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Breathe Wisdom
The Essence of Community

with Jacqueline Kramer

For a good portion of my life I have been sitting in the middle of the question, Is it possible to build healthy, vital community? The desire to form community has been with my family for at least as far back as my grandfather's vision of a 1930s version of a hippie commune. My father continued to hold the vision of creating community; he even bought a piece of property for that purpose. My brother and I both explored the viability of creating actual physical community but after encountering dead ends we abandoned the project. Yet the question continued to live in me as I started hearing from the moms who are my students. Many of these moms shared how alone they felt without everyday support from other adults. I too experienced loneliness when I was a young mother. What these moms were voicing was not so much a deep existential loneliness as the human need for contact with and support from other humans (community). We are, after all, pack animals.

In a strange twist of fate, the realization of community did not materialize until my father moved in with me during the last months of his life. My home became an open community dedicated to making my father's last months, weeks and days rich and beautiful. Friends of my father as well as family moved in and out of the house. Some stayed for a meal, some stayed for days to talk and express their appreciation to my father, while others stayed for weeks. My job was to make each person feel as welcome as possible by setting the tone of good will. I fed them, listened to them and tried to make them comfortable in my home. They were feeding my father with their love, and I fed them with whatever was called for. This was not always easy since my brother and I were being challenged by difficult emotions towards one another. Yet, even through the anger and pain that arose, we continued to hold the community together.

The grace and harmony created by this allowing for imperfection and commitment to holding the community together was truly amazing. Friends and family spoke of experiencing a healing from their visit. My father and I had an even deeper healing. My father learned he was not alone, that he was loved unconditionally, and I learned that community is whoever is in our presence at the moment. Each person, each being, who comes into our home and our life creates a different texture and colour in the environment. People come and go; the environment is always changing. I now see that I was labouring under the misconceptions that community needed to be composed of the same people continuously and that things always needed to be harmonious. In reality, community is more like a moving, flowing river. As long as I am fully with whoever and whatever is before me, I have the makings of a vital community.

Community is an attitude we carry with us. It is a heart that is open to whoever and whatever is present in the moment, even the painful stuff. Although community used to be defined as one's family or tribe, we now know (having seen the pictures of our blue green planet from space) that we are all parts of this Earth home together. As I embody this awareness more deeply my concept of community broadens. It stretches to include neighbours and strangers and even people who chaff my hide. Wherever I am in this moment is the still centre of my community. Wherever two or more are gathered, a relationship exists.

We still need to honour our ancestral roots. Our unique family karma is a powerful aspect of our path. We still need people who love us and bring us soup when we are sick or listen to us when we are triumphant or troubled. Yet, as we broaden our definition of community to include whoever is in our immediate environment, infinite possibilities appear before us. The bird outside our window has tea with us, the neighbour shares a story and loneliness dissolves into the nothingness from which it came.

To learn more about Jacqueline and the Hearth Foundation, please read her interview in the November 2007 issue of Timeless Spirit Magazine.

Jacqueline Kramer is the director of the Hearth Foundation. She has been studying and practicing Theravadin Buddhism for 30 years, is a Religious Science Practitioner and student of the world's wisdom traditions. Her root teacher was Annagarika Dhamma Dinna who taught in the Sri Lankan tradition. She also studied with Ven. Ananda Maitreya, Achan Sobin Namto, Ven. Punnaji Mahathera and Ayya Khema.

Her work with mothering and homemaking came out of an insight she had one afternoon while out in her back yard. As she looked into the eyes of the neighbour's cow she had an experience of unity and love for the planet and the desire to help protect the planet for her newborn daughter and all other beings. She realized this was her life's purpose. Jacqueline writes a weekly newsletter, books on mothering as a spiritual practice, and has created online lay Buddhist practice classes which she offers, as is the Buddhist tradition, at no cost. She is a mother, grandmother, daughter, sister and friend.

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