Community building

Home & Exile — Building community one shit-explosion at a time

Ella VanGaya 2 Comments

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” — Rumi

My heart is melting in the Portuguese sun. Liquifying into something pourable, drinkable, maybe even sprayable. But right now, it is only the deep and painful transformation of melting that I feel.

The butterfly is the entelechy of the caterpillar. The cosmic karmic itch that must be scratched. Or rather, must not be scratched, if one isn’t to keep looping on the same tragic story. Instead, watched. Observed, Vipassana-styles, as the sensation builds, threatens to be unbearable, actually becomes unbearable and then when you can stay equanimous observing even that which you previously could experience only as fully impossible, dissolves away into nothingness. Into the space between itches. The calm vibration that invites the next itch to surface.

I am chipping away at a particular inner structure of mine; the one that has me longing for attention precisely from people who don’t give it. You know, those people who hook you in by never taking the initiative, only encouraging you to take it, rewarding you for taking it even, Pavlov-style. Well guess what? I aint yo bitch anymore.

Yeah. That felt good.

It’s not that I have fully integrated whatever shadow in myself scratches at those closed doors. But I have touched the experience of no longer resonating with it. Of it simply being…uninteresting to me. No revenge. No energy spent trying to resist reaching out, again, for some little dollop of sweet, bitter reward. Just a very honest, ‘no thank you’. I’m not at compassion yet, but with any luck, and a good measure of persistence, that’s coming too.

There is a very particular geistig (German word meaning both “mind” and “spirit”) context I’m in that is facilitating this change — the Tamera Peace Research Village in southern Portugal. I have been camping in forty degree heat with my partner and our children – an almost three year old and a four and a half year old. It is a three minute walk, adult-speed, to the nearest compost toilet, and both the kids have the shits. The other day I actually got fully shat on; holding my older son, running to the toilet, him getting increasingly panicked that we weren’t getting there fast enough until finally he’s yelling “Mommy I’m pooing now, I can’t hold it”. Liquid shit dripping through both of our clothes, him looking to me for his emotional orientation on this experience, and for me, the moment became a certain catalyst towards freedom. After weeks of literally feeling like I was getting shat on by a few too many people in my life, it was finally happening in this fully undeniable way. Not the intangible social power games that I’d been increasingly disoriented by. This was simply hot, organic shit. The metaphor was so on point that there was no missing the cosmic humour. Because the only thing that can make getting shit on worse than it already is, is also getting your knickers in a knot over it. And this is how the laughter came. Wave after wave of healing belly laughter. At first my son wasn’t sure what to make of the laughing, but soon enough we were stepping into the shower, fully clothed, our snorts and giggles feeding off each other as we let it all go down the drain, one smelly chunk at a time.

This might sound like a very personal story about someone’s kid, but I’m actually writing from a deeply political place. ‘The personal is political’ is not just a feminist slogan. It is fully the bedrock of societal organization. The personal becomes the interpersonal becomes the socio-cultural becomes our political-historical reality, and all the way back again. And so it is, this small collection of moments — and especially our reactions to them — that not only adds up to our personal lived experience, but also determines the quality of humanity’s collective field. Whether we create an ethos of peace, or the horrors of war. Whether we are personally fulfilled, and live an inner life full of light and happiness, or whether we crust into misery and brokenness, spreading that darkness everywhere we go. If I can remind myself, precisely in those moments when I want to succumb to oceanic despair or even vitriolic rage, that my inner world creates my outer reality, this can give me a new kind of power. The power to choose wisely, to reach for the thoughts and feelings of my higher self, to pull myself up to a new vibrational vista, and just sometimes, even watch the pain body that is trying to act through me with compassion and acceptance.


This is the work. This is what I mean when I use the words ‘community building’ or ‘peace culture’. Being willing to do the deep inner work of shifting the structures of war within me. The structures that, if not accessed and seen and transformed, fuel the interpersonal wars that inevitably come as part of really engaging with others over time. The structures that, in combination with “power over”, become our social wars, our political wars, our global wars. This is the practical meaning of Gandhi’s famous line, “be the change you want to see in the world”. Find the war in you and transform it. So long as we keep thinking there is an ‘other’, that violence or judgement or dishonesty are things that live only outside of us, healing can only be superficial and insular. It cannot become global and universal. And our beautiful planet urgently needs global, universal healing.

Global, universal healing is the aggregate of individual healing, and it is a process that gets exponentially more potent when we join together with others towards this goal. At the moment, I am staring down the blown-wide-open contents of one of my deepest wounds — exile. Everywhere I turn, I can only experience myself as an outsider. The archetype of the black sheep. I am masterfully recreating the truth of this in many relationships, both one-on-one and as an individual in relation to the group. Key people from the group I’ve been doing community building work with have publicly stated that they want no affiliation with me. Many others witnessing the process have remained complicit, only willing to privately tell me they are shocked and saddened, but not taking public steps towards transparency and healing. My lover of the last year has also chosen this potent moment to become suddenly, inexplicably silent. I have apologized for the harsh words I contributed to this situation. I have standing invitations for conversations or other steps towards healing, but so far, these have all been left hanging.

And this becomes my moment of truth. Can I walk the talk? Can I step out of the cycle of externalizing responsibility? The impulse to blame, feel outrage, play the victim, or simply crumble into the sheer torment of it, is tremendous. My ability to reinforce the “truth” of the story I’m carrying, via selective perception and convincing narration, is so good it’s almost ridiculous. Look what they did. Look what he did. Where does that get me? Stuck in helplessness and grief, typically.

So instead, I aim to watch their efforts towards community building and find an ability to truly celebrate, that a new communitarian culture is taking it’s first fumbling steps towards realization. Trust that the values of transparency and inclusion will also apply to me, with the right people at the right time. But beyond that, trust that the archetypes of both the outcast and the powerful leader, who will inevitably misuse their power as long as we don’t create new social mechanisms to shift this, lives within us all. Know that resolution can come only when transformation includes both inner and outer structures. Find real joy, that I have found this opportunity to see an inner structure of mine that would forever wreak subconscious havoc on my efforts to build community. Invite collaboration with those who are willing to keep showing up.

Yes, the seed of this dark blossom within me is old, but the current flower is giving off a delicate new scent. It is an intoxicating smell and it transports me to another level of understanding. Because… peace work! When I zoom out, think about the bigger, global picture, it is abundantly clear that this is such a tiny first world problem. Some people don’t like me. Or maybe, some people don’t like me right now. No one has killed or raped anyone, and no one has lost their home or country or family. Everyone has their basic needs met. And beyond that, the particular people involved all share a vision for a culture of peace! For creating a Healing Biotope in British Columbia. Any divergence comes way after much shared culture, language and vision.

So, in the face of the inevitable interpersonal ups and downs that come with human relating, what does it mean to create a culture of peace? The bliss of connection is one thing when you are smiling into the shining, receptive face of a beloved, but what does peace work look like when someone is being aggressive towards you? And beyond that, to what most of us will never admit, what is it when we are the ones being aggressive? Or beyond still, when we are the ones manifesting our own victim structures?

I would suggest that in the former it looks like basic physical protection promptly followed by shifting the focus inside as a way to discover what structure in oneself is in resonance with the violence that is arriving. This is not about victim-blaming; it is about growing one’s own power for peace through geistig insight and non-violence. And for the latter two, I would suggest that it is humility and an active willingness to change. On all the paths though, maintaining connection is key. Lasting separation after the moment of conflict does not support the kind of transformation that can become healing. The wound will simply call in another participant to fulfill the archetype and the cycle will continue. There are plenty of people who can help us access our wounding (i.e. trigger us), but what is really needed is those who are willing and able to stay connected enough — both to each other and to a higher purpose — that healing becomes possible.

In his most recent book Terra Nova: Global Revolution and the Healing of Love, one of the founders of Tamera Dieter Duhm writes “In order to end the spiral of violence we need to find an inner power that enables us to not retaliate against injustices we have suffered…” Those of us who are systemically privileged at this point in history, because of where we were born, the colour of our skin, the class of our families etc., are faced with a momentous invitation — to use our privilege towards developing our power of peace, and to extend that into our lives and communities and societies and countries, indeed globally, in a meaningful way. Will you remember to think of this the next time you are triggered? Perhaps you can try to find in it the inspiration to act towards a greater cause. Repression is not the answer. Lashing out is not the answer. Oscillating between the two (my personal favourite, apparently), is definitely not the answer. Finding new ways to fully express our human experience in non-violent ways; this is the key. Dieter Duhm also says that “peace” and “healing” mean almost the same thing. The description for the “Healing” card from the Zen Osho Tarot deck couldn’t put it better:

“You carry your wound. With the ego, your whole being is a wound. And you carry it around.

Nobody is interested in hurting you, nobody is positively wanting to hurt you; everybody is engaged in safeguarding his own wound. Who has got the energy? But still it happens, because you are so ready to be wounded, so ready, just waiting on the bring for anything.

You cannot touch a man of Tao.

Why?–because there is no one to be touched. There is no wound. He is healthy, healed, whole. This word whole is beautiful. The word heal comes from the whole, and the word holy also comes from the whole. He is whole, healed, holy.

Be aware of your wound. Don’t help it to grow, let it be healed; and it will be healed only when you move to the roots. The less the head, the more the wound will heal; with no head there is no wound. Live a headless life. Move as a total being, and accept things.

Just for twenty-four hours, try it–total acceptance, whatsoever happens. Someone insults you accept it; don’t react, and see what happens. Suddenly you will feel an energy flowing in you that you have not felt before.”

Osho nails it again.

I am taking this as my new energetic compass, and as an invitation from Life itself — to discover the beautiful latent potential in every moment. Mystery, adventure, curiosity, research. These are the qualities to reach for everywhere we are accustomed to blaming. In every way – historically, culturally, socially – it’s urgently the time to put our shit to work. Find in it the raw material with which to grow something entirely new. Recognize themes of alienation, mistrust and subjugation, and many more, as human experiences that we have all felt. Consider the perspective that all wounding is shared wounding, that trauma is collective, historical and inherited, and as such it requires collective healing. Find compassion for the tragic state that humanity is in, and include yourself in that compassion. Because, what if…

What if there truly is no “other”?

What if there is no escape, no exile, no true separating from that which we do not like?

What if there is only connection and transformation?

What if enlightenment is a group activity?

What if we are always, inalienably, Home?

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