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  • Writer's pictureJillian Sawers

Do you have a tribe, really?

“Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn't matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again , come , come.”


In the previous post ‘Can inner silence preserve our humanity’ I explored the idea that tribal thinking contains within it the seed of self-destruction, because it creates an ‘other’, and where there is division, there is always some sort of conflict or competition, a win-lose which must eventually become a lose-win, and on we go. True cooperation isn’t possible.

Tribal thinking isn’t the same being part of a tribe. For many different purposes all of us are operating within various ‘tribes’. And those tribes can cooperate (not dominate just ‘cos you're bigger!) with other tribes, if they have an overarching wider identity of being part of humankind. But without the broader identity, the larger belonging, it’s impossible to treat your neighbour as yourself.

For some that tribe could be their extended family or wider clan. Others may consider their fellow festival attending hippies, comic-con attendees, or LBGTQ+ to be their ‘tribes’.

Our work roles, hobbies, sports, religions, kinks, could all form the basis of places we feel at home and people we feel comfortable with. In this social media age, tribe tends to refer to any group of people we feel an affinity with, with every instagram influencer creating their ‘tribes’.

When a reader commented after the last article, that one can be an individual and be in a tribe, in a knee-jerk conflict avoiding reaction, with nay a moment of silence to consider – I agreed that I also had my tribes.

Partly I was thinking of the spiritual group which I spent more than half of my life with.

These weren’t people I just hung out at summer festivals with. They were people I lived with, waking at 4.00am to collectively meditate for decades, ‘serving’ together, people who shared the same dress code, food habits, philosophy, lifestyle, down to minute details. This was a huge ‘tribe’, who if I flew half way across the world, and I’d never met them personally before, would still be there at the airport, welcoming me, and speaking the same lingo.

If I were to identify with any ‘tribe’ it would be still be them, even though my circumstances have changed a great deal. I haven’t traded that tribe for another, though for a period of years after I distanced myself from my former life, I lived in various communities, in different relationships and situations. But I have become suspicious of my security seeking mind which likes to belong and identify with ‘tribes’.

Photo by Amir Weiss

I was over 40 by the time I first ventured outside my former tribe. Attending an 8-day Luminate Festival on top of Takaka Hill in New Zealand, I was fascinated by a whole new world of free thinkers and lovely ‘weirdos’. It was easy to spot the ones who were firmly ‘in’ the tribe - tans and tattoos, dreadlocks, earth-coloured attire, plenty of mushrooms, LSD and dope use. And many did identify as being a tribe, as witnessed in the joyful frenzy whipped by a performer who called upon the tribe to unite and rise up. I confessed to a woman’s circle on the last day that I had spent an unhealthy amount of time at the festival, concerned about my lack of ‘tribal’ credentials. The confessional ball now rolling, it seemed we were actually the majority – the ‘wanna-be’ but lacking ‘earth goddesses’.

A conversation with a camping neighbour, also opened my eyes to the real divisions between these apparent peace-loving people. She worked for Bird and Forest, an environmental charity in New Zealand and was pro-1080.

Probably not since the Springbok rugby tours of the 80’s had an issue divided New Zealanders more than the use of the poison 1080 to kill non-native ‘pests’ like possum and stoats, which destroy the native bird life. She was a nature loving hippy for all appearances, but her professional experience had made her pro-1080. I asked her how that went down in these circles. Apparently like a lead-balloon, she received a lot of hostility because of it.

Sometimes we identify ourselves with certain groups without even knowing half of what we are actually connecting ourselves too, nor the risk involved if we someday do not adhere to the whole kit and kaboodle they stand for.

I attended 2 more of these festivals and at my last one, delivered 3 workshops in return for free entrance and a ‘privileged camping spot. I felt more at home than I did at my first festival, but not more than I would if I was teaching a group of Saudi Arabian petrol company employees at my usual paid gig.

A video I made of footage from Mt Abu, India, where I was in lock down in 2020.

I was in Mt Abu, India during the first covid lockdowns last year - 10 mins stroll from one of the main campuses of my old spiritual group. Being back in the incredible atmosphere and daily routine of the group reminded me how much I loved the philosophy and meditation. I felt renewed and I appreciated the experience immensely. But I felt a certain detachment from the group itself. I could see its beauty and unique culture but also its politics and pettiness.

I also saw the massive gates close, the foreigner members asked to leave, and the no-enter sign being put up, as strict Covid lockdown restrictions under the eyes of the local police, got put in in place.

I was on the outside of the gates staying in the local village, and in no way suffered. Then the restrictions eased, I was once again welcomed back into the campus. But it highlighted to me, that identifying with a ‘tribe’ no matter how wonderful, or how special you think your place within them might be, is no promise of safety and security in times of need.

But what that 'tribe' has provided me over the years, was a context in which to discover my self. When all the music, dress code, time table, teaching, facilities and culture that had been built around a philosophy was removed, what was left was gold. The experience of being a ‘being’. Nothing is more profound and fear-removing.

A lot of our wanting to ‘belong’ to a tribe, is motivated by gross or subtle forms of fear. Fear of survival of the body, but also a need to have my point of view validated by others who think the same.

I have referred often to Maslow’s Heirachy of Needs in recent articles, as this is such a good model for understanding different ways of being within the world.

Someone who has risen above the line of psychological child, into a self-realized adult, isn’t operating out of need for security, belonging, esteem, recognition; much of what we seek in belonging to a tribe.

They have become a tribe, a sovereign state of one, who can freely choose to cooperate with other tribes for various purposes, but who ultimately belongs to the whole.

This may sound a bit pie in the sky, but I recall a plane trip from Turkey to Dubai that I took some years ago. During the trip I was lost in the feeling of being deeply connected to all beings that being 20000 feet above earth sometimes produces. As I stepped off the plane into the jetbridge, an old woman, dressed in traditional clothes from eastern Turkey, pulled me into a big hug. Although it was out of the blue, it wasn’t totally unexpected. It was a reflection of how I felt, and the innocent grandmother had picked it up.

As we move into ever more challenging times, with potential ‘dangers’ lurking everywhere. I am aware that I’m not ‘safely’ in the inner circle of any tribe or even a family. And yet, the awareness and feeling of being a child of God, and a friend of the universe, gets deeper and deeper. And although like any other ‘unenlightend’ being, I still sometimes suffer thoughts of confusion, doubt and worry, they tend to linger less and less.

All being are my family, and I love that we all operate within such different tribes, cultures, sub-cultures, religions, families, and groups. I’m aware that others may hate what they mistake for ‘me’ simply by looking at my external role, appearance, manner, or opinions. I can’t change that. But I can choose to see everyone as members of my spiritual family, yes, all of them. One tribe.

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