There’s within each of us a deep desire to be in community. It’s easy to find generic community: Warm bodies filling space who can make life’s journey a little less lonely. But finding deep community, now that is an entirely different story.
I have an image of community that keeps calling to me. Picture a group of people standing around the natural pool created by a small spring as it bubbles out of the ground. Those surrounding the spring are standing shoulder to shoulder around the perimeter of the pool, it’s small enough that you can see the people clearly on the other side but at the same time it’s large enough that you can’t quite be sure how deep it is if you found yourself in the center of it. It’s a hot day and the water looks cool, crisp, and refreshing, but it’s not clear enough that you can see bottom which gives everyone around the shoreline a sense of uneasiness and mystery all at once.
The pool represents deep community and the authentic self that I talked about in my last post. Everyone standing around the pool is gazing into its reflection and feeling scorching sun on this hot day, just longing to take a step into the pool. The pool beckons everyone around it to enter. They feel its refreshing waters occasionally splash gently against their naked toes. Everyone on the shore longs silently, “oh to enter it’s refreshing waters!” Yet no one moves towards it. Fearing the judgment they would receive from the community on the shoreline if they did. But still, everyone longs.
Eventually you’ve had enough, you can’t keep up the charade. You are parched and overheated living on the dry ground. You just want to wade out. So you do. You wade out a little ways, immediately you see the shock on everyone’s faces that someone has entered the pool. It’s hot as hell but the water is cool and refreshing. The judging looks make you feel uneasy, but it feels so revitalizing so you carry on further into the waters. It feels amazing! Everyone wishes they had your courage to venture out. But they stay put, standing silently on the dry ground.
Inspired by your journey out into the depths a few others begin to outstretch their legs to test the water with the tip of their big toe. You see a joyful smile come across their faces as they do. But just then someone yells to you out in the water, “You’re too far out! What the hell are you doing! It’s not safe out there! You’re a damn fool!” Quickly those testing the water retract their toes from the rejuvenating spring for fear of looking foolish. But you continue on.
Eventually someone else decides to follow in your wake. Step by step, splash by splash. Disregarding any judgmental glances or shouts they receive. Until they join you far from the shore in water that reaches half way up your chests. The deeper water is a little cooler, a little shocking, but you love it because it reminds you are truly alive. The sensations are miraculous. Both of you share a knowing glance as you think, “Why did we wait so long to venture away from the land?”
You call to your compadres on shore. “You guys! Come on out, the water’s amazing. You have to come in here.” Some just shake their heads and stare at you with judgmental eyes, others display conflicted grimaces, as they long to join you in the depths but are scared to death of what their friends surrounding the pool would think. So they stay put. You wish you could just carry them into the waters drop them in and baptize them in its cool rejuvenation. But you can’t, the decision to enter its waters is theirs and theirs alone.
It’s not easy to stay out in the water once you’re there, sometimes you long for the shore and the large “community” of people that it promises. But at the same time now that you are out in the depths with your companion, you can’t imagine any other way of living. You know deep in your being that the shore is ultimately unsatisfying.
Sometimes your companion leaves and you find yourself truly alone in the mystical waters, but you know you can never return to a life on the shore. You have chosen the ‘red pill’ over the ‘blue pill’ and there is no turning back unless by some magic you were able to forget the way the water felt on your skin. Because if you remembered you know you would just return to its comfort once again. But it’s impossible to forget the sensation and even if you could would you really want to?
That is a little metaphor about my experiences with superficial community and deeper forms of community. I hope something in the metaphor resonates with you and calls to you. I’ll meet you out in the deeper waters once again next week.