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Belonging: Is Community Necessary?

Hollow Tree, graphite on paper, 2012

I loved reading Lois Lowry’s young adult books “The Giver” and “The Messenger”.  The stories are simple, yet profound, and extremely important questions about humans living together in community and how we respect one another (or not) are raised.  It seems as if the issues of hierarchy, power, greed, need, and vulnerability always rise up and obscure the greater benefits of living with and cooperating with one another for the higher good of everyone in the group.  Years ago, I visited an exhibit at the Museum of Natural History in London.  The benefits of living solo vs. living in a group for various species was explored, and the conclusion revealed was mixed.  Animals living on their own in the wild enjoy a greater quantity and quality of food, but they are also more exposed to danger, more vulnerable without the protection of a group.  Conversely, the social animals sacrificed some personal comfort and nutrition for the protection of the group.

In this post, I would like to explore the dangers of the group – the vulnerability that an individual can experience resulting directly from human cruelty, fear, and intolerance.  In my personal experience of life, the group often creates cohesiveness by singling out and punishing by example an individual who expresses a strong love of freedom and personal creative drive.  Social groups are more often than not driven by strong egos, which often cover weak personalities.  Individuals who do not fit into the group structure and hierarchy are often shamed and excluded to reinforce the status quo and to reinforce the power of the leader and submission of his or her underlings.

 In truth, I am a person who is a “soft touch”.  I am irresistably idealistic, and though life has beaten me repeatedly with the tenacity of ocean tides, I refuse to call myself a victim of life.  Having been named “scape goat” from my earliest experiences in this body that my current life force inhabits, I have lived exclusion and freedom enough to know on a cellular level what it really means to be an individual.  I refuse to allow others to define me, limit me, or tell me that I am not a valuable member of humanity.  It is challenging for me to trust people, because I know very deeply just how cruel, manipulative and evil people can be.  I have been robbed of my savings, I have been banned from family, bullied at the work place,  targeted by domestic violence, yet I refuse to allow these experiences to define me, embitter me, or make me a lesser person.  I am love.  I am freedom.  I am unique in my personhood and as a living expression of soul.  While I would love to share simple experiences in life with other living souls, if intimacy in this lifetime is not prescribed for my learning journey, then I accept this road of solitude. I choose to believe for my own sanity and self-love that this life has meaning, and that each of my experiences is to teach me to be more loving and accepting of myself, of others, of life itself.  If there were no higher meaning or purpose to my life, I would no longer possess the courage to continue living.  However, I do admire people who are atheists, especially those who do not possess material wealth. To be able to find meaning solely in this physical world and limited to a single life in a single body is a formidable accomplishment.

I do think that somewhere within our souls, we all yearn for compassionate connection with others.  I think this is what Jesus meant by “being in the world, but not of the world.” For as souls, we are all connected.  Beings of energy and light is our true essence.  The gemstone within that symbolically represents our essence and our connection with the divine is often obscured by a thick tarry substance that conceals the light that emanates and reflects the source of our personal energy. We must each work to scrape and scrub the grime and reveal the purity of our inner being, microscopic facet by facet.  This is our work. 

Although raised Jewish, I feel a personal identification to both Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Both of these seekers were highly intelligent, creative, freedom seekers. Like me, they were both Jewish.  Both believed in the loving nature of the human spirit.  And both were scape goats – like me.  Over 2,000 years after their deaths, it is still considered radical to maintain a loving and highly independent attitude in the face of dogma, rigidity, cruelty, greed, and power-seeking in the world. People often cower in the face of threats of losing employment and sacrifice their integrity for so little.  It is sad indeed.  If the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth were to be truly realized one day, this would mean the end of the social contract as we know it.  We would need no laws or polite disimulation in order to live with one another. Each person would follow his or her own internal path to truth and need no external guidance other than the voice of the divine within for guidance.  Heaven on Earth just means accepting the teaching within and trusting that path – and accepting the suffering and hardship encountered along that path, knowing those experiences are necessary and chosen stepping stones on the path to wisdom.  When lead by inner guidance, we cannot go wrong, but noone on the outside can be in a position of authority or power over any of us.  We are all connected in a powerful manner.  All together, we are life, we are light, we are energy, we are intelligence. Jesus, like Buddha, predicated that each of us has a personal path to follow.  His teachings seem to indicate that we should sacrifice our personal power to noone other than God, the source of all life.  This message is still very frightening to people today.  So much so that most Christians believe that Jesus sacrificed his own life to pay for their sins.  I do not agree with this thought process.  Jesus wanted each of us to take responsibility for our own lives, our own pain, our own love, our own choices.  He was murdered because his philosophy made each person responsible for his or her own life, and this was too frightening for people to contemplate.  A world without a social hierarchy, without protection from society is still too frightening for the majority of humanity to contemplate.  We live through the narrow perspective of the ego, a small window of personality that is only a small part of the whole of our self, allowing us a form of perspective with which to pursue our personal development.  The ego is not an evil in itself; it is merely a misued tool – not an end, but a means to an end.  Thousands of years after the deaths of individuals like Buddha, Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Rumi, and other enlightened beings, people are still sleep-walking, still not ready to espouse this radical yet ancient teaching. 

I don’t often feel that society is available and willing to hear me out, offer me compassion, or offer me aid or protection, but I must remain strong.  I am grateful for the benefits I do enjoy as an individual and as a parent, such as having a home, and some access to health care, and employment.  As a single parent, I struggle to provide for my family, and I feel that I live on the fringes of society, without membership in any religious or secular associations, government,  or family to help me if I need assistance.  I know what it feels like to be irrationally hated, rejected, scorned, under-estimated.  But I also do not expect justice, love, respect, or integrity from people.  I hope for it, but I don’t expect it. And when I do experience love or kindness from others, I am surprised and grateful.

Being rejected by the group is often a result of an individual taking on a radical stance that the slow evolving group is simply not ready to understand or incorporate (in Jesus’ case to be revered in death after his murder, and in Mary Magdalene’s case to be denigrated and undermined in her reputation centuries and millenia after her death).  I am a dreamer, and I continue to hope that humanity can learn and grow from those who dare to dream, from those who see the light that is in all of us.

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