We have to have a life a part. It doesn’t have to be a secret life, but it has to be a separate life—a life separate from our job, and our family, and our friends. We have to have an identity, a life, all our own. Of course, that’s spoken from the mouth of an introvert. If you are an extrovert, you don’t know what I’m talking about. Your only imaginable life IS your job, your family, your friends! You can’t think of life, of living, of being alive without them. Who we are restricts who we can be. We are handicapped by our perspective which is influenced by tendencies beyond our control. We don’t get to choose the things that matter to us, the things that are life itself. They choose us, chose us, you might say, before we were born (Which, of course, is to say there is no such thing as “free will.” We like to think “free will” means being able “to do anything we want to do.” Well. One thing we can’t do is determine what we want to do. We want what we want. We can’t want what we don’t want. Our wants are forced on us. We can’t help wanting what we want. So much for “free will”).
The way we see life pegs us into what Carl Jung called “psychological types.” He posited three pairs of opposite tendencies (Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers added a fourth), and said that we all fall out somewhere along a continuum between them. All of us are tuned to be more or less intuitive and more or less “hands-on.” More or less introverted, or more or less extroverted. More or less practical and logical, or more or less empathetic and personal. More or less concrete, tangible and specific, or more or less general, abstract and metaphorical.
Jung recommended that we find a happy balance between the extremes by recognizing our natural tendency and moving deliberately and consciously in the opposite direction by doing things we are not naturally disposed to do. We supposedly “round ourselves out” by “living against the grain.” My experience with living against the grain leads me to say that we live against the grain by living against the grain. It’s like butting our heads against a wall. We don’t become more extroverted by pretending to be an extrovert, we just pretend to be an extrovert.
I think the best we can do is to be aware of as much as we can be aware of. And, when we hear ourselves recommending our perspective to others, as in when I tell you that we have to have a life apart, catch ourselves in the act, and understand that’s just our psychic tendencies showing through. We have to be conscious without being self-conscious—without being judgmental and ashamed of what we are conscious of. In granting us, and each other, permission to be who we are, where we are, when we are, how we are, why we are, the right kind of community enables us to see ourselves with the same kind of acceptance. We can gently receive ourselves because the community gently receives us.
This, again, emphasizes the importance of the right kind of company, the right kind of community, and the essential wisdom of “the Presbyterian way.” The Presbyterian way is to understand that all of us are smarter than any one of us, that we make better joint decisions that we make as individuals. We are “rounded out” in the right kind of community. The right kind of community, the right kind of group, enables the individual to see herself, himself, with the awareness of gentle grace, and this awareness is the foundation of our emergence into the world, into our lives. This is the second birth. The second birth is a conscious birth, a birth of consciousness, realization, awakening, seeing, hearing, understanding. It is a recognition of how things are and how we are in relation to them.
The right kind of community recognizes that there is no one way for everyone to be, beyond being awake. Being awake unites with ourselves and deepens our respect for other selves, so that we know where we stop and they start. Being awake enables us to “love one another as we love ourselves.” And, we can only be awake in the right kind of community (The wrong kind of community puts us to sleep and requires that we do nothing to wake ourselves and one another up, by asking questions, for instance).
We are here for our own sake and for the sake of one another. Your blooming, blossoming, becoming is one of my guiding concerns. The other is my own balance and sanity and integrity. How to be true to my own sense of how things need to be and true to my concern for your becoming is the art of relationship and the foundation of the right kind of community. How do we love ourselves and our neighbors in the right way? That’s the question that shapes, forms, the right kind of community, but, we can’t make so much of the structure that we lose community.
The structure cannot get in the way of the experience. We can’t become so engrossed in, enamored with, the rules of listening, for instance, that we fail to hear what is being said. Being the right kind of community comes with working to be the right kind of community over time. We don’t get there by reading a book, watching a video, listening to a lecture, or participating in a study group. But, we don’t get there by not doing these things, by not knowing what we are doing, either. Practice makes perfect IF we are practicing the right things in the right ways.
If we are going to practice anything, practice this: Practice remembering that we aren’t here to make other people into the right kind of community, we are here to make ourselves into the right kind of community. “If they weren’t so… If they would only… If they would just do this and this and this… If they would listen to me and do what I say… what a great community we would be.”
We cannot form the right kind of community thinking about changing anyone but ourselves. If you want someone to change in relation to you, you have to change in relation to them. If someone drives you crazy, change yourself to accommodate them—or give them wide berth! Become more open, more accepting, more understanding, more compassionate, or less available. And, understand the importance of lines and boundaries, and let people know when they cross them. Know what your limits are and say when they have been crossed.
Knowing how to set limits in relationships and maintain the relationship is one of the keys in becoming the right kind of community. Knowing what needs to be said, and saying it in ways that facilitate its being heard is one of the keys in becoming the right kind of community. But, too much thinking gets in the way, and we have to put the rules for living together aside and learn to live together by living together.
We cannot dictate the terms of the right kind of community. There is no one way for communities to be any more than there is one way for individuals to be—beyond being awake. Sitting Zazen on a blue cushion, taking up drumming, going to sweat lodges, and reciting mantras doesn’t make us the right kind of community any more than going to fellowship suppers, doing Bible studies, attending worship services, leading Vacation Bible School, and taking mission trips to Mexico does. The right kind of community helps us listen to our own heart and live our own life within the context and circumstances, nature and conditions of our lives. It does not mold us into the community’s idea of who, and how, we ought to be.
Forcing is not listening, is not allowing, is not permitting, is not enabling, is not creating a receptive atmosphere for the unfolding of the relationship, for the blooming of the other. Good parenting is not asking a child to be more than she is, than he is. “Would you grow up?” Doesn’t grow anyone up. “Why don’t you act your age?” Doesn’t get anyone to act their age. We grow people up by being grown up ourselves (And not irritated at their immaturity). We get people to act their age by acting our age (And not shaming them for their failure to live on our terms). We wake people up by being awake ourselves (Awake to their inability to be more awake than they are).
We are the measure of the company we keep. We see in others what is lacking in ourselves. If we want them to be more mature in relation to us, we have to be more mature in relation to them. If we want them to be more awake in relation to us, we have to be more awake in relation to them.
In the right kind of community, everyone listens. The aim is to be a deep listener, missing nothing. Deep listeners listen with their eyes, and ears, and hearts—their intuition. They are tuned in and attentive, and they get there by being as aware of their listening as they are of what they are listening to. They listen to themselves listening as much as to the person speaking. Where is the interference? What is “jamming the signals”? What is the speaker stirring to life in the listener that keeps the listener from hearing what the speaker is saying? We can’t listen without hearing ourselves no matter what we are listening to! Can we take it, is the question? We cannot accept in others what we reject in ourselves, or allow in others what we cannot allow in ourselves, or acknowledge in others what we cannot tolerate in ourselves.
Deep listening changes others and changes us. How different are we willing to be? That’s how deeply we can listen. You see, it all depends upon what we bring to the table. Deep listening requires us to hear ourselves, see ourselves, face ourselves.
The primary rule of the right kind of community is No One Has To Do It Right. This is also called The Rule Of Compassion. This is the first rule. The second rule is this: Everyone In Her, In His, Own Time—In Her, In His, Own Way. This is called The Rule Of Individuality. The right kind of community is One, but not the Same One.
We don’t proceed along carefully measured steps, following a prescribed route, through a graduated series of levels, until we arrive, after a lengthy initiation, into The Right Kind Of Community. Here’s how it works: We learn to listen by listening to our listening. We learn to live with awareness by being aware of our living. This is called The Rule Of Awareness. Here’s how it works: What needs to be done isn’t always what we are supposed to do. Here’s how it works: Don’t let your principles interfere with doing what needs to be done. This is called The Rule Of Doing What Needs To Be Done. And what needs to be done is to create a space in which we can be who we are, where we are, when we are, how we are, why we are in relationships with others who are doing the same thing. What needs to be done is grounded in grace and compassion and peace, and allows us to know what we know, and think what we think, and feel what we feel, and believe what we believe, and smell what we smell, and taste what we taste, and hear what we hear, and see what we see—and say it all, and be safe with those who can be safe with us.