Against Community

by | Dec 14, 2015 | Featured, Living in Community, Uncategorized | 0 comments

I think I might be done with community. No, I don’t mean that I’m leaving the Mesa Life Project, but the word and image and idea of community that haunts and compels me may really be, after all, the wrong quarry. It may be that this ideal—cunning and elusive as any trickster— may simply have lured me, whispers of sweet nothings and social transformation alike, onto this pathless path. To what ultimate ends, I’m sometimes not so sure.

After all these years of toiling to create a different way of life, I wonder if I should give up community-building. At the least, I’m questioning my incessant, intractable goal-directedness. Even more, I think I’m puzzling over just what right relationship with this enterprise might really look like.

Maybe it’s time, I’m slowly being convinced, to loosen my grip, to let go of my panicked attachment to what may really be a bedazzling abstraction. Deep down, I think I may be giving up an engrained, encultured way of making things happens. Time, perhaps, to surrender my too-masculine, my manic willfulness.

I will continue to use the word community because in certain circumstances it has, of course, a certain utility. But I’m increasingly imagining that this project is less about drivenness, than it is devotion. Devotion, for me, to Gary and Deanna, to Lenna, Jennie, Heidi and Kathy, to Paige. Devotion to the land and all its guises. Devotion to whoever appears, whoever participates, whoever connects with us on this inscrutable journey.

And therein, of course, lies the proverbial rub. Or rug burn. Or ego-maiming, blood-draining terror. Submit to my essential embeddedness with all these foreign and infuriating Others? The horror, the horror!

Unlike “community,” however, Paige and Kathy, Heidi, Jennie and Lenna, Gary and Deanna are not abstract. Nor or the deer, the elk, the hawks and the headwinds. Ditto Spring Creek, juniper, sage, the blue heavens above and the stony earth below. I cannot love an abstraction, but I can love all of them.

If it is fair to say that the Mesa Life Project is really, then, less about “community” and more about relationship, then I’ve signed up for a lifetime of failure and disappointment. (Did I mention terror?) But like some kind of smoldering subtext, it’s also true that my rabidly self-infatuated bumping and crashing into others seems slowly to be yielding to something… more connected. Something more cohesive, more stable, more welcoming and encompassing.

What else to conclude, then, that miracles and wonder abound? While I can better see the cramps, kinks, and knotted self-contractions that damper and flatten my heart, I also see, at least a bit more plainly, the chimera of a too-mental ego-idealism. I feel a dumb but enlivening, an earthy warmth for my fellows. If this project can manage to guide even me on the perilous journey from mind to heart, then clearly a precious potency resides here somewhere. Maybe it’s in the water; the winds; the silent mountain Herself.  Maybe it’s in the enduring fire we come back to month after month. Actually, I know it’s there. And in a million other places besides.

Chris Schlake

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