Panfidelity and the Birth of the Aluna Clan
© 1995 ~ Michael Aluna
Children need a loving, supportive family and community environment in order to grow up as healthy adults, capable of love and compassion. They need quality individual attention, loving physical touch, and a real sense of safety and stability. They need to feel a deeply resonant bond with their parents and other adults in their lives, from birth through adolescence, if they are to become healthy, peaceful adults. Children need models of lighthearted playfulness, sensitivity to others, generosity, cooperation, and unconditional love if they are to express these qualities in their own lives. These experiences, essential for nurturing healthy human beings, are sorely lacking in many stressed and isolated nuclear families, and in the many broken families that have come to characterize our culture.
For well over 99% of human history, children grew up within a supportive community of family and friends. The extended family, with several generations living under one roof, characterized American society until early this century, when economic change forced the crystallization of the nuclear family comprised of a wife, husband, and their children. The nuclear family, generally considered the basic unit of American family life, has been the firmly established norm for the past fifty years or so. Now, it, too, seems to be passing. This is not surprising, and need not be mourned, for its side-effects are a tremendous burden for the planet, and for families.
The isolated nuclear family may be the most psychologically and spiritually stressful, expensive, and ecologically destructive form of human social organization that ever existed. This sounds harsh, I know, but I believe it is nonetheless true. Few things drive the industrial plundering system, the rape of "raw materials," and the poisoning of the air, water, and soil upon which all life depends, more than mom and dad and the kids living alone in their house, with two or more cars, a nice lawn to keep up, and all the consumer items "needed" to maintain such a lifestyle. Multiply that scene by 200 million or more, add the military and internal costs of defending such a way of life, and you need look no further to discover a major source of our planet's woes.
In the late 1980's, Alison and I began down a path that would eventually lead us into a deeper sense of community and a broader experience of family than either of us had ever imagined for ourselves. But at the time that wasn't our intention, at least not consciously. Our immediate concern was simply trying to figure out how to create a more peaceful and harmonious family life. The question we asked ourselves was, "How can we best facilitate consensus decision making in our family?" Little did we realize then that the answer to that question would become a fertile womb soon to give birth to a modern clan. What follows is a story of the first five years of our expanded family, its infancy and early childhood, followed by a discussion of the principles and practices of panfidelity, our evolving philosophy of living and loving.
In the heart of the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, on our seventh wedding anniversary, standing naked together at the foot of a hidden seventy-foot waterfall, Alison and I revised and then renewed our marriage vows. For some years Life had been nudging us in the direction of an expansive and inclusive understanding of love and family. As as a symbol of our openness to that love, and of our marriage to something larger than our relationship to each other, we moved our wedding bands to our right hands and exchanged turquoise rings, which we have worn on our marriage ring fingers ever since. Nearly five years were to pass before we would grasp fully the significance of that act.
We were given a very special gift from the universe in response to our question about consensus decision making in our family. One evening, while Alison and I were outside holding each other in silence, entranced by a rainbow ringing the full moon, the name "Aluna" popped into my head. When I spoke this to Alison, she said that the same name had occurred to her several weeks earlier after hearing a song by Lui Collins, who also goes by the name Aluna Zander. In the magic of that lunar moment we recognized an answer to our question and our prayers. For months we had been searching for a name to give our relationship, a proper name for "us" or "we." Other names we had tried hadn't felt right over time. But when "Aluna" presented itself, both of us resonated deeply with it. So we adopted it as the name for our family as a whole. Aluna was pregnant with meaning, but it would be nearly three years before we grasped the full significance of that name.
"What does a name have to do with consensus?" you might ask. Well, by naming something you create a qualitatively different relationship with it. A name says that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Giving a personal name to a group or relationship encourages its members to think of it as a living system. Alison and I became aware of Aluna in this way in the midst of a discussion we thought was about vacation plans. We had different ideas on the subject and were entrenched in our respective positions. But we moved through the impasse and reached consensus rather quickly when Alison said, "I know what I want and I know what you want, but what does Aluna want?" What she meant, of course, was "What do we as a family want to do?" But the way she said it was especially effective because "we as a family" had a name. It was a living reality in our minds. Moreover, as we were soon to discover, Aluna was destined to take on a life of its own, encompassing far more than our nuclear family.
Alison and I moved to the Midwest with our children in the winter of 1990. Within a couple of years, and somewhat unexpectedly, we found ourselves growing deeply in love with several people at the same time. We also began articulating a philosophy of loving friendships and a vision of expanded families that saw more than one love as a blessing, not a problem. This was new for us. Alison and I had opened our hearts to others in the past, but because these had been personal loves, not soul-friendships that we shared, it was not uncommon for one of us to feel jealous or insecure. Now, however, things seemed to be different. The love that Alison reported for several of our close friends, I also felt, and they felt for each other. Although fear and insecurity were still occasionally present, more often than not these feelings were replaced by "compersion" (a term coined in the 1970's to mean the opposite of jealousy). Compersion is feeling joy and delight when thinking about or seeing people that you love care for each other. We had never experienced anything like this before, and it was powerful! Aluna was growing and changing form.
Over the next two years, though its numbers remained small, Aluna continued to grow spiritually. We grew in our depth of relationship to each other and in our love and celebration of Life. We encouraged each other to be all that we could be by aligning ourselves with the Way of Life (i.e., the Tao, or the will of God), being true to our inner and outer nature. We worshipped together, played together, fought, and cried together. We shared our visions, dreams, hopes, and fears. We read books and articles together, watched videos, listened to cassettes, and regularly discussed personal and social transformation and the building of a more just, compassionate, and sustainable world. Perhaps most importantly, we acted a mirrors for each other by telling our truth and dealing openly with the frustrations and difficulties of living in a family-like relationship with others. Conflict has been our ever-present and faithful teacher.
Aluna has also grown in size and richness of diversity. What began as a family of five - two adults and three children- has now become a small clan. Aluna embraces not only those of us who live together, but all who are in a deep, loving friendship with one or more members of Aluna and who share our panfaithful values, vision, and commitment to the future. Thus defined, nearly two dozen people scattered all over North America are presently connected in one way or another to the Aluna clan.
Each relationship or cluster of relationships within Aluna has its own personality, its own integrity, and, of course, its own story. Just as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, a family is only as strong as its weakest relationship. We have held sacred the time and space for each relationship to blossom in its own way, according to its own nature. No two relationships have evolved along the same lines or share the same magic or difficulties. Each has a unique character and its own chemistry.
Relationships are forever changing. They either evolve by staying open to the flow of life energy or they stagnate, building walls to keep things the same. True love and freedom go hand in hand. There is freedom within the body of Aluna for relationships to evolve as Life leads. For example, Alison and I are in the process of getting a legal divorce even though we both still love each other and consider each other best friends. We are no longer primary partners but we expect to live in the same clan together and to be in a close, loving friendship all of our lives. We still enjoy each other's company and each other's touch. We continue to share parenting joys and responsibilities. Our relationship is evolving in a positive way for both of us, for our children, and for Aluna as a whole. Really, we are not divorcing at all in the normal sense of the term. We are simply getting "unmarried" from each other while remaining united to Aluna, as we now see that our ring ceremony in 1989 somehow anticipated. Though we both celebrate this change, it is not without pain and sorrow. The loving support of a family of intimate friends has made it much easier for us to move through the grief of their life transition with grace. The safety of our extended family has allowed us to experience the freedom and new possibilities of change.
Aluna has become a small clan, or extended family, of wonderfully diverse and gifted individuals, most of whom do not live together and some of whom have not yet met each other. We are homemakers, artists, poets, prophets, peacemakers, healers, activists, parents, children, teachers, ministers, body workers, community organizers, cultural therapists, and more. We are united by our shared love of life and commitment to building a better world. We are empowered by the Holy Mystery at the heart of the life process and the fires of our panfaithful love. We are inspired by the conviction that how we are living and what we are doing is precisely what that Holy Mystery wants us to be and to do in order to create a just, sustainable, and compassionate human presence within the body of Life.
Aluna is part of a larger interconnected web of love, friendship, and community. Many members of our clan are also members of other circles or groups committed to healing ourselves and our world. Several within Aluna are even organizers or key individuals within other expanded families. The collective impact of all these communities for good in the world seems to be growing exponentially, as the story of how the name Aluna became especially meaningful to us helps illustrate.
Nearly three years after the name Aluna came to us, we met a man named Lou, a dancer and deep ecologist, who was to become a part of our expanded family. Talking to Lou one day, I mentioned the name Aluna and how it was given to us. He asked me to spell it and I did so. Then he asked in a curious tone, "Do you know what the name Aluna means?" I responded, "I know what it meant to me. What does it mean to you?" That's when he told me the amazing story of the Kogi Indians, the last surviving high civilization of pre-Columbian America, descendants of the ancient Tairona peoples, who for centuries have lived in sustainable villages and maintained their isolation in the mountains of Columbia. Their prophetic message of warning and instruction to the modern world, found in Alan Ereira's book, The Elder Brothers, and in the videotaped BBC documentary, "From the Heart of the World: The Elder Brother's Warning," tells of a far more majestic and awesome meaning of the name Aluna than Alison or I ever imagined.
The Kogis believe that the only hope for humanity is to live according to ecological principles discovered by closely observing nature. They believe that we moderns must change our ways and align our lives and all that we do with the divine life force of the universe. Their name for this God force revealed and manifest in the natural world is "Aluna!" Embracing intelligence, soul, and fertility, Aluna is the essence of life, the source and substance of reality. For the Kogis, Aluna is the Mother, whose law is harmony and balance. The whole of Kogi life revolves around this living presence that shapes the world and makes it flower. Their message to western civilization, "the younger brother," is essentially this: "Live in harmony with Aluna and you can create sustainable cultures where people and other life forms can flourish. Continue to violate the ways of Aluna and you will destroy the world and yourselves in the process."
My first response to hearing what the name Aluna meant to the Kogis was awe - unspeakable awe - and gratitude. The tears flowed down my face and goose bumps ran up and down my arms as I watched the videotape "From the Heart of the World." I was overwhelmed. Following awe, I felt a profound sense of humility. I thought, "My God, how can we possibly live up to that name!?! But within an instant I knew in my heart that we weren't being asked to live up to anything. Rather, the name Aluna would serve as a reminder to us that, as we celebrate and learn from nature, and love each other unconditionally, we can trust the divine life force of the universe to guide our actions. We serve a far greater reality than our clan alone when we live and love panfaithfully.
The term "panfidelity" means "faithful to all." In order to understand what that means, however, we first need to understand the meaning of faithfulness. Webster defines "faithful" as: 1)steadfast in affection or allegiance; constant; loyal; true [faithful friends] 2) conscientious; thorough in fulfillment of duties or responsibility [faithful attendance] 3) true to one's word or belief; firm in adherence to a covenant or promise; [faithful to ones's vows] 4) given with strong assurance; binding [faithful promise] 5) accurate; trustworthy; reliable; exact [a faithful witness] 6) full of or characterized by faith, esp. religious faith [the faithful].
Being faithful, then, involves being honest, trustworthy, and "real." A faithful person is a man or woman of integrity. Being faithful to all means being faithful to Life - all life, human and nonhuman - and faithful to the divine source and energy of life. Panfidelity is biofidelity and geofidelity. The panfaithful person's primary allegiance, or loyalty, is not to herself, nor to another, nor to any group, nation, religious creed, holy book, or philosophy. Her primary allegiance is to the whole of nature and, more specifically; to the life, air, water, and soil of her home, her bioregion. From a theological perspective, to be panfaithful is to be loyal to God, to be faithful to Life and Love; to be true to the Holy Mystery revealed in us, around us and in the irreversible flow of time.
Being faithful to anything less than this is idolatry, and the natural consequence of idolatry are almost always tragic. Countless people and animals have suffered, lives have been lost, and ecosystems ravaged, all because of idolatry, or misplaced allegiance. Millions of Jews were exterminated because many Nazis were loyal to Hitler but not faithful to anything larger than the Third Reich. Millions of women were tortured and killed during the Inquisition because of those who were loyal to the institutional Church but not faithful to the feminine experience of life. Whenever two groups go to war, each loyal to its own leader, patriotic ideals, or perception of the divine will, we witness the logical conclusion of idolatry. When two individuals are devoted to each other without also being faithful to their community and their bioregion, the results are equally, if not as dramatically, tragic. Few things stress the environment and our health more than trying to survive in the modern world without the emotional and physical support of real community, and without the spiritual support of the body of Life which gave us birth and continues to nurture and sustain us. Multiply the image of an isolated nuclear family millions of times, over a period of decades, and you will understand one of the major reasons why we are inadvertently destroying our world and destroying our sense of peace and happiness in the process. Sanity, health, and sustainability all lie in the direction of panfidelity.
To be panfaithful means to be faithful to all; to be loyal to life; to be true to the divine life force of the universe. It means operating with deep ecological integrity in all situations and relationships. Several years ago I defined panfidelity more in terms of sexuality than I do now. Based on my own experience and on the experience of others who have been living communally for decades, my thinking has evolved considerably. I now believe that the really important issues for panfaithful living are: trust and honesty, love and delight, touch and tenderness, responsibility and commitment, green faith and ritual, playfulness and creativity, respectful communication, and synergy and service. When community building principles and practices such as these are adhered to, sexuality tends to take care of itself, and can be celebrated whatever its form.
What follows is an elaboration on these eight essential characteristics of the panfaithful way of life, what I have called the eightfold path of panfidelity. While none of us in the Aluna clan claim to live according to these principles all of the time, they nonetheless collectively serve as a faithful compass, guiding us along the way toward a hopeful and ecological future.
Trust, love, and the spirit of community are all interdependent. They feed on each other and help each other grow stronger. But one thing they all need is honesty. Without honesty, trust is lost, love withers and dies, and community is unattainable. So nothing is more important to Aluna, and to living panfaithfully, than regularly telling our truth.
One of the first things we discovered as we journeyed down this path of "radical honesty," as Washington D. C. psychotherapist Brad Blanton calls it, was that truth telling did not exactly come easy to any of us. Early on we were forced to admit that we were all habitual liars, whether consciously or unconsciously. We each had spent a lifetime editing our thoughts, speech, and actions, putting our best face forward, and denying our shadow, for fear of being judged and rejected. Since fear of the consequences seemed to be the greatest barrier to telling the truth, we created rituals - sacred talking circles - where each person could share his or her unedited truth and be heard, without being interrupted, criticized, or judged in any way. By sharing our deep and minute truth with each other (i.e., the embarrassing and painful stuff, as well as the "stupid little things" that are usually neither stupid nor little), we slowly began retraining ourselves to be truth tellers instead of subtle liars. Just as the U.V. Family expressed in their essay, "The Possible Relationship," "We learned, at a visceral level the sickening results of letting half-truths, white lies, or major withholds persist and the thrilling results of plunging into cold truth and having the coursing energy of love back into our relationship." The practice of radical honesty has made it nearly impossible for us not to love each other. It has also made it much easier for us to trust one another and to trust Aluna as a whole.
Trust may be the most important attitude of the heart to cultivate in the growing of community. With it, most other positive attributes follow naturally. Without it, community is impossible. But what does it mean to trust? From an evolutionary, or time-developmental, perspective, we can speak of trusting with respect to the past, present, and future. From a spatial perspective, we refer to trusting what is inside us and outside us.
Real life is full of pain and disappointment. To trust with regards to the past is to refuse to play the blame game. It means letting go of resentments and judgments of self and others, forgiving from the heart, and accepting life's struggles and difficulties as a necessary part of being alive. To trust in the present is to be mindful of the fact that this moment, and every moment, is a one-time gift. It means being aware of the sacredness of this time and place, and of the breath you are breathing right now. (pause) To trust in the future is to have faith, not that things will necessarily go well for you, but that whatever happens will be perfect for your growth and learning. Trusting time means experiencing the flow of real life with an open heart and a deep-seated attitude of acceptance and curiosity.
Thinking spatially, we reflect on the importance of trusting what is inside us - our inner nature: our dreams, intuitions, failings, and our life and love energy - as well as what is outside us - our outer nature: the natural and social contexts within which we are embedded. To trust what is inside you is to listen and respond to the soft, subtle voice of the divine spirit within; to refuse to follow any external authority that does not line up with your heart; and to accept that even your faults and shortcomings serve a purpose. To trust what is outside you is to appreciate the natural world for what it has always been - teacher, healer, provider; revealer of divine mystery, majesty, and power - and to accept your condition as an earthling, a human expression of this living planet. It also means having faith that the faults and shortcomings of modern society serve a purpose; that our industrial, technological world is not a mistake, but rather is a necessary, though immature, state in the evolution of consciousness and culture.
In religious terms, trusting time and space means having faith in God. It is choosing to stay open to the possibility that we are being allured by the same mysterious Reality that has drawn and empowered the process of evolution for billions of years. It is also choosing to believe that nothing in our lives or in the world is a mistake.
Trusting and truth-telling go hand in hand. Some people seem to think that trusting means passivity or inaction. Nothing could be further from the truth. I trust that our Western consumer culture is not a cosmic mistake; but I am also doing all that I can to help it recover from its addictive patterns and mature beyond its present self-destructive and Earth-destructive habits. Looking within, I trust that my shadow - my proud, insensitive, and selfish side - serves a purpose, but I am also trying to become a more humble, compassionate, and sensitive person. We can trust that those who oppress others are less evil than they are ignorant or unenlightened, and at the same time do everything within our power to ensure that freedom and justice prevail. Trusting the universe means trusting that everything is "right on schedule." But it also means trusting that the anguish and anger that we sometimes feel over what is happening to the oppressed and to our world, and the yearnings we have for a more just and sustainable society, are part of the universe too - and right on schedule as well.
Hope for humanity lies in the direction of raising children who can trust themselves, trust each other, and celebrate their place in the universe. In order for this to happen, children must be able to tell their truth without fear, and they must be able to see this modeled by the adults around them. Loving in a panfaithful family within a supportive clan is the best way that I know how to educate children in the life skills they will need to survive in the coming millennium.
The panfaithful path is blessed every step of the way by the shining sun of love and delight. Dark nights of the soul still come, rains fall, and seasons change, yet the life-giving and sustaining furnace of love that warms both body and soul keeps burning faithfully behind it all, year after year.
English is a relatively poor language when it comes to talking about love. Because we have only one word to describe a wide range of feelings and experiences, we lack the precision that some other tongues and cultures have when discussing this heartfelt emotional space.
The Greek language is rich in words for love. There is storge, family love, or natural affection and tenderness; philia, the love of close friendships; eros, romantic and sexual love; epithymia, strong desire, or passionate love; philadelphia, brotherly and sisterly love; eunoia, dedicated devotion; charis, loving kindness; and agape, unconditional and self-giving love. The panfaithful way of life includes all these forms of love. Each relationship within Aluna has its own unique combination. We all love each other very deeply. But the nature of that love and the form of its expression differ from person to person, and may change over time.
Several years ago we discovered the aforementioned article, "The Possible Relationship", by the U.V. Family, a mobile team of people who have been living panfaithfully for over 25 years. In it, the U.V.'s described love as a space of openness and vulnerability; a room that we enter simply by letting go of our protective games.
"Each one of us had our own door to the room of love, one uniquely shaped in the image and likeness of our naked selves. We had to leave our masks and armor and baggage outside the room of love and could only retrieve them by leaving love. Judgment, taking offense, blame, and guilt are a few of the components of that baggage - they exist only outside the room of love.
"We found that when any one of us was in the space of love and when another person, through his or her relinquishing of ego, entered that room of love, then we were 'in love with each other' - not as a reaction to that person's looks or personality (these things are outside the door), but simply by ending up in the space of love together. All people in love are in the same space. Some are so transient that one moment they're in and the next they're out. They have not established residence there. Others, commonly known as saints, live there full time. From this standpoint, to say, 'I love you' means that there is nothing - no personal 'stuff,' distortions, agendas, or needs - in the way of being with you totally.
"We found consistently that when we based our relationship in shared residency in the room of love, every aspect of the relationship, from the sexual to the intellectual, was easy to work out. But every time we'd run out to play with some of the baggage outside - be it sexual attraction, or anger, or a desire to rescue somebody - suddenly there would loom insurmountable problems. Solution: stay in love. Absurdly simple - and not always easy to live."
To Aluna, this way of understanding the dynamics of being in love not only rang true, it matched our own experience over time. When we have told our deep and minute truth to each other, and listened without judgment, we have found ourselves naturally "in love with each other." In that place, gender, age, personality, and looks don't really matter. The only thing that matters is our shared humanity and earthiness. Like the U.V. Family, we've learned that, while profound feelings often accompany it, love itself is more of a choice than it is a feeling. Love is a space. It can't be given or received, only entered. We don't even need another person to be "in love." We only need to Be. We fall in love with ourselves, with others, and with all of life simply by listening from the heart, telling our truth, and being who we really are. I believe that this kind of love is what the Apostle Paul was referring to when he wrote, "Love is patient and kind; it is not possessive or jealous. Love is neither anxious to impress nor does it cherish inflated ideas of its own importance. Love is never rude or selfish; it does not take offense, and is not resentful. Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything. Love never fails." (I Cor. 13:4-8a)
Whenever we reside in the space of love, we are free to enjoy the fullness of life and the process of time. We delight in existence itself. We stop playing judge and jury and allow the universe to take over these roles. Since time is a faithful judge, we don't have to be. We can remain open and curious. In the space of love we can accept ourselves and others in the moment, trusting that we each tend to do the best we can given the internal and external resources available to us at the time. When we respond to injustice, or work for peace, we do so nonviolently, with a heart of compassion. A prophetic witness grounded in love and compassion is far more effective in the long run than one based on anger and resentment; as Jesus, Dorothy Day, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and many others have repeatedly shown.
In the space of love and trust, we delight in each other as individuals and appreciate the fact that every one of us has a unique blend of strengths and weaknesses. Most of us are beautiful, compassionate, sensitive, and creative. We are also resentful, selfish, insensitive, and rigid. We are all these and more - a delightful mix of sinner and saint. The more time we spend in the space of love, the more understanding and forgiving we are regarding the faults and transgressions of others, and the less our own shadow hinders mutual respect and friendship. But it takes time and continued practice to develop the habit of staying in that openhearted place. Our family is not there yet, by any means.
Whenever people live together or relate like family there is bound to be conflict. This is both normal and healthy. Our family struggles with the very same issues that other families with children do. Our kids fight and complain about meals. There are power struggles between children and adults, and sometimes between adults. Schedules conflict, communication breaks down, tempers flare, misunderstandings arise, feelings get hurt. Given all this, we have found it necessary to develop a process for resolving conflict during regularly scheduled family meetings. I will say more about this process in the section on "Respectful Communication."
Whatever else can be said about Aluna, it is obvious to those who know us that we delight in each other's love, freedom, and truth. Some days we celebrate our differences. Other days we fight and make up. Both are meaningful, but I especially enjoy making up!
Every human being craves touch and tenderness. Without touch a baby dies, the human heart aches, and the soul withers. Touch is not only a biological need, it is a profoundly elegant and essential form of communication. Touch is a language that can communicate more love in five seconds than five minutes of carefully chosen words.
In the previous section, I concluded with a humorous comment about the joys of making up with a loved one after an argument. One of the things that feels so good about making up, of course, is the reconciling touch - the embrace, kiss, caress, or passionate lovemaking that communicates "I love you and I'm glad to be one with you again." Whenever tenderness and intimacy reign, we feel great.
Touch and tenderness are far more important for personal, family, and community health than most people realize. Research over time and across cultures has consistently shown that we live longer, happier, and more peacefully when we are affectionately touched on a regular basis. There seems to be no substitute for a heartfelt hug, a loving massage, or a timely kiss. Such communication quenches our soul's thirst like mountain spring water on a scorching day.
The need for touch begins at birth, and continues until we die. Infants need to be touched, cradled, and rocked consistently in order for their nervous systems to develop properly, and for their healthy emotional and psychological development. This is true for other animals as well. As Phyllis Davis notes in her book, The Power of Touch, "All mammal young demonstrate the necessity of touch to healthy physical and behavioral development. Even baby rats prosper from being handled and petted. When they are touched and handled, they outweigh, out learn, and outlive other rats.... Children from homes with loving, touching parents look and act differently than those who are rarely touched. Touched children feel better about themselves and are less hostile, more outgoing. Well-touched children almost seem to glow." If we do not receive adequate touching as children, the effects can be serious. Touch deprivation can cause mental and physical retardation, and even death.
A panfaithful family or community will ensure that its infants are carried, cradled, rocked, stroked, tickled, massaged, and otherwise touched as often as possible. Such a community will also provide emotional and economic support for mothers or wet nurses to breast feed infants for an extended period of time. This is crucial. Reporting on studies done over the last forty years, Phyllis Davis notes, "Breast fed babies have fewer respiratory ailments, diarrhea, eczema, asthma, and other ailments than bottle-fed babies. Additionally, breast fed children tend to be physically and mentally superior in their development, and the longer they are breast fed, the more striking the advances. Evidence indicates that breast feeding ought to continue for at least a year or longer, until the baby demonstrates a readiness for weaning." In some cultures, the young nurse for as long as three to five years, depending on the needs of both mother and child.
Children and adolescents regularly need reassuring touches and hugs. But beyond the need for physical affection, children also need to be spoken to tenderly and respectfully. A child's spirit is easily bruised by harsh, angry, and judgmental words, especially coming from a parent or other beloved adult. In such cases it is important for the adult to sincerely apologize to the child, when the child can receive it. Forgiveness and reconciliation bind wounded spirits.
We touch each other with our words and actions, as well as with our hands. How we touch each other affects the health of our bodies, our families, and our communities.
In our culture, the craving for touch, or "skin hunger," as behavioral scientists refer to it, is often confused with sexual desire. This is a major reason why touching is initially threatening to many people. For millions, the only time they experience affectionate touch is when it is connected in some way with sexual activity. This is tragic, and I believe, a root cause of much of the violence in the world. Because we fear that intimate touching might lead to sex, we avoid touching. When we don't touch, we fail to meet a basic human need, as important as the need for love, and we do unconscious violence to others and our world because of our repressed anger.
Within the Aluna clan, members regularly hug, kiss, and otherwise affectionately touch each other without it necessarily leading to anything else. As humans, loving touch is what we crave; the experience of communion, our deepest need. Because most of us have a lot of unconscious cultural, family, and personal baggage around sex, it can often get in the way of the touch we really desire. I know of no greater joy, and nothing more spiritual, than to snuggle or sleep with a close friend, or exchange a full body massage, without fear of the intimacy becoming sexual.
Of course, romantic/erotic tenderness is also beautiful, and can be celebrated as a sacred act of mutual adoration: different images of God worshiping each other. For sexual touch to be faithful to all, however, it must be within the context of a loving relationship of equal power, honesty, and respect. The eightfold path of panfidelity must be followed as a whole. For example, where there is a contract or mutual understanding to be sexually monogamous, or non-sexual, then that contract or understanding should be honored. If it cannot be honored, then, like any agreement, it should be renegotiated. Romantic and erotic energies can be tremendously life-giving when they are in the service of love and spirituality. But if the relationship is not faithful to all, then those very same energies can become addictive or otherwise harmful, and may cause great suffering. That is why I discussed integrity and love before dealing with touch and tenderness.
The last thing I'd like to mention in this section is the power of touch for healing. Because touching tenderly communicates love and care, consciously or unconsciously, it triggers metabolic and chemical changes in the body that help in healing. Touching also stimulates the production of endorphins - natural body hormones that control pain and nurture our sense of well-being. In addition to communicating love, tender touch also communicates safety, security, and support. This is why the sick and elderly should be massaged, held, caressed, or otherwise touched as often as they like, or at least as often as possible. A loving, touching community is usually a happy, healthy one.
Our beliefs make a difference. A community that celebrates the sacredness of the body and its life energy is more likely to encourage loving touch than one that believes that the spirit and the flesh are constantly at war with each other. The panfaithful model honors nature - the entire universe - as the physical body of the divine Spirit. A panfaithful community celebrates the life energy of the body as divine energy.
For a loving relationship of any size to work over time, each person must take responsibility for the quality of the relationship. Each person must also be deeply committed, both to the relationship and to the sometimes hard work of processing all the emotional "stuff" - the hurt feelings, disappointments, frustration, anger, sadness, and pain - that inevitably arises whenever human beings live together or relate in a family-like way.
In a panfaithful model, to take responsibility means refusing to play the blame game. This is not always easy, of course. After they had been living panfaithfully for fifteen years, the U. V. Family had this to say about responsibility:
"Personal responsibility extended to every aspect of our
relationships: to perceiving, initiating, and
completing jobs; to communication; to sexuality (when, where, and even
how good); to decisions
about our future focus. In essence, each of us took a vow to be 100%
responsible for the quality of
the relationship (not 50-50, not 100% for our part only, but for all of
it) and for the positive outcome
of it. We gave up the right to blame each other. A short sentence, but
Miraculous breakthroughs can happen when the energy normally focused on
assigning blame ('If only
he would...', 'He made me...', 'If she weren't so...then I
wouldn't...') is instead dedicated to creative
re-perception of the 'problem' so that a solution can become
- What am I not seeing that makes this look like a problem?
- From the perspective of love, what does this look like?
- What is the most skillful way to work with these circumstances so that it turns perfectly for everyone concerned?
- What would it take from me for this complaint to evaporate?
- How can I provide what I think is missing instead of demanding it?
"These were the questions we trained ourselves to ask. So, there was lots of growth, and precious little complaint. Sure, our minds would holler, 'But he really did do it!' 'She really was nasty!' 'I'm right, there's something really wrong here and it ain't me!' 'I'm putting in my 100% but what about his 100%?' But blame always backfires - it's purpose is to unburden ourselves (usually of guilt) but actually it only weakens and saps our power. So eventually, if sometimes reluctantly, we'd get back on track and feel that surge of energy that is always there when true 100% responsibility is taken. Perhaps the most important outcome of this vow of responsibility was the amount of energy that was released to be used in positive, life-serving ways."
If radical honesty is telling your detailed truth, radical responsibility is blaming no one and being personally accountable for the quality of life in your community and bioregion. It means being personally responsible and committed to making a difference wherever possible, trusting that others are doing the best they can, given their internal and external resources.
Responsibility and commitment go hand in hand. A panfaithful love is deeply committed to the health of each member of the family and to the health of the body of life upon which the family depends. This commitment is holistic: it is concerned with mental, physical, spiritual, and ecological wholeness. It takes this kind of total commitment to have the courage and patience to deal effectively with the shadow side of life: its ugly, chaotic, confusing, painful, and depressing aspects. Every relationship and community has its shadow side. Without commitment, it is all too easy to bail out when the going gets tough. Within our family and clan, it is the commitment that we have made to each other and to Aluna as a whole that helps us weather the storms that blow our way from time to time. Commitment helps us deal openly and creatively with the conflicts inherent in community living.
The commitment that I have made to each member of my expanded family is this: "I promise to love you and to be real, honest, and vulnerable with you for life." Of course, there are other, more specific commitments that I have also made, such as certain agreements that I have with my children. The exact nature of these commitments differs with each relationship.
To be panfaithful means to be faithful to all; to be loyal to life; to be true to the divine life force of the universe. It means being a person of integrity in all situations and relationships. Within a panfaithful context, sexual and relational diversity can run the gamut. Some people will be gay, others will be straight, yet others bisexual. Some may choose to be celibate, others monogamous, and still others may be non-monogamous. These are not hard and fast categories, of course; they are on a continuum. It is not uncommon for someone to identify herself or himself one way at one time in their life and another way at another time. What is most important in being panfaithful is not a person's sexual orientation, or how many intimate friendships they have, but how honest, loving, and committed they are with those with whom they are in relationship. For example, for some, non-monogamy is a way of bonding and getting close to many people. For others, it is a way of avoiding getting close to anyone. The former may be panfaithful (if it satisfies all eight criteria). The latter is definitely not.
What is also important in being panfaithful is whether or not the bond that naturally occurs as a result of shared intimacy is honored. We live in an interconnected and interdependent world where, at this point in time in history, nothing is more important than for differences to be respected and for there to be a flow of honest communication and feedback between people. Thus, the panfaithful norm, whenever possible, is "once intimate, always friends." While this may not apply in all situations (e.g., battered women who end abusive relationships), one should generally avoid severing ties to past lovers and friends, and remain committed to telling one's own truth. It is possible to be lovingly honest while maintaining clear and distinct boundaries.
The soul of panfidelity is its life-affirming spirituality - what I have called green faith and ritual. Without a green faith, the Aluna clan would have little to offer in the way of service, if we even existed at all. Because of our green faith, we feel connected to each other and supported by the universe as we work and play and do our part to create a just and sustainable world.
Green faith is a spirituality that validates all the world's religions and grounds them in the reality of Life itself. Many different faith traditions are represented within Aluna. Some of us consider ourselves Christian, others Jewish, and still others, Buddhist, Taoist, or Pagan. Many of us find nourishment in more than one tradition. What unites us in our diversity is our shared green faith. By that, I mean our shared love of Nature and trust in the universe process.
For most of human history the world has been understood from a spatial point of view. From a spatial perspective, the universe is thought of as a place. Time is understood as the ever-renewing cycles of nature within the universe. Our common language reflects and reinforces this perception even today. Human beings are said to live on Earth. Earth is understood as a planet in the Milky Way, one of more than a trillion galaxies thought to be in the universe.
Popular Western theology reflects this spatial world view. God and heaven are up. Hell is down. Both are considered places we may go to when we die. Even the biblical concept of developmental human history is understood as unfolding within a fixed and completed world. Creation is primarily thought of as a noun, a thing, an artifact made by God sometime in the past. History takes place within creation but is not itself considered the story of creation. To speak of human history as part of the story of creation is to begin thinking of the world and ourselves from an evolutionary, or time-developmental, perspective.
Scientific discoveries made during the last few centuries have gradually revealed a universe that is more like a developing super organism than it is like a place. Since its beginning some 12-15 billion years ago, the universe as a whole has been expanding, evolving, maturing. As the universe has grown, it has become increasingly complex: from simple hydrogen and helium, to galaxies, stars, and the creation of atomic elements, to the progression of life; from bacteria to primates to the evolution of human consciousness, culture, and technology. The story of the universe is the story of the development of matter and spirit from simpler to greater complexity in structure and functioning as well as to a greater variety and intensity in forms of conscious expression. The whole of human history is only the last page in this multi-volume adventure story of the universe, a story still very much in process.
From a time-developmental perspective, everything looks different. Rather than understanding God as a supreme landlord who resides off the planet and outside the universe (a spatial perspective); from an evolutionary point of view God can be understood and, more importantly, experienced as the creative Life force and Love force of the universe. Heaven and hell can be seen as states of consciousness, or nonmaterial dimensions of reality. Creation can be understood more as a verb than a noun - a process, a story, an unfolding mystery. The universe is not exactly a place or a thing; it is a being still becoming - and we are part of it! We are a part of the universe that has evolved to the extent that it can think about itself, learn its story, and co-create its own future. We are not separate beings in the universe, who live on Earth; we are a mode of being of the universe, an expression of Earth. We did not come into this world, we grew out of it - in the same way that an apple grows out from an apple tree. We are organically related to the rest of nature.
This is an awesome and wondrous thing to reflect upon! It is faith inspiring. Four billion years ago the planet Earth was molten rock. Now it sings opera and dances! It laughs and it cries! Such is the fruit of human nature and the human fruit of Nature. If we had taken time lapse photography over the last 600 million years, we would see life springing forth from the seas and the land, becoming more complex over time, and giving rise to concert halls, railroad stations, and the Internet. Now if that isn't a miracle, I don't know what is!
It is important to note here that, as far as we can tell, at no point in time during the past four and a half billion years, the age of our solar system, did anyone literally come from the outside and put anything on the planet. "God" is the inner Wisdom, the Life force, the incomprehensible Love at the heart of the process, the Great Mystery revealed in and through the universe. In the Bible, when Genesis 2:7 speaks anthropomorphically of God forming us from the dust of the ground and breathing into us the breath of life, this is a poetic, mythological, and spatial way of describing the evolutionary process I am outlining here.
To have green faith is to trust in the universe process, to have faith in the God of nature, to believe in ourselves and in time. It means aligning oneself with Ultimate Reality, i.e., Real Life, Love, and Truth. Different cultures prefer different names for Ultimate Reality. But whether I call this Mystery God, the Goddess, Brahman, Allah, the Risen Christ, the Holy Spirit, Aluna, Fate, Nature, the Universe, my Higher Power, or some other name, when I follow its leading I feel more connected and whole, and experience a deep and meaningful peace even in the midst of great difficulties. On the other hand, when I am in denial - when I ignore the signals of my body and soul, or when I scorn the Truth - I usually feel alienated and angry, and experience an inner emptiness and restlessness no matter how well things seem to be going externally.
Green faith is a spirituality grounded in an evolving, living world. Earth is not so much a planet with life on it (a spatial view), as it is a living planet - a body of which we are a part. The physical structure of the planet - its core, mantle, and mountain ranges - acts as the skeleton or frame of its existence. The soil that covers its grasslands and forests is like a mammoth digestive system. In it all things are broken down, absorbed, and recycled into new growth. The oceans, waterways, and rain function as a circulatory system that moves life-giving "blood," purifying and revitalizing the body. The bacteria, algae, plants, and trees provide the planet's lungs, constantly regenerating the entire atmosphere. The animal kingdom provides the functions of a nervous system, a finely tuned and diversified series of organisms sensitized to environmental change. Each species is a unique expression of planetary consciousness, with its own unique gifts to the body. Humanity allows the planet to exercise self-conscious awareness, or reflective thought. That is, the human enables Earth to reflect on itself and on the divine Mystery out of which it has come and in which it exists. We are a means by which Nature can appreciate its own beauty and feel its own splendor; or do tremendous violence to itself.
This shift, from seeing ourselves as separate beings placed on Earth ("The world was made for us."), to seeing ourselves as a self-reflective expression of Earth ("We were made for the world."), requires a new understanding of who and what we are. It is a shift at the deepest possible level: our identity, or sense of self.
When we look more closely at our relationship to "the environment," the need for a broader understanding of the self becomes obvious. It turns out that the environment is not "out there," separate from us. We are part of it. We are part of vast cosmological, geological, and biological cycles which are interrelated. My own body, for example, is constantly exchanging matter, energy, and information with my "environment." The atoms and molecules of my body now, what I collectively call "me," are not the same ones that made up my body a year ago. Every five days I get a new stomach lining. I get a new liver every two months. My skin is replaced every six weeks. Every year, 98% of my body is replaced. The molecules that are continually becoming "me" come from the air I breathe, the liquid I drink, and the food I eat. Before that, they were part of worms and fish, plants and trees, bacteria and other humans, and all that we eat and drink. I give out as I take in. It makes little sense, then, to overly identify with my "ego" self, for that is only a very small part of the real "me." My larger body is the body of Life itself. This is why any society that thinks it can "throw away" its garbage is a society seriously out of touch with Reality. There is no "away." The toxins and chemicals that our factories spew into the air, water, and soil end up in our bodies and in the bodies of our children, and there they accumulate and eventually contribute to cancer, AIDS, and a whole host of other diseases. Whatever we do to the environment, we do to ourselves.
We are the product of creation, not its masters. We will suffer or thrive to the degree that our bioregion and the planet as a whole suffers or thrives. But we need not despair at the enormity of the tasks before us. Indeed, we have good reason to hope. As Thomas Berry has said, "The basic mood of the future might well be one of confidence in the continuing revelation that takes place in and through the Earth. If the dynamics of the universe from the beginning shaped the course of the heavens, lighted the sun, and formed the Earth, if this same dynamism brought forth the continents and seas and atmosphere, if it awakened life in the primordial cell and then brought into being the unnumbered variety of living beings, and finally brought us into being and guided us safely through the turbulent centuries, there is reason to understanding of ourselves and our relation to this stupendous process. Sensitized to such guidance from the very structure and functioning of the universe, we can have confidence in the future that awaits the human venture."
Hope and confidence based on the sacred story of life, or based on some other life-affirming cosmology, is a mark of green faith. But such faith must be deeply integrated in the body and life of its practitioner(s) before it can produce fruit or lead to effective service and action, and this is a function of sacred ritual. Thus, an essential aspect of any panfaithful community will be sacred ritual and heart-centered celebration.
Rituals work at a level of consciousness far deeper than the merely rational and verbal level. They engage the mind, heart, feelings, body, and soul - the total being. They bond us to each other and align us with the cycles and rhythms of both our inner and outer nature. As Dolores LaChapelle states in her book, Sacred Land, Sacred Sex, "Sacred ritual takes us out of this narrow, artificial human world and opens us up to the vast unlimited world of nature - both outside, in our non-human environment, and inside, in the deeper layers of our older brains and cellular body knowledge." In ritual, we move beyond the narrow confines of our neocortex and reconnect with the Mind of the cosmos within and around us.
Sacred ritual tends to facilitate the experience of a deeper and more expansive sense of self. We identify with our smallest ego "self" when our brain waves are at a frequency known as Beta, or ordinary waking consciousness. When our brain wave state drops to Alpha, however, we naturally experience more interconnectedness with all of Life. Our sense of self expands even more in the Theta brain wave state. Strong feelings of joy, peace and contentment typically accompany these deeper states of consciousness. We feel our "self" as larger, and can experience and feel (as opposed to think about) our connection to each other and the living cosmos as a whole. Alpha and Theta states of consciousness are reached most effectively through practices like deep breathing, prayer, meditation, drumming, dancing, chanting, singing, rhythmic movement, sacred sex, and the use of symbolic gestures, incense, candles, bells, and other means of entering "sacred time and space." The effects of community generated sacred ritual are a deeper alignment and resonance with one's self at all levels of reality: family, community, bioregion, and cosmos.
No community can survive without attending to, and being grounded in, the spiritual dimensions of reality. Whatever differences exist between tribal cultures all over the world, a common chord to all is their use of ritual, and their seasonal celebrations and festivals. Anthropologists tell us that this has probably been the case for millennia. It seems that certain things can be expressed only in ritual and, for that reason, ritual is without equivalents or alternatives. That which can be expressed only in ritual is vital to the spirit of community. As individuals and communities, our health depends on sacred ritual more than we may realize.
In the Aluna clan, we celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and other personal and community holy days. We also celebrate various religious, cultural, and seasonal holy days. We honor these special days in different ways, of course. No two are recognized or ritualized in the same way. Eventually, we plan to commemorate throughout the calendar year the major events of the story of the universe.
The spiritual life of any individual or community is always in flux. So it has been with Aluna. We go through seasons of being undisciplined and inconsistent. But however we're doing on any given day, or in any given month or year, our spiritual food is to be with each other in love and forgiveness, in truth, and in sacred ritual. Green faith and ritual are essential components of our panfaithful spirituality.
It is impossible to be in the space of deep communion with another, or to be in authentic community with others, without respectful communication. Respect is a basic human need, no matter what a person's age, gender, race, class, culture, or subculture. If we would create a sustainable society, nothing is more important than for us to respect differences and communicate honestly with each other.
Respect means different things to different people. What constitutes respect to one culture may differ from what another culture considers respectful. For example, among some Native Americans and Asians, it is considered disrespectful to look directly into the eyes of an elder who is addressing you. In other cultures the exact opposite is true. Differences also exist among individuals within the same culture. So if you are not sure, it's often helpful to ask a few simple questions: "What does respect mean to you? What does disrespect mean to you? What would you see, hear and feel that would let you know someone was being respectful or disrespectful?" Responses to questions such as these generally yield a wealth of useful information for those who would relate to others in a respectful manner.
Though cultural differences exist, many criteria for respect are consistent across cultures. I think most people would agree that, at the very least, "respect" means listening with full attention, accepting differences, acknowledging feelings, and gently speaking the truth. It also means no blaming, no accusing, no name calling, no commanding, no lecturing, and no sarcasm. Respectful communication is clear, clean, and compassionate.
The difficulty, of course, is that this kind of communication does not consistently happen just because we want it to. Rarely do we choose our communication patterns in the moment. More often, our responses are unconscious habits formed over many years. Without even realizing it, we absorb the dysfunctional patterns modeled for us by our families and peers. Culturally, we have neither been empowered nor encouraged to communicate honestly, directly, and clearly. Disrespectful habits of speech are not replaced by respectful habits of speech overnight, nor easily. It takes more than willpower, it takes practice - lots of practice - and a safe context in which to practice. We need to have people with whom we share a commitment to counsel and practice communication.
Over the years, the Aluna family has used several means to
help us develop the habit of
communicating more respectfully. The first was the practice of
internalizing and rehearsing the
* "I accept myself and others right here and now, trusting that we each tend to do the best we can, given the internal and external resources available to us at the time."
* "I take full responsibility for what I am now experiencing. I act when I'm in a resourceful state and procrastinate acting when I'm not."
* "I listen carefully and curiously to those who are different from me. I affirm the differences of others while I remain faithful to the truth as I understand and experience it."
* "I feel with compassion the problems of others without getting emotionally snagged in those things that are offering them messages for their own growth. I don't need to fix, heal, or convert anyone. If needed, Life will...in Life's perfect timing."
By memorizing and rehearsing these affirmations (while driving, exercising, washing the dishes, etc.) they have become part of my everyday thinking. Because they are memorized (this is the key!), they come to mind when I most need them, often many times a day. They almost always transform my emotional state.
Affirmations such as these are useful and fruitful beliefs, not ultimate truths. Is it True that people do the best they can given what they have to work with? God only knows. All that I know is this: when I act as if it's true, for myself as well as others, I enjoy the fruit of my life. I am less impatient, judgmental, resentful, or regretful. I am more compassionate, accepting, forgiving, and understanding. So whether or not it is True, it is a very useful, fruitful belief.
Memorizing the four meditations listed above, and rehearsing them regularly, has helped us communicate more respectfully.
Another means toward this end has been our commitment to the following functional relationship agreements:
1. Each of us has the responsibility to treat each other with
respect and awe.
2. Each of us has the right to speak our truth without fear or shame.
3. Each of us has the right to ask for what we want.
4. Each of us has the right to refuse or say "no" without fear or shame.
5. Each of us has the responsibility to express displeasure. (Therefore, we don't need to fear each other's internal thoughts.)
These functional relationship agreements have been very helpful, as have the affirmations, but the most effective tool we've used so far to help us relate to each other more respectfully has been our regular "family meetings." Here, adults and children alike offer appreciation to each other, confess wrongdoings without fear of punishment, express anger, resentment, or hurt feelings, peacefully resolve conflict, plan ways to have fun and serve others, and deal with all the issues common to family and community life. We have an agreed upon set of rules and a process that serve to keep us faithful to our higher ideals. They also remind us how to communicate with each other throughout the week. At the family meeting, everyone is respected. Adults and kids have equal power. Everyone is allowed to tell their truth on any topic without fear of being interrupted or criticized. Everyone's perspective is valued. Decisions are made by consensus. By practicing this kind of relating once a week, it becomes easier to do it at other times as well.
As with the other principles of panfidelity, I do not wish to give the impression that Aluna has mastered respectful communication. We haven't. But we are more respectful now than we used to be, and this is encouraging. Despite our present failings, we seem to be consistently moving in the direction of greater respect and appreciation of differences. Sometimes the going is slower than we would like, but the journey is rewarding just the same. One of the things that makes the journey so meaningful, wherever we are on the path, is the playfulness and creativity of our panfaithful life together.
Playfulness and creativity lie at the heart of the universe process and at the heart of what it means to be human. Thus, any relationship or community that would be "faithful to all" must honor the playful, humorous, and joyful side of life, and must be a channel for the ongoing creative energies of love.
Human beings are a recent evolutionary development of the unbroken process of divine creativity that began some 12-15 billion years ago in a stupendous explosion of light and energy. Creation is not something that happened once upon a time and then stopped; it is something that is still happening. As evolution continues, God's creating continues. Whenever we are guided by love or truth to bring something into existence - when we give birth to beauty in the world - we co-creatively participate in the ongoing creation of God. This is why it is important for families to nurture the time and space for artistic creativity. It is part of our deepest nature to create, to play, and to laugh. It is what makes us human and unites us with the divine. As Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."
A common characteristic of all mammals is that the young are consistently playful and exploring. With adulthood, however, this curious, creative side tends to close down. Humans are a fascinating exception to this rule. We can remain playful, curious, and inventive all of our lives. What Life essentially did when it created the human was to take mammalian youth, stretch it out, and call it a species. Scientists call this "neoteny."
When children grow up in an atmosphere of love and tender touch, their natural state tends to be curious, playful, trusting, spontaneous, and creative. In the process of becoming adults in a dysfunctional world, however, we often become fearful, serious, rigid, predictable, and addicted to everything from food, drugs, and alcohol, to television, shopping, and our work. This is why virtually every religious tradition in the world teaches that the way to (enlightenment, salvation, wholeness, maturity) is to recapture the mind and heart of the child.
Humor is an essential aspect of playfulness and creativity, and a must for healthy relationships. As Patch Adams, M.D., has said, "Humor is an antidote to all ills. It forms the foundation of good physical and mental health. Humor is vital in healing the problems of individuals, communities, and societies....People crave laughter as if it were an essential amino acid. Humor and fun (which is humor in action) are equal partners with love as ingredients for a healthy life."
Though we are not always successful at it, in the Aluna clan, we try not to take ourselves too seriously. Humor is almost always welcome and appreciated. Over the years, we've discovered that a little bit of silliness can go a long way toward relieving the stresses and burdens of everyday life. When we can laugh at ourselves - at our problems, idiosyncrasies, and shortcomings - we re-enter that heavenly space of love and forgiveness, trust and acceptance, where healing and reconciliation happen.
The universe is made up of wholes within wholes: atoms, molecules, cells, organs, individuals, social groups, bioregions, solar systems, galaxies - each has its own integrity, its own "personality." Each, as a whole, is more than the sum of its parts. That is what is meant by "synergy." At any given level, more energy is coming out of the system than went into it. In The Global Brain, Peter Russell notes that synergy occurs "when the goals of the individual components are in harmony with the needs of the system as a whole." And Jesus said, "Whenever two or more come together in my name, I am there."
The U.V. Family, in their essay The Possible Relationship, have a wonderful discussion of synergy within a panfaithful context:
"What we say is that the law of synergy is the law of squares. Two people working together in synergy can accomplish the work of four, three can do the work of nine, four of sixteen.
"Synergy is to a group as erotic love is to a couple or ecstasy is to an individual. It is the energy that is available when the brakes are off, the barriers are gone, and the need for defenses drops away. It is thrilling to experience and powerful in its ability to affect the world. It is also morally neutral; the energy of synergy could as well fuel the Nazi Youth Corps as the cast of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Consequently, in our conscious invocation of this power we are mindful to do it in the context of love and service.
"In her original work on synergy the anthropologist Ruth
Benedict identified several commonalities
among synergistic societies, two of which are:
1) siphoning of 'wealth' (i.e., when any member accumulates more of what is deemed valuable, that excess is siphoned off and redistributed to the rest);
and 2) a way to make amends for errors. Sharing (not hoarding) and forgiveness (not resentment and blame) - these are two qualities built into our relationship. In our commitment to service, none of us hoards credit or recognition for enhancement of our egos. It's about 'getting the job done,' not about who does it. And through our commitment to honesty, we don't harbor dark secrets or silent grudges, so mistakes can be acknowledged forthrightly and corrected. It is in the cleaning up of an error that we demonstrate our good will and real intentions. Forgiveness of oneself for having blundered is complete when the apologies are delivered and the effects of the error are corrected. Forgiveness of one another is complete when the trust that we are solidly aligned in vision is re-established. In that light, any act is simply an expression, skillful or not skillful, of the divine intent.
"Fostering synergy could be seen as one way to transmute common interpersonal power struggles. A key to this is empowerment. Rather than wasting precious human time, energy and resources on 'cutting each other down to size,' we seek to increase and maximize the power each of us is stewarding, since that allows us as a team to be effective. It requires that each of us be comfortable with our own power, that we allow ourselves to be powerful with each other, and that we have the humility to acknowledge to others our gratitude for and inspiration from each other. This surprises people who are accustomed to intimates disempowering each other - i.e., complaining about each other's faults and weaknesses.
"To further clarify synergy, we can make an analogy to a high-powered telescope. The most important component allowing such a telescope to bring Saturn into perfect focus is a series of lenses, carefully polished and in proper orientation to one another. However, if the lenses are out of alignment, if one is smeared with dirt, if they are not focused correctly, or id they are the wrong distance from each other - nothing happens. The power of the telescope depends on the right relationship of its component lenses. Likewise, synergy depends on the people involved being in alignment, with a shared vision and a shared purpose, with their hearts and minds open, with a willingness to share all and a commitment to stick with it till the game is over. With all that in place, energy can flow through that single instrument and truly light up the world."
To light up the world is to serve the world in love. To be panfaithful, to be faithful to all, is to love God by serving the body of life - our larger Self. Service is green faith in practice. Once again, the U.V. Family,
"Relationships are not for the individuals in them - they are
for the world. When relationships ignore
that they are conducted in a much wider arena called life-on-earth and
do not see as their primary
purpose the enrichment of this greater whole, they tend to display
symptoms of dis-ease.... The short
way to say this is that the purpose of a relationship is service to the
well being of all of life. It's not
about getting anything - a mate, married, kids, grandkids, old age
security, approval and acceptance,
emotional support, strokes... Service is not an activity but an
attitude, a willingness to do whatever is
needed for the highest outcome for all.
"In this context of giving out rather than getting from, relationships have a purpose that is both greater than the individuals involved and in alignment with the real needs of life. And that's the secret to lasting love, for energy = ecstasy = love, and service is what opens the valve."
Panfidelity is a service-orientated philosophy and way of life. The purpose of living panfaithfully is to serve humanity - especially those most in need - and to serve the Body of which humanity is a part. For the panfaithful, social justice and environmental restoration go hand in hand. We cannot achieve one without the other.
Service can be thought of in a many ways. From a time-developmental perspective, we can serve the past by cherishing the gifts and contributions of previous generations, both human and nonhuman. We can serve the present by being a blessing to others and by enriching our communities here and now. We can serve the future by restoring ecological integrity to our bioregion and by working to create a just and sustainable economic and political order, nationally and internationally. To serve the future is to serve our children and grandchildren.
We must live in ecologically sustainable communities if humanity is to survive into the future. We must live our lives in deep communion with each other and with our bioregion: willingly and joyfully sharing possessions and dwelling space, growing food together in a way that enhances our lives and the soil, resolving conflict creatively, laughing, working, playing, and celebrating together, and, in short, living unpossessively in love with each other and with all of Life. We must create ecological communities where we can be most truly ourselves, where we can experience loving physical touch, where we can share our finitude and brokenness and feel loved unconditionally, and where we are both supported and challenged to be all that we can be. Panfidelity is a philosophy and way of life designed specifically to nurture and grow such expanded families and ecological communities. Whether we are straight, gay, or bisexual, whether we are monogamous, non-monogamous, or celibate, may we all live panfaithfully, for our children's sake and for the sake of all future generations of Earth-life.