* to encourage a reasoned awareness of how our beliefs impact the way we interact with the world around us
* to foster intelligent and open dialogue
* to inspire a sense of spirituality that has real meaning in day-to-day life

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Intersections and Forging a Path Forward

Several years ago, I worked with an organization that had a mission statement about transforming people's lives. They primarily went about this mission through weekend workshops, but over time, attendance in these events had dropped below a threshold of sustainability. Since I was in a local leadership position, I asked the question, "What else could we do to accomplish our mission?" The response was, "We hold trainings. That's how we accomplish our mission." This was a frustrating, but eye-opening conversation for me. The goal of collaboration between leaders in this organization was not just to provide tools to help people transform their lives, they also had a very specific, narrowly-defined strategy for how they would accomplish what they wanted. I'm no longer connected to this organization, and I don't know if their strategy has shifted. I've moved on to exploring other approaches to creating wholeness. I was committed to their vision for the world, but I wasn't committed to their tactics.

I say all of that to point out: when we consider the big questions we want to ask in life, what we want to create is important and how we are willing to create it is also important. There might be any number of paths that can lead us toward the goal that we envision on the horizon. We can't take every path at once, but we always have the potential to adjust our course. We have to choose how we move forward, and we can also choose to shift our path as we learn more about how we can live into what we most deeply value. 

So, you may recall that our big questions are:
  1. How do I live in such a way that I'll be satisfied with how I influence the world around me?
  2. What am I passionate about? What personal life dream of mine creates greater wholeness in the world?
  3. Where do I find a genuine sense of belonging? Where do I find authentic community? 
  4. What fears get in my way? How can I dismantle those fears and understand what I actually want?
  5. How can I get what I most deeply want and need by creating less suffering and greater wholeness?
These aren't five distinct questions. These questions intersect at a few important points. In fact, for some people, a couple of these questions might seem like different ways of asking the same things. Generally speaking, these questions suggest that there is a way for us to live in the world with integrity -- so that our actions are aligned with our deepest values. We have the potential to create greater wholeness in our own lives and in the lives of other people, and there are some things within us that stand in the way -- namely, the fears that we have embraced about ourselves, other people, and reality. As I look at that short list of questions, though, there is one that stands out to me as the lynchpin. 

Authentic community is central to pursuing a creative life dream and to recognizing and dismantling the fears that stand in our way. Relationship with other human beings who are also committed to lives of intention and integrity is a vital component to creating wholeness in the world, and in our own lives. Yet, so often the communities we encounter stifle us, or require us to be inauthentic in order to have a sense of belonging. Some communities are more about self-preservation of the community than they are about the genuine well-being of people. Some communities focus on telling people what to believe or defining what wholeness has to look like. And let's face it, some communities rely on fear and anxiety to control people. How do we find authentic community that actually serves to empower us to live with authentic passion and freedom?

If you're fortunate enough to have that kind of community, by all means, make the most of it. Don't be lazy and wait for other people to tell you what you should be passionate about. Don't wait for other people to tell you what you most deeply want. Use the gift of having an authentic and supportive community to the fullest. My sense is that a lot of people participate in communities that are merely the best thing available to them. Some people become members of churches even though they don't agree with the teachings of the church, just because they crave a sense of belonging. Some people maintain old associations because they keep hoping that something will change and grow, even though they aren't being empowered by those associations to create wholeness or confront irrational fears. So, again, if you're one of the lucky people who have found community that encourages and empowers you to live fully in alignment with your deepest values, make the most of it.

Another option -- the one I'm inclined to pursue at this point -- is to create something better, to build authentic community that actually provides a genuine sense of belonging while also empowering people to do the work they need to do in their own lives. Now, I will say that I've done some work on my own (over the course of years) to clarify my guiding principles and dismantle some of the irrational fears that get in my way. Without a community of people, I felt very isolated and alone for some pieces of that journey. Even a small group of people who understand what you're going for in your life -- empowering and encouraging you to live into a best possible version of yourself -- can make a huge difference. This is why I think community is so vital to being fully alive. Personally, I haven't found a community that effectively (a) offers me a genuine sense of belonging, (b) empowers me to live in a way that is satisfying to me and creates greater wholeness in the world, and (c) equips me to dismantle the irrational fears that get in my way. So, I've set my mind to creating it.

With anything you want to create, it helps to know as much as you can about what you're creating -- to cast a compelling vision of where you're aiming. I think there are five important components to a community that does what I want it to do -- basically, a community that effectively addresses those big questions on which we're focusing. I mentioned these briefly in an earlier post on community: (1) mutual self-disclosure, (2) mutually expressed active and unconditional love, (3) mutual hospitality -- or willingness to be of service and to receive from others, (4) mutual honesty in communication, and (5) sincere affirmation. Healthy communities also have the ability to set clear boundaries and to define a central shared purpose or vision. Just like the organization I mentioned at the beginning of this post clearly defined its strategy, a healthy community can clearly express its identity through a commitment to these characteristics.

Over the next several posts, we're going to look at how each of these elements helps people answer all those other questions. Some of that may seem really obvious to you. I'll be honest, some of it seems obvious to me. But I've learned that some things that seem obvious to me are far from obvious to other people, so I figure the best bet is to lay out the blueprint piece by piece. I hope that approach will be valuable and meaningful to you too. 

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