Rethinking COMMUNITY

For years now, the same familiar pattern repeats. Whenever I decide I’m finished with writing, something comes along to make me rethink my decision. Two such events triggered today’s post. One was a thought-provoking article, “Mindfulness, Behavior and Social Change” by Mark Leonard, Director/Mindfulness Trainer at the Oxford’s Mindfulness Exchange.

I responded with a question: I’ve often thought about the possibility of building intentional communities, despite the evidence that experiments in the past have not always worked out well. Any thoughts on the subject?

In fact, I had mentally sketched but not followed-through on an article about intentional communities based on my connection with Spring Green and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin Fellowship. It was an example which, for many important reasons, I would not recommend following.

He replied: I suspect an intentional community needs a suite of conditions including contemporary analogs of functions which hold traditional societies together. I think that mindfulness meditation could play a part here.

The basic axioms listed in The Positive Paradigm Handbook are my recommended contribution to this cohesive foundation. They were fatally lacking in the Spring Green experiment.

Coincidently, these axioms were the reason for accepting an invitation from Swami Narasimhananda to submit an article to Prabuddha Bharata, a journal devoted to the social sciences and humanities started by Swami Vivekananda and in continuous publication since 1896.  [See When Conflict Escalates, What Can Be Done NOW? ]

Timing being everything, I had decided a few hours earlier to list them there in the context of rethinking leadership, family and community based on timeless wisdom traditions.

My interest is based on the observation made in The Age of Heretics (Charles Krone) that when chaos enveloped the civilized European world, monasteries appeared during the dark ages as islands of purposeful community — centers of learning, healing and hospitality. Similarly, monasteries of refuge from barbarism appeared in Asian lands during particularly harsh historical times.

This dynamic seems highly relevant today, for, as Mark Leonard details in his article, the world is surely sinking into another dark ages. Intentional communities may once again become the necessary counter-balance of positive change — the means for ensuring human survival, which, as Einstein warned us, can no longer be taken for granted.

So for starters, from Conscience: Your Ultimate Personal Survival Guide, here are my original thoughts on community. It forms a hopeful basis for rethinking intentional communities. Although my frame of reference for thinking about the dynamics of change is the Chinese Book of Change, resonance with the immediately popular mindfulness movement will be immediately apparent.



We can create communities and relationships that are based on love and intimacy rather than fear and hatred. We can learn from the suffering of others. Awareness is the first stage in healing. . . Likewise, we can create a new model of medicine as we move into the next century that is more competent and cost-effective as well as being more caring and compassionate.” — Dean Ornish, Love and Survival

As we accept the smallness of the world, the density of the population, and the myriad influences on individuals and families, someday we may recognize the community and even the whole society as the patient. Imagine, then, what a “doctor of society” might do, what kinds of diseases he or she might treat!” — Patch Adams, Gesundheit!

Each celestial body, in fact each and every atom, produces a particular sound on account of its movement, its rhythm or vibration. All these sounds and vibrations form a universal harmony in which each element, while having its own function and character, contributes to the whole.” – Pythagoras, quoted in The Healing Power of Sound 


Community stems from a root word meaning fellowship. In English, the word refers to all the people living in a particular district or city. It can also mean a group of people living together as a smaller social unity within a larger one, and having interests or work in common, such as a college community.

Alternatively, it can refer to a group of nations loosely or closely associated because of common traditions or for political and economic advantage. It also covers similarity of tastes and preferences. The last definition Webster’s gives is the condition of living with others in friendly association and fellowship. The last definition has come full circle back to original meaning.

Communities are founded on a common cause. It can be as practical as survival or idealistic as freedom. Often, community cohesion is artificially stimulated by fear and hatred of a common enemy. Hitler inflamed passions against Jews and foreign bankers to mobilize his war-weary country into a second world war even more devastating than the first. Then Americans rallied behind the common goal of defeating enemies of democracy on two fronts, Asia and Europe.

In Common Sense, Thomas Paine wrote about the relationship of divine, natural and human law in a way that inspired readers at the time of the American Revolution to fight for freedom from tyranny. Winning that war did not, however, automatically secure freedom for all times. Democracy isn’t a static achievement that can be passed on unchanged from one generation to the next. It must renewed and earned again, one individual at a time, each generation at a time, continuously redefined in the context of immediate circumstances.

Nor can the structures of American-style democracy be imposed by force, whole, from the outside, on peoples whose beliefs are shaped by vastly different cultural influences. It is the common respect of life and liberty, not external forms, which is universally translatable. The music of life that moves every organization, smallest to largest, is the basis of harmonious fellowship. Approaching natural law and social organizations from the deeper understanding of the ancients could inspire a new, more humane and effective approach to international relations now, one based timeless values which the human community shares in common.

Sages say that freedom from tyranny begins with dispelling ignorance and overcoming negative emotions. True freedom and stable communities begin with the self-awareness and self-mastery which can be gained by diligent use of wisdom tools like the I Ching. First remembering the core of compassion and caring within, we can then extend and expand this good-will into healing society as well.

Put another way, it’s useless to fight for a democratic world before one cleans out the inner swamp of negative emotions. Since inner life projects into external experience, fighting tyranny in the turmoil of anger and hatred reaps results in kind. Therefore, working to establish positive community relationships before attitudes of good-will and willing self-discipline are established is a futile exercise. As Covey reminds us, first things must come first.

Conversely, the more individuals free themselves from personal problems, the more they become open to the calling to community and able to play their part in the harmony of the natural whole.


Street gangs, terrorist groups, religious cults and secret societies are subgroups within the larger community. To the extent that their goals oppose and even endanger the community at large, these organizations are antithetical to the general good.

Pariahs, nomads and outcasts [heretics!] are individuals excluded from society, either voluntarily or by edict. Whether justified or not, their attitudes and behavior are out of harmony with accepted norms. If enough of them find common cause to band together, they form alternative groups which become the foundation of new communities.

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2 thoughts on “Rethinking COMMUNITY

  1. Richard Lipscombe


    This is an interesting article as always from you. I see communities slightly differently to you though I guess. I see them as ‘purpose-driven’ not ‘driven by a cause’. It is a worthy distinction if only because a lot of the dysfunction within global communities today is the result of the conflicts over which causes to support. Global Warming or Climate Change has a well integrated and connected global community of supporter and they are rusted onto the cause. But what is the purpose of it? What gives it meaning other than ‘fear’ that if we don’t act now we condemn future generations to poverty and worse extinction. What is they are wrong? What if as I believe that there is Global Climate Change occurring and it is influenced the human activities including running huge herds of cows all over this planet but it is no big deal. We can modify our use of carbon in sensible ways but there is no great hurry and it can be done in a rational order not the panic that this cause based community suggests. We should build a purpose-driven global community that is concerned about Climate Change and wants positive legislative and other actions but is not panicked by it. Fear is a great motivator of human activity but in this case it is the wrong activity based on a misguided and overblown fear. That is what cause-based communities produce in my experience of politics over 30 years.

    Purpose-driven systems are often self-organising and self-regulating. Gangs, cults, and the like have a discipline that is enviable – it comes from their unifying purpose not any unity of cause. ISIS is a good case in point. Saddleback Church is the classic example of a ‘purpose-driven’ community – indeed its co-founder Pastor Rick Warren wrote about huge best selling book about a purpose-driven life. Pastor Rick still wants to convert me to Jesus and his teachings but he nonetheless knows that I understand that he has built a purpose-driven community wherein lies what I call the ‘belief meme’. You know God is everywhere.

    Cheers, Richard.


    1. Pat West Post author

      Hi, Richard. Let’s submit your premise to the MPI Standard.
      From this viewpoint, there’s no significant difference between “cause” and “purpose.” The underlying Motive, the WHY is human survival. The Purpose or cause, the HOW is to persuade world citizens – using either fear or logic – of global warming dangers. The Intended End Result, the WHAT is to pass legislation that controls carbon use and thus averts disaster. (A cynic might suggest that the Intent of both global warming and church zealots is personal fame and/or wealth. But who can know for sure?)

      Now, if I submit the premise offered here to the MPI Standard, it goes as follows. The Motive, the WHY remains the same: human survival. The energizing Purpose or cause, the HOW, is to increase/restore mindfulness (sanity, if you will) necessary to a cooperative/harmonious lifestyle. The Intent, the WHAT (or means) is to build intentional communities (lifeboats for Titanic Times) as a life-saving bulwark against the rising barbaric tide of an impending, worldwide dark ages.
      The threat of world-domination leadership — jihadi madness and/or nuclear war, however, is immanent. In contrast, it well may be that no one survives to find out whether the threat of global warming was real or not.

      All best, Patricia


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