Thursday, December 30, 2010

Walking Through the Valley: Personal reflections on 2010

Carrying on a personal tradition that I have been doing for years now, here is a reflection on my own experience of the year that just ended, 2010.

Similar to last year, 2009, this was a year that I spent the entirety of living and working in one place - Camphill Soltane in southeastern Pennsylvania. I've been in a romantic relationship with one person the entire year, and have lived in three different houses at Camphill Soltane throughout the year. So outwardly there has been a lot of stability, but the experience inwardly has been a bit different.

The year has been marked by a kind of ongoing low-intensity inner conflict taking place within me. Most people in my life are probably unaware of this, and folks probably would not think to ask me about anything like this. Nonetheless this has been the main theme for me this year. There are a number of factors behind this.

One aspect is that for me throughout the year various practices, belief systems, and foundation stones for my own sense of identity have gradually been falling away. My sense of profound disillusionment with the philosophy and social scene that clusters around the term "anarchism", continued to grow & develop. This process started last year, and continued on into this year.

My biggest sense of loss and change for me, in this regard, came for me in relation to my no longer considering myself to be an NVC trainer or identifying with "Nonviolent Communication" in general. Similar to the whole "anarchist" thing, "Nonviolent Communication" was a large part of my sense of identity for quite some time. It changed my life, it quite literally moved me, and now I can no longer whole-heartedly endorse it. Ironically enough, the process to become an official certified trainer of Nonviolent Communication officially re-opened this year, just shortly after I decided to distance myself from it.

Another aspect of my ongoing inner conflict this year has to do with what in NVC-land is referred to as my "core jackals". This means my inner judgments and evaluations of myself that are a kind of deep-rooted belief that is wrapped around an emotional pain I've been carrying around with me for some time. This year I found my core jackals coming up again & again, in different forms, often not necessarily even in coherent words.

Because of all of this, as well as because of the general sense of heaviness & seriousness that pervaded the house that I lived in for the first half of the year, I had a pretty difficult time. The turning-point was pretty much half-way through, June 21st to be exact, when it was discovered that one of the people whom I lived and worked with had died in the house that we lived in. This was a blow to all of us who lived there, and it pretty much changed the course for the rest of the year.

The following month, in July, I then decided to join a sort of mutual support community of people with shared values coming out of an NVC background. This group is called the "Consciousness Transformation Community", and so far I have found my involvement with this to be very helpful for me.

The month after that, in August, I traveled to Virginia and re-connected with an intentional community of folks whom I used to live with. That experience was also one that I found to be very nourishing for me.

In September I by chance discovered and read this book entitled Razor-Wire Dharma: A Buddhist Life in Prison by Calvin Malone. That book was by far the most memorable and influential book for me of 2010. One of the effects that that book had was for me to gain an interest in working with men in prison in a Buddhist kind of way. Towards this end I discovered the non-profit organization called "the Prison Dharma Network", which I have since gotten involved with.

That book also re-awakened within me my interest in Buddhism, or the Dharma, and the various practices associated with it. That book reminded me that the times in which I remember and practice the various tenets associated with the Dharma are moments when I feel more at peace and on a productive path in my life. That is where I am left now, as the year is at an end. I realize that the Dharma (or "Dhamma" in the Pali language) is a spiritual/religious path that I have found to be beneficial for me when I walk it. This is something that I would like to commit myself to wherever I find myself in life.

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me." - Psalm 23:4

Friday, December 3, 2010

Envisioning a new world

I have long had a vision for how the world we live in can be organized in a very different way than things are now. The way that I have been envisioning this is something that I see as being more respectful and honoring of life in general, and in particular the needs and desires of human beings. I figure that it can be helpful for me to sketch out how I see it as being possible for the world to be arranged. Recently I have been inspired and encouraged by the work that Miki Kashtan has been doing in this area, she has really helped me to breathe new life into my thinking here, and I am delighted to say that I feel a sense of companionship as I elaborate here on what I see as to how a new world could look like. What I say here is a brief outline of this ideal world that I would like to live in.

A needs-based, willingness-based, gift-economy-based social structure

Within this new society people would have different ways of viewing themselves and their actions, different assumptions and understandings about social relationships, different values that are prioritized and emphasized in how they live out in the world, different ways of organizing and coordinating affairs among groups of people, and on top of all this a whole new overall global structure for humanity in general. Without referencing any kind of pre-existing philosophy or ideology, I am simply calling this a “needs-based, willingness-based, gift-economy-based social structure”.

Small-scale face-to-face groups of people

The primary social unit in the new society would be the small-scale face-to-face group of people. This would be a group of no more than ten people altogether, and these groups would be the social basis for the whole social structure. Most of people’s daily lives would center around the various small groups that they are a part of. There would be small groups for people’s work-places, small groups for people’s living arrangements (you could call these “families”, or not), small groups based around people’s shared interests, hobbies, recreational activities, passions, beliefs, what-have-you.

Likewise, when conflicts emerge between people, small groups of people will form to constructively address these conflicts. Small groups would meet to ensure common understanding and to make decisions and come to agreements together. Most importantly, the people within these groups would all feel a sense of authentic heart-felt connection with each-other. This is why I see it as being essential for these groups to be small as well as meeting face-to-face.

Authentic heart-felt connection

The basic social glue for society would be people genuinely caring for each-other and feeling a real sense of belonging, understanding, and appreciation for one-another. Various personal and inter-personal tools exist that can be utilized to facilitate this sense of connection between people. The key thing is that individuals and groups of people routinely check in with themselves to see what the current status is for this sense of connection, since the nature of it all is very fluid and always changing. If people see that the feeling of connection is not there or is weak for some reason, then this will be identified and steps would be taken to restore this connection. Within the small groups special meetings will routinely take place to check-in on the sense of connection within the relationships of the group. These meetings will be separate and distinct from whatever other meetings exist to address more organizational and logistical concerns.

Self-responsibility and willingness

An underlying common understanding within this society would be that each person is ultimately responsible for their own thoughts, feelings, and actions. In other words, each person makes their own choices and decisions about whatever it is that they do, and correspondingly, they each take responsibility for it. Everybody understands that nobody “makes” anybody else do anything – that everything is a choice.

With that all being understood, a second operating assumption also exists, and that is that all interactions and agreements between people take place without coercion and out of a sense of genuine willingness. That is, that people do all that they do because they are willing to, better yet, because they want to, and not out of a sense of pressure, guilt, duty or obligation. Everybody will make an effort to see and appreciate the needs behind everything that they do and will have their own desire to meet these needs be their motivating drive behind the choices that they make.

A needs-based paradigm

One of the basic ideas behind the practice of Nonviolent Communication (“NVC”) is that of seeing the underlying fundamental human needs behind everything that people do or desire. Fundamental needs are distinct from strategies to meet needs because needs are finite and universal to all people everywhere, whereas strategies to meet needs are infinite and specific to particular people and situations. This way of looking at people and actions will be a common underlying paradigm within this new society. Because of this approach, whenever people become aware that they are attached to a particular strategy, they will then take the time to identify and appreciate the needs that are underlying and associated with that strategy. By doing this, space can then be made for more strategies available to meet the different needs at play.

Giving gifts and sharing

Another foundational assumption for this society would be that all of the work that is done in this world, everything that one contributes to others, is done out of the spirit of giving a gift. When one gives a gift one has no attachment or expectation of receiving anything from anybody in return. One gives a gift simply to do something to contribute to the well-being and happiness of others. All giving will be done in this way.

Along with gift giving, a corresponding assumption would be that of sharing and non-possession. In other words, everything would be “ours”, not “mine” and “yours”. When people’s needs for privacy, respect, acknowledgement, ease of access, reliability, or trust (to name a few needs) comes up, then these needs are identified and spoken to others in the relevant groups, and strategies and agreements can be found to meet these needs. All of this would be done out of a sense of everyone’s needs being important, where everybody’s needs are held in common, where resources are available to all to help meet everyone’s needs.

Coordination and cooperation

We are blessed to live in a world today where modern communications technologies, computers, databases and internet systems make it possible for enormous numbers of people and resources to be both accounted for and moved from place to place. These already-existing systems and structures can be used in this new world that I am describing, in a new way.

Rather than accounting for and moving someone’s “property” with the expectation of “payment” in return, instead resources are moved from place to place according to people’s needs & requests, and where there are people present who are willing & able to work with these resources to meet the needs expressed. In a world of billions of people, this all would require systems of sophisticated coordination & communication, which luckily we already have the capacity for.

Bottom-up forming of agreements

As I said earlier here, the basic social unit within this new society would be the small group, whether it is in the workplaces, the living arrangements, or other activities. When it is found helpful to have common understandings and agreements that include more people than just a small group, then groups can communicate with each-other and work together. Depending on the situation, the needs at play, the resources available, the willingness of the people present, and other factors, groups can form small networks of small groups to meet needs. Or, larger and more formalized federations of small groups can be formed to meet needs in more ongoing and long-term ways. Networks and federations of small groups could be organized heavily relying upon computer and internet technology to facilitate communication, shared understandings and common agreements. Or, small groups could decide upon having mandated delegates from within their groups going out to meet with other small groups, or meetings with other mandated delegates from other groups, to come to common understandings and agreements together.

The key thing here is that all of the decisions and agreements made concerning larger bodies of people stem from the smaller groups of people, and that these groups of folks have within them a solid sense of connection and mutual understanding with each-other. The larger organizational structures that are created to meet needs can be dynamic, and the strategies that exist to meet needs are infinite, so permeating it all is a sense of openness, possibility, and creativity among everyone.

Keeping track

Part of having effective coordination & cooperation, and part of having effective group decisions & agreements, is making sure that everyone is aware of all that is going on. Therefore it would be important for everything to be kept track of, and for the information to be made available to all. Some of the things to be kept track of are: who is needing & requesting what, who is offering what, what resources are available, who is currently using what resources, what agreements are currently in place, what agreements are in the process of being created, as well as stuff like group schedules, timelines, inventories, etc. A total transparency and careful organization of all of this information would be available to everyone to support the smooth functioning of this society.

An invitation

There is a lot more that I can say here, and many more areas of life that could be addressed as well. I welcome your input, feedback, questions and suggestions on anything that I said here. My hope is that the general vision for a needs-based, willingness-based, gift economy-based social structure for the world can grow and expand.