Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Unity, Diversity, and Love

Here we are, in the midst of a time out of time, past the Solstice, past Christmas, into Kwanzaa and the dark days of winter.  In the middle of all this it's important to stop and notice the stillness.  It's important to remember that love is the miracle that keeps us going.

It's 'Boxing Day' today, the feast of St. Stephen, and the first day of Kwanzaa.  The principle for the day is Umoja, Unity.  It's not hard for me to draw a line from there to love.

I have quoted my mother as telling me that "Every one of my children is different and I love them all the same."  Truly, every one of us (worldwide) is very, very different from each other and we are all connected.  How can we create unity out of that diversity?  How can we create room for everyone--no matter how they think, what they look like, what they believe, what they say they want?

Love is about opening our hearts to everyone.  Love is about seeing the connections, seeing the unity in this very diverse world.  Love is about saying yes to it all.

Yes, there is sorrow and pain here.  Yes, there are some pretty horrible things happening.  Yes, people do awful things to each other.  Yes, many things in this world have to change.  And, yes, I will love no matter what.  Because love is the miracle, the miracle that we can still love in spite of it all, that we can see each other's vulnerable helplessness even when we try to hide it by doing all the terrible things we do.  Only love can stand up to atrocities, love and forgiveness.  Only love can see the wonderful unity in our rich diversity.  Only love can say yes to it all.

Quote of the Day:  "Don’t ask what love can make or do. Look at the colors of the world." - Rumi

Friday, December 21, 2012

Beginning Again

I never wrote my usual 'Samhain' post--I was too busy getting ready to go to Twin Oaks.  (Once we were there, ironically, we were immediately invited to a late Halloween party.)

Every year, also, I've written a post for the 'Yule', the Winter Solstice.  I think of this as the end of the year, the beginning of a 'time out of time', and the prelude to the new year (which I sort of celebrate with everyone on Jan 1st).  But this is the time, as the darkness reaches its deepest point and begins the turn back toward the light, that I celebrate.  A time for summing up the old year and thinking about the new.

This past year brought major changes to my life.  I abandoned my latest attempt at community and have become (by choice) homeless and jobless, a drifter, a nomad, and a couch surfer--as well as a community... well, some people have said, consultant, but I think that both glorifies and marginalizes what I'm trying to do.  I intend to be a real participant, a helper and supporter, of new and starting communities.  I'm looking at (as I explained in my last post) a time of traveling up and down (and back up and down) the east coast of the US, from MA to PA to VA and back.  A circuit-riding preacher of community, trying to live and learn what I'm also trying to teach.

Not what I was expecting at all, but in a way something that all my work on starting communities has prepared me for.  I'm hardly an expert on building community, but I've certainly learned a few things on the way and I really want to see more community arising.

And what does all this community stuff have to do with social change, social alchemy, the subject of this blog?

I see community as step one.  It's not the final goal, it's the foundation for creating social change, a little laboratory to try living differently.  I still believe strongly in simplicity, equality, and sustainability, I still think that the SLoBIND (starting Small and LOcal, and building the changes in a way that's Bioregional, Interconnected, Networked, and Decentralized) is the way to go, I still think the most important goal is to meet people's real needs.  I just think that community, for me, is the clearest way of beginning this.

So, here I am at the dark of the year, the beginning of winter, dreaming and scheming and getting ready for what might happen next.  My only definite plan at this point is returning to PA in March to see what I could be part of there, but there are several other things I'm playing with, that might or might not emerge.  At this point I also have a bunch of new resources I want to review and a small series that I hope to write for this blog on issues in community--things I've learned from my travels this fall and my experiences and learnings from others, that I think would be worth looking at.

Beyond that, who knows.  I certainly didn't expect to be where I am now and I certainly don't really know what the new year will bring.

Welcome Winter. Happy Yule everyone.

Quote of the Day: "Spring passes and one remembers one's innocence.
Summer passes and one remembers one's exuberance.
Autumn passes and one remembers one's reverence.
Winter passes and one remembers one's perseverance." - Yoko Ono

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Update 8: Building New Communities

This will be the final post in my update series; I'm going to try to tie together much of what I learned and talk about my directions from here. 

When I was visiting at Acorn I began to realize that I didn't really want to settle down there and just be part of an established community.  I really enjoyed Acorn, and Twin Oaks even more, but by the time I visited TO I was sure that what I wanted was to be part of helping to build new communities.  (Which is why I didn't apply for membership there.) Acorn and Twin Oaks are wonderful, but I wanted to see more of them.  Both communities have population caps (Acorn doesn't want to grow beyond 30 members, TO beyond ninety-something) and both now have long waiting lists.

On the other hand, I have learned from my experiences.  I don't want to try to start another community.  Instead, I want to help others who are trying to start communities.

I am well aware that the majority of community start-ups fail.  I'm not sure what the numbers are, but let's pretend (for the sake of my argument) that ninety percent of new communities don't make it for more than a few years.  You can look at this two ways.  One is to say, 'Why bother? It's not likely to last very long.'  The other is to think, if we want to have more communities we're going to need to build a lot of them.  If nine out of ten of them don't succeed, then if we get a hundred new communities going, chances are ten of them are going to work and that's ten more new communities.

Someone at Twin Oaks confronted me with the arrogance and egotism of starting new communities (as opposed to just joining one).  Yet if no one started TO, she wouldn't be able to be there enjoying the place.  In fact, one of the founders, Kat Kinkade, helped start three successful communities: Twin Oaks, Acorn, and East Wind.

I'm trying to learn from people like Kat and from communities that are going strong about what works and what doesn't.  One person at Acorn told me that Kat's recipe for community was to grow it fast--get lots of people in and see what evolves.  Another person there suggested that, in order for a community to last, it needs at least five dedicated communitarians (and maybe more like ten).

Living Energy Farm (see my post of 12/8/12 about them) is an example of a community that I suspect will make it--mostly because it has the support of Twin Oaks and Acorn.  As I said in that post, it's rather desolate looking--but it makes me imagine what TO looked like when it started.  I'm also interested in Chubby Squirrels (which I've mentioned in my posts on Communities of Communities, 6/9/12, and The Twin Oaks Community Conference, 9/9/12) and I was able to be part of at least one discussion on it, but currently Paxus (who is the person wanting to build this) is in Europe and won't be back until January.

However, at the Communities Conference I also found out about a community in Pennsylvania that a couple of folks are trying to build, focusing on radical simplicity and eco-sustainability.  After my visit to TO, I went to the small city that they're living in and hung out with them for a week.  I really liked what they're trying to do, but I'm a bit skeptical that they can make it work.  Still,  it's intriguing enough that I'm planning to go back there in March and stay for at least a month or two to see if this could be a place I could help build.

In addition,  Vera (who runs the blog 'Leaving Babylon' and has been visiting the northern Missouri communities--Dancing Rabbit, Sandhill, Red Earth Farm, and the Possibility Alliance--again, see my post on Communities of Communities for more on them) has connected me with someone who wants to build an ecovillage in New England.  I'm planning on meeting with him next week and learning details.

When I told my brother-in-law that I might be spending my next little while traveling between New England, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, helping out with communities here and there, he said that I sounded like one of the old circuit-riding preachers.  I sort of feel like that, too.  It's not what I planned on, and I'd still like to settle down in an FEC style community in New England (if I can help one emerge), but meanwhile, I'm facing a life on the road for the foreseeable future.  I just think that if I can add my energy to some of these endeavors, it might make a difference.  I can only try.  Hopefully, I'll report here how things turn out.

Quote of the Day: "Living or working with people does not guarantee community; it takes intentionality and developed skills to build and maintain ongoing community." - Harvey Baker, Barbara Lee, and Jeanne Quinn

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Dozen Reasons to Live in Community

(In honor of the day.)

  1. To combat loneliness
  2. To learn different things from different people
  3. To share more
  4. To live simpler
  5. To live more sustainably
  6. To develop closeness and connection with others
  7. To learn to develop better boundaries
  8. To learn to deal with your own issues in the fire of conflict
  9. To have support for your social change work
  10. To have support for your spiritual work
  11. To have people to celebrate with and to celebrate frequently
  12. To model a different way of living

Quote of the Day: "Intentional Communities have for many centuries been places where idealists have come together to create a better world." - from the webpage of the Fellowship for Intentional Community

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Update 7: Living Energy Farm

I've now been to Living Energy Farm (LEF) twice.  Once for a few hours on a Saturday when I was at Acorn and again for a few hours on a Saturday when I was at Twin Oaks.  It's a fairly desolate place.  The land had been clearcut a couple of years ago just before they bought the property and things are slowly growing back.  There wasn't much on it to speak of so they are building the place from scratch.  When I went there in September I pulled nails out of old boards they were hoping to reuse.  When I went in November, I helped shovel mulch into a pickup truck so they could use it for fruit trees on another part of the property.  They are trying to use as much cheap and recycled material as possible.

The goal at LEF is to be fossil fuel free and they have given themselves three years to build the infrastructure (using fossil fuels as necessary) before they plan to completely give them up.  Meanwhile, things there are sparce and spare; it's quite the contrast with Twin Oaks, for example, that's so organized and developed.  Then I think about how Twin Oaks probably looked forty years ago when they were just starting up.  The people working at LEF have a long way to go but they are pretty committed.

Living Energy Farm is one of the places that I'm thinking about putting some energy into.  It's a community with a good mission that's in a very early stage.  After working with Alexis (one of the principle organizers of the community) who was explaining that he appreciated all their interns and the help he was getting from them but also concerned that most of them were pretty unskilled, I asked him how he'd feel about having someone for an intern that was not only unskilled but old.  He looked right at me and said, "I'd take *you* as an intern."  I thought that was a really sweet thing to say--and I do hope to do an internship with them at some point and be part of building this fledgling community.  It will be really interesting to see what this place looks like in a couple of years.

Quote of the Day: "The Living Energy Farm is a project to build a community, education center, and farm that demonstrates that a fulfilling life is possible without the use of any fossil fuel. Our mission is to serve as an example and actively promote lifestyles and technologies that are truly sustainable, and to make these sustainable technologies accessible to all persons regardless of their income or social position." - Living Energy Farm's Mission Statement

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Update 6: Life at Twin Oaks

I'm sorry it's been so long since I last posted.  I'm back in the Boston area now and trying to evaluate it all.  Here's a piece that I mostly wrote when I was leaving Twin Oaks and that I've edited and added to.

I've written about Twin Oaks before (see Real Models 1:Twin Oaks, 9/30/10), but mostly from what I've read about it.  Here I want to write about what I learned from visiting it.

Unlike Acorn where I stayed in September (see Update 2: The Acorn Community, 9/14/12, and Update 3: Life on the Farm, 9/23/12) and I thought of as a farm, Twin Oaks (affectionately abbreviated TO) is a village.  There are over a hundred people living there including members, visitors and guests (two different categories of life here), and children.  Ages range from toddlers to eighty-somethings, one of whom is approaching ninety.  (I hope to write posts in the future about children in community and aging in community.) Twin Oakers live in a bunch of houses, each of which contain a 'Small Living Group' (aka an SLG) or two. 

TO has its own water supply, its own sewage system, a communal kitchen and dining hall, a communal laundry system, and communal clothes.  (They affectionately call their communal clothes system 'Commie Clothes'.)  They even have communal bicycles to get around with.  (People can also have their own clothes and/or bikes. On some things here sharing is optional.)  There is a fleet of 15 community cars (there's no private car ownership) and a repair shop (in a building called Modern Times) that services the cars, trucks, and bicycles.  There's also a woodshop, lots of gardens, a small herd of cows, and a bunch of chickens.  TO has a number of business that bring income to the community, the two biggest of which are making hammocks and making tofu.  The newest business is managing the wholesale part of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Acorn's main business. They also have an industrial area away from the main part of the community (where they manufacture some parts for the hammocks and prepare boxes of tofu for shipping) that they call Emerald City. (The name is from The Wizard of Oz.  Most buildings at TO are named after historic communities and the rooms at Aurora, the visitor's building, are named after fictional utopian communities.)

Life at Twin Oaks is highly structured.  Like Acorn, they have a forty-two hour a week work quota system.  Work includes everything from making hammocks and gardening to cleaning, cooking, and attending meetings.  But unlike Acorn, everyone fills out labor sheets and all work is tracked.  Their visitor program (which I was part of) is filled with tours and orientations.  I learned an enormous amount from being there--both about how a community this big operates and a lot about TO's forty-five year history.  The whole program was very informative.

Some things I did while there included learning some pieces about making hammocks, helping cut up the tofu in preparation for packing, working with the composting toilets (which I requested), getting to know the other visitors there (we stayed together in Aurora which TO has set up like an SLG--and we had to make decisions about how we'd live for our three weeks together), and I requested and got a tour of their sewage and water system. (I wanted to really see how this village worked.)

It's with some sadness that I decided not to apply for membership there.  It was wonderful and I want to go back again and again, but I couldn't see myself living there.  Twin Oaks and Acorn are both great in their own ways and I want to see a lot more communities like them.  They both have waiting lists at this point, so the interest is there.

I realize that what I want to do now is to find communities that are starting up and add my energy to them to help them survive and grow.  I think the world needs more communities like Twin Oaks.

Quote of the Day: "As you would probably guess, almost everyone who is living at Twin Oaks prefers our lifestyle to that of the 'mainstream' world.  But, we are still actively working on making this place better.  We don't pretend that this is paradise, or utopia, and if that is what you really want you will have to look elsewhere..."  - from Not Utopia Yet, the Twin Oaks Visitor Guide