Community and Chaos

We cannot do it alone. However, together we can create an environment that enables us to do just about anything we can imagine. As members of communities of innocence, we come together to spark within one another the creative response to life. We come together to nurture that spark into a flame, and to sustain the flame in the gale force winds howling up from the Void. Our place in a community of innocence enables us to bring forth the best within us in the engagement with chaos and evil.

Joseph Campbell said, “It took the Cyclops to bring out the hero in Ulysses.” Just so, it takes the chaotic disruption of our lives to awaken the creative genius within each of us, a genius that stirs to life in the company of those who know how to provide a space for the miracle of creation.

Life can be overwhelming. Living can take the life right out of us. Yet, in the presence of the right kind of community, we have what we need to find our way to the way that is The Way for us within any context or circumstance of life. One of the 10,000 spiritual laws states, “Anything can look good to those who aren’t clear about what is important. And everything can look hopeless to those who have given up hope—who see no reason to live in the service of hope.”

The right kind of community can remind us of the 10,000 spiritual laws and help us figure out what is important—and help us remember to live in the service of hope “anyway, nevertheless, even so.” A community of the right kind of people is good for emotional and spiritual support, for comfort and encouragement, for caring presence, for listening us through confusion to clarity, balance, sanity, and peace.

Our overall guiding strategy has to be putting ourselves in the position of making the best possible decision about what to do in each situation as it arises. A community of innocence can help us stay grounded in, centered and focused on, that goal.

We have to live to make the best decision possible regarding what to do in each situation as it arises. We do that best when we live in accord with our life, no matter what that might mean for us. Our task is to align ourselves with our life in the time and place of our living, and see where it goes. When we are fighting our life, resisting our life, opposing our life, we are not listening to our life, we are not seeking the gift to be found here and now, in the time and place of our living.

And, here we have to be clear about the two lives we are living. There is the life we live to pay the bills, and there is the life we pay the bills to live. One life is contrary to the other life, and we have to live in accord with both lives! We do this by walking two paths at the same time. And we do that by keeping an eye on the other path while we are walking on this path. What we do to pay the bills often takes the life right out of us. And what we do in the service of life often cannot begin to pay the bills. And so, the contradiction. The cross! In bearing this cross, we die and are raised from the dead again and again. And for this to happen, we have to be conscious of the two lives and bear the pain of their contradictions.

Things have their own rhythm and flow. We are to read the situation, and assist it toward its natural and preferred outcome. In order to do that, we have to stand aside, step back—get out of the way with our preferences, desires, fears, wants, dreads, will and opinion—and see what needs to be done, and what we can do about it. When we do it that way, we open the way to seeing, hearing and understanding—and to living appropriately in response to the moment unfolding before us.

We have to put our agenda away, and simply receive the moment, step naked, so to speak, into the situation as it arises, look around, see what is there, what is happening, what needs to happen, and what is being asked of us—what needs us to do it with our “skill set,” with the gift, talent, art, genius that identifies us as unique and individual, and makes us preeminently prepared to grace this particular situation with exactly what it needs in order to move toward “its natural and preferred outcome.”

When we get out of the way, by having no expectations, no agenda, no plan and no opinions, seeing, hearing and understanding happen automatically, and result in knowing. Knowing spontaneously, naturally, spontaneously becomes doing. Which transforms us and enhances our being. Our situations do this for us when we step into them innocent of all intentions and purposes, receive well what is there, and offer to it what we have to give. All of this works smoothly if we stay out of the way, and don’t try to exploit the situation to our perceived advantage and benefit—but trust the situation to be exactly what we need it to be, in spite of all appearances to the contrary.

Joseph Campbell said, “The hero always gets the adventure he/she is ready for.” And, “Where you stumble and fall, there is the treasure.” The adventure we get is never the one we have in mind. We don’t want the treasure where we stumble and fall, but the treasure up the way, over there, in far and distant lands, with all of the incumbent fortune and glory that we have in mind. In other words, we insert ourselves into the situation, and interfere with the natural unfolding of life there, looking for the way to the particular ending we have in mind. We have no business looking for endings. Our place is to look for what needs us to do it, and do it. We have an idea of how we want our life to be, and the more we operate out of what we think would be good for US, the farther we are from the adventure that is ours.

When we go looking for help with our life, seeking advice from friends, and therapists and self-help books, we are looking for a way to the end we have in mind for ourselves: How to get what we want. Or, we seek ways to avoid what we don’t want. Either way, the help we seek for ourselves is not help with the life that needs us to live it, but help escaping, avoiding, that life and the adventure that is to be had there. We don’t want help living that life. We don’t want that adventure.

And so, Joseph Campbell said, “That which you seek lies far back in the darkest corner of the cave you most do not want to enter.” What does wanting know?

Let’s say our parents divorce when we are 15. We don’t want our parents to divorce. We want our life to be rosy, smooth and easy. The life we would prefer is not always the one that has our name on it. Will we live the adventure that is ours to live? Willingly? Cooperatively? Will we put ourselves in accord with our life, and see what we can do with it? Will we seek the treasure where we stumble and fall?

What does the phrase, “Thy will, not mine, be done,” mean to you? With the “Thy” being the life that is yours to live?

Let’s say a war comes along and sweeps us up into the army, or sweeps all our belongings and possessions away. Or sweeps us into a POW camp, or some variation of a Gulag Archipelago. How do we respond? Do we say Yes! or No! to the adventure at hand?

The adventure we get is always the one we are ready for, and always the one we don’t want anything to do with. We grow up against our will, remember. What will we do? Will we show ourselves to be worthy of adventure? Or, will we pass on it, and wait for one more in keeping with our idea of how such things ought to be? One that does not require us to grow up at all? Will we seek the treasure where we stumble and fall? Where our life goes off the tracks? Where there is nothing but nothing as far as we can see?

When we put ourselves in accord with our life, and seek the treasure where we never thought there would be a treasure, things shift in an imperceptible, yet undeniable, way.

We find doors opening where we didn’t know there would be doors at all. Help that, before, we wouldn’t have recognized as being helpful, comes to our aid. Bill Moyers asked Joseph Campbell (In The Power of Myth), “Don’t you feel sorry for people who have no invisible means of support?” “Invisible support” comes to those who trust themselves to their adventure. But. There is a catch.

The catch is that we cannot exploit the support that comes to us on our adventure, and use it in the service of our personal advantage. There is a divide, a chasm, between our adventure and our advantage. Our adventure is not for our benefit, not for our gain, not for our advantage. We do not benefit in any personal way from the adventure at hand. The Hero serves the community. The individual serves the whole. The boon is for all humankind. And Jesus actually dies on the cross.

The Buddha did not live for the aggrandizement of the Buddha. Jesus did not live for the prestige and renown of being Jesus. Stat sheets and personal records of achievement are meaningless on the journey, on the adventure, that is ours to undertake. Help is available, but not for our personal advancement—only for the work that is ours to do, for the completion of our journey, our adventure, for the sake of a good that is greater than our personal good.

We may find that the help may come to us from outside of us, and it may come from inside of us in the form of dreams and realizations, nudges, hunches. We have to be quiet and perceptive in order to evaluate whether something is helpful or not. It may look good, but is it? Sit with it for a while. The rush to judgment is always a slippery slope. “Time will tell” whether something is helpful or not, so take your time evaluating the value of the help that comes your way. The Shel Silverstein verse is beautifully said and to the point: “Some kind of help is the kind of help that help is all about, and some kind of help is the kind of help we all could do without.”

An AA slogan is exactly  what we need at this point: “Take what you need, and leave the rest behind.”

When we put ourselves in accord with our life, we have an attitude of openness that receives and perceives each situation as it arises, sees what is happening there, what needs to happen, what is being asked of us and decides what to do in response. In order to know what is being asked of us in a situation, we have to be able to view that situation without prejudice, that is, without fear or desire. We have to be free of self-interest on any level in order to evaluate the situation, and determine the appropriate course to take.

This is where the help we need is to be found–in emptying ourselves of everything, even the desire to be empty. The right kind of emptiness, stillness and silence is the source of “a very present help in times of trouble.” The right kind of emptiness, etc., is found in the space between breaths. There is nothing there. No thoughts, no emotions, nothing. Practice being there in stillness and silence, waiting and watching for what occurs to you “out of nowhere,” and see where it leads.

When life goes to hell around us, it is to be at the center point of the normal distribution curve to ask, “What the hell?” and go to hell with it. To ask, “Why try, if this is all the good it does?” and quit. We quit trying. We quit working at our life. We opt for whatever is convenient, “smooth and easy,” and contribute to the madness, by not caring, not noticing, not waiting, not watching–and losing ourselves in a wasteland of addiction/distraction and denial.

It is precisely when life goes to hell around us that we need to stand up, step forward to meet Hell coming at us–and make our best decisions–the first being for emptiness, stillness and silence. We have to exercise our best judgment, and choose our best choices, when life goes to hell around us. That is when it matters most what we do.

At precisely the moment we are most tempted to give up is the moment when we are most needed to get to work in our behalf—in behalf of all that is right and good—and in behalf of all living things. We have to be strong in our own cause—strong in our own behalf—and strong in behalf of life itself, at the moment our cause looks most hopeless, and it seems to all concerned that nothing matters.

Nothing matters more than living like everything is riding on what we do, when it seems as though nothing we do matters.

We have to believe in ourselves and our life—and in life itself—and live as though we do, in each situation, and every circumstance, that arises. Always. No matter what. We step into the situation, and go meet what is coming to meet us. We make our best possible response to it. And do it again in the next in the next situation that comes along, and in all those after that.

We are going to be challenged again and again to forget our life, to give up, to not care, to not try, to quit. This is the Cyclops’ way. And it takes the Cyclops to bring out the hero in each one of us.

The right kind of community reminds us of this, and calls us to square up to the truth of how things are—to reconcile ourselves with the discrepancy between how things are, and how we wish they were. This is the work that grows us up, and brings us forth—the labor pains of our own becoming are brought on by encounters with evil. Evil is the cradle of good. Evil is the servant of good. Good is turning the light around, flipping evil and bringing good to bear upon here/now. It is the struggle to square ourselves with things that ought not be that marks our turn toward the good—the good that we are capable of creating by the way we live in the world. This is soul work, assisted by communities of innocence at all the different stages and places in our lives.

Together, we are good for the things each one of us needs in order to live the life that is ours to live in the world of chaotic encounters. We gather to help one another decide what’s important. We gather to help one another develop our individual sense of who we are and what we are about. We gather to help one another become aware of what is deepest, best, and truest about us as individuals. We gather to remind each other of the importance of living toward the best we can imagine in each situation as it arises, and doing what we love with the gifts that are ours to give. We gather to help one another laugh and cry in the presence of the truth that awakens and sustains us all.

There are two things that are true about truth: Laughter and tears. In the presence of truth, we will laugh or cry. We can gauge the quality and depth of truth by the degree to which we do one or the other. There are things that are true that never bring us to tears or laughter. For instance, the sun is 96 million miles away. Or, the speed of light is 186,000 miles a second. Which is moving, but it doesn’t move us.

The kind of truth that moves us connects us with the Source of Life and Being, and sustains us in the swirling center of chaos. If we can bear the pain of the encounter with chaos, and look into the face of evil, we will see that it is the mechanism by which life is laid bare. Evil reveals what is truly important. Evil is good in that way.

When Adam eats the forbidden fruit, his eyes are opened, and that is not a bad thing. It is the essential thing. Everything hinges on that, flows from it. Spirit, character, heart, and soul depend upon our eyes being opened so that we know what is important. Evil is the slap that wakes us up, brings us to life, and enlists us in the service of what matters—if, and this is where we all come in, if we are surrounded by a community of the right kind of people.

The primary social unit has never been the individual acting alone. We have been tribal from the start, and that has as much to do with our emotional and spiritual needs, as our physical needs. We cannot manage alone. We need one another to have a chance. But it is not just any other who will do. It takes a community of those who know what they are doing to provide what we need to deal with the malevolent intrusions of life. It takes a community well-practiced in the art of survival to save us. In a culture like this one, our best chance at finding that kind of community is to create one.

It starts with three, or five, or seven of us coming together with the purpose of creating a respectful, safe space without answers, willing and able to listen one another to the truth of how things are, and also are—to the truth of what is important, of what is happening, and what needs to be done about it. The community can become too large “like that,” and the “I” becomes lost in the “We,” and the community develops a sense of its own identity and importance, and begins to think about renting, or buying, a place to meet, and putting in parking lots, and a sound system.

Keep it small, with the focus on the individuals and the central theme of finding our own life and living it. In this way, we mold ourselves into the kind of community that saves our souls—not from the eternal fires of hell when we die, but from the turbulent waters of chaos right now. We work to become the kind of place that provides all of us with what we need to take chaos on, and bring order and meaning into the here and now of our life together.

We can create a Community of Innocence by inviting a few like-minded friends to talk about their experience in seeking out the life that is seeking them, and see where it goes. If you happen to be a part of a local Jung Society, you already have the connections in place, and only need to ask two or three friends from that group to join you in talking, not about Jung, but about yourselves and your own experience with living the life that needs you to live it.

The world will be transformed.

Published by jimwdollar

I'm retired, and still finding my way--but now, I don't have to pretend that I know what I'm doing. I retired after 40.5 years as a minister in the Presbyterian Church USA, serving churches in Louisiana, Mississippi and North Carolina. I graduated from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, in Austin, Texas, and Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. My wife, Judy, and I have three daughters and five granddaughters within about twenty minutes from where we live--and are enjoying our retirement as much as we have ever enjoyed anything.

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