“There is almost a sensual longing for communion with others who have a large vision. The immense fulfillment of the friendship between those engaged in furthering the evolution of consciousness has a quality impossible to describe.”
~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
In Parts 1 & 2 (LINK) (LINK), we explored the overall idea of diversity and inclusion and a macro view, the larger cultural patterns which got us where we are and which we must recognize if we are to be effective in expanding diversity and bringing inclusion to our New Thought spiritual communities. In Part 3, I explore how the culture and values of the local spiritual community affects these efforts.
The culture of the spiritual community is perhaps the most critical element because it determines every aspect of the behaviors and expectations of its members. Whether or not a spiritual community is even open to greater diversity is determined by its culture. Think of the group culture as a combination of the individual belief systems present and the historically encultured traditions and values of the spiritual community. This embodied culture is what greets the newcomer and lets the long-time member recognize the community even though there has been a lot of turnover in membership. This culture is both conscious and unconscious; it is somewhat fluid but also generally stable in nature. New members are taught about the culture informally and perhaps formally in New Member Classes.
One thing which is evident by looking at most New Thought spiritual communities – the local cultures tend to lead to little or no diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, LGBTQIA+, and even age. The fact that this is the reality means that the culture, most likely unconsciously, has simply continued to support a cultural belief in sameness. While me must consider macro and demographic factors as noted in Part 2 (LINK) of this series, it is very likely that any desire for diversity has not been matched by a change in the cultural consciousness.
As we will see in Part 4 with individual consciousness, group cultures benefit by having a strong conscious awareness of what the culture consists of. Otherwise, people may feel unwelcome at the same time that community members are trying to welcome them. A newcomer’s experience of a spiritual community will be a combination of her experience of the collective culture as expressed AND the individuals she encounters who express their own consciousness, some of which will reflect the collective culture and some of which may not.
Some things to consider: Is there a strong inner circle in your spiritual community who create barriers to “outsiders”? Are the social functions geared toward one particular group? What about age-consciousness in your community? Are young people respected for what they think or treated like children? Are LGBTQIA+ or cis-gendered people made to feel like outsiders? Does the spiritual leader show preferences in terms of which social activities are attended and which affinity groups are visited? Are there efforts to have diversity on the platform and on important committees in the spiritual community?
I was once a spiritual leader of a center in a rather wealthy area. I met a man socially and after we had a discussion on spirituality, invited him to attend one Sunday. He did. I entered the auditorium that next Sunday and saw him sitting in a seat next to a woman, a long-time member of the community, who had her arm around him and told me, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of this one!” Needless to say, we never saw him again at our center. The woman, who understood what should be done to make people feel welcomed, ignored that understanding for some reason. So, in that case, while the collective culture may have been a good fit for the man, at least one individual he encountered led him to decide to avoid our spiritual community from that point forward.
These kinds of individual incidents will happen under the best circumstances, but hopefully, they become teachable moments for leadership. The path to greater diversity and inclusion can be a long one for some communities. There must be both an openness to the idea and follow-through with cultural changes, which can and do take time.
“We are not summoned to perfection; that is the realm of the gods; we are summoned to mindfulness, to such fields of divine reference with sensitivity, respect, and humility.”
~ James Hollis, Jungian analyst,
Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life
Being mindful of creating sacred space in spiritual community should be at the top of the list for spiritual leadership in establishing the atmosphere in which people show up and are welcomed. While we can never do this perfectly, a regular reinforcement of the principles of mindful community should be expressed and exemplified by spiritual leadership, both ministers and lay leaders. Otherwise, the community becomes more of a social club with all of the unconscious aspects and biases of that kind of life. Conscious awareness of the sacred nature of the spiritual community, its activities, and of service in that community are essential. Sacred service, rather than volunteering, should be the norm, and sacred service implies that service is a spiritual practice.
No matter how well-meaning we may be, we bring our biases to spiritual community. Unconscious attitudes have a way of showing up and all too frequently, can lead to those who would bring diversity to a spiritual community feeling diminished or separated from the group. I had a young adult tell me once that he no longer attended the New Thought center he loved because older people treated him like their grandson, even pinching his cheek (!) – he was nearly 30 years old. I am certain that that act was both well-meaning and unconscious – and it drove him away. When we unconsciously project our own needs onto others, we do not see them for who they are, rather for who we need or want them to be. This will be described in greater depth in Part 4.
“Diversity may be the hardest thing for a society to live with, and perhaps the most dangerous thing for a society to be without.”
~ William Sloan Coffin, Jr.
“Our unwillingness to see our own faults and the projection of them onto others is the source of most quarrels, and the strongest guarantee that injustice, animosity, and persecution will not easily die out.”
~ C.G. Jung, “Depth Psychology and Self-Knowledge”
We learn in New Thought that nothing changes on the outside until something changes on the inside. The idea that a spiritual community which is lacking in diversity can simply announce that it is open and welcoming and that diversity will manifest is contrary to the principles of New Thought. For an outer change to manifest, an inner change must occur. If diversity is not present, and could be present, then a change in consciousness which removes the invisible barrier to the new manifestation must occur.
The work of creating a meaningful invitation to diversity is difficult and can be painful. Confronting one’s biases always is. And it is only the first step, for when diverse people start showing up, how will they be included? Tokenism serves no one. Forced inclusion may be necessary at first, however, that is a sign that deeper spiritual work is needed. The culture of the spiritual community must be genuinely open to the work necessary to make this shift from the limited past to a more open future. There is one level of collective culture which may be open to diversity, but a higher level of openness may be needed to establish true inclusion.
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
In Part 4, I will explore the individual element – how our own biases can sabotage our best efforts to bring greater diversity and inclusion – and how to heal those issues.
“We are continuously being drawn into situations or circumstances, sometimes against our objective will, but seldom against our unconscious willing. Most of our mental imagery is unconscious. It comes either from previous experiences or the experiences of the race. There is much in the subconscious of which the intellect is not aware, but one thing is certain, our subjective or unconscious thought patterns can be changed. We have created them and we can change them.”
~ Ernest Holmes, The Art of Life
As always, your comments along the way are encouraged! As are stories of success or lack of success in doing this work in your own spiritual communities. Please share this post with others who may find it of interest.
Copyright 2019- Jim Lockard