Common Unity: Contemplating Community Pt 1

This year I have taken a different approach to my physical involvement at Brooklyn Free School. It is what I call a “fly on the wall” approach. Basically, I sit down one morning a week in an area where one of the advisories collect. Take out a drawing tablet and start drawing. This morning I sat with the teenagers. I try to remain silent unless a question is directed at me or I hear something that needs a little more information. But for the most part, I remain quiet. My experience this morning harkened back to the days when I would sit in classes at Cardozo High School, and just draw. Generally this was a way of shutting things out and immersing myself in my own world. Now, as I am older, I do this as a way of occupying myself while listening to the atmosphere around me. Absorbing it.

It is clear to me that though I have chosen to work on the topic of “What is community,” it is clear to me that I hardly know what it is. Have I ever lived in one? Are the communities I participate in supportive of my individuality? Do they encourage growth and are they in a constant state of re-imagining their core structures?

Last week I paid a condolence call to a friend who was sitting shiva. The home is Orthodox and his very large family were there with him. What I was struck by was the support that was present from their larger community. The chairs were lent from their local congregation. Some very large platters of kosher sushi was delivered gratis from a congregant who owns a local market. The flow of friends and supporters was intense. That community came to console him at a time when he needed it most. Though it was a sad occasion, I felt that there was something to be learned from this.

A school needs to become communal. In order for a school like BFS to exist, it takes the efforts of a great many people who believe that this type of education is important. It is a process of gaining an understanding of how this education works, on many different levels. The reason I spend a bit of time among the students is to absorb some of the energy that I find there. The passion to know things. And the real results of allowing students to have the space to do this. There are no statistics, just human beings working to find purpose. And the emergence of purpose, is where I see the need for community to exist the most.

I brought this idea into another venue. As a member of a spiritual community, the question comes up again and again. At this stage in time, there seems to be a common need on many levels of society to be posing this question. We are ALL suffering the effects of an economic tragedy. And at the core of this question is, how do we help each other? How do we support each other in regards to the main reason for each particular community’s existence. And how do all of them play into the need to understand that we are all part of one big planetary community? Are we entering an era of Star Trek like planetary vision where everything is tied into the life of a planet?

Common unity is what came to mind. In each group, there is an unspoken search for unity. The recollection of something fragmentary moving back toward it’s original wholeness. But with newly gained understanding. In a spiritual teaching, this process is understood to be eternal. In a school, it is a never ending refinement of the process of encouraging young people to have purpose, and includes the teachers and parents in the process. In our neighborhoods, it is the understanding that one thing affects another. In a time of need, there is a constant questioning on how to bring us to a common understanding. An understanding that the core thing that connects all of us, is the need to maintain life. Corporate goals run counter to this. Capitalism, Communism and most other isms run counter to this. We are interested in being a race of beings who can fulfill their mysterious purpose in the universe. Whether it is through a religious group, a common educational aim, a neighborhood collective or the spiritual search for enlightenment, it all needs a community to support it.

There are many movements taking shape now that are in direct response to this arising need. This past week, protesters gathered on Wall Street to demonstrate how the woes of Wall Street affect an entire nation. Basically the entire planet. We enter a time where it is hard to find work, and the work that we have been doing is in question. To what does it serve? Certainly not the community. As someone who has worked in advertising most of my career, this comes as a bold statement. Most of the industries that we have grown up with in our society, really do not serve it. They serve capitalistic goals. Personal profit. Advertising creates a desire for things we don’t need. Insurance makes us pay for something that has not happened. Law makes us defend ourselves against the assault of greed and abuse and the financial markets are an investment in collateral that may or may not even exist. We are skating backwards on thin ice.

The 21st Century has hardly begun, but at its’ beginning, we have already entered some pretty scary territory. And the only thing I can see helping to sustain us in this new era, is each other. We need to put aside the differences that have been brainwashed into us and realize we are all one. But this means letting go of what keeps me separate. What makes me selfish. It may seem like a sacrifice, but the reward is something much greater.

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