Your Spiritual Community in Conflict: Not Always a Bad Thing

A spiritual community in conflict is still spiritual. Still a community.

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Our world presents us with a nonstop opportunity to connect with one another. And not just through our  phones and the internet– but these days MUCH of what we learn about our world does come to us virtually as opposed to “word of mouth”.

Yep, each visit to the CNN, Fox, or PBS websites / tv stations is a visit to the community of said network– even if we don’t like or “believe” that network’s view of the world.

We really, REALLY need and seek community. But we don’t always consciously choose or “join” community.

And when we DO consciously join community, we’re not always ready to DO THE WORK that it takes to be more than just a token community member. And if the community is “spiritual” in nature, DOUBLE all the above.

For these reasons, understanding the deeper experiences of community deepens our understanding of ourselves as individuals.

1. Community isn’t always formal, official or intentionally organized under a name or label, can happen spontaneously and last only a fleeting moment.

Anytime people gather— in line at the grocery store, even— laughing, telling stories, being rude to one another,or whatever, they “commune”.

Furthermore, all we have to do is THINK of someone else to allow them into our sacred mindspace, and so long as we allow them to occupy our minds, we’re connected and in community with them.

2. Because our minds and hearts are sacred, Community is inherently sacred. As the mindspace opens to allow another person, group, or organization in, the body responds with a series of hormonal shifts that bring embodied feelings of openness– and maybe even “warm-heartedness”, attraction, togetherness and safety– if we like what we perceive. The boundaries of separation (me vs. you) disappear or fade a little.

3. Some communities are intentionally spiritual– our meditation group, church, a circle of good friends who support one another– or even our family. However, spiritual intentions don’t automatically make a spiritual community peaceful, calm, happy, disciplined, or even positive.

In spiritual community, we’re NOT trying to enlighten one another or race one another up the rungs of a ladder of spiritual purity. We’re yearning to uncover our truest selves, warts and all, be fully seen and accepted by one another and be with others who are on the same truthful journey.

This journey towards our own truth begins any time we allow ourselves to see something in ourselves that we previously couldn’t or wouldn’t allow ourselves to see.

4. And we don’t gather in spiritual community to act as if everything is hunky-dory, that everything is squeaky clean and sparkling. To be in this earthly world is to be dirty, unashamedly dirty.

We have to see the dirt to clean the dirt, knowing as we clean that we’ll get dirty again…

I believe doing so has never been more important in my lifetime than right now. So,now  let’s look deeper into spirituality and conflict… andmaybe even try the practice below which helps us relax while in conflict.

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Conflicts between people in community will inevitably arise,no matter HOW SPIRITUAL the community might be.

We stay out of love for the community but also we’re mature enough to see how conflict can be an invaluable learning tool.

The “Relative Relaxation through Conflict” exercise below might help you explore how your own conflicts can actually help you relax, paradoxical as that might sound.

During times of prolonged tension between members of a community,the community stays alive if /when those tensions are brought into the light for examination. Someone must be brave — or crazy– enough to be the one willing to spotlight the ugly reality of hidden conflict because…

— smiling and not speaking of troubles as if they don’t exist only works so long before things get worse.

— dividing into microfactions and making cases against the other factions in the community only begins to dissolve the community.

We don’t always get to choose the members of our spiritual community. We might even question the spiritual authenticity of some of our fellow community members. But…

We can learn to live congruently with almost anyone in community and even learn to do so in a way that makes us stronger.Â

The success or health of spiritual community isn’t measured by how well everyone gets along. Quite the contrary, in fact. There can actually be lots of squabbling, mistrust and shadow behavior in spiritual community.

In fact, some of the healthiest communities I can think of have a healthy way of acknowledging their communal shadows. These communities are willing to undergo the process of spotlighting and resolving their own squabbles. Do you know any communities like this?

Communities survive and thrive in the same measure that members are willing to acknowledge what isn’t pretty below the surface of “getting along”.

And those who are in conflict must want to at least understand the “other”, to see the other person’s view and their feelings– even if no agreement can ever be reached– rather than just prove a point or win an argument.

When conflict arises in community, the intention to learn from that conflict deepens the bonds within the community.

There’s no alternative way for a community to grow.

And if you find yourself irreconcilably out of alignment with members of a community, you can always leave the community so that you continue to grow.

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I’m doing a lot of this exercise these days… I call it “Relative Relaxation through Conflict” and I don’t know if I learned this technique from someone long ago or it has just evolved through me organically over the years that I have weaved my way through so many communities….

Think of someone you have conflicts with who you also think is worth knowing, getting along with at least a little, being in community with. Maybe a co-worker, friend, neighbor or family member. Notice how the tensions manifest…

— the tight, hard contraction of the shoulders
— the knots in your gut
— the hot, clinching handsÂ
— the furrowed brow
— the stories that begin to brew in your thoughts about “what’s wrong” with the opposing person
— the way negative emotions make you feel trapped in the tiny cage of the situation

This is how I feel when I think of my most troubling people. Maybe your experiences are different, but I’m willing to bet your experiences are no more pleasant than mine.

Maybe you’ll never be super close to this person or agree with them on anything—even the current weather. But reflect for a few moments on just how much better you’ll feel when you’re able to have them in your sacred mindspace without these tensions.Â

So, practice thinking about this person while remaining relaxed. At first you might simply be allowing your physical body to remain relaxed while your mind and emotions become stormy. That’s okay. When you start to get tense, pause and think about something that makes you happy. (I like to imagine the sun warming my face or walking in a deep, cool, very quiet forest.) Then go back to your troubling person, bringing this open relaxation with you.

Imagine facing this troubling person with soft, open shoulders, gut andhands. Allow– don’t force or will– your thoughts and emotions to mirror this same soft openness. And just think of how much their perception of you might improve!

You’re worth it.

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What is so awesome about “Relative Relaxation through Conflict” is…

— you’re not trying to convince yourself to like, forgive or change your opinion of this troubling person in any way.

— you’re also not trying to change them for the better.

You’re just learning to reflect on them without hurting yourself.You’re not totally relaxed– like in your own bed or at a spa, you’re relatively relaxed, as relaxed aspkossible. And in this case relative relaxation is ENOUGH.

From this open, soft bodied place, you haven’t become passive and you might be able to understand this troubling person in an even more clear way.

Or maybe not.

Either way, you’re getting stronger while staying more relaxed.

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If you do this experiment, know I’m with you. Feel free to hit REPLY to this email and tell me about it.

These days I’m practicing “Relatively Relaxing with Conflict” throughout the day, every day…

— as I turn on the news.
— re-write lots of soul contracts— beginning with a few contracts with myself.
— as this life change affects the mindspaces of the communities I belong to.
— even as my changes might inconvenience others in those communities, my change is also likely to help some people.

As I practice “Relative Relaxation through Conflict”, I’m also feeling tender towards so many people I’ve been in community with for so many years. At times, I even feel sentimental for times past that will never be again.

I long for people I’ve loved, but also realize I was often unable to be soft and open around those I did not care for.

No regrets where the latter are concerned, but I am asking myself “how different would my life be if I HAD been able to stay relaxed and open throughout my conflicts with the many troubling people I’ve encountered in community?”

This is a very life-affirming, loving and positive question to ask. Why? Because learning and growth are seeded into the answer.

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Thanks for listening. I hope reading this helps you even a fraction as much as it helped me to write.

And again, if you try the “Relative Relaxation through Conflict” exercise, feel free to hit reply to this email and let me know.