The Art of Community

Posted on by

It was a running joke in the old Reclaiming Collective that “The Future of the Collective” would always be an item on our meeting agenda, and we would always run out of time before addressing it. The joke lasted for years, and provided a refreshing bit of honesty about our ambivalence toward maturing as an organization and community. 

We were an action-oriented group, always organizing the next ritual or set of classes, and many of us worked together in other direct action groups as well. So there was some measure of pride in saying that we were too busy doing things to sit back and wonder why we were doing them, or where it all might lead. That was fine for slower-moving, less radical organizations, but not for us. It just wasn’t in our DNA.

Living in the moment, moving by the tides and dealing with only what is immediate and unavoidable is a great way to test yourself, learn new things, and form bonds of kinship. But while some of those bonds may stand the test of time, most dissolve as quickly as the moments that produced them. Reclaiming proved to be far better at creating moments than building anything meaningful or lasting, but it did teach me a whole lot about what community really means.

Community is who shows up. If you are going through a tough time and have been brought to your knees, who calls to check in? Who comes over to help? Who can you count on through thick and thin? That’s your community, like it or not.

When I went through my own hell realm a few years ago, what made it all the more painful was noticing who responded to my calls for help. Many people I assumed were my close-in community were nowhere to be found, while others I hadn’t considered inner circle ended up there because they wanted me to count on them, no matter what.

I took the lesson, and completely re-arranged my notion of who my community really was. The process has also made me acutely aware of where I put my energy. Where does my heart lie? Who is family to me? That is who I show up for.

My friend (and former neighbor) Peter Laufer wrote of our town:

A town’s character is influenced by its physical location and its architecture. But its mythology and sense of self develops as events occur.

The art of community is building that mythology through the repetition of physical actions that improve the group’s overall health and goodwill. It turns out that community has very little to do with a shared worldview, the number of meetings attended, or the intention with which it formed in the first place.

Moments are fun, and can be meaningful, but showing up is the sinew that makes a community somewhere you want to stay for the long term, maybe a lifetime. There is an art to that, yes, but it is also a practice. And for that, you don’t need an agenda item.

10 thoughts on “The Art of Community

  1. Reya Mellicker

    Some communities share world views, but my favorite communities over time were those that could actually tolerate diversity. Reclaiming was good and not good at it, always a launching pad more than a community. It had the wood energy.

    I love my community of Capitol Hill which is by and large tolerant, accepting and very mature.

    Anne Reply:

    Yes. I am a big fan of unintentional community. Seems strange after all the effort expended in my 20s and 30s trying to engineer or join an “intentional community.” Now I am so grateful to live in a diverse, tolerant, interesting neighborhood of people I never knew before moving here.

  2. Mary Pat

    Yep, who we can count on in times of great trouble is one of those double-edged life experiences. I’ve been through that watershed more than once, and it’s been a shock each time. I learned a lot, sometimes more than I wanted to know.

    And yet, I’m not sure that ought to be *the* definer of community. Sometimes I’ve been able to step forward and help people because I had been there and knew exactly what they were facing––but beyond the crisis, there wasn’t enough to sustain a sense of community over the long term (or maybe we were just too far away).

    Daily interactions and social support are valuable in their own right, even when some of the folks involved in those networks just can’t (or won’t) step up when the bad times roll. More musing here than offering my own definition––I’ve thought about community quite a bit, and still haven’t figured it out.

    Anne Reply:

    Watershed, that’s a good word for it Mary Pat. I share your feeling of not having figured it out, but I’d say “showing up” is my primary definition. There are other things involved too, and a good case to be made for other forms of community. This is the one that resonates most strongly for me now, though.

  3. Irene Turner

    Thank you! and very well said. I’ve been struggling with a relationship recently, and this put it all into perspective…what I was feeling into words. Yes, thank you

    Anne Reply:

    You are most welcome Irene. Best of luck moving through your current challenges.

  4. Pitch313

    I’m a big fan of shared world views. I think that lots of Pagans do share a world view in common, and it helps make them Pagan rather than some other sort of spiritual. But I gotta admit that this world view that I share with lots of fellow Pagans probably has little to do with what social skills I have–and with all the social skills I lack. Folks and friends and all can get scary when one doesn’t really know what to do, and is determined and afraid to do it at the same time.

    Anne Reply:

    Good point, Pitch. It’s why I think being open to serendipity is almost or at least as important as setting out with intention around what kind of community we are looking for.

  5. Moonroot

    “When I went through my own hell realm a few years ago, what made it all the more painful was noticing who responded to my calls for help. Many people I assumed were my close-in community were nowhere to be found, while others I hadn’t considered inner circle ended up there because they wanted me to count on them, no matter what.”

    Yes, that has been my experience too, and while it was a hard lesson to learn, it was a valuable one. I am still working on the repercussions, but feel more rooted in myself for having gone through that.

    Anne Reply:

    So glad to hear it has served you as well as it has served me. “More rooted in myself for having gone through that.” Yes.

Comments are closed.