To understand community engagement, we must understand that the community is not the first place people are engaged. Every single person is engaged within themselves first, and engaged throughout the universe second. The community is the third place where people become engaged.
I’ve been writing a lot about personal engagement. This post is about Universal Engagement.
Universal engagement causes seemingly unrelated things to depend on each other in order for the world to go around. This is reflected in the so-called “butterfly effect“, in which a butterfly flapping it’s wings on one side of the world causes a hurricane to happen on the other side of the week several weeks after. In a more social sense this can be illustrated by the account of one man who murders another who had just made a baby with his wife the night before. She became destitute after her husband died, and her child grew up without a stable home. As a result he studied laboriously in school, eventually earning a surgeon’s degree. Not being able to find work immediately, he started working in a tiny, remote government office in the wilds of his country. While a clerk there, he wrote a paper with a hypothesis that changed the world, eventually curing diseases and saving thousands of lives.
While that story is fictitious, who’s to say what drove a small town German kid to become the leading theoretic contributor to science in the 21st century. That government worker, Albert Einstein, worked in the Swiss patent office while he wrote the theory of relativity. Einstein later summarized a fair introduction to Universal Engagement when he wrote,
“A human being is a part of a whole, called by us ‘universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
Did Einstein accomplish all he did because of the terrible things that happened in his home country leading to his departure? I can’t say. But I can say he wouldn’t have been the same without that negative force in Germany, and our daily lives today certainly wouldn’t be the same without him.
In this way, Heartspace is very impersonal and even indifferent: Since all things are engaged, nothing has more or less value to engagement, and all things are engaged. This makes the actions of a socially active person as important to engagement as the gamer at her computer. Heartspace is indifferent to the action, to the actors, and to the outcome. All that Heartspace is concerned with is that experience is happening. This is because without my personal contribution to engage in the universe through, Heartspace would not exist. But because I exist, Heartspace exists.
If you feel compelled to take action and do things, then by all means you should get busy doing them! Everyone’s purpose in life is engagement, and by whatever means motivates us to become engaged, we should engage with the things in front of us to engage with. Who is to say what you are yet to do in your life, no matter how old or young you are? Nobody can stop your connections beside you, and those connections are serving countless, endless purposes right now. Whether or not you are aware of them does not really matter.
I strive to remember that Heartspace compels me to engage in life. I feel that compulsion to engage within myself.
A Zen teacher named Zhaozhou Congshen once said, “The Way is not difficult; only there must be no wanting or not wanting.” That is why I believe in Heartspace as a distinct phenomenon from fate, karma, or grace: It explains the inexplicable compulsion almost all people have to be engaged, all the time, whether or not they want. Heartspace simply is. If we feel a conscious compulsion to be engaged, that is because of Heartspace, the engine of engagement. Engagement is the sustain connection we have to the world within and around us. In our lives, these connections determine our “right actions”, “right thinking”, and “right living”, as well as the lenses that we color “right” and “wrong” with. Engagement is everything.
Lots of people overcame rough situations to live great lives, and wouldn’t have been who they were without the rough stuff. The “bad guys” in our lives personally may not experienced anything spectacular because of what they do, but who is to say what happened to their victims, or their victims children, or their communities because of what they do. While none of these things feel good or sound good, all these things work in perfect concert to produce further perfection, the bounds of which are infinite. My work is to allow perfection to work through me by living in Heartspace.
How do I uncover my own Heartspace? Explore that which I feel most sustainably connected. This is also my own pathway to feeling “more connected” to the world around me, and within me. This is what I want to teach people, and is my one of my engagements with the world around me today. I have come to understand that a person who feels compelled to become more connected has to follow that compulsion, however they will. Some people date a lot of people, others practice a lot of meditation, while others cook, paint, sing, teach, ride the bus, and hike. However, I would suggest that these compulsions don’t lead anywhere. There is actually nothing to do and nowhere to go. More than a thousand years ago the Zen teacher Chao-chou said, “The Way is not difficult; only there must be no wanting or not wanting.” This is the quickest way to understand Universal Engagement: there’s no way to do it; we simply must be.
So then, purpose is what we make it. It is still high and holy if that is what we want it to be. I know that I would not have been who I have become had I not lived in the righteous way I forced myself to for all my younger years. I might have been nicknamed “Trouble”, but that was not because I actively got into it- I just stirred it. All that, the righteousness, the trouble, then, now… they have all made me who I am and engaged me exactly where I was meant to be engaged. Today I know this life is all mine. I don’t need to blame anyone else for my discriminant behaviors, or assert that anyone believe the same as me. Universal Engagement distinctly does not care, and that only makes me more responsible for my behaviors and attitudes. I do not need to blame myself for not living in Heartspace or blaming my engagements or slighting others or any of that. Today I am my own person. That is what I have learned from Universal Engagement.