The “deep community” I’m looking for would help its members remove their masks, go down to the ground of their being, feel connected with all humanity and Life itself, tap their profound reservoir of compassion, truly love themselves as they love others, consciously help one another become more fully who they really are, do what they can to correct the root causes of needless suffering (including destructive national policies), and help turn our nation into a caring community dedicated to the common good.
This book tells the story of my efforts to find or help develop that kind of community. Since my quest remains unfulfilled, I conclude the book with practical suggestions for how we can move in that direction.
Over the years, I’ve connected with many people who share my dream. My hope is that someday we will realize our aspirations. I believe we’re close.
Throughout most of the book, I tell a narrative story of the actions I took and the thoughts and feelings I drew from them. Each chapter begins at a later point in my life, tells a particular story, and ends when the story ends. “Mother” and “Daddy” conclude with their deaths. “Baseball” carries forward to the present day. “Schooling” ends with my graduation from high school. Some chapters like “Sex” and “Spirituality,” focus on personal issues up to the present day. Others address particular periods of time, like “College” and “Madness.” Consequently, the chronology often overlaps from chapter to chapter.
In the next to last chapter, “Reflections,” I evaluate my life, its achievements and its failures, my mistakes and accomplishments, and my strengths and weaknesses. The last chapter, “Beliefs,” presents a concrete twelve-step plan for how we can help our nation grow into a more compassionate society and also summarizes some of my basic convictions that motivate me.
My recommended strategies for pursuing deep community, first in small groups and then as a nation, are merely the ones that make most sense to me at the moment and are intended only for those who are inclined in the same direction. I don’t claim to propose methods that will work for everyone. Nonetheless, I do believe the ideas I put forward are ones that many like-minded people can find useful. I welcome criticisms that can help me improve them, and still hope to discover or help develop new, more effective approaches.
Organizing methods currently used by activist groups turn off many concerned individuals. They reflect superficial patterns of behavior common in today’s society that tend to be impersonal and corrupt our ability to be fully human. As I see it, those of us who participate in social activism, whether occasional or full-time, will be more effective if we relate to our colleagues and the general public with a greater appreciation of the need all humans have for deep friendships that enhance personal growth and social responsibility.
When I’ve discussed these issues with organizers, I’ve often been told that the groups they’re in already foster supportive friendships informally. My life experience, however, leads me to conclude that activists need to deepen their efforts with conscious, intentional, carefully structured activities that leave space for spontaneity. I don’t expect every activist to take this path. But I hope the number who do will greatly increase.
In light of this, I encourage readers with an interest in social reform to examine yourselves honestly, work on your self-development, devote some time to political activity between elections, and, as you create yourself, look for like-minded allies with whom you can pursue your efforts in community,.
No authority can justifiably or productively prescribe how you need to grow. We do best by trusting everyone to look into their own heart and make those decisions for themselves. We can, however, become more disciplined in our self-development work by regularly reporting on our own efforts and being available to listen to others report on theirs. In that way, we can learn from the best teachers we have, our peers.
For myself, I’ve concluded that the highest meaning in both personal and social life is associated with the expression of compassion – for oneself as well as for others. I’ve tried to be true to who I really am and to take care of myself in order to better serve others. I’ve initiated new projects to fill voids and set examples. I’ve consistently experimented and explored, both in the outer and inner worlds.
Over the full spectrum of my life, I’ve had lots of good sex, been intoxicated countless times, immersed myself in music, received countless massages, watched innumerable movies and TV shows, cheered on my sports teams, laughed and joked just for the hell of it, and indulged in many other pleasures. At times I’ve questioned whether I was being too self-indulgent and should instead devote more time to my social-change work. But I’ve usually concluded that those pleasures, in addition to being valid in and of themselves, helped me focus more effectively on my central purpose: changing the world and myself.
A major issue in my life has been the tension I’ve felt between my own needs and those of the community. On the one hand, I affirm independence and self-determination. On the other, I affirm community and compromise. Resolving this conflict has been an ongoing struggle.
Though I’ve had numerous rewarding intimate relations with women, I’ve never been married and have no children, partly because I’ve been so focused on my community work. Humanity is my family. I miss not having children, but one child I helped raise, Brandon Faloona, a dear friend, honored me by inviting me to be Best Man at his wedding and naming his first son Azure Wade Faloona. I dedicate this book to Azure, a symbol of our future.
After once falling madly in love and expecting to become a father, my lover decided to have an abortion and stopped seeing me. That trauma led me to become profoundly distraught and briefly contemplate suicide. After that, I decided to learn how to be alone so I would be better able to be in a relationship without being so vulnerable. Now, more than thirty years later, I enjoy my solitude, and feel ready to finally engage in a healthy, lasting love relationship. Even more, I’d like to participate in a deep community.
Throughout my life, my primary commitment has been to foster compassionate communities whose members support one another in their self-development efforts and work together to restructure our society. My approach has changed over the years, but that goal has remained the same.
After I took the break from my organizing in 2004 that I described in the Preface, I reached certain conclusions that underlie the case I make in this book for a “compassion-based” political activism that moves beyond the “left-right” continuum and combines personal development with political action. I believe that, by affirming a holistic perspective that nurtures the whole person, we can integrate personal, social, and political dimensions in ways that foster growth in each of those areas. That many-sided awareness can help us avoid ideological rigidity. And, by applying it to the development of small, face-to-face communities whose members inspire and support one another, we can build a foundation for similar growth across the nation and throughout the world. My experiments in initiating deep community since then have provided only a taste of fulfillment.
I‘ve also looked for a holistic community that I could join. So far, however, I haven’t found what I seek. It seems to me that no community has yet put it all together. I would love to find one that has.
Through these explorations, I’ve collected and developed some ideas about how we can foster and nurture deep community. To be deep, we must get to root causes, which means we have to change national policies that create so much needless suffering. As our Declaration of Independence states, when a government becomes oppressive, “it is [our] right, it is [our] duty, to throw off such government.”
To achieve that goal, we must build unified popular power nationwide. To do that, it will help if we develop some simple, user-friendly tools that concerned individuals can use on their own to strengthen their connections with one another and bolster commitment to political action to impact the government in Washington. Those example could then encourage others to use the same tools to grow deep community. As that network expands and becomes larger, its roots could grow deeper and become more solidly grounded.
This book explores how we can move in that direction.
Those who make their way through these pages will find that I’m open and honest in describing my experiences. In this way, I hope to set an example that encourages you, my readers, to also deeply examine yourselves, acknowledge your mistakes, and share your conclusions with others – even if only with a few trusted friends. To change the world for the better, we must be real, journey below the surface to get at the truth, allow our spirit to guide us, and follow our thoughts to their logical conclusion.
As I anticipated, writing this autobiography has been liberating. It has taught me that the more transparent I am, the easier it is to overcome fears associated with being honest. The more willing I am to reveal secrets, the less ashamed I am and the more I accept myself.
This honest self-examination is also a political statement. Our society teaches us to fear honesty. From an early age, we learn to stop being spontaneous. We become secretive in order to gain rewards or avoid punishment. At times, of course, withholding our feelings is understandable. But, if we aren’t careful, that discretion leads to habitual dishonesty, and we deceive even ourselves.
Often, too, we worry too much about what others think of us and modify our behavior to shape their reactions. We manipulate others with hidden agendas, and they manipulate us. We internalize the judgments of others and beat ourselves up with guilt, shame, and harsh judgments. These dynamics deprive us of the self-confidence to be authentic, which, in turn, undermines our ability to challenge illegitimate authority.
In general, the more integrity we maintain, the better. The same applies to society as a whole. Suppressing authenticity undermines creativity and productivity. One way or another, we need to learn how to foster compassionate honesty. I hope this book will contribute to that growth.
I’ve gone through lots of changes over the years and, hopefully, I’ve matured. Overall, though, I think I’ve remained essentially the same. I’ve felt like “a new man” at times, because I’ve “become more of who I am,” to use a phrase I learned from my friend Mike Larsen. But that self-development didn’t come easy. By recalling and evaluating my experiences, I better understand who I’ve been, who I am, and who I may become. Those reflections have allowed me to accept myself more fully and have grounded me in greater self-confidence.
At seventy, I feel I’ve finally grown up. I’ve paid a hefty price, but it was worth it. As I look out my window at a view that stretches from Twin Peaks to Mount Tamalpais, I’m at peace —to the degree that one can be, given the state of the world.
I now find myself with a few close friends, and fifty or so good friends I see occasionally. This informal community provides me with valuable informal support. I would prefer, however, to participate in a semi-structured community that enriches my life more deeply, and also serves as an example that encourages others to grow similar communities.
When I turn eighty, I trust I’ll be even more who I am. If I’m lucky, I’ll also be participating in a deep community rooted in hope, love, and action, forever young, with lust for life.