The Art of Community Building

I’ve worked as a spiritual teacher since 2010, and I’ve increasingly seen the deep, deep loneliness of Western Society. People have so few meaningful people in their lives.

This reality is crushing humans under isolation and despair.

As a consequence, a lot of people come to the spiritual path and me seeking connection.

Sometimes that connection is a hope for a soulmate. Sometimes it is a hope for a friend. Sometimes it is a misunderstood longing to know/feel God. Sometimes, it is for a spiritual experience that they want to repeat because it felt good.

Some of these things are pointed at me, and for others, they are trying to get a technique which will allow them to find those things.

But what do they really want?

They want to be seen.

They want to be heard.

They want to be held.

They want to know that they have support when they are tired, sick, confused, or weak.

They want community.

The interesting thing about spiritual surrender is that it just accepts what Is.

That’s it.

And human beings are built to have community.

Biologically Designed for Community

History, anthropology, and biology teach us that humans are designed to be communal. People have been living in close-knit groups for most of human existence as far as history tells us, and our bodies have all kinds of touch receptors and biochemical responses to engaging with other humans that support our mental, emotional, and physical health.

But now most of us are not living in the same tight-knight communities anymore.

Instead, modern life drives us towards individuality and isolation. The remote working revolution is taking this a step further. It is the type of thing that will add so much more misery to people’s lives, leaving them in longings that they don’t full understand. All the while society will point them towards more things that don’t fulfill them, such as more work, more substances, more sex, changes in romantic partnerships, changes in living situations, more ideas and information, more adventures and stimulation, and other things.

Sure, some of those things will feel good…for awhile. But when a fundamental way of experiencing life such as being in daily support by a community is absent, those good feelings will evaporate fast.

In seeing all this, I have shifted more of my work to be a community builder.

I build communities, and I teach people to be community builders.

But what is a community?

It’s About Healthy Connection

A community is a group of people committed to communicating and interacting with one another and which have a shared purpose, clear guidelines around interaction, regularity in connection, and other core principles. When these are in place, people feel supported and connected.

Some of the results of healthy community include:

  • Ability to handle misunderstandings and conflicts
  • Ability to invite in and transition out community members
  • Adaptability in handling changing circumstances
  • Ability to uplift and encourage one another and deal with problems and weaknesses, and so many more abilities

The reality is that few people ever see a healthy community. They are, at best, living as a part of groups and crowds.

Groups and Crowds

People are used to groups and crowds.

Groups of people come together around an activity like climbing, basketball, writing, shopping, gaming, and so forth. When the activity is gone, people leave. They have no real purpose or connection to one another. They can’t count on each other for anything else other than doing the shared activity.

Crowds are everywhere. Westerners are drowning in strangers. A crowd at a street fair does not have anything in common other than being in a similar location.

Both groups and crowds fragment easily because there is no commitment to one another. Any misunderstanding can bring conflict and an end of the group.

These days, groups and crowds are what people think community is.

Additionally, many family structures lack a lot of communal agreements, and so they tend to act more like groups and crowds. The people involved have little more than shared DNA and a sense of obligation. When things go poorly, they often devolve into fight (blaming, physical violence, emotional violence), flight (avoiding situations), freeze (hiding from issues/pretending they don’t exist), and faint (checking out through drugs, alcohol, media, sleep, and so forth). Some even fragment entirely, and many families have broken down.

This makes a lot of people feel lonely from day one of their lives.

My Community Building Experience

I’ve actively engaged in building communities since 2019. I have seen the need, and I see the power of it. When people feel supported on the spiritual path or any shared pursuit, they can go further. When they don’t have shared support, they give up on their weight loss goals, meditation practices, start-up companies, romantic relationships, and so many other things where people need support from a larger community.

What are some of the things I’ve learned as a community builder?

To build a healthy community, people must do and feel a number of things. Some of the most critical are:

  • Feel safe
  • Be vulnerable
  • Share honestly
  • Show up regularly
  • Be willing to be messy and work through issues with other community members and be willing to be with the messiness of others.

How do we encourage this as community builders?

We create:

  • Clarity through communally agreed upon purposes
  • Trust through guidelines that communities take ownership of upholding and re-crafting
  • Stability through our regularity in showing up
  • Ways to reconciliation through giving community members ways to atone if they make a mistake (and they will!)
  • Boundaries through upholding the purpose and guidelines to keep the space safe, and more

Building community is a lot of work. But it is also deeply rewarding for all involved. I’ve had people in my spiritual communities for years now, and it has been pivotal in so many people’s lives to date.

If you’re interested in joining one of my facilitated communities, check out this link for next steps.

Groups

If you’re interested in becoming/going further as a community builder, you can sign up for my newsletter and reply to the welcome letter that gets sent.

The Critical Importance of Community

We are in dire need of real connections with one another. Without them, people get more and more desperate and despairing. So please have the courage to reach out to me about joining a community if you want to be a part of one.

If you want to be a community builder, that is hugely important. We need you by the millions, and I am here to support you. I look forward to hearing from you.

In love and kindness,

Jim Tolles