The Alchemy of Community

Submitted by vanessa reid on February 9, 2012 - 7:10am
when the most ordinary things of daily life reveal the gold lying within

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”  
        ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery

No matter the wording of our "mission statement", I believe that the real work of community is in the realm of nurturing human potential. Our initiatives and organizations invite people to give of themselves for the collective good. It is an invitation to believe in oneself and others, and that one’s contribution and engaging in a worthy destination together can really have an impact.

It is not the sum of all the tasks well done that makes the difference but the collective belief that this endeavour and our efforts will yield a certain kind of magic. That something will shift, in our own hearts or in the lives of others as a result of giving and receiving from each other.

To nourish community, we must also be nourished. To create cultures of work that are sustainable is far beyond good policy or well-thought out strategic plans.  It is to create the containers to support our soul's callings. To consciously cultivate places that honour the need for us to stop and reflect together, to celebrate birthdays and notice when things are "off" or really in flow. I see organizations as a kind of vessel or boat, and the voyage is to find how we can nourish all aspects of ourselves and others - the mind, heart, body, spirit and soul of community.  These are organizations that deeply know sustainability!

In my time as Executive Director of Montreal's Santropol Roulant, we found there were a few ingredients in the alchemical process of community building and with a few upgrades, I believe they still hold true:

An Organization is a Living Lab
It is an alive, organic, experiment in the nature of humans interacting with life. A whole organization is an organisme, a living, breathing collection of beings coming together with a deeply felt purpose. In this laboratory are not production lines and products, but people ~ and our yield is an expression of the chemistry and alchemy of our daily interactions.

Shift happens
When we to shift problem-solving questions like “how can we get young people to volunteer?” to a visionary one like “what are we creating together?” we are magnetized around vital and engaging questions that ask us to connect with who we are and what we have to offer, and what might be possible if only we....

It is not what we do, but how we do it.
When we create organizational cultures based on people’s humanity, not their utility we are working with wholeness. We invite each other to create the kind of world we want to be part of we we create Initiatives that catalyse relationships of trust and that tap into a collective creativity.

 “A Potluck of Capacities” enables us to constantly adapt to change.
Working closely with the cycles of the seasons and people lives means constant change and evolution; following the innate energy and rhythms of these cycles builds our strengths and resilience. It allows us to live and work by the beat of our human heart in sync with the rhythms of the natural world.  This is sustainability.

In the years I have been involved in community building, I have seen a great deal of change in and around us. Many, many people have been touched, and been transformed by participating in community - but one thing stays constant.  I like to think of it as the Alchemy of Community the natural process of transformation that begins with the most ordinary materials and events – the stuff of everyday life - and reveals the gold lying hidden inside.  

At the heart of community are people – and it is we, in our deepest yearnings for love, belonging, and to touch the pulse of life - it is in our most intimate longings that lie the richness of and potential for our future. These are the core ingredients to our alchemy.

The gold is always and already there; it is our responsibility to keep creating the space for it to be revealed, cultivated and fully, fully enjoyed.  After all, we are the alchemists.