The Tao Te Ching tells us:
To follow the Tao
Is to dwell in peace
Living in a community of heart,
Regarding all that lives
As one family.
(Tao, Chapter 49)
With all the division and discord in our world lately, this message from the Tao is more relevant than ever. For regardless of our western belief in individualism, we do not live by ourselves alone. "Look around you," I ask people in my workshops. "How many people have touched your life today?" The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the shoes on our feet link us in a bond of interdependence with the forces of nature and people we may never meet. We participate not only in nature's living network but in a vast community of farmers, inventors, artists, engineers, construction workers, writers, production workers, teamsters, merchants, and more. No person, no country in the world is truly independent. We're all linked in an ongoing exchange of energies. Our interdependence is a fact. Recognizing that fact and strengthening our bonds can promote greater peace for us all.
To strengthen your own bonds of community, take some time to consider these questions.
- Take a deep mindful breath, slowly releasing it. As you continue breathing slowly and mindfully, ask yourself:
- Outside of my primary relationships, where do I find a sense of community, a feeling of belonging to a larger whole: in my neighborhood? at work? in my church, synagogue, or mosque? in a community group?Somewhere else?
- What positive feelings does my community bring me?
- What can I do to strengthen my community—or if I've recently moved or lost touch, what can I do to create greater community in my life?
- What is one step I can take to build community this week? Anything from greeting a neighbor to calling up an old friend. Relationships, like plants, are living, growing things that need cultivation.
Finally, consider your natural community—the native plants and wildlife that share your world. What is one way you can strengthen your bond with the plants, birds, and animals around you—planting a garden, spending time with a pet, putting up a bird feeder, putting out nuts to feed the squirrels, or something else?
Visualize yourself taking one step to cultivate your human community and one step to cultivate your natural community. Breathe in what this feels like to you. Now commit to taking these steps this week.
An earlier version of this practice appeared in Dreher, D. (2000). The Tao of Inner Peace. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam.