“THERE WERE nineteen of us in the workshop, ten women and nine men. We were instructed to separate by sex and choose a corner of the hall where we would create a ‘ritual and symbol of meaning’ for ourselves, a statement of our connection. We men gathered in the far north corner and immediately crouched down close to one another to plan our ritual. Every so often we would glance at the women, huddled together in their far south corner, busy at their work of planning.
“None of us really understood what we were to do. After a while, it became clear that it didn’t matter – we were the ritual and the symbol, and whatever we created together was exactly right.
“When all was done, and the women acted out their ritual for us and we ours for them, I knew we were acting out some ancient, perhaps primal dance of woman and man. The intricate details of the rituals didn’t seem to matter, but the energy flow was all important.
“The women, dancing their ritual, formed a tight circle, facing in towards the center. In the middle they had assembled ornaments, food and precious things, and their dance carried them in and out from this center. They twirled and soared, but always their circle was ‘energy-intact’, and always their focus returned to the center and to the circle itself. They were like one being.
“The women’s bodies were the symbol. The maintenance of the circle was the ritual, and the center was the reservoir of the energy. That reservoir swelled with power, until finally the women collapsed, ecstatic, together on the floor. And still the circle remained intact.
“After a long time, we men formed our circle, pressed close in a tight bond around our previously constructed center symbol. It was almost the exact same center symbol as the women had created. We began making deep-gut sounds, we swayed and twisted, we crawled in and out and on top of one another. We reformed our circle, rubbing hip to hip, and then ran screeching, outward to the far corners of the hall, flying, falling, jumping. Again and again we ran back to our symbolic center, arriving and departing alone. Finally we all gathered in a circle and stood, arm on shoulder, in silence. I remember the wonderful smell of sweat.”
As I look back over my years in community, this story, told to me for no apparent reason by my friend, Jimmy, comes to mind. Circles. Intentional communities are circles. Most communities I know (not all) are circles of men and women. I wonder, because of the unique character of intentional community, if an “intentional circle” of men and women is not really two different circles which overlap, and only at times become one.
If you have lived in community for any reasonable length of time, I think that you will agree that the category of “man/woman/relationship” draws as much energy as just about all other categories combined. I am not just referring to sex, but to all areas where women and men deal with each other, or work towards some common goal.
I believe that there are two “bottom-line” reasons why most intentional communities experience a continuing stream of relational conflicts and emotional ups and downs that demand the majority of the community’s energy.
1) Learning to deal with conflict is, in fact, why God created intentional community. What?! That’s right; I have seen hundreds of people come into intentional community, each thinking that they have found a place where they won’t have to deal with “that” (each of us has our own unique “that”). Yet within 6 weeks the entire communal preoccupation is focused on making her or him confront “that”. It’s uncanny; intentional community always shines a spotlight on whatever you join community so as to avoid.
So you may think that your community exists solely to provide wheat grass juice to the world, or to channel Light from the Pleiades, but what is more correct is that you and your companions have been cleverly drawn into a setup to help you move beyond your limited view of “what I can deal with right now”. Conflict isn’t going to fade out when you all get it together, because learning from conflict is a primary reason for the existence of community.
2) Circles. I believe that the intense contact and challenges present in intentional community give rise to what I would call an “archetypal scenario”. This then triggers some very old (read primal) energies that our new age personalities may not be comfortable with, but are very real nonetheless. We must learn to employ these energies, not ignore or deny them.
With reference to Jimmy’s ritual experience, I think what occurs is that there are two distinct circles generated in an intentional community. One is populated almost entirely by women and one almost entirely by men, and they operate very differently. Now I realize that it would be more politic for me to use the terms masculine and feminine instead of men and women, but it seems more honest to say it as I see it. Of course it is true that each of us possesses aspects of the other sexual pole. I am sure that some of the men in Jimmy’s group would have felt more at home with a ritual more similar to that of the women, and vice-versa. However, I am beginning to understand for myself that the integration of my feminine nature is absolutely necessary, but not an end-point in my male growth journey. It is a vital stepping stone on my path to claiming the fullness of my maleness. I also feel that a parallel journey is occurring for women. That is, women are learning to integrate their “inner male” fully into their psyche, so as to utilize him on their journey home to the rich depth of their femaleness. In other words, androgyny is not the final goal; rather, the goal is fully alive, complete women and men.
What does this have to do with the male and female circles operative in intentional community? In Jimmy’s ritual circle experience, he and his companions (male and female) tapped into and acted out some of those deeper aspects of wholesome femaleness and wholesome maleness. Forgive me for not listing them. I would be doing a disservice to the power of abstract ritual and symbolism if I did that. My list would be my interpretation, and the power of symbol is that it is beyond one person’s interpretation. Please decide for yourself what the basic differences are for you in the two dances.
My contention is that these very same “group male” and “group female” behaviors are present, are healthy, and are in fact acted out continuously within intentional community. Except that in the community setting they are rarely consciously acknowledged. Furthermore, these “different dances” are usually subconsciously suppressed because they are not valued as separate group male and group female aspects. In other words, we are trying to force our communal group behaviors into one common circle. What is true is that sometimes there is only one circle in action – and sometimes there are definitely two. The group male circle may not even look like a circle, as we have come to expect it to look. But if we look for a long enough period, we will see the male circle form, dissolve, and form again. We must learn to recognize and honor these different ways of being in community.
They have much to teach us about ourselves. In fact, they can become the source of the elan vital, the inner fire, the passionate joy for living that so many groups (and individuals) seem to have lost in their daily life.
What is the best of all possible man/woman environments for community? Who knows!? These times are times of transition and experimentation. We are obviously moving beyond the old dysfunctional stereotypes of woman as child-raiser and cook; man as money-getter and defender. We are in the middle of the stew-pot labeled “integration of roles”. When the stew is done, we can use that brew to nourish us on our way to …?
Perhaps it will be on our way to community environments where the men join together to synergize the unique energies of maleness, which only they know, and women join together to synergize the unique energies of femaleness, which only they know. And at the same time, the women and the men join together to blend and to synergize these energies beyond ego, beyond role, to catapult our collective consciousness to the next level of the timeless cosmic dance of Yin and Yang.
Danaan Parry is co-director of Holyearth Foundation (Box 873, Monte Rio, CA 95462) and helped to create the Earth Stewards Network. He helped start the Madrakara community in Northern California.
He is also currently gathering information on new hero images for both genders. He asks, “Who are your new heros and sheros [male and female!]? Who can we point to when our children ask us, ‘. . . whom do you respect?’ What are the new fields of valor? If you were to replace the old memorials with another visible statement which honored the new heros and sheros, what would it be? Where would it be? If you were collecting this data, what would you do with it?” Send your replies to Danaan at Holyearth. I’m sure one thing that he will do with this information is publish it in IN CONTEXT.