Chapter Thirteen: The Spiritual Dimension of Community Membership
Previous chapters have presented the more ordinary, manifest aspects of the cooperative commonwealth communities (CCC) enterprise, exploring its principles, activities, and development.
In this chapter we'll explore the metaphysical, psychic, alchemical, 1 and transcendental dimensions of the commonwealth communities. Only those who participate in this more hidden dimension are cognizant 2 of these esoteric aspects.
Diotima Mason and Elbridge Henry had planned from the first to activate this transcendental dimension in the communities as soon as it was possible. Community members became capable of entering into the operation of this spiritual dimension only after they had:
Completely mastered the ordinary, commonplace activities and responsibilities within the community in which they held membership
Attained awareness of the higher dimension through personal transformation by dedicated study of material (literature, art, meditations, and exercises) from the Perennial Tradition 3
It had been interesting for Elbridge and Diotima to observe specific community members slowly becoming cognizant of the spiritual dimension of community membership, a startled look on their faces for some time before they understood more clearly what this phenomenon really was. They were pleased that Emily Blake had achieved union with her Higher Consciousness within the first several months of her study of the Perennial Tradition. This had made it possible for her to grasp the transcendent dimension of community membership from the beginning. Diotima's and Elbridge's dialectical interchange with Emily had, almost from the first, attained the level of a mystical union of thought and feeling.
Thus far, six of the original fifteen Outlook CCC members had attained awareness of the metaphysical dimension of community membership: Diotima, Elbridge, Emily, Elizabeth Collins, Fred Collins, and Nina Webb. Precisely like the understanding of and commitment to cooperative communities that made it possible for a person to be accepted into the CCC enterprise, comprehension of the transcendent dimension of community membership was an individual matter that could not be engendered by mere discussion or goodwill. Though Nina wished that her husband Rick possessed this mystical awareness, and Emily hoped that Francis Sinclair would attain this discernment, they had to wait for it to develop in them--if it ever would. They could at best act only indirectly in regard to this exceptionally subtle element of personal sensibility. Some community members would attain this awareness more quickly than others, though in the meantime their effective participation in community activities would continue apace.
The spiritual dimension of community membership became apparent to specific awakening members as:
A flow of energy within and around the group
A transcendent dimension "above" the physical plane in which the spiritual being of community members interacts with carnate and discarnate beings prior to or in parallel with their terrestrial manifestations (As above, so below)
Their membership in a spiritual commonwealth became increasingly real to those discerning community members.
"Even though the commonwealth described does not exist in the terrestrial domain, there is a Form or Archetype of it in the sovereignty of the higher realm for anyone who wants to look at it and make himself its citizen on the strength of what he sees. It makes no difference whether it is or ever will be somewhere in the terrestrial realm, for he takes part in the practical affairs of that commonwealth in the higher realm and no other."
Plato, Commonwealth X, 592b
Throughout human history, arcane knowledge concerning individual and social transformation and the discovery of truth through esoteric group processes has been made available to select people through Perennialist teaching material and exercises. Arcane knowledge of group symbiosis 4 is absolutely essential to humankind's survival and has been revealed by such Perennialist teachers as Hermes, Krishna, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, Jesus, Paul, Boethius, and Rumi.
The symbiotic aspects of Perennialist groups--group reasoning and group solidarity--have been applied by a few external social groupings over the centuries with outstanding success, but this civic wisdom has not been widely utilized. For the most part, humans have ignored this knowledge and allowed human predators--political, religious, military, and economic tyrants--to oppress them, causing untold misery. The group reasoning and group solidarity aspects of Perennial wisdom--Group Dialectic--constitute major parts of the esoteric dimension of community membership.
The Light Slowly Dawns
Individual commonwealth community members became aware of the transcendent aspects of membership as they discerned that they were involved in a very extraordinary kind of reality: a group which works together to discover what is the truth for all members as a whole, agreeing on group values, goals, and modes of action. Such a group, as the members experienced it in operation, was slowly seen to be almost miraculous.
Here were persons with very disparate backgrounds and experience all making sure that the issues important to the group are clearly defined and understood, that the important factors in the situations are brought out and recognized, that the possibilities as to what to do are stated and the real reasons for each felt, that the points of agreement are recognized and the differences understood and explored, that the discussion moves toward an integration of fact and opinion to a conclusion with which all agree. And then they make certain that attention is given to ways and means for putting the group decision into effect.
Awakening members began to discern how exceptional group dialectic really is and what unusual understanding and skill it requires. They slowly became aware that this is a process which brings all persons involved into a group discussion and group decision-making situation, with the more able, the more mature cooperatively interacting with the less able and the less mature, in a process in which all have the full opportunity to contribute in proportion to their ability. In such advanced group discussions, participants come with open minds, expecting to receive new light on problems in working with others in search for viable group solutions.
The ideas and proposals of each member of the group stimulate and modify the thinking of the others. When individual group members pool the knowledge and experience they have, more resources and more varied points of view are made available than when a single individual is thinking alone. Group members learn and develop as the group dialectic process continues, members sharing their thoughts and feelings with all the others, so their contributions increase in productivity and effectiveness.
Emily, Diotima, Elbridge, and the others who were aware of the spiritual dimension of community membership watched closely for signs of incipient discernment in members at all the community sites. At the start, if a member at another site evinced beginning awareness of the spiritual dimension, that member was given the opportunity to transfer to the Outlook site so they could be part of the Spiritual Dimension Group (SDG) as it was called. Of the total membership of 550 people in the eighteen CCC sites, the SDG was composed of 98 people. Of those, sixteen were located at the Outlook site, fourteen at the Sonoma County site, fifteen at the San Diego site. The remaining 53 SDG members were located at four other sites in Oregon and Arizona.
At the beginning, it was counterproductive to speak openly of this subtle dimension with those who had not achieved awareness of it. It was necessary that they develop an embryonic awareness of this subtle dimension on their own before they could be approached directly.
Whenever a member evinced inchoate cognizance of the dimension, it was suggested privately to her or him that they might want to study, in a more concentrated manner, these relevant sources:
One facet of awareness of the spiritual dimension of group membership was a realization that Diotima, Elbridge, and Emily had, from the beginning, carried out the functions and responsibilities of Perennialist teachers. They had organized the community groups, orchestrated the ongoing group operations, taught community members the erudite principles and procedures of group dialectic, brought the groups to successful realization of their goals and understanding, and made sure that members were experiencing personal transformation while at the same time gaining increased skill in group dialectic processes and their community responsibilities.
The Alchemy of Group Symbiosis
One of the first facets of awareness of the spiritual dimension of group membership was the realization that the consensus decisions the groups reach constitute occult alchemical processes. The "solution" contains all the original elements brought together in the group, but they have been modified in the process--combined but not lost. Something entirely unique and unforeseen has appeared. All the original elements in the group have been included in the procedures and outcome. Certain dross has been eliminated. All valuable elements have been included in a solution which is actually something entirely new. The unified outcome is different from any single contribution and yet includes the best from all the ideas, proposals and solutions presented. The conclusion is not necessarily an either/or dichotomous selection, it may be a combination or something entirely new.
The Spiritual Domain
SDG members became aware that commonwealth groups operate in the spiritual dimension through the action of Perennialist catalytic elements.
"A group reaches the spiritual plane when it is conducting its discussion in a recognition of and a search to conserve the very highest and best the group knows.
"When a group is seeking most earnestly to find what is best or truest to their highest conception; and when they are doing this in a situation of real concern in a spirit of fellowship, there is indeed a high level of spiritual experience.
"The group becomes dynamically spiritual when the members are willing not only to search for a course of action which will be true to the highest values they have recognized and the deepest meanings that have come to life for them, but when they are willing to reexamine these values and search for still higher and better purposes.
"Something happens which is in the highest sense dynamic when a group in fellowship and in confidence lays hold of the previously unreleased resources within itself. At such a time there comes insight as to what to do, and strength and ability to carry out the purposes, which represent more than the mathematical total of the resources of the members of the group when taken separately. Such release of spiritual power is a manifestation of the divine resources all around us which are at the command of all those who in a group process meet the conditions of spiritual creativity." 5
The Esoteric Aspect of Perennialist Groups
Like all esoteric knowledge, the spiritual dimension of commonwealth community membership seems prosaic and lackluster to the ordinary mind. This is one of the many reasons why the Spiritual Dimension Group reserved this esoteric knowledge for those who demonstrated the ability to understand and appreciate the higher dimension of community interactions.
Extra-normal powers manifest themselves in all advanced Perennialist groups and SDG members began to achieve, along with the power to receive transcendent inspiration, the ability to commune psychically (telepathically) with one another.
The Secret Revealed
Since the episode in which Julia Mercer had expressed her dissatisfaction with community policies and activities, she had continued in her earlier habits of allowing her feelings to determine what she thought and how she acted. Julia had grown increasingly jealous and suspicious of her husband Patrick's involvement with others in the community, especially women members. Patrick had finally found it necessary to separate from Julia, which had only exacerbated her ill feelings. Julia's negative evaluations by the Membership Committee had led to their placing her on warning, the first step to recommending to Julia that she seriously consider leaving the community because of her disruptive behavior.
It was not unexpected, therefore, when Julia insisted at a general meeting of the Outlook members that they discuss what she claimed was "a dangerous, secret faction in our midst."
"I understand," Julia began in a tone of defiance and irritation, "that there's a faction calling itself the Spiritual Dimension Group. Is that right?" She glared at Diotima toward whom Julia still retained feelings of bitter resentment.
"Yes," Diotima answered evenly, "we meet to discuss the spiritual dimension of community membership."
"What's this extra-dimensional thing you refer to? Something queer and occult?" Julia snapped.
Fred Collins replied. "An aspect that some of us feel is significant enough to discuss and attempt to enhance."
Abraham Cole joined Julia in her questioning. "What about those of us who don't 'see' this so-called dimension? Are we to be excluded from your little elite group?"
"Anyone is welcome," Fred continued. "Individuals come to the group by sensing this dimension and wanting to explore it."
"Why all the secrecy?" Jose Chavez asked. "Why not discuss this in our regular community meeting?"
"This isn't a regular part of the community activities," Elizabeth Collins replied. "It's like the reading clubs and the musical bands--groups that members already join if they choose to. This is just another group of members with a particular interest. Those who don't have an interest in this would probably find it boring."
Julia spoke up before anyone else could, noticeably fuming. "Do you consider yourselves superior to those of us who don't think there is what you call a spiritual dimension to community membership?"
"Not at all," Diotima replied. "As we've said, we invite anyone who wants to attend our sessions."
"Why don't you explain to all of us in this general meeting what this mysterious, supernatural 'extra-dimension' is?" Julia jibed.
"Well," Diotima said, "it's much like the aspects of our community interactions that Rick and Joel spoke of in an earlier meeting. Rick referred to what he called the 'exceptional feature' of our decision-making process. And Joel spoke of his amazement at the difference between our kind of personal interaction and that in society in general."
"That surely isn't all that's involved!" Julia barked. "There must be more for you to want to explore this strange something or other. Why are you withholding discussion of this from the total group?"
Diotima paused a moment as she looked around the group. "This is going to sound strange, to some it may sound critical or antagonistic. But it's not intended in that way." She paused again. "I understand this element--this dimension--to be something that a person couldn't possibly see or apprehend if he or she allowed themselves to ridicule it before even trying to understand it."
"Oh!" Julia bellowed, "so you have the gall to attack me for ridiculing your precious 'supernatural dimension' which only you advanced beings in your little club can 'apprehend' while the rest of us peons can't see these emperor's new clothes at all!"
The group was disgusted with Julia's outbursts and no one spoke for a short time.
"I'd like to recommend to all of us," Elbridge said, "that we process this incident in a manner that will produce the most positive benefit for the community and for each member. We've all been aware of Julia's progressive alienation from the community values, principles, and activities. We've encouraged her to seek help, but she's refused. On that score we can do no more.
"But we mustn't allow Julia's comments this evening to distract us from the essence of what's happened. This episode occurred in part because several other persons have feelings similar to Julia's. Those members will either resolve those feelings or make the decision to leave the community. But that isn't what I see as the essence of what's occurred this evening either.
"This episode arose because some persons became aware that a few of us meet regularly to explore what we believe to be the spiritual dimension of membership in this community. We haven't discussed this in our regular community meetings because--as Diotima said--this dimension can only be apprehended by someone who has control over their negative emotions and has begun to discern something extra-ordinary in such community phenomena as group consensus through dialectical interchange, a kind of connective consciousness that I think many of us feel at times, and the unusual regard we all feel for each other."
After a short interval, Emily continued. "Now that this spiritual dimension of group membership has been broached, I'd recommend we explore, in this regular meeting, any other aspects of this element that anyone cares to discuss."
Diotima and Elbridge asked Julia if she'd be willing to remain after the meeting for a few minutes. At first she refused, then said that if Jose could join her, she'd consent. When the others had gone, Emily, Diotima, Elbridge, Jose, and Julia sat down together.
"We'd like to speak with you, Julia, to see if we can understand what's going on with you," Emily began.
"Does something have to be 'going on' with me, just because I don't happen to think that everything you three and your flunkies do is 'wonderful?'" Julia said.
"You seem to be generally antagonistic to most of what's going on in the community. Why do you remain when you seem so out of sympathy with what's happening?" Elbridge asked.
"So you'd like me to just pack up my bags and stop bothering you, is that it?"
Diotima spoke quickly. "No, we'd like to understand what's happening with you and see if we can resolve the difficulties."
Julia looked at Jose. "Why don't you say something? Do you agree with them?"
Jose seemed irritated at Julia for trying to use him in this way. "If I have something to say," he said heatedly, "I'll chime in." He scowled at Julia.
"I haven't agreed with this community nonsense since Patrick and I joined. But I don't see why I have to leave just because everyone would like me to. It would take a great deal of effort to relocate. And I get along okay carrying out my jobs for this commune." She glowered at Diotima. "Why do you care, anyway, I don't cause any real trouble that I can see."
"I care about what's happening to you--as well as the effect you're having on other community members," Diotima continued. "I take responsibility for encouraging you to join this community. I would hate to see you leave until we've talked this out as best we can to see if we can resolve whatever difficulties you feel there are."
"I've never felt myself to be a real part of this community. It seemed kind of new and different at first. But then I began to be jealous of Patrick's feeling for the other community members. He didn't seem to care for me any more. And when I kept trying to get him to have feelings only for me, he finally separated from me, leaving me all by myself." She looked at the others. "I don't feel sorry for myself, I can take care of myself. It's just that this communistic so-called enterprise is like everyone says: it pulls people apart and makes people go bad."
Diotima looked at Emily and Elbridge. They now understood that it was hopeless to continue trying to work things out with Julia. They'd tried their best, but Julia's attitudes and beliefs were too irrational and self-absorbed to hope for any genuine change.
"We've gone over all this numerous times before, Julia," Emily said. "Our cooperative community is not communistic. What's happened is primarily your responsibility; you've alienated yourself from most everybody in the community. And you're now deliberately trying to cause dissension by getting Jose and Abraham and others to join with you in attacking the community. We've come to the end of our rope."
"So, what are you going to do? Put me in front of the firing squad?" Julia jeered at them.
"No, Diotima said, "we're tasked by the Membership Committee with giving you formal notice that your $25,000 will now be refunded to you and you are being asked to leave the community as quickly as you can make the necessary arrangements."
Elbridge handed Julia a notice of termination of contract. "All of this is in compliance with the contract you signed when joining the community."
When Julia and Jose had left, Diotima, Elbridge, and Emily embraced each other. It was not the first time a member had been legally separated from a community site, but it was the first in Outlook, and the three felt the failure very deeply. They recognized it as a failure because they had helped to create screening and training procedures that attempted to disallow just this kind of outcome. They vowed they would learn from this reversal and create processes that would make it more certain that such outcomes were not repeated.
A detailed study of Julia's personality profile revealed that there had been a number of negative indicators that could now be used in improving the screening and training systems:
Extreme emotional dependence on her husband, Patrick
Low scores in the progressive awareness part of the training program:
The critical thinking inventory had indicated "emotional thinking:" coming to conclusions based on nothing other than feelings, not adequately examining evidence, and not understanding the necessity for proof for judgments
The self-awareness inventory indicated a lack of awareness of her belief process and structure: e.g. many beliefs were based on her early "moral" training resulting from her membership in a reactionary church
The critical consciousness inventory revealed ignorance of important factors (e.g. nature of capitalism) and false opinions (e.g. that the CCC enterprise was communistic)
A use of her sexuality in a manipulative manner: e.g. influencing Jose and Abraham to question CCC concepts and practices through her bestowal of sexual "favors"
These and other factors discovered from a careful study of Julia's personality profile resulted in significantly improved procedures in screening, evaluation, and training.
"Only by collecting a group of your dearest, going forth with your heart among them, cementing, as it were, a collective entity, and continually enlarging it, putting forth the substance among you, can you start toward comprehension of the Universal Consciousness."
Betty and Stewart Edward White, Across the Unknown
2 Readers of this chapter will only be fully capable of understanding its content if
they are members of a commonwealth community and have attained understanding of the spiritual dimension of community membership through actual participation in the reality of that dimension. This is in keeping with the Perennialist teaching: "Understanding can be acquired only by actual participation in the reality."
3 The Perennial Tradition is the single stream of initiatory teaching flowing through all the great schools of mysticism and philosophy. It has taken many names over the centuries such as Hermeticism, Philosophia, Platonism, Esoteric Christianity, Neo-Platonism, Gnosticism, Esotericism, Alchemy, Cabala, Magic, Sufism, and Illuminism, among others. For a complete explication of its ideas and practices, see the book The Perennial Tradition.
4 Symbiosis: joining together in a mutually beneficial relationship; unified, congruous