I live in a culture of rugged individualism. I generally feel that I dare not be honest about myself, even with a person sitting next to me at church, a line at the store, or someone who works down the corridor. I have learned to be vulnerable and express my needs and emotions with those close to me – my beloved, my friends and some of my family. Yet it is different when I am walking around the community of Silicon Valley where I live, in the southern part of the San Francisco Bay Area of California, USA. When I am out in my community at AT&T Park at a San Francisco Giants baseball game, the mall, or at the beach, I am polite and careful, generally not talking about my private feelings or conflicts. When I was 26, I came to learn a very different meaning of the word community.
Community can arise when there is a crisis. An earthquake or a Tsunami can leave an area devastated with badly damaged buildings and flooding in the streets. Many people may be injured or dead. As a result, people pull together, whether rich or poor, from different cultures, and from different religions. They work together in a spirit of cooperation and sacrificial love. Once the crisis ends, people often return to their ordinary lives and prejudices.
There is a different type of community than the one that emerges in crisis and it is called intentional community. I first met my friend David Goff at a workshop for Community Building in Marin County, California, in 1989. On this weekend, I learned how to develop an intentional community. The two leaders gave the group of about 50 people, who were mostly strangers to each other, simple instructions: listen deeply, speak when you feel moved to speak, use “I-messages,” practice inclusivity, observe how you maintain separation, and share responsibility for the outcome of the workshop. The leaders used silence, stories, reminders about the guidelines, and brief feedback to the group as a whole – not directed to any one person.
After two days sitting with the group in a circle, I experienced a profound sense of community on a foggy Sunday morning in the Marin Headlands. I felt peaceful and my mind was quiet. Feelings of compassion and kindness filled my body. I lost track of time and myself; I experienced a sense of the sacred. I had a shift of my awareness and felt a connection to the group as if we were at one with the whole group. Before this experience, I had never been aware that I felt this way toward my family or friends.
This weekend changed my life and motivated me to learn about intentional community. With David Goff and others, I spent from 1991 to 1998 learning about how people function in groups and how intentional community arises.
David Goff had a stroke in 2003 due to a rare disease. David is bound to a wheelchair, wears a patch on his right eye, and types using only his right hand. In 2013, he published a book called, “Embracing Life: Toward a Psychology of Interdependence.” David impresses me with his resilience and strength. He writes that we need to see ourselves as we are truly. You are a part of the whole universe which is larger and more diverse than it is possible to imagine. Like the universe as a whole, including all the planets, stars, galaxies, black holes, and supernovas, you have creativity, strength, and resilience that sustains you.
Yet at times, I may fail to remember, recognize, and experience my potential. I may be going on a date and feel afraid of the unknown. I may be about to take a test and get angry at the challenges. Yet, I am always connected to the universe as a whole: a vital source that is positively vibrating with energy, potential, and creativity.
Fritz Kunkel was a German doctor who was injured badly in World War One, during a battle. Dr. Kunkel also had an experience of connection, where he felt connected to everything and everyone – a sense of “we-ness.” In this video, Dr. Tim Locke, Executive Director of Four Springs Retreat Center, describes the psychology of Fritz Kunkel, called “We Psychology.”