In this world our lives are informed by our Communities.
From the moment of conception you are in community – the community of Humans.
It’s inescapable. The interlocking circles of your communities are everywhere: Male/Female, Son/Daughter, Parent – obviously my experience with no children is very different from anyone who’s had a child - Family, Country, Culture, Profession, Religion…Many of these define our experiences. Muslims have Ramadan in their lives, Christians have Easter, Jews don’t eat pork, Hindus see cows as sacred. Your relationship to practices like these is one deciding point in your unique life; even rejecting such a value is one.
In the spiritual journey, we are most often encouraged to remember that we are all One, still – consciously – in communion with all other humans, indeed the life force itself. This truth has been illustrated by the man who risks his own life to snatch a baby out of the way of a car. That’s met with the response that this is simply the survival of the species instinct, the older protecting the younger for the continuation of the species. But then what about the man who risks his life to snatch an old lady from in front of a car?
Oneness is a platform from which we need to operate.
In life, though, it’s broken down into little chunks – otherwise we wouldn’t be able to handle it, would we? And a number of those chunks are our communities.
From soccer mom to ancient monk alone in the desert, the communities are there. The question is, what do you do about them, how are you participating in them?
Focusing on communities – and, preferably, serving them – opens doors to richer experiences and deep satisfaction.
I can give you an example from my own life. Some years ago I volunteered at my local hospital on the Palliative Care (Hospice) ward. Every Sunday for eight years I went. Other than common humanity this was not a community I was a natural member of, it was a chosen community, one which I selected out of an inner need to contribute to the lives of others. The only prerequisite of the volunteers on the ward was desire, although we did a three-weekend orientation and training for the special needs of these patients. I would say the primary skill I brought was that I am a great listener, and it proved invaluable in that situation. I have many fond, loving memories of that time. To choose one, I got to know Michael over a period of three or four weeks, mostly just getting him tea and a minute or two of casual chat. One day we went out on the little balcony so he could smoke. He was in his mid-40s, with terminal brain cancer. This was his third time in Palliative Care, and he knew it was his last. The balcony overlooks downtown Vancouver, it was a sunny day with a gentle breeze. We got talking and I mentioned that I had come to the city the year after its great festive Expo. He started reminiscing about Expo, and began talking about his experiences of it and how his boyfriend and he had volunteered as guides. After a while tears were rolling down his cheeks. “It feels so good to remember all that…I was really happy then…Thank you…” How easy it was for me to give that gift – that service on that day, and I remember it to today.
Just that half hour or so with Michael enriched my life immeasurably.
Every day at 8-B was rewarding in some way, even the difficult patients. For the most part everyone there was past the bullshit, past the fear of dying, and they helped me feel the same way.
The primary communities we define in our lives are Work and Family. Often our work bespeaks our character. If I say, my father was an electrical engineer, you associate certain things with that. Whereas if I say he was a fireman, you have a different picture. It’s about the most common question to strangers in our culture: “What do you do?” In fact, work is service – if you didn’t provide a service you wouldn’t get paid. The almost universal balancing act in our world is Work and Family. But let’s put them aside for the moment and consider your other Communities.
If you’ve never taken this look at yourself, I suggest taking a half hour to do three things that will make you more of who you want to be rather than who you happen to be:
1) Identify your Communities. Take the time to list the communities you belong to, from golf clubs to gyms, Kiwanis to poker gang, theatregoers to charities to political groups.
2) Prioritize by Importance to You. These are ways you spend your time (and money). Just include the top five. Are you giving to these as much as you’d like to, according to the importance of the community to you?
3) Figure out How and What you want to give.
Actually, the third brings up the key to your choices: How do I want to contribute? What gifts can I give that will keep on giving? How can I support good ideas in these areas that resonate with me?
If you want to consider this in greater depth I can recommend the book Giving by Bill Clinton, he shows many ways to contribute, some you might not think of, like Skills Sharing.
There is a basic human need to Contribute. We all have a need for Significance even if it’s unheralded. Most people in our culture, sociologists tell us, want to “Give Back” or “Pay It Forward” in their lives.
You have to discern your own way to serve, it must be something you get true satisfaction from.
It doesn’t have to be grand gestures. Sure, one way to give that keeps on giving is endowing a hospital wing. That’s not for everyone.
A half hour on a hospital ward can be enough.