel passionately about. We'll also be faced with the prospect of having to move past conflicts that may have caused deep division within the group. And it's in moments like these that we are most likely to 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 communal journey we’ll be invited to identify and then ultimately let go of many of the traces of hyper-individuality, rivalrous behaviour and dominator culture that we are likely to have picked up from being raised within the context of late stage capitalism. And while it can be a very humbling process, when embraced it can make participating in community 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 (or Parts) of our own psyche. In this sense it can be helpful to view ourselves as a kind of community of one, a constantly shifting democracy of the many different sub personalities that comprise our individual persona. There are a number of different psychological models that attempt to map out the many parts of our psychology but one of the more comprehensive frameworks is that of Internal Family Systems (IFS) created by Richard C. Schwartz. It provides a framework for us to cultivate a more healthy sense of community within ourselves by encouraging the different parts that make up who we are to dialogue with each other and establish a functional sense of harmony. It’s just one example of the many kinds of modalities that can be trained in with fellow community members in the context of the Collective Dojo. Some other examples include Authentic Relating exercises, Theory U practices and Non Violent Communication techniques. But naturally over time each community will settle upon its own preferred set of practices.
Becoming more skilful in community not only involves finding harmony between the many aspects of our individual selves but also includes improving our ability to maintain healthy 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 broadly entails becoming actively aware of the kinds of subconscious patterns of behaviour which may be causing tension and misunderstanding in our relationships and then working towards integrating these aspects of ourselves in order to increase our capacity to respond more compassionately and skilfully to ourselves and others. Like most things worth dedicating ourselves to it can be intensely challenging at times. But if we can hold each other through the journey with just the right balance of gentleness and firmness I believe we will come out the other side ready to step into a whole new chapter of the human experience together.
So far my own experiences in community have revealed to me 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 collective container that has helped me to more fully know myself and then given me countless opportunities to be true to what I’ve discovered. And best of all 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. So what are we waiting for? I'll meet you in the Dojo!
This is a slightly edited excerpt from A Collective Blooming: The Rise Of The Mutual Aid Community by Joe Lightfoot. Joe is a writer, podcaster and apprentice community weaver. He is the author of A Collective Blooming: The Rise Of The Mutual Aid Community and the host of The Lightfoot Podcast. You can sign up to his newsletter The Lightfoot Letter and find him on Facebook & Twitter.