The Transformation of
Interpersonal and Group Relationships
by Dane Rudhyar
If the basic problem is initially how to induce a radical transformation of the individual and of society, how can one begin? We are usually told by spiritual teachers and many psychologists that a really permanent social transformation can take place only after a significant number of individuals have experienced an inner reorientation and 'rebirth'. Theoretically this undoubtedly is true; but individual persons are born in a society and culture whose images, traditional beliefs and examples mould their psyches and minds. The society comes first; then the individual. It is possible indeed for human beings to emerge from and drop out physically or mentally from their psychically coercive or merely meaningless environment; nevertheless the pressures exerted by society are so strong or so subtle that relatively few persons can break through alone. This break-through is always made possible, in one way or another, by a catalyst, or a severe shock and crisis.
It is the fact of relationship which induces deep-seated
transformation in a person. [Emphasis added] A man who would be all alone, unrelated to anything, would remain what he is—just as a motion remains what it is (i.e., it has 'inertia') unless slowed down by friction or deviated by an external force. Individual selfhood has inertia; it is through relationship that changes occur.
The problem is therefore, if change is desired, how to bring about relationships through which a certain kind of desired change can most easily and naturally take place. This actually should be the essence of any social process which aims at inducing basic transformations in the fabric of societyûor, conversely, of educational pressures whose purpose it is to maintain at all cost the status quoûa
well-known process indeed. This practically and concretely means that anything
basic that can either change a person, or freeze him in a traditional kind
of mental-emotional conformism, has to depend on the kind of 'group' from which
he can draw partners. The character and level of the interpersonal relationship
may, of course, greatly vary. It can be an ideological or learning relationship,
even one through the intermediary of a book, perhaps whose author may be dead;
but, in a very real sense, it is—if effectual —a relationship between persons.
Nothing truly transforming is 'impersonal'; and this includes the relationship
between a guru and his disciples.
However, a relationship can be both personal and nonexclusive; that is, it can be focused at any time (i.e., not diffuse or sentimentally vague), yet focused upon several partners included in a multifocus and perhaps multilevel association. And a realization of what this may mean can be gained from the most significant way of characterizing a truly 'universal' Being: God is the Being, the whole of whose nature and attention is focused at any moment upon any place in the whole universe. He is totally present and related to each person everywhere; however a person can respond to this totality of God's being only to the extent that he is able to experience divinity without seeking exclusively to possess God.
These last sentences suggest the nature of the problem of interpersonal relationship within groups, the purpose of which is to bring about in a factual and concrete manner the transfiguration of individuals, so that they in turn can act as catalysts for the transformation of wider groups and of society as a whole. This problem requires for its complete solution in the participants in the group an attitude of nonexclusivity, nonpossessiveness and, one should add, of openness to change and to the symbols of change in our present time. Also required are a capacity to let go of old attachments and old habits, physical as well as mental-emotional, and courage as well as perseverance.
Group-relationship can never be vital enough to induce basic and radical changes in the participants unless there is actually interpenetration; that is, unless ego-barriers and psychic-emotional fears are dissipated, and the 'interpersonal life' can flow smoothly and vivifyingly. This implies a pervasive quality of equally shared love.
There can be groups of closely related persons who come together on the basis of mental concepts, or as devoted learners of a common ideology; but because the interpenetration of minds is of itself alone rarely steady enough, because mind in itself is a centrifugal and individualizing force: love must be needed as an integrating power.
When we are dealing with groups in which modern youths gather, who at least partially withdraw from the pressures of depersonalizing social patterns and of factory or office job routine, the situation is basically different. It has unclear possibilities as well as serious handicaps. It is usually chaotic or rather inchoate; that is, it is unformed, unstructured, and in many cases it expresses a negative, because mostly aimless, kind of escapism. This is the situation in a great many 'communes'; but in spite of this, it presents the possibility of becoming the means for social 'experimentation', while providing a refuge in which the alienated drop-out youth may experience a process of self-renewal and ego catharsis. Such communes can be, and I believe will increasingly become places where something new happens, where preparations can be made for the full development of a basic change in the quality of the interpersonal relationship uniting all the members of the group.
Here again interpenetration in an atmosphere of love, sharing, and availability of each to all when need arises, is essential if the group as a whole is to become a field of transformation, and eventually a center from which new qualities of living and a new social consciousness can radiate. But what kind of interpenetration, sharing, availability? The needs of participants in such communal groups are in most instances very personal, biological (wholesome food and clean air, for instance) and sexual-emotional. The group must therefore satisfy these basic needs, through cooperative work and sexual relationships. What matters, however, is not the routine of working together to raise vegetables or building better shelters and the love-making in themselves; it is how they are done; it is the quality of the comradeship and the love, the elimination of ego-barriers and insecurity, the fresh and spontaneous response of one to another, the readiness to share, the availability.
However, all this presents great difficulties in a relatively large commune. Therefore the general concept of commune should be complemented by that of the seed-group—a group integrating a very few individuals of both sexes who feel related by a deep-rooted love and consecration to a definite way of life expressing a common world-view.
The difference between a seed-group and the traditional family group with its tribal and procreative background is essentially that the family is rooted in the genetic past, i.e., in a community of origin; it depends on biological-cultural factors. The seed-group on the other hand is a gathering of individual persons who deliberately have chosen to commune in a life dedicated to a common purpose, thus future-ward. A human being is born unconsciously and compulsively in a family; the 'communicant' in the seed-group selects freely his partners.
Family attachment is a product of biological sameness reinforced by ancestral traditions, and by the long habit of being together from childhood through personal growth and its many crises. The 'love of companions' united in the seed-group is an open and free realization of community, based on significant activity and the will to serve as a seed-manifestation of an ideal of life and a quality of relationship which should be the foundation of various kinds of social processes and of groups of all-human unity—unity in diversity.
How this love of the companions expresses itself through days and months of cooperative togetherness should not be an essential issue; but it obviously should demonstrate a type of psychic interpenetration similar to that found in harmonious marriages. It demands the availability of each to all, a deep openness and sincerity, understanding and patience in intimate relationships—whatever form these relationships actually take. Our modern society is haunted by sex problems exacerbated for commercial purposes by the media and the nefarious and totally indecent power of publicity and advertising. Sex is everywhere an issue, if not a hallucination and a tragedy—or a farce. It was not so in tribal societies where nature's rhythms still held sway. It need not be so in a future harmonic society; for the constant crises, the fears and jealousies of insecure and proud individuals which so often find their cathartic release in sex should not remain as harassing symptoms of the vast shadow cast by the evolutionary movement toward individualized consciousness and freedom from unconscious biological compulsions.
We can indeed slowly move to a new and generalized
understanding of the meaning of sex, now that the long era of differentiation
and of focusing upon the need for greater productivity and fertility is coming
to an end—however distant still this end may be. This is the beginning
of an age of interdependence and synthesis—an age of interpenetration.
Any limit to the process of group interpenetration—whether at the physical,
psychic or mental level—is for the individual person to establish according
to his or her capacity for response to other individuals and to particular
life-situations. [Emphasis added]
There are some communes where the rule of life in common is that every member should be available sexually to every other member. This of course is meant, deliberately or not, as a symbol of total protest; but while such a ritualization of protest against Puritan rigidity may have a cathartic value and be a test in self-surrender for some people, it is as arbitrary in its looseness as any severe 'blue law'.
To speak in somewhat similar cases of 'free love' is senseless. Can there be real love that is not free? The difference between this 'free love' and our modern type of conjugal love is that the latter exists in a focused situation with a theoretical degree of permanence, while free love is very often unfocused and therefore usually more superficial, though perhaps intense for a time. The question, however, is NOT to move from one exclusivistic focus in marital relationship to many unfocused and superficial encounters, especially if it is merely to prove a point, boost one's ego, or escape from boredom and a gnawing sense of alienation. What is to be done is to move from exclusivity to inclusivity, from possessive to unpossessive relationships, while keeping a focused approach to all relationships one enters intoûa polyvalent, rather than monovalent type of relatedness. It is to be able to share without rigid boundaries, to be available without fear, yet with discrimination; for discrimination is always necessary, not only in terms of what a close relationship can do to oneself but also to the other participant or participants.
The modern nuclear family is a new departure, hardly a century old. The old-type family, linking several generations and many relatives in a broadened kind of tribal togetherness vitalized by a particular family-ideal, constituted a necessary and very meaningful foundation in the pre-industrial and especially pre-automobile and pre-electronic society. It is now almost a relic of the past. The modern American family cannot be a solid foundation for harmonious social processes, especially not for the education of the children; for in the present state of its individual components—parents and children—it constitutes a field of such acute and mostly unresolvable tensions that it almost inevitably leads to traumatic experiences, psychological complexes and basic insecurity. This group-insecurity is of course immensely reinforced by a generalized social insecurityûthe fear of losing one's job, the fear of nuclear catastrophe—and an equally general feeling of spiritual emptiness and futility.
Above all perhaps, the fundamental value and meaning of the family has always been in the past determined by a biological-cultural need to preserve a definite and particular racial type, religious faith and collective way of life. Sex in such a setup was in principle, if not exclusively, a procreative function, at least far more so than the interplay of personalized feelings or psychological needs; its psychic overtones were likewise meant to reinforce the collective sense that one belonged to a particular family, class and culture.
The moment sexual acts relate human beings of very disparate racial and cultural backgrounds, and they become specifically personalized and for the purpose of bringing a strictly individual kind of fulfillment to the partners, the traditional concept of family begins to break down. Then the partners in the new kind of pseudo-family are not deeply or consciously motivated by the urge to 'preserve' anything of a super-personal, collective nature. The implicit purpose of the relationship is to transform the partners—at least to change their psychological feelings, to broaden their tense ego patterns and to give them what they did not have before as lonely, alienated teen-age individuals—or I should say, pseudo-individuals.
Once a marriage is meant to be a means to induce transformations, and the nuclear family finds itself an insulated unit unrelated to 'the land' or the past, only superficially related to other similar units always on the go, never stable professionally or otherwise, never securely integrated in a relentlessly competitive society in a constant state of crisis and generalized 'brinkmanship'—then indeed this American type of family loses its real meaning. It may still be used to embody the procreative urge and the psychic remains of the instinct for 'making a home' for children, but the results, for both parents and children, are most rarely positive. A more or less frightened and confused reliance upon tradition and psychological insecurity may keep the family relationship superficially intact; but the deeper psychic substance of the relationship has gone. It is like a Hollywood movie set—all surface, a mere showcase. Within it, disparate egos are struggling, playing an incessant game of one-up-manship.
What is needed now, or at least as long as mankind is in this state of crisis, transition and catharsis, is a new type of group relationship in which the individual ego-patterns, and the conjugal tensions can be absorbed, smoothed out and harmonized by a sense of common dedication to a vital social-cultural and spiritual purpose—a transforming purpose. What is needed is a group of a few adults, perhaps from four to ten, which can provide a varied and loving, but not possessive and complex-ridden environment in which children may grow up in multiple interplay. It is to such crucial and today acute needs that the ideal of the seed-group comes as a potential answer. That such an answer involves a constant awareness of what is at stake and the solving of various problems of relationship is obvious. The seed group should not be conceived in terms of 'hedonistic' purpose, i.e., for the sake of pleasure and comfort, but rather in terms of what I would call a 'heroic' determination to help create a new type of social consciousness based on an open, unpossessive and polyvalent love.
It is the love of the companions, for whom life is a song of work beautifully and selflessly performed in a community of understanding and devotion to every task. And in its most inclusive aspect it is Christ-love, the Bodhisattva love that encompasses not only all human beings but the whole Earth.
From Directives for New Life,
Seed Publications, 1971. For more info, visit the Dane Rudyar website
Rudhyar was born in Paris in 1895 and lived in the United States from
1916 until his death in 1985. He was a futurist, philosopher, writer,
painter, musician and astrologer who lived according to his ideals.