Lola talks to us about “Loving Those Beside Us” as part of our March Series, “We Are All In This Together”. With special guest, Chicago artist, Matthew Hoffman. Listen, watch, or read now.
This “talk” is electronically transcribed. Please excuse any errors or omissions.
Lola: So I continue to be emotional, apparently, that’s what we’re dealing with today. And I’m just sitting there, like Lola, what is going on with you? And I think what’s going on for me is, ooh. You know, I have been here for six years, in a staff capacity and it has been like a real labor of love. I found this community 14 years ago at a very, very difficult time in my life. And something stirred in me about 20 years ago, when I first heard Michael Beckwith speak. And what I understand now is it was like what I would call a mystical moment. I just started weeping; I didn’t know who he was, but he was saying words that felt so deeply true to me, and it was like water. And I felt like I was on a desert before that.
Lola: And then I came here, 14 years ago, and it was like I got some more water. You know? It was like, sort of to Matthew’s point, you can watch in this dimension of reality, and you can get bombarded, whether it’s through your family system or the media, or whatever, around what’s wrong, something’s not right. And then I came here, and I just sat and wept, I think, for like a year. And it was like, I just kept hearing, you are well. Oh, gosh. So, I just kept hearing, like you are well, you are well. There is something good where you are. And that was so healing for me.
Lola: And I think you know, there’s so much going on in this place that you may or may not know about, but you know, to be here six years later in the annual meeting, coming today, and to have this community really be asked to choose if it wants to exist and grow, you know, like that feels like a big deal to me. I feel like where we’ve gotten to today has been, sure, by grace, but please don’t misunderstand this, but a lot of muscle. And I know that in order for us to become who we are here to be next, that muscle isn’t gonna be the thing. It worked for six years, and I’m really good at that, but in order for it to who it is here to be, it has to be something greater; it can’t be one person’s muscle. You know?
Lola: And so I was thinking about, like, what is it that’s stirring in me right now? And it really is like the potency of community. The power of community, the essential nature of community. And I was recently, I’m going to be a TedX Chicago speaker on May 1st, which is very fun. And what I’m talking about is the future of community in a post-religious society. And the thing that I’m most interested in exploring, which is why voting matters to me so much and so deeply, is you know, I belong to Soho House, and go to my kids’ PTO meetings, and I lie in the Village of Oak Park, and yet, when something significant happens in someone’s life, like a diagnosis or a divorce or a death, Soho House cannot be there for me in the same way this place can be there for me. And so I’m really curious, like what does community look like if 3500 Christian churches are closing a year? If 70% of non-orthodox Jews are marrying outside of their faith tradition?
Lola: Like, it’s clear that society is saying something new is wanted. This old thing that has birthed much goodness, and much pain, has gotten us to where we are, and it won’t be the thing that gets us to the next iteration of our evolution. And yet it would be easy to think that then we should just throw community out, like throw the baby out with the bathwater. And I’ve just seen over the last six years that that is not what is needed. That there is like a soul salve that a place like this provides, and so we’re really on, I think like a cutting edge, and we’re figuring it out as we go. You know? The question has come in, as we’ve been looking at some of the questions around establishing ourselves as an independent, nonprofit organization-
Lola: That’s how the questions occur for me. That’s really true, actually. It’s like, bah! No. The question can be asked, like will we still be spiritual. And I just want to encourage you, you can’t not be spiritual. Like, I’ve said this before, but the distinction between secular and spiritual only exists in the western world. But if you actually start to understand that your very nature is spiritual, there’s nothing that could happen here that could take that away from you. If the presence of love is in all things, if the presence of life, of joy, of freedom is always available, then it will be present. The question is what will it be founded on? The very same things we’re already founded on: a philosophy of oneness, that there is a power and presence in back of all things. That there is a dimension of reality that is unseen, that is always working in your favor; it is always available to you, to the extent that you allow it to be.
Lola: So my curiosity is, how do we then be in community, if we’re at the cutting edge? What does that look like? And you know, five years ago, I was the executive director, and I think, Jonathan, you were on the board at the time. And I feel like, sometimes I’m like, I don’t even want to tell you this story ’cause it sounds so dramatic. But it was dramatic. And this community was uncertain if it was going to carry forward. And it was at Good Friday five years ago, and I don’t identify as Christian, but I also, it is not lost on me when religious traditions, there’s something that happens in the collective consciousness of humanity, like we’re in the season of Lent, you don’t have to be Christian to be impacted by a collective consciousness, an awake state. And Good Friday was upon us, and I was in my meditation practice that morning, and I got real clear movement that I was to step into a greater experience of leadership of this community.
Lola: And about four months later, the founder decided he was going to leave, and it was pretty swift, and pretty abrupt, and pretty dramatic. And I was really clear at that time that I was to say yes to leading this community. But I also knew if I spoke too swiftly, people would think I was too eager, and I’m a pretty good strategist. So I decided to sit back. And then about six months later, Bishop Carlton Pearson, who’s one of my mentors, said to me on a phone call, he said, “Lola, if you don’t tell them, they’ll start to make other choices. You need to speak.” And so I sat with each member of the board, and I said I have this thing in me that’s saying that this place is to continue, and it’s to grow, and I’m to be a part of that.
Lola: And as I met with each member of the board, I got to this man named Jim Atkinson, who was our board treasurer at the time. And we were sitting at Starbucks, at Rightwood and Magnolia, and he grabbed my hand across the table, and he goes, “Honey. We’ve all been waiting for you to tell us you’re ready.” And I just started weeping. And I had the thought this morning, that there are people in your life that are waiting for you to step in to the influencer position that you’re here to be. And that when you do that, and it might be inside of this community, it might be outside of this community, but when you do that, there will be those that reach across the table and grab your hand, and say, “Honey. We’ve been waiting. What have you been waiting for?”
Lola: So, you know, there is this premise upon which this community is built. And it is reflected in many great traditions. Mystical traditions, science traditions, and it’s said like this, please do not get hung up on the archaic language. Through his thought, man holds the key to every situation, and contains within himself that transforming and regenerative agency, by which he may make himself what he wills. And that was the message that I got when I arrived here. That I actually have agency. That it looks like a lot of things have happened to me, and that’s not to invalidate the struggles or the trauma or the drama that has occurred in my life. But that actually there is a capacity that resides in me that can go by whatever name suits you. Life, spirit, universe, the great I Am, the endwelling presence. There’s something that moves in you, you have agency.
Lola: That’s what this community stands to be about. Because the great dis-ease that we are experiencing on the planet, which we’ve talked much about here, is the notion that someone or something has power or authority over you. That so long as we keep that lie alive, we are all trapped. That is not to dismiss the true and real injustice that occurs on this planet, and then what? If I had stayed trapped in my story, that I was deeply invested in when I arrived here, I would not have the life that I have today. That’s just science. That’s just science. So this community matters very deeply to me because if you had not sowed it before I arrived, I wouldn’t have the life I have. And if we do not sow it today, there are others who will not have the life that they desire, that they deserve.
Lola: One of my favorite philosophers, Earnest Holmes, says freedom is the birthright of every living soul. But you have to know you’re free. If you don’t know you’re free, you don’t have access, even if it is your right. If you are in a mental model, whereby you’re trapped, which was the truth that I was swimming in, you’re stuck. For some it might be the hair drier. For me, it was my crazy obsession with my bank account. My obsession with whatever the number was, that was something about me. And that’s what I have had to unravel here.
Lola: So there is this brilliant human named Tikna Han that is nearing the end of his time in this dimension of his reality. He is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, and he created a place in France called Plum Village. And it is now an iconic monastery. He has gone back to Thailand, I think, to lay his body down. And when my installation occurred here in April of 2015, this was the quote that I wanted on the invitation that went out. By the way, that invitation was sent to Tikna Han, it was sent to the Pope. It was sent to President and Michelle Obama. I just sent it to anybody who I wanted to be there. Now, they did not come. Maybe they were on the live stream, they didn’t tell me. But this is the quote I wanted. The next Buddha may take the form of a community. A community practicing understanding and loving kindness. A community practicing mindful living. This may be the most important thing we can do for the survival of the Earth.
Lola: So I guess, I just want you to know how much I think you matter being here. I think that I was an essential ingredient in getting us to today. We, in 2018, got very darn close to hitting our top year before all of the drama ensued. So I feel like I contributed as much as I could, and now something else is needed, meaning you are needed to engage in a different level. Because this place matters. Because people like me got their life out of this place existing. So I don’t know who you’re here to be in a community context, but there’s something unique for you to contribute. And if you’ve been sitting on the sidelines waiting, now is the time for you to dig in.
Lola: It’s ugly sometimes, it’s messy. It’s uncomfortable. There’s a great community organizer out of France, Jean [foreign language 00:15:45], and he says, “We shouldn’t seek the ideal community. It is a question of loving guys whom God has set beside us today.” And if that word, God, gets you worked over, you can just say the universe. You could say, it is a question of loving those whom the universe has set beside us today. Would you be willing to consider that anywhere and everywhere you are at any given moment, the beings that are at your side are there by divine order? That there’s some holy appointment upon which you find yourself, even when they make you crazy.
Lola: It’s easy to love, folks, when they’re behaving right. That requires very little practice. But the genius of community is when we actually use it as a mirror to reflect upon us the parts of ourselves that still get deeply triggered. And just because this is a community that’s committed to oneness, just because this is a community that says, reveal love, honor all paths, celebrate life, does not mean that there won’t be those among us that make you mad. But imagine that the universe, the spirit of life, has orchestrated this most glorious configuration of humanity to push the buttons in you that are ready to be looked at. That to me is the great power of community. It’s not a place like a country club. There is no hired help to make everything look nice and pretty. It’s you. And that’s a difficult paradigm, I think, for us. We’re waking up to some level of awareness where we realize the transactional relationships that we’ve been in are not deeply rewarding or fulfilling. I give you this, you give me that, it will only take you so far.
Lola: So there’s this really brilliant organizer out of Detroit. Her name is Adrian Marie Brown. She wrote a book called Emergent Strategy, she has a new book coming out called Pleasure Activism. Really the premise of her work is transformational justice, and the notion that if we do not experience pleasure through organizing and activism, forget it, something’s off. She’s largely inspired by Audrey Lorde, who was deeply committed to the erotic. The erotic nature of life. And she says, “We must become the systems we need. No government, political party, or corporation is going to care for us. So we have to remember how to care for each other.” And I think that that’s what this community is really here to be about.
Lola: You know, I was participating in an interfaith prayer workshop yesterday at Pilgrim Church in Oak Park. And it was like, real unplugged. I mean, all kinds of things weren’t working. And it was so charming. Because it really was just about connecting human to human. And we had this incredible band, for which I am deeply grateful. Without whom I for sure would not be here, despite how beautiful you are. I am a junkie for good music. It moves my spirit. And yet, if we forget the essence of this place, as the deep meaningful, intimate connection that feels scary, that takes us outside of our comfort zone, that can get messy, if when it gets hard, you leave, rest assured, you will recreate that discomfort somewhere else.
Lola: So the question is, why community? Why this place? Why now? There is a deep soul salve that is needed and wanted in human beings. It’s very clear to me that people are walking around really longing for what my friend Stacy Gibson calls back of the heart work. We are so located in our mind that it’s easy to forget one another’s shared humanity. And I think that that’s what enables something like you are beautiful to catch fire, ’cause we’re so thirsty. We’re so thirsty to be reminded that you are good, you are whole, you are holy, you are beautiful.
Lola: So Jean [inaudible 00:21:23] goes on to say, community with all its difficulties is a special place of growth. We are called to learn to grow in love and forgiveness. And so I guess I just ask if you are choosing to stay for the annual meeting, which of course, I hope you do, that if you are ready to take this next ride with us, into who we’re here to be, that you invoke the presence of grace, that you invoke the presence of love, that you invoke the presence of forgiveness, because I can assure you we will screw some things up. I can assure you, I will screw some things up. So I as I ask you to extend love, grace, forgiveness, upon this community, I do the same. Because I really believe that community matters. I think that service matters. This place offers an outlet to transcend your neurotic state, your orientation of the self, and to get into serving others, number one.
Lola: When you invoke sacred service, you transcend your neurotic state. That’s the power of community. When you give of yourself financially, you buck up against the lie of lack and limitation. I want you to support this community generously. I want you to want to support this community generously. I believe that Bodie, Chicago, could be Plum Village in our own iteration. I absolutely believe that this community is here to be a most electric space of love and compassion. And I think to have that in the city of Chicago, in the heartland of this country, is essential. And I want you to be a part of it.
Lola: So there’s this book called the Bible, and in that book, it says, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. There is a gift that you have. It is unique to you. Only you can bring it into this dimension of reality the way that you can. Your life is meant to be that of service. It is easy in a consumer driven model to forget to serve. It is easy to orient yourself around your individual wants and needs. And yet, we come here to transcend that. So I love this community, this community has made a huge impact in my life. I know that there are thousands of people that have not yet found it, and I want to make sure that it’s here for a long, long time. I met my husband here. I have four kids that are healthy, that have a knowledge of self, a determination of self that has been grounded and rooted in your affirmation of who they are and what they are.
Lola: And I believe that that is the most essential ingredient that every human being is worthy of. That who they are, as they are, is good enough. And this community stands for that. So I thank you, for being a part of this community, and I hope you’ll continue to love it, to give to it, to raise it up, to invite people to join us here, and to allow yourself to get hurt, and come back again. So welcome to Bodie.