Introduction Keynote

Love, Care and Community

As we walk into the liminal landscape of the present time, when so much is uncertain, what are the values we need to support us and reconnect us to each other and the more-than-human world that surrounds us? The past years of Covid have taken us into a more fractured world, when the initial response of “we are all in this together” quickly dissolved, revealing social inequality in which the poor suffered most, and the division between front-line workers exposed to the virus and those able to work from home. Then social media, which was supposed to bring us together in new ways, instead spread disinformation and conspiracy theories, further fragmenting us. And while online communities provided some support, can pixels pretending to be people really replace the warmth of a touch, or the friendship of sharing a cup of tea? We have wandered into a world of alienation without fully understanding the road we are travelling, or how to find our way back to a place of belonging.

I am fortunate to live in a small town beside the ocean where I know the people in the store, chat to the postmistress when I pick up a package, and the mechanic in the garage is an old friend, helping with extra hours when the mice invaded my car. Here there were no arguments about masks, and in the dark days of the pandemic the community provided food for those in need. Care and community are bonded together in simple acts, and living close to the land we are also aware of the greater community to which we all belong. Watching the woodpecker with his bright red head eating seed from the birdfeeder, or seeing the newly born fawns grazing the grass outside my window, I feel supported in many silent ways. I sense these threads that connect us, reminding me of this vast tapestry of life surrounding us, from the movement of the tides in the wetlands to the California poppies opening yellow and orange to the sun. 

Sufi teacher, Irina Twedie

Love and community came unexpectedly into my own journey when I was nineteen and met my Sufi teacher. After a grey middle-class childhood I found myself sitting in her small room in North London, where love was present together with meditation and a small group of young people. This community, bonded together by a search for Truth, held me as my life unraveled and the dysfunction of my childhood surfaced. I felt I belonged for the first time, and would spend each week waiting for the Friday meeting, where I could sit in silence and feel fully accepted. After the meeting we would often enjoy a South Indian meal down the street, masala dosa and chutney. Since those early, desperate days, the company of friends has always been central to the path, the simple sharing that belongs to the soul. As Rumi says:

Go, oh heart, go with the caravan!

Go not alone over the stages of the way.

Over the years our Sufi community grew from a few friends in a small room to hundreds of wayfarers around the world. But the sense of belonging and the way that kindred souls find and support each other on the journey always remained. This is a quality of friendship that reaches from deep in the inner worlds where the soul’s longing is born, to the outer world where we help each other—bringing soup to a sick friend, sharing laughter and tears. The primal knowing that one is part of a living community founded on love and service, true companionship, is like a caravan travelling the desert of our increasingly soulless world. Of course as in any family there are disagreements and difficulties, but this quality of inner connection provides a deep source of solace. I often wonder how it would be to walk alone in this world, how easy to lose one’s way.

And this present community also reaches back centuries, a living tradition of groups of seekers, often sitting at the feet of their teacher, bringing together their light and aspiration, to help attract a greater light to guide them, an inner presence to support them.

Illustration of the Book of Ferdowsi Kings. Shâhnâmeh of Shah Tahmasp (Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp: A Book of Illustrated Kings of the 16th Century), Tabriz, c. 1537.

As Christ said “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:19–20.) These are the living centers of light of this time which have a shared purpose beyond the individual journey. As in the Dark Ages that followed the breakdown of the Roman civilization, and the Christian monasteries that kept alive the light and literacy in Northern Europe, spiritual communities of all forms are necessary to hold the light that is left in the present time of darkening, the spiritual light that will be needed to find our way into a living future.

The Concourse of the Birds – Habiballah of Sava (1483)

These different qualities of community offer support in diverse ways. Friends and neighbors create a sense of belonging to place, and the land itself reveals in its many voices how we are interwoven in a mystery that reaches deep into the Earth, and this becomes visible in the simple beauty of a bud breaking open in springtime, a hummingbird drinking nectar in the garden. And in my own journey a spiritual community has been an extended family that speaks to a deeper sense of belonging, even as in our present world I feel increasingly like a stranger in a strange land. Love and care for each other and for the Earth Herself tell a story so different to the discord and divisiveness that shouts all around us. It takes us back to roots that nourish us in the soil and the soul.

The pandemic exposed the cracks in our world, and then the war in Ukraine came—brutal, unforgiving, full of atrocities, villages, towns, cities destroyed, mass graves dug and filled with bodies, for no reason other than power and conquest—and amidst the ruins came the kindness of strangers, caring for millions of refugees. Soon the climate crisis will bring its own darkness, already showing its horrifying reality in Somalia, drought destroying an ancient pastoral way of life as millions face famine. In this landscape we will feel the increasing need for values that support our shared humanity, for ways to walk together through this darkening time to where the future is waiting. We need the threads of love that connect us, the care and compassion that nurture us, the communities that can sustain us. We need to know that we belong in the depths of our being, as well as in our feet touching the Earth. We need the kinship that is felt in the heart and the hand, the deep bond of love that lives in all things.


About Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee is Sufi teacher and author. He has authored a recent podcast, Stories for a Living Future.

The focus of his writing and teaching is on spiritual responsibility in our present time of transition, spiritual ecology and an awakening global consciousness of oneness. His many books include Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth and Including the Earth in Our Prayers: A Global Dimension to Spiritual Practice.


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