By Terence Stone
Reconciling the self-involved being with the social animal
Being human is a self-centered existence. Each of us is the protagonist of our own story. We live for ourselves; for our own happiness, health, peace of mind. And yet, we are social creatures.
None of the things we build or acquire or achieve for ourselves means anything if there is no one there to see it, use it, revel at it, hate it. We want to feel needed, desired, useful to others because it gives meaning to our own existence. Many of us live in this constant state of symbiosis. It is a dynamic that has the potential for incredible beauty and extreme despair.
So how do we reconcile our inherent self-centered nature with our inherent need for social connection in a beneficial and meaningful way? I believe the answer is community. I’ll go farther, and say, conscious community.
The community of spirit
There is a reason the Buddha said that being with others was the whole of the spiritual life. There is a reason that Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” There is a reason that Rumi said, “There is a community of the spirit. Join it, and feel the delight of walking in the noisy street and being the noise.”
There is a reason that countless teachers, artists, poets across the ages have contemplated and expounded upon the importance of being with others. And they weren’t simply speaking about social gatherings wherein I tell you how great I am, you tell me how great you are, and we both have a drink.
The path to reconciling our egoic existence with our need for the company of others is by embracing both aspects in a conscious manner. Becoming part of a conscious community addresses both issues.
A road to humility
Until fairly recently (the last year or so), I was the type of person who didn’t see any great need to commune with others in terms of my inner life. I figured, I had my own spiritual practice, my own group of friends, my family, and I didn’t need anyone or anything else. Yet, there was arrogance and close-mindedness there.
I had a solid handle on all of those things. That was how I defined myself and gave my life meaning. That was all about me. I was steeped in identification with my self-centered existence. Even though I was interacting with others occasionally, it was not done consciously and with a sense that there might be greater reason to do so other than that it validated my existence.
As I delved deeper into my spiritual/introspective practice, I began to feel a true desire for the guidance that a community of like-minded individuals might offer. Shortly thereafter, I joined the Sangha at New York Insight. I try to go once a week, if not bi-weekly at the very least, and the benefits have been palpable.
It is a safe place that nurtures reverence and respect for each individual experience. We meditate together, and share our experiences with each other in an intensely conscious manner. The self-centered being and the social animal within each of us are both acknowledged and become one. We learn from each other and grow as individuals together.
Outside of these meetings, this sense of reverence and conscious interaction has begun to permeate all aspects of my life. My relationships with my friends and family continue to grow richer, and teach me so much about myself. It keeps me humble and grateful. Of course, I still have my moments, but that is the journey.
I would argue that the need for conscious community is even more important for those living in large cities where people can often feel so desolate and alone in the midst of so many others. Furthermore, cities are great places to join and form such communities because there are so many people. We simply need to make the decision to connect.
Whether it’s a church parish, a Sangha, community theater, a class, a choir, you name it, put some serious thought into it. Find something that you enjoy, and something that will both teach and humble you. Go in with an open mind and heart, and connect with others in a non-judgmental, loving way.
Wishing you a wealth of love and connection.
Chief Editor and Founder of Urban Spiritual, I’m a classically trained singer and actor living in New York City, who has performed in the U.S. and Europe. I’m also a writer, traveller, meditator, arts-lover, and well-being enthusiast.