How We’re Re-Thinking Spiritual Community - To Navigate These Crisis and for Our Collective LiberationApr 19, 2022
Community is an inherently fraught idea in the U.S. How could it not be? In many ways our nation was founded as a series of community ruptures.
Our history is one of enclosures, wars and inquisitions that drove settlers from Europe to cross the Atlantic, then the genocide and land theft of Indigenous cultures that carved out a ill-gotten space for those settlers and the genocide and enslavement of Africans that built the wealth and infrastructure on which our communities now exist.
Building community by rupture is what “America” is.
In this time of cascading crisis, many of us find ourselves now seeking to find community during rupture.
Yet if we are honest, most of us don’t really know how to do this. This is in part because we have all been inundated with the settler-colonial idea that communities must be built on blank slates where the problem that we are fleeing does not not exist.
In other words, we are conditioned to think that you must carve out a space without racism, sexism and xenophobia and build a community there. Yet this is settler-colonialism's great lie: we bring the contradictions of the society we leave with us.
At the WildSeed Society, we see community as a portal making space. We define community as a group of people with such important or valuable interrelationships that it is easier to have the difficult conversations than walk away. It's a space where we agree to labor together to root out domination from our praxis and replace it with more liberatory ways of meeting our needs.
In this sense, community is where we fight to get at it, or as Afro-descendant people often say “where we go to get The Thing.”
In many ways, The Thing is whatever we lack at the moment or want more of. People who have experienced oppression might understand it easiest in the most negative sense. The Thing is both whatever the dominant perceive we lack (or more often fabricate us lacking) to justify our needs being chronically unmet as well as the thing that would actually meet our needs.
Sometimes it's something like culture, in the sense that we are denied what we need because we are supposedly “uncultured”, while a culture of universal care is actually what we need.
Sometimes it's something like power. Under capitalism it's often something very much like money.
Fundamentally The Thing is the key to access mutual recognition and the freedom to chart our path with others.
The Thing is always ineffable, like the particular type of loving-nurturance we receive from our beloved aunties or the satisfaction we feel in our bones when we meet the needs of community through something we built ourselves. Even when we must put words to it in our demands for equity, representation, voice or justice, it’s always something a little bit greater than can be said.
Capitalism is very good at getting people things, but horrendous at getting people The Thing. Over time, we become conditioned to conflate these two.
We forget that we wanted something like money, so that we could resource our community to follow its own destiny. Now we give up real community for the sake of money.
Capitalism tells us, “Who needs community when you can pay for services? Who needs friends when you can have therapists, coaches and task-rabbits?”
So we have hundreds of friends on Facebook and a multi-billion dollar healthcare industry, but no one to call when we really need care.
No one to sit with us in the waiting room, no one to remind us that it's not our fault, and no one to say they're proud of all the work we are doing to get well.
Why We Need A New Model For Spiritual Community
We have reached a point where even our spirituality has become about getting things and instead of getting at The Thing.
Spiritual gurus teach us how to manifest new things at best or feel better about what is at worst. Perhaps the most egregious example of this prosperity gospel peedled by megachurches that look more like private businesses than spiritual communities.
As our comrade Reece Chenault once said “it's hard to organize Americans in America without dealing with American problems.” That is to say, we shouldn’t be too surprised that spiritual communities in the U.S suffer from the contradictions inherent in American empire. Just as empire solves its problems by distributing loot, so too does American spirituality become all about getting more things.
Here again we see the three crisis of social reproduction, belonging and unacknowledged history.
Crisis of Social Reproduction
First there is the unfortunate truth that the modern internet culture has conditioned us to want everything to be free. We expect news, entertainment and non-credentialed educational material to be free.
Yet this mostly builds pressure for companies to exploit us in other ways. Usually it is data that they harvest from your cookies and sell to marketing companies to make it easier to cultivate a sense of lack within you that can then manipulate to sell you things.
Instead of working to make a better product at a fair price, companies put money into marketing who you will be if you buy their product. Thus, we reinforce the myth that we are humans-doing in order to get more things instead of humans-being in order to get The Thing.
The rise of spiritual influencers follows much the same pattern. They sell you a sense of belonging in their brand. They work to cultivate a small group of people who will buy another course or retreat whenever the influencer needs more cash. Eventually, no matter what the original intention of the spiritual teacher, the work becomes a grift instead of a calling.
Yet a brand isn’t a community. A brand group won’t be there when your grandmother dies. An Instagram page won’t help you find a new job or sit with you in a waiting room. Oftentimes, spiritual influencers can only cultivate a one way experience that, while informative, doesn’t support you to integrate its teachings into your daily life.
Crisis of Belonging
Unfortunately, those communities who stick to tried and true community based spiritual practices are struggling too. In large cities like New York, many legacy churches don’t even have a full time pastor. Many more each year often lack the community basis to stay viable and get swallowed up by mega churches. This is partly because our brand and packaging obsessed culture has led many of us to expect a level of production that only a mega church can afford.
More fundamentally it's a symptom of a much larger trend in western society, the shift from local communities to consuming masses. We now live in a mass based consumer society. Instead of a communal society where we offer our unique gifts to the good of the community and the community in turn nurtures our unique genius, a mass consumer society is a group of largely unthinking bodies moving in whatever direction it gets pointed in.
In community–at least in healthy, consent-based community– we are individualization of a collective experience; an autonomous agent responding to and changing overall social conditions. While mass democracy is possible in theory, in a capitalist mass we are reduced to anonymous agents going from one curated experience to another.
In such a culture, more and more effort gets put into professional presentation rather than actual spiritual content.
Crisis of Unacknowledged History
Finally, some of us might also avoid these traditional spiritual spaces because we feel like they don’t accept us. It might be more accurate to say they avoid us because of the truth we represent. We know all to well that even some of the most rooted of these traditional spiritual communities have been, at times, patriarchal, queerphobic, racist and classist. For those coming from Christian backgrounds, our traditional religious spaces might have been infused with a subtle white-male-Christian nationalism at odds with our fundamental beliefs.
The young, dark-skinned, whooly haired Jewish radical who hung out with sex workers, bandits and occasionally over turned bankers’ tables is almost completely absent from modern mainstream North American Christianity.
Yet Christianity is not the only religion being twisted by the contradictions empire. American Buddhism has been stripped of much of its cultural roots and radical cosmology in order to sell “mindful capitalism” and individualist paths to liberation. In fact, at this point this isn’t a single religion in North America that hasn’t been used to justify empire rather than subvert it.
We have seen religious institutions on the front line of support for the rise on fascism in recent years. Even the fringe spirituality groups that come out of the new age religion movements of the 60’s are marching closer to QAnon-based reactionary positions.
Even progressive spiritual communities seek to temper their critique of a society clearly based on inequity and the constant threat of violence lest they seem too “divisive.” Yet, it is the systems that organize society that divide us, not our critique of them. Spirituality is uniquely suited to both critique structures while uniting us all in the shared destiny of a more humane, compassionate and co-created alternative world.
Why Social Movements Are An Imperfect Alternative
Thus a lot of us seek solace, belonging and meaning in social movements instead. Yet social movements, by their very nature, are not well suited for building the long term, stable community of care that healing and spiritual transformations generally require.
Not to mention, they’re generally organized around traumatic confrontations, polarizing wedge issues and a fighting orientation - not the best conditions for contemplation and introspection. These same trends make them hard spaces to build a healing community in.
The sad truth is that historically, movements don’t love organizers back. Social movements Social Movements are vital tools for fundamentally changing society but while they are essential tools for our tool boxes they are not sufficient on their own.
Unsurprisingly, we try to supplement our movement work with retreats. Yet, as amazing as these peak experiences are, they are often hard to translate into our everyday lives. Everyone feels closer to enlightenment when they don’t have to cook, clean or work. Those eye opening experiences may be useful to give us a somatic sense that another way of living is possible, but they aren’t transformative in and of themselves.
Eventually we have to go back into the world as it is, with people who were not just on retreat. This is where spiritual community is invaluable and often missing.
What We Need from a Spiritual Community
In this time of crisis, we need a spirituality that is simultaneously a wisdom tradition - a path towards wholeness and a collective journey to end suffering. That means our spiritual community has to be place of collective meaning-making, healing and trauma stewardship as well as a place for building the social conditions for joy and dignity for everyone.
We often need an aligned community to support our integration of the truths we witness while on retreat, after ritual or during deep study. Just as importantly, we need people who can witness our growth and narrate our transformation when we feel we are going in circles. We need people who can call us higher and remind us of the tools we are learning when we get triggered or stumble into rupture.
No such community is ever going to be a good business model. The ineffable will never be profitable, no matter what the experience industry tries to tell us. While you can pay $2,000 for a truly eye opening experience, transformation is a process that takes time. Actual transformation occurs when that other way of living becomes just the way we live now.
Despite the peak experiences that we tend to remember most, transformation is a communal, iterative process of change. True spiritual transformation also conditions you to operate against the grain of capitalism. Thus, in a world organized around the tenets of empire, real spiritual community should make you less adapted to the world as it is.
For all these reasons we need to re-think spiritual community. In addition to peak experiences, we need to ask ourselves what regular spiritual experiences do we need to aid our transformation into the people we want to be. How to we want to held by community and connected to something greater than ourselves? How can we build a community that is greater than the sum of its parts?
Once we have a sense of the kind of community that could support our liberation, we need to ask what we are willing to do to support it. For the unavoidable reality is that building and maintaining a spiritual community against the grain of empire from within will cost money.
What WildSeed Society Is Hoping To Prototype
Because of this, the WildSeed Society is attempting to prototype a new kind of spiritual community. We seek a spiritual community at the intersection of movements for spiritual liberation, social transformation and economic revolution. This means that our spirituality should be as democratic as our politics, it should be rooted in liberation and emancipation and it should feed us spiritually, socially and physically.
So for us, the spiritual community of the future is one in which we agree to have the hard conversations about money, class, trauma, race and gender. So that we can work to understand and subvert the systems that create those interdependent social constructs.
We believe that a liberated community must also be leaderful and self-organizing. We want peak experiences led by teachers who are connected to lineage and peak experiences that are built collectively by peers. We want spaces where no one is an authority on absolute truth and we c0-create relative meaning and truth together. We want communities of practice where our comrades are supported to co-create and live into the WildSeed Way and communities of joy and rest where we can just be together.
Yet, as veterans of supposedly “democratic” spaces where meetings became battles of attrition and “networks” that became cover for small power hoarding cliques…let’s just say we have thoughts and feels.
If we are honest, this vision both animates and terrifies us.
We have experienced massive ruptures in the communities we have been a part of. We felt the impact – and in some cases have had to live with the trauma – of those who power in community spaces who have not worked through their internalized dominance. If we are honest, we have also used power unskillfully in ways that have caused harm and been equally unskillful in addressing that harm.
We have been put on unwanted pedestals as leaders that allowed others to project all the harm the world has rendered on them onto us. Our experience in the labor movement and the movement for Black lives has made us viscerally suspicious of both central authority and claims to democratic decentralization. We have been burnt out and burned trying to make democracy work.
Yet we have also seen the harm that comes when we refuse the responsibility of governance over our own lives and communities. We have seen this current world order’s absolute inability to govern effectively or justly. We have seen first hand how relying solely on wealthy donors or funders can subtly shape the world into something unrecognizable. We know the kind of spiritual community we need will have to be funded by the people who are actually a part of it.
We know, deep in the marrow of our bones, that no one can liberate us but us.
As a collective of people of color, we also know that communities of care and consent are possible because we have experienced them. We have all had moments of beloved community that give us strength to confront empire.
As the stewarding team of WildSeed Society, the Sacred Warren also believes that no privileged enclave of woke spiritual influences is capable of surviving the current collapse let alone building a future where we all get free.
We know that we don’t have the answers, we are only vaguely sure we have the relevant questions!
We know that the liberated future we want is too complicated to design even by people as dope and fly as us! It can only emerge from the thousands of daily actions of a community living into its highest good.
We also know that none of our work is possible or sustainable without community. WildSeed Society is what it is because people like you are supporting us, coming to our events, learning with us, asking us questions that spur our growth and allowing us refuge for ourselves by offering it to you.
Thus, after months of rest, discernment and iterative planning, we are recognizing the call for our team to step into deeper, more intentional community stewardship.
Community Discernment Process
To this end, we plan to host a Community Discernment Process, which is a series of 5 open formation conversations. The first three will be an opportunity for people to understand who the Sacred Warren is and what we are about, as stewarding team of the WildSeed Society. The last two sessions will be focused discussing with you what kind of community do we need and what kind of offerings can this emerging community support.
The schedule for the Community Discernment Process is:
- Session 1 (May 5th): Who are we? (RSVP here)
- Session 2 (May 17th): What do we believe? (RSVP Here)
- Session 3 (May 26th): How do we turn our jam into an infinite game? (RSVP Here)
- Session 4 (June 2nd) : What do we think our existing communities need? (RSVP Here)
- Session 5 (June 7th): What offerings does our emerging WildSeed community have the capacity to support? (RSVP Here)
These conversations are an invitation to you, our fellow travelers who are interested in being in community with us, to faithfully witness, lovingly question and compassionately challenge us as we work toward alignment around key questions.
We hope to dive into who we are, what we believe, and how we put these beliefs into practice. Our goal is to co-create a temporary container with you all to support our discernment around how to structure our offerings within the Liberating Retreat, which we hope to be an ongoing container for much of our future work.
We believe that all truly vocational work exists at the intersection of what makes our spirit sing, what we are uniquely good at, what our community needs and what our community has the capacity to sustain.
Thus we are excited to open our process to our potential community, to hear what makes our spirit sing and we are uniquely positioned to do.
We hope you will join us.
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