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Introduction I. Aluna II. The Eightfold Path of Panfidelity 1) Trust and Honesty 2) Love and Delight 3) Touch and Tenderness 4) Responsibility and Commitment 5) Green Faith and Ritual 6) Respectful Communication 7) Playfulness and Creativity 8) Synergy and Service
Children need a loving, supportive family and community environment in order to grow up as healthy adults, capable of love and compassion. They need quality individual attention, loving physical touch, and a real sense of safety and stability. They need to feel a deeply resonant bond with their parents and other adults in their lives, from birth through adolescence, if they are to become healthy, peaceful adults. Children need models of lighthearted playfulness, sensitivity to others, generosity, cooperation, and unconditional love if they are to express these qualities in their own lives. These experiences, essential for nurturing healthy human beings, are sorely lacking in many stressed and isolated nuclear families, and in the many broken families that have come to characterize our culture.
For well over 99% of human history, children grew up within a supportive community of family and friends. The extended family, with several generations living under one roof, characterized American society until early this century, when economic change forced the crystallization of the nuclear family comprised of a wife, husband, and their children. The nuclear family, generally considered the basic unit of American family life, has been the firmly established norm for the past fifty years or so. Now, it, too, seems to be passing. This is not surprising, and need not be mourned, for its side-effects are a tremendous burden for the planet, and for families.
The isolated nuclear family may be the most psychologically and spiritually stressful, expensive, and ecologically destructive form of human social organization that ever existed. This sounds harsh, I know, but I believe it is nonetheless true. Few things drive the industrial plundering system, the rape of "raw materials," and the poisoning of the air, water, and soil upon which all life depends, more than mom and dad and the kids living alone in their house, with two or more cars, a nice lawn to keep up, and all the consumer items "needed" to maintain such a lifestyle. Multiply that scene by 200 million or more, add the military and internal costs of defending such a way of life, and you need look no further to discover a major source of our planet's woes.
In the late 1980's, Alison and I began down a path that would eventually lead us into a deeper sense of community and a broader experience of family than either of us had ever imagined for ourselves. But at the time that wasn't our intention, at least not consciously. Our immediate concern was simply trying to figure out how to create a more peaceful and harmonious family life. The question we asked ourselves was, "How can we best facilitate consensus decision making in our family?" Little did we realize then that the answer to that question would become a fertile womb soon to give birth to a modern clan. What follows is a story of the first five years of our expanded family, its infancy and early childhood, followed by a discussion of the principles and practices of panfidelity, our evolving philosophy of living and loving.
In the heart of the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, on our seventh wedding anniversary, standing naked together at the foot of a hidden seventy-foot waterfall, Alison and I revised and then renewed our marriage vows. For some years Life had been nudging us in the direction of an expansive and inclusive understanding of love and family. As as a symbol of our openness to that love, and of our marriage to something larger than our relationship to each other, we moved our wedding bands to our right hands and exchanged turquoise rings, which we have worn on our marriage ring fingers ever since. Nearly five years were to pass before we would grasp fully the significance of that act.
We were given a very special gift from the universe in response to our question about consensus decision making in our family. One evening, while Alison and I were outside holding each other in silence, entranced by a rainbow ringing the full moon, the name "Aluna" popped into my head. When I spoke this to Alison, she said that the same name had occurred to her several weeks earlier after hearing a song by Lui Collins, who also goes by the name Aluna Zander. In the magic of that lunar moment we recognized an answer to our question and our prayers. For months we had been searching for a name to give our relationship, a proper name for "us" or "we." Other names we had tried hadn't felt right over time. But when "Aluna" presented itself, both of us resonated deeply with it. So we adopted it as the name for our family as a whole. Aluna was pregnant with meaning, but it would be nearly three years before we grasped the full significance of that name.
"What does a name have to do with consensus?" you might ask. Well, by naming something you create a qualitatively different relationship with it. A name says that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Giving a personal name to a group or relationship encourages its members to think of it as a living system. Alison and I became aware of Aluna in this way in the midst of a discussion we thought was about vacation plans. We had different ideas on the subject and were entrenched in our respective positions. But we moved through the impasse and reached consensus rather quickly when Alison said, "I know what I want and I know what you want, but what does Aluna want?" What she meant, of course, was "What do we as a family want to do?" But the way she said it was especially effective because "we as a family" had a name. It was a living reality in our minds. Moreover, as we were soon to discover, Aluna was destined to take on a life of its own, encompassing far more than our nuclear family.
Alison and I moved to the Midwest with our children in the winter of 1990. Within a couple of years, and somewhat unexpectedly, we found ourselves growing deeply in love with several people at the same time. We also began articulating a philosophy of loving friendships and a vision of expanded families that saw more than one love as a blessing, not a problem. This was new for us. Alison and I had opened our hearts to others in the past, but because these had been personal loves, not soul-friendships that we shared, it was not uncommon for one of us to feel jealous or insecure. Now, however, things seemed to be different. The love that Alison reported for several of our close friends, I also felt, and they felt for each other. Although fear and insecurity were still occasionally present, more often than not these feelings were replaced by "compersion" (a term coined in the 1970's to mean the opposite of jealousy). Compersion is feeling joy and delight when thinking about or seeing people that you love care for each other. We had never experienced anything like this before, and it was powerful! Aluna was growing and changing form.
Over the next two years, though its numbers remained small, Aluna continued to grow spiritually. We grew in our depth of relationship to each other and in our love and celebration of Life. We encouraged each other to be all that we could be by aligning ourselves with the Way of Life (i.e., the Tao, or the will of God), being true to our inner and outer nature. We worshipped together, played together, fought, and cried together. We shared our visions, dreams, hopes, and fears. We read books and articles together, watched videos, listened to cassettes, and regularly discussed personal and social transformation and the building of a more just, compassionate, and sustainable world. Perhaps most importantly, we acted a mirrors for each other by telling our truth and dealing openly with the frustrations and difficulties of living in a family-like relationship with others. Conflict has been our ever-present and faithful teacher.
Aluna has also grown in size and richness of diversity. What began as a family of five - two adults and three children- has now become a small clan. Aluna embraces not only those of us who live together, but all who are in a deep, loving friendship with one or more members of Aluna and who share our panfaithful values, vision, and commitment to the future. Thus defined, nearly two dozen people scattered all over North America are presently connected in one way or another to the Aluna clan.
Each relationship or cluster of relationships within Aluna has its own personality, its own integrity, and, of course, its own story. Just as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, a family is only as strong as its weakest relationship. We have held sacred the time and space for each relationship to blossom in its own way, according to its own nature. No two relationships have evolved along the same lines or share the same magic or difficulties. Each has a unique character and its own chemistry.
Relationships are forever changing. They either evolve by staying open to the flow of life energy or they stagnate, building walls to keep things the same. True love and freedom go hand in hand. There is freedom within the body of Aluna for relationships to evolve as Life leads. For example, Alison and I are in the process of getting a legal divorce even though we both still love each other and consider each other best friends. We are no longer primary partners but we expect to live in the same clan together and to be in a close, loving friendship all of our lives. We still enjoy each other's company and each other's touch. We continue to share parenting joys and responsibilities. Our relationship is evolving in a positive way for both of us, for our children, and for Aluna as a whole. Really, we are not divorcing at all in the normal sense of the term. We are simply getting "unmarried" from each other while remaining united to Aluna, as we now see that our ring ceremony in 1989 somehow anticipated. Though we both celebrate this change, it is not without pain and sorrow. The loving support of a family of intimate friends has made it much easier for us to move through the grief of their life transition with grace. The safety of our extended family has allowed us to experience the freedom and new possibilities of change.
Aluna has become a small clan, or extended family, of wonderfully diverse and gifted individuals, most of whom do not live together and some of whom have not yet met each other. We are homemakers, artists, poets, prophets, peacemakers, healers, activists, parents, children, teachers, ministers, body workers, community organizers, cultural therapists, and more. We are united by our shared love of life and commitment to building a better world. We are empowered by the Holy Mystery at the heart of the life process and the fires of our panfaithful love. We are inspired by the conviction that how we are living and what we are doing is precisely what that Holy Mystery wants us to be and to do in order to create a just, sustainable, and compassionate human presence within the body of Life.
Aluna is part of a larger interconnected web of love, friendship, and community. Many members of our clan are also members of other circles or groups committed to healing ourselves and our world. Several within Aluna are even organizers or key individuals within other expanded families. The collective impact of all these communities for good in the world seems to be growing exponentially, as the story of how the name Aluna became especially meaningful to us helps illustrate.
Nearly three years after the name Aluna came to us, we met a man named Lou, a dancer and deep ecologist, who was to become a part of our expanded family. Talking to Lou one day, I mentioned the name Aluna and how it was given to us. He asked me to spell it and I did so. Then he asked in a curious tone, "Do you know what the name Aluna means?" I responded, "I know what it meant to me. What does it mean to you?" That's when he told me the amazing story of the Kogi Indians, the last surviving high civilization of pre-Columbian America, descendants of the ancient Tairona peoples, who for centuries have lived in sustainable villages and maintained their isolation in the mountains of Columbia. Their prophetic message of warning and instruction to the modern world, found in Alan Ereira's book, The Elder Brothers, and in the videotaped BBC documentary, "From the Heart of the World: The Elder Brother's Warning," tells of a far more majestic and awesome meaning of the name Aluna than Alison or I ever imagined.
The Kogis believe that the only hope for humanity is to live according to ecological principles discovered by closely observing nature. They believe that we moderns must change our ways and align our lives and all that we do with the divine life force of the universe. Their name for this God force revealed and manifest in the natural world is "Aluna!" Embracing intelligence, soul, and fertility, Aluna is the essence of life, the source and substance of reality. For the Kogis, Aluna is the Mother, whose law is harmony and balance. The whole of Kogi life revolves around this living presence that shapes the world and makes it flower. Their message to western civilization, "the younger brother," is essentially this: "Live in harmony with Aluna and you can create sustainable cultures where people and other life forms can flourish. Continue to violate the ways of Aluna and you will destroy the world and yourselves in the process."
My first response to hearing what the name Aluna meant to the Kogis was awe - unspeakable awe - and gratitude. The tears flowed down my face and goose bumps ran up and down my arms as I watched the videotape "From the Heart of the World." I was overwhelmed. Following awe, I felt a profound sense of humility. I thought, "My God, how can we possibly live up to that name!?! But within an instant I knew in my heart that we weren't being asked to live up to anything. Rather, the name Aluna would serve as a reminder to us that, as we celebrate and learn from nature, and love each other unconditionally, we can trust the divine life force of the universe to guide our actions. We serve a far greater reality than our clan alone when we live and love panfaithfully.
The term "panfidelity" means "faithful to all." In order to understand what that means, however, we first need to understand the meaning of faithfulness. Webster defines "faithful" as: 1)steadfast in affection or allegiance; constant; loyal; true [faithful friends] 2) conscientious; thorough in fulfillment of duties or responsibility [faithful attendance] 3) true to one's word or belief; firm in adherence to a covenant or promise; [faithful to ones's vows] 4) given with strong assurance; binding [faithful promise] 5) accurate; trustworthy; reliable; exact [a faithful witness] 6) full of or characterized by faith, esp. religious faith [the faithful].
Being faithful, then, involves being honest, trustworthy, and "real." A faithful person is a man or woman of integrity. Being faithful to all means being faithful to Life - all life, human and nonhuman - and faithful to the divine source and energy of life. Panfidelity is biofidelity and geofidelity. The panfaithful person's primary allegiance, or loyalty, is not to herself, nor to another, nor to any group, nation, religious creed, holy book, or philosophy. Her primary allegiance is to the whole of nature and, more specifically; to the life, air, water, and soil of her home, her bioregion. From a theological perspective, to be panfaithful is to be loyal to God, to be faithful to Life and Love; to be true to the Holy Mystery revealed in us, around us and in the irreversible flow of time.
Being faithful to anything less than this is idolatry, and the natural consequence of idolatry are almost always tragic. Countless people and animals have suffered, lives have been lost, and ecosystems ravaged, all because of idolatry, or misplaced allegiance. Millions of Jews were exterminated because many Nazis were loyal to Hitler but not faithful to anything larger than the Third Reich. Millions of women were tortured and killed during the Inquisition because of those who were loyal to the institutional Church but not faithful to the feminine experience of life. Whenever two groups go to war, each loyal to its own leader, patriotic ideals, or perception of the divine will, we witness the logical conclusion of idolatry. When two individuals are devoted to each other without also being faithful to their community and their bioregion, the results are equally, if not as dramatically, tragic. Few things stress the environment and our health more than trying to survive in the modern world without the emotional and physical support of real community, and without the spiritual support of the body of Life which gave us birth and continues to nurture and sustain us. Multiply the image of an isolated nuclear family millions of times, over a period of decades, and you will understand one of the major reasons why we are inadvertently destroying our world and destroying our sense of peace and happiness in the process. Sanity, health, and sustainability all lie in the direction of panfidelity.
To be panfaithful means to be faithful to all; to be loyal to life; to be true to the divine life force of the universe. It means operating with deep ecological integrity in all situations and relationships. Several years ago I defined panfidelity more in terms of sexuality than I do now. Based on my own experience and on the experience of others who have been living communally for decades, my thinking has evolved considerably. I now believe that the really important issues for panfaithful living are: trust and honesty, love and delight, touch and tenderness, responsibility and commitment, green faith and ritual, playfulness and creativity, respectful communication, and synergy and service. When community building principles and practices such as these are adhered to, sexuality tends to take care of itself, and can be celebrated whatever its form.
What follows is an elaboration on these eight essential characteristics of the panfaithful way of life, what I have called the eightfold path of panfidelity. While none of us in the Aluna clan claim to live according to these principles all of the time, they nonetheless collectively serve as a faithful compass, guiding us along the way toward a hopeful and ecological future.
Trust, love, and the spirit of community are all interdependent. They feed on each other and help each other grow stronger. But one thing they all need is honesty. Without honesty, trust is lost, love withers and dies, and community is unattainable. So nothing is more important to Aluna, and to living panfaithfully, than regularly telling our truth.
One of the first things we discovered as we journeyed down this path of "radical honesty," as Washington D. C. psychotherapist Brad Blanton calls it, was that truth telling did not exactly come easy to any of us. Early on we were forced to admit that we were all habitual liars, whether consciously or unconsciously. We each had spent a lifetime editing our thoughts, speech, and actions, putting our best face forward, and denying our shadow, for fear of being judged and rejected. Since fear of the consequences seemed to be the greatest barrier to telling the truth, we created rituals - sacred talking circles - where each person could share his or her unedited truth and be heard, without being interrupted, criticized, or judged in any way. By sharing our deep and minute truth with each other (i.e., the embarrassing and painful stuff, as well as the "stupid little things" that are usually neither stupid nor little), we slowly began retraining ourselves to be truth tellers instead of subtle liars. Just as the U.V. Family expressed in their essay, "The Possible Relationship," "We learned, at a visceral level the sickening results of letting half-truths, white lies, or major withholds persist and the thrilling results of plunging into cold truth and having the coursing energy of love back into our relationship." The practice of radical honesty has made it nearly impossible for us not to love each other. It has also made it much easier for us to trust one another and to trust Aluna as a whole.
Trust may be the most important attitude of the heart to cultivate in the growing of community. With it, most other positive attributes follow naturally. Without it, community is impossible. But what does it mean to trust? From an evolutionary, or time-developmental, perspective, we can speak of trusting with respect to the past, present, and future. From a spatial perspective, we refer to trusting what is inside us and outside us.
Real life is full of pain and disappointment. To trust with regards to the past is to refuse to play the blame game. It means letting go of resentments and judgments of self and others, forgiving from the heart, and accepting life's struggles and difficulties as a necessary part of being alive. To trust in the present is to be mindful of the fact that this moment, and every moment, is a one-time gift. It means being aware of the sacredness of this time and place, and of the breath you are breathing right now. (pause) To trust in the future is to have faith, not that things will necessarily go well for you, but that whatever happens will be perfect for your growth and learning. Trusting time means experiencing the flow of real life with an open heart and a deep-seated attitude of acceptance and curiosity.
Thinking spatially, we reflect on the importance of trusting what is inside us - our inner nature: our dreams, intuitions, failings, and our life and love energy - as well as what is outside us - our outer nature: the natural and social contexts within which we are embedded. To trust what is inside you is to listen and respond to the soft, subtle voice of the divine spirit within; to refuse to follow any external authority that does not line up with your heart; and to accept that even your faults and shortcomings serve a purpose. To trust what is outside you is to appreciate the natural world for what it has always been - teacher, healer, provider; revealer of divine mystery, majesty, and power - and to accept your condition as an earthling, a human expression of this living planet. It also means having faith that the faults and shortcomings of modern society serve a purpose; that our industrial, technological world is not a mistake, but rather is a necessary, though immature, state in the evolution of consciousness and culture.
In religious terms, trusting time and space means having faith in God. It is choosing to stay open to the possibility that we are being allured by the same mysterious Reality that has drawn and empowered the process of evolution for billions of years. It is also choosing to believe that nothing in our lives or in the world is a mistake.
Trusting and truth-telling go hand in hand. Some people seem to think that trusting means passivity or inaction. Nothing could be further from the truth. I trust that our Western consumer culture is not a cosmic mistake; but I am also doing all that I can to help it recover from its addictive patterns and mature beyond its present self-destructive and Earth-destructive habits. Looking within, I trust that my shadow - my proud, insensitive, and selfish side - serves a purpose, but I am also trying to become a more humble, compassionate, and sensitive person. We can trust that those who oppress others are less evil than they are ignorant or unenlightened, and at the same time do everything within our power to ensure that freedom and justice prevail. Trusting the universe means trusting that everything is "right on schedule." But it also means trusting that the anguish and anger that we sometimes feel over what is happening to the oppressed and to our world, and the yearnings we have for a more just and sustainable society, are part of the universe too - and right on schedule as well.
Hope for humanity lies in the direction of raising children who can trust themselves, trust each other, and celebrate their place in the universe. In order for this to happen, children must be able to tell their truth without fear, and they must be able to see this modeled by the adults around them. Loving in a panfaithful family within a supportive clan is the best way that I know how to educate children in the life skills they will need to survive in the coming millennium.
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