The Village and The Mountaintop

Once upon a time there was a village. That village was home. It was sanctuary, it supported most all of our needs, and from it we learned most of what we needed to learn to navigate our life path. In the village were our parents, aunts and uncles and cousins and children and wise elders. There was love and commonality and understanding. There was security, and safety, and there was comfort.

From infants to elders, the village contained and sustained all. There was a lovely symmetry in this, an interaction and interdependence that was mutually beneficial. The young learning from the old, the old taking joy in the young, there was much sharing, organically, effortlessly, a giving and receiving not just of resources but of life itself.

A short distance from the village one could find isolation, time and space to commune with nature, to reflect, to meditate, or to pray. And when that need was met, one could return to the village, renewed and refilled, balance restored, and carry on.

Sure, some would leave the village. Young people are called to explore, to go beyond what they have known. That, too, was and is the nature of things. But the village was the hub, the point of reference, and even those who left it took something of the village with them.

This has been the way of things, in one form or another, since we first stood upright. That is, until modern times.

The industrial age made us mobile, and we were on the move. Villages spread and diversified, and got larger and busier. Families spread out, the young going further afield, often leaving the old behind. The fragmentation of the village had begun in earnest.

Historically, this is a very recent occurrence. In the blink of an eye, a mere blip on the human timeline, our whole social structure has dramatically changed. Yet our needs – the inherent, hard-wired nature of human as social animal – have not changed. There simply hasn’t been time for us to adapt well.

So we find ourselves living in what is essentially a model that is foreign to all of our historical frames of reference, one of suburbs and cities where we don’t even know the names of the people living next door, let alone being in any real way mutually supportive. Families are no longer nuclear, and the only real commonality of villages is geography.

Now, another shift has begun within our culture. Because we still have within us all of the needs that the village provided to us, we are developing coping mechanisms to address them. And, like the development of any new tool, we are still going about it rather clumsily.

What we are begging to see now in our culture is a drawing of people towards aspects of what the village used to provide. This is showing up as polarity, and while there are extremes, there is, mostly, all of the degrees of balance in between. Since we are all unique and individual, our needs and desires are not present in each person to the exact same degree. Even within the balance of the villages of old, some have always leaned more towards community, while others have always leaned towards a more solitary experience.

The extreme swing of the pendulum, the starting place, or brackets of you will, for this emerging model, is that there are village people, and there are mountaintop people.

Village people think mountaintop people are odd. Reclusive, quiet, inclined towards rural introversion, mountaintop people tend to sit back and watch, and consider things, sometimes overly so. They are happy listening to the wind in the trees, water flowing in a stream, or the silence of night.

This inclination is how we are trying to address security and safety, renewal restoration, and balance.

Mountaintop people think village people are nuts. Generally more extroverted, village people are more urban oriented, do well in towns and cities. They thrive on the hustle and bustle, are more impulsive, better in crowds. They are happy going, doing, on the move.

This inclination is how we are trying to address the family aspects of the village, the busy-ness, the interaction and interdependence.

I haven’t come across too many people who are all one way or the other, because whether we are aware of it or not, we all still have the same needs and desires somewhere within us. No, most of the rest of us fall somewhere in between. All of us have aspects of both in us, and the sooner we become aware of our inclination, where the scales currently stand in our hearts and souls, the more comfortably we can navigate our daily life.

And the fact is that we live within a society where both present themselves for us to choose, in what degree we participate in them, and how we navigate that participation.

And therein lies the challenge.

Part of us craves the solitude, the peace, the symmetry and beauty and organic nature of nature itself, of the mountaintop. But the fact is that the grocery store, the gas station, the experience of interpersonal relations – loving each other – in essence, the community that we also want, need and desire to be a part of are all to be found in the village.

And our wants and needs are not fixed in position. The scales of need and want within us may currently stand in one position, and next week, next year, 10 years from now that may change. It’s not a stable thing, our inclination. Mine has changed over the years. The opportunity here is to keep a finger on our own pulse, so to speak, to feel the subtle – or perhaps not so subtle – leanings that our heart and soul are communicating to us, in order that their needs be heard, honored, and met.

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and thought that city life was normal, just the way things were. I did fine there when I was young. I had no other points of reference, so while somewhere in my heart and soul I knew at some level, even then, that my natural leaning was not towards being a city boy, I had nothing to compare my current environment to. I didn’t know what I was missing.

Then somewhere along the way Mom sent us kids to spend a summer with my grandparents on their farm in Indiana. In the course of one day I went from Los Angeles to a teeny tiny little town named Andrews, whose population, according to my research, was somewhere between 72 and 107 souls, most of whom were scattered far and wide on farms spread over the countryside. I quickly learned the meaning of the word culture-shock.

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