I joined my first intentional community back in 1978 and the topic has never let go of me since. It has become the central theme of my life. Back then we developed the Forum, which is currently the most common way to interact with one another and develop community spirit in German intentional communities. This first community, where I lived for five years, was very intense, but so were the later ones. But they usually only attained this great depth via a dominant or charismatic leader with all the drawbacks this entails, including overbearing ideological and cult-like structures. Because the forum requires leadership and, in my opinion, it also needs a quieter structure where you can take a closer look at things and where silence, which can be an important catalyst, is better integrated, I started looking around.
By "chance" I ended up reading about community building in the book Wirtschaft Wozu by the Swiss entrepreneur Hans Jaecklin and travelled to America to attend workshops. Ever since, I have been involved on a nearly full-time basis in organising and facilitating community building workshops. Our first seminar in Germany took place on a weekend in September 2005, the same weekend when M. Scott Peck was buried in America. Perhaps this had a symbolic meaning and "Old Europe" is now a new and different sort of hotbed of community building - at least, that's what it looks like.
This book provided the basis for this two-day seminar. It explores in great detail the four phases (pseudo, chaos, emptiness, authenticity) that a group has to pass through on its way toward authenticity. This workshop framework is simple but very effective. In the end the idea is that a group can learn how to find its way to depth, to its shared heart and to authenticity without leadership. In the workshops there is a team of facilitators who intervene when the group gets stuck somewhere. They are not leaders in the usual sense of the word. After a two-day community building seminar, a group is in a position to continue the process without supervision. Each member is now responsible for leadership, something M. Scott Peck called a "group of all leaders".
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.
David Bohm, one of the most important followers of Krishnamurti, the great spiritual teacher, developed a very similar framework at the same time as M. Scott Peck (A New World Waiting to Be Born). He called it "dialogue" and described it 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 approximately 5,000 year phase of agrarian society has sunk deep roots into our brains and our behaviour, and it will take a long time before the structures destroyed by industrialisation can develop into a new culture that will also encompass a profound and nurturing togetherness in groups.
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.
Thus our intention is not just to conduct community building workshops (you can find our up-to-date workshop schedule under www.gemeinschaftsbildung.com), but first and foremost to support intentional communities and all other groups of this kind to achieve authentic togetherness.
The book Creating Community Anywhere by Shaffer and Anundsen (with a foreword by M. Scott Peck), provides a description of how one can create authentic encounters everywhere, whether in small or large groups or even in encounters between two persons. In this way, community building shows a close resemblance to Lukas Möller's "Zwiegespräche" or dialogues". All that is needed are regular meetings (no more than a fortnight apart, and holidays with the possibility of daily conversations are extraordinarily well-suited to this) and the willingness to grapple with M. Scott Peck's recommendations for group communication and the four steps toward authenticity. It is also important to have an interest in exploring how to achieve a profound encounter. Speaking personally, it has brought a high degree of life quality and also friendship into my life.
Hamburg, August 2007