Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives. ~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
What is beloved community? I think of it as community where the art and practice of love is woven into a community’s fabric. Is beloved community all peace, love and light? Nope. Beloved community is practicing love, cultivating peace and shedding light. Over and over again. As a way of meeting the fear, anger, shame, sadness, guilt, violence and injustice that are inherent to being human.
Beloved community is an intention and a practice.
Last week, I wrote about the community we cultivated in BUST. The intention was to create a healthy and nurturing community. The daily practice was explicitly rooted in supporting one another to act from and unleash our highest selves. Wise Fool NM, with programs like BUST, seeks to give people the opportunity to experience beloved community – a safe space for risk-taking, for reflection, for play, for struggle, for imaginative leaps, for standing in our power, for standing in our vulnerability.
The idea is for participants to feel cared for, nurtured and attended to – to feel loved and held.
Currently, I’m writing about CWL – Cultivating Women’s Leadership. Last month, I attended a CWL retreat. This retreat involved twenty three women in total, as participants and facilitators (not including the staff of the Ocamora retreat center, who were in daily service to looking after our well-being in a variety of ways). In my experience, CWL is rooted in the intention of creating beloved community. Living together – working and playing – for five days we had the opportunity to practice cultivating beloved community as a group of women, ages twenty four to sixty three.
Daily – momentarily, that is, in each moment – around the world, women are undermining our selves and each other in a variety (often rather imaginative) ways. So many reasons for why we do this. A crucial reason is that in reaction to the oppression we experience collective and individually from toxic cultures and systems, we lash out. It isn’t just women who do this. We all do this – men and women around the world. But I’m here talking about cultivating beloved community among women.
CWL offers up a counter-narrative to women lashing out at each other: women being allies – to our selves and one another.
Ally – The noun means one in helpful association to another (www.freedictionary.com).
In other words, we set the intention of trying to be helpful to one another. I prefer the idea of being in service to one another. These days ‘help’ feels like a loaded worded to me. Because frequently in the name of ‘helping’ others, we are very destructive. But that’s fodder for another blog post.
Not just any kind of service. I’m talking here about being in service to beloved community by specifically setting an intention to be more loving with our selves and other women. What about the men? Yes, well – I’m not excluding them and I don’t encourage anyone to exclude them. At the same time, I’m increasingly thinking about how through the millenia women have had strong circles with each other. I don’t want to romanticize women’s relationships or the past. I do want to place value on strong, healthy women’s circles. These circles symbolize containers for cultivating healthy community through cultivating our relationships with our selves, one another, the planet and spirit.
In industrialized cultures we have lost and devalued women’s circles, our ties with what we call nature (as though nature and human beings are separate), and the importance of tending to the fires.
Fire. Fire is at the center of the earth. Fire harms – certainly. Fire also cleanses and creates clearings. Fire illuminates. Fire warms. Fire nourishes. Fire is magic. Fire is an essential source of life.
This past summer, I’ve come to see how, driven by rage and fear, I was on fire – I’ve been on fire much of my life. I’ve continued fueling this fire that burns and harms. I’m still on fire. Only now, I am the other kind of fire – driven by love, beauty, play. Wanting to be nourishing and nurturing.
Cultivating beloved community, if I may riff on Dr. King’s words, requires that I, you, we put out some fires and ignite others. Cultivating beloved community requires that we re-form strong and healthy women’s circles.
What kind of fires burn within you most of the time? What kinds of fires are fueling the different communities you inhabit? How can you be fuel for the flames that give rise to beloved community? What’s your experience of being in a nurturing circle of women? Where around you do you see circles of women through which nurturing and nourishing flames are being tended and fueled?