What actually happens during the community building process?
Sometimes I think community building is a kind of detox programme for human behaviour. Inch by inch, a group lets go of its normal socialisation and jettisons everything that isn't genuine. The group doesn't have to be steered in this direction. Instead, it is gently led back to feelings that we have become accustomed to ignoring in our everyday behaviour. It is liberating not to have to put on an act just so we can conform with social conventions. We can concentrate on what's there, in the moment, without being distracted by any "thou shalts" or "thou musts". This way, a group can quickly run through the four phases and achieve greater depth and authenticity. The process is guided by the participants' willingness to open themselves up and face whatever comes their way. Everyone decides how much he or she wants to take on.
At the same time as M. Scott Peck (A New World Waiting to Be Born), David Bohm, one of the most important followers of Krishnamurti, the great spiritual teacher, developed a very similar framework that he called "dialogue", which he described in his book On Dialogue. He said that we human beings have to relearn something that we knew all about a million years ago but have lost over the past 5,000 years: being together in a group in an authentic way. Tribal peoples would probably shake their heads if they could see how we usually communicate within a group today. The point is to learn again how to be together - on the verbal level - in a profound and nurturing way, in an atmosphere where the intellect does not dominate and where feelings aren't shoved under the table. David Bohm used the term "sociotherapy". This is not individual therapy but instead a therapeutic approach that makes us aware of socialisation and conditioning patterns. However, it isn't really about therapy in the end. As they say: healing works best where no therapy or healing is attempted.
The four-level personality model is currently being taught in many places. It was first developed by Wilhelm Reich and consists of the exterior adaptive layer, defensive feelings (hatred, defiance, envy, desire), resisted feelings (mourning, pain, hopelessness, loneliness, being misunderstood) and the inner core: the self. This model dovetails with the four phases of community building (pseudo, chaos, emptiness and authenticity), since these different levels and/or phases are directly connected. Adaptation corresponds to pseudo, chaos corresponds to resistance, the phase of emptiness or emptying corresponds to vulnerability - the feelings that surface when resistance is penetrated or eliminated, such as pain, mourning, loneliness etc. The self - the core - can be equated with authenticity.
The point of the personal growth process is to work through these different layers in an effort to establish genuine contact with one's own inner emotional world and then to live authentically. Of course there are situations where it is appropriate to react on the pseudo and adaptation level, but normally the key thing is to be genuinely open to others, to remain vulnerable (the third or fourth phase/layer) and not to react defensively even when attacked. As long as one can manage to maintain this state of vulnerability or authenticity, the energy flow will stay open and one will connect with life and oneself. In M. Scott Peck's community building process (and in any other good seminar or group process, whether verbal or non-verbal) the members traverse these different layers and/or phases, both as a group and as individuals. The group supports individuals as they penetrate deeper into this "onion" than they ever could have done under their own power. This process occurs in a relatively conscious way during community building, i.e. people have the opportunity to study and experience themselves and their behaviour as they go through each different layer. This is the general advantage of verbal processes over non-verbal ones. At the same time, language threatens to intellectualise the process and deflect us from our feelings. That is why M. Scott Peck's community building process is so useful. It is largely concerned with the way we try to escape from our feelings by using language. Since this task cannot be assumed by the leader, everything depends on the members themselves. This way, everybody learns when to intervene when the process becomes too top-heavy or boring.
The chaos phase largely revolves around criticism. Mutual feedback is very important for personality development. It gives us the opportunity to stop repressing our feelings and to examine blind spots. In the community building process we can explore when it is right to criticise others or when criticism merely represents an attempt to distract ourselves from our own issues, to feel superior to others and project our own issues onto others. In community building we say that the point is not to treat, convince or heal others. But this is precisely what ends up happening in the chaos phase. As long as the group sticks with it, though, i.e. as long as it does not fall apart because of the resulting tensions and conflicts, it can enter the deeper phase of emptiness and vulnerability. When we are on this level we only criticise others based on our own feelings, or else we ourselves have a big problem that we can no longer solve on our own and we depend on corrections from the others. When we feel hurt, we don't just strike back but verbalise our own feelings of pain and thus provide a kind of feedback. This can be received by the others in very different ways. It is much easier to open oneself up, admit the mistake or simply feel the pain we have caused in the other person.
One decisive factor in community building is silence. This is normally perceived as unpleasant within a group and suggests that something is wrong. But if the normal rules of socialisation are suspended from the beginning and no one is told how to behave, silence soon develops. This is accepted as normal in community building. Sometimes it is oppressive, sometimes it is highly enjoyable. We can wait quietly until new impulses surface. This silence is often very important, because it takes time for something new to develop and incubate. We often experience this silence as a transformative process.
Another core aspect of community building is the recommendation that we only speak when we feel moved to do so. When members take this principle to heart then the Great Spirit, the Universal Energy, the Spiritual Universe, the Unconscious (or whatever we choose to call it) is permitted to take over. This is actually the most important part of M. Scott Peck's community building. This is how a "group of all leaders" works; this is how it achieves a depth that is similar to or even greater than that achieved under the guidance of a leader. This central recommendation challenges each member. At the same time, it represents an important confrontation with oneself. Am I sensing a genuine impulse or am I just trying to feel important by reacting to somebody else without really thinking on my own? Do I have to give someone else feedback because it's obvious he is not speaking out of his own impulses and that bothers me? In feedback and criticism of this kind, the point is to listen inside myself to find out if there is really something inside me that makes we want to make a statement. When people start talking one after the other, i.e. when we get the feeling that we have to act fast in order to say something, this is usually a clear sign that the recommendation that we should only talk when we feel an urge to do so is not being followed in the group. If this happens in a workshop, it will probably be pointed out by the facilitators sooner or later. In a group that has no leader (but has already had experience with this sort of thing) it will be addressed by group members themselves. Since everyone is responsible for his or her success in the group, everyone is expected to speak up when he or she thinks something isn't right. Here too we respond to our urges.
Is the search for authentic encounter and community a central feature of our life, perhaps even one of the most important impulses of our time? What do we consider to be important once we have achieved material security and are no longer focused on having more and going faster?
Community seems to have something to do with personality development, and we are now at a point where we need to take off our masks and let go of our protective egos. Ken Wilbur has spoken of the transition from the fifth to the sixth development stage of humanity - the transition from the rational to the integrated holistic level. It seems that if we want to develop and maintain this new level, we are going to need community. Through community we can invite the healing spirit that was long ago pushed aside during the development of the rational levels - genuine, healing spirituality - back into our society.
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