About a year ago at this time, I thought I would be like several members of my Peoples Temple family and be writing a book about my experiences. In some ways, I am doing that … except the content seems to want to come through the daily activity of my life rather than words on a page.
What this means is that the my Peoples Temple experience seems best expressed with a few written articles here and there, and the larger part told in line with oral tradition. I feel that this approach, which may seem dissipative in terms of preserving a story, is a truer way for me to express the essence of my experience, and feel that conveyed in this way adequately, provides natural organic outlet in daily life, communicating with others in conversation or by being a guest to a class of students. I am confident that the significant things seep through, as lessons learned within the realm of human social evolution and the mysterious morphology of our collective psyche.
There are a couple of ways in which my Temple experiences are woven into the fabric of my daily life, guided by an outlook or edge with which I approach things. Certainly there is a function / dysfunction gauge that is always questioning the appropriateness of a group setting. This allows for a continual kind of presence, or attention to that which may go slipping by, un-noticed as being possibly problematic, and I wonder still, what I may not be seeing about a particular situation that may contain the germinating seeds of maladaptation.
In external social situations led by group leaders, such as one I was recently invited to, my hackles are always raised, antennae for the wee hint of something that feels uneasy, and for what may feel all too familiar as well. When that is sensed, I settle into a mode of being calmly armored with a “take the teachings and run” attitude. What seems beneficial is a kind of discernment which can see the complexity of situations and glean the bits of gold out of the rest of the stones and sludge, recognizing that many scenarios can contain both favorable and unfavorable aspects. This was certainly the case for the Temple and the leader as well.
For the past ten years, I have opened my home on the weekends for people to gather and explore their creativity in a fun and mutually-supportive setting. What started out as mainly paper sculpture turned into gatherings and workshops offering various kinds of art classes, poetry workshops, wisdom circles, talent shows, drumming circles, holiday parties, and trips to places such as an urban micro farm utilizing permaculture practices, and more. The September calendar of this year included a Rights of Nature training which was a collaboration between Global Exchange and the Womens Earth and Climate Caucus. I not only enjoy bringing the community together for enjoyment and creativity – two things which at one time in our human history were considered the quintessential rational pursuit – but also providing a place for new thinking on issues making their way into the human arena, such as a jurisprudence for the systems of the Earth.
I am aware that my relatively organic desire to create community has not been solely a need coming out of having been a surviving member of a community of people who died – which might have been an assumption that even I might have made – but rather, in my historical exploration of our species, the discovery that the community has always been a vital force assuring the health and wellbeing of each person. The community needs the individual attributes of each person in order to thrive, and the individual needs the community to thrive as well. Like other creatures, we discover ourselves in relation to, and within, the context of our social orientation. This is absolutely true for young people finding our place within our family, or tribe or extended community – as was the case for me in the Temple – and it is also true for adults who have moved about looking for their place in various community groups during their life. This seems to be a natural propensity regardless of the signs pointing to the health and viability of each group.
The essence of my Temple story also comes forth in my approach to life which sees each of the different human scenarios, worldwide, though vastly different from one another, as one common story. The Peoples Temple story was not only my story but your story and everyone’s story, regardless of whether you were part of it. The story of each group of people, of every tradition, on each continent is also my story and your story as well.
My current work, The Cosmology of You, entails an integral life coaching process from the perspective of our being part of, and embedded within a larger journey of cosmos and Earth in a continual process of unfolding. The work combines conversation, art, and bodywork, to assist people who are dealing with life transitions, grief, and loss, as well as people who need assistance in figuring out their next move. It is meaningful for me to assist others to step into their own empowerment to joyfully live the lives they are inspired to live.
The book may come one day, but for now it may be just well enough for its contents to come through the vibrancy of a life of one who can barely sit still long enough to write it.
(Jordan Vilchez was in Georgetown, Guyana on November 18, 1978, but her sisters and nephews died in Jonestown. Her other article in this edition of the jonestown report is My Sister Cynnie. Her previous writings are here. She can be reached at email@example.com.)