Author: Kirsten Rohde
Published in Communities Magazine Issue #141
Our community’s land near the Hood Canal in Washington State is called Sahale. Out at Sahale, when it rains, it pours. The metal roofs are pounded by rain that comes straight down from the low clouds. When the sun comes out, it is brighter and hotter than in Seattle. The sky is crystal clear or perhaps dotted with white puffy clouds. When the trees grow here, they grow really tall, and wherever blackberry vines get started, there is no end to them. We can grow fruit about which city-dwellers say, “Really? You can’t grow that here.”
We found this abundant land in 2001 and created our learning and retreat center, a budding ecovillage on 70 acres. Sahale is the Chinook word for “heaven on earth” and it has felt like that for us.
Yet we have also found ourselves tempted by perceptions of scarcity. At the same time that we acquired this land, we also began developing an urban housing cooperative for 19 individuals, families, and couples. This project included a community center and café for us and for the broader neighborhood and community of Seattle. Sahale has succeeded, while the in-town development failed.
We paid all accounts to outside vendors, leaving a loss of about $500,000 to members in loans and deposits on their shares in the cooperative. Even more than the loss of money, we grieved the loss of the dream of our community in service through this center. Some members left, and we lost our way for awhile. At the same time, many of us were working to develop the buildings and rejuvenate the land out at Sahale. We fell in love with her wonderful energy. Sahale sustained us through the difficult times of healing from our loss of an in-town center for our community-building work. Now, when we talk together we realize we still hold our dream dear to us, and plans are beginning for another way to create an “in-town” living and community center.
This is a picture of an experience of abundance and scarcity, woven together—loss and gain. In Richard’s words, “Our community believes in the power of learning together. In fact, as we engaged the development of these two properties, we stated that our first goal was learning about facilities development. In retrospect during our evaluation we realized that we had actually lost learning as our first priority and had been caught up in an “edifice complex”—caring more about building external facilities than about developing our inner facilities and abilities. Thus, one aspect of our learning is that our experience of scarcity and abundance starts inside of us.”
Money and financial matters have been another way to learn about abundance vs. scarcity. Some of us have played a role in the community for many years, helping educate about money and the energy and power we give it. A stance of scarcity attracts images and experiences of scarcity; likewise for abundance. For example, I’ve observed that if I think about the money I put into our facilities development as primarily money lost, never to be recovered, I begin to tighten and become resentful. I see it become my experience everywhere. I live a life of tightness and fear around money and that affects my energy. If instead I think of how I am joining with others to invest in our dreams, I begin to feel gratitude for my friends and for Sahale and all she offers. With the awareness of many opportunities to give and receive, I see that I am living in a life of abundance. So observing how I think about money has helped me learn about how energetic, optimistic, and generous I can be with all things in life.
Partners Pam and Elizabeth recall how it was for them to have loaned money to the community from their home equity and then realize that the loan could not be repaid in the near future. Elizabeth says, “Having faith in my community has been tested through the loan process. I have been criticized and judged, even by one of my own kids. It has caused me to re-examine my values and my choices. I can still say, however, that I would have made the same choice, to invest in a better life for me and my community, and for those that join us. I have trusted that we as a community would make good on all of the loans.”
Many members have felt similarly that money can be a tool for learning. Our community members decided to remain constant in relationship and hold financial losses in common. We are working together in fund raising, educational programs, and new projects to regain and pay back each person who put money into the cooperative project. This has been a powerful statement to us and others about our commitment to each other and about our choice to study abundance rather than scarcity. We decided to invest in what is good about community rather than let disappointment set in. It is important to us to proceed into our future motivated by wanting to see all members paid off—we will have accomplished something powerful through this commitment.
Another area of study on scarcity and abundance is in the area of relationships. We work with the concept that there is plenty of love for everyone; it never runs out unless we think it has. So when a loving relationship becomes known in our community, we may notice reactions such as, “That’s wrong. She’s married.” Or, “How come she loves him and not me?” And so on. Another response, which sometimes takes learning, is to enjoy the energy of two people in love and notice that this love, if we welcome it, spreads to everyone. Here are Bruce’s thoughts: “The meaning of the word friendship has greatly changed for me through opening my heart and mind to loving relationship with more close people in my life. I’ve learned that I have both human responses of scarcity and jealousy as well as those of love and abundance. Through learning to stay steady in my own personal development and grounded with others who have wisdom about abundance in friendship, I have found and experienced a larger framework and a deeper sense of belonging in this life that includes true friendships filled with love, respect, and appreciation.”
So it is also with time and physical energy, yet another way to understand this theme. To manage all that is needed for a 70-acre retreat and food-producing land, plus all that is offered by our community through programs and services, takes many person hours. Many of us also hold full-time jobs. There is the temptation to give in to the belief that we have too little time and too few people. We can feel drained and lacking in hope and energy. On the other side, we have learned many times how much we can accomplish working together on projects. By making it fun and full of learning, we invite friends to join us and end up with a feeling of fullness and satisfaction.
One example occurred after our area was hit by a massive flood last winter. The southern tip of the Kitsap Peninsula, where Sahale is located, was cut off completely for several days due to washed-out bridges. This “700-year” flood caused major damage throughout the Pacific Northwest. Fortunately, all of our buildings at Sahale survived, but we were left with the aftermath of a raging river that ran through the meadows, taking with it tent flooring and bridges, and rearranging the landscape quite dramatically. Grateful as we were for not suffering the damage to homes and loss of property that others experienced, we also looked around and knew that we had a major clean-up and repair job ahead of us.
Jim, who has helped build and repair many of the structures at Sahale, describes his feelings at that moment: “The difference between abundance and scarcity depends on my world view—is the glass half empty or half full? I looked at our swept-away tent flooring as a challenge we could meet, not a disaster. This was an illustration of the amazing power of the forces of nature, not a ‘woe is me’ because I will now be spending the spring rebuilding the structure.”
We put out the call for help on New Year’s weekend. What an outpouring of support we found! Forty people showed up with equipment, off-road vehicles, winches, strength, and lots of energy and skills for the work. Huge logs were dragged out, lumber recovered, many, many rocks gathered and put back into the stream beds, abundant meals were provided, many small and large repairs were done, and so much more—all in the middle of an overabundance of mud.
Richard says, “From experiences like this, I, and we, continue to learn about a relationship between humility and abundance. In our studies of economy we learned that an economy is really started when people borrow from one another. Money is actually created in this act that can be used elsewhere! It takes some amount of humility to state our need and to put ourselves in the debt of another by asking to borrow of their time, energy, and money. And this can lead to the abundance of more community friendship.”
Pam and Elizabeth relate some of their story: “We’ve also worked, as our community has, to not live in a poverty script. We’ve learned that investing in Sahale has been very good for us, be it investing time or money. For example, when we ‘adopted’ a room at Sahale (most members live and stay in both Seattle and Sahale), it changed the Sahale experience for us. We had a place to land! We then learned that we have a hard time not being creative. Pretty soon we had a name and theme for the room (‘Pond Room’—out of Pam’s love and creativity for the pond at Sahale). We found ourselves decorating the room in that theme—animal replicas and stickers, painting cattails on the dresser, laying a green carpet and bamboo floor covering, collecting fish and birdhouses (and even building decorative little birdhouses which we shared with others for their rooms). We were given a ‘bear table’ by our friends for our anniversary.
“We have been member sponsors of our community’s New Year’s celebration for a long time, but more formally since we’ve had Sahale. We have put our energy and creativity into our community’s December True Holidays celebration and into service for our community in many ways. We’ve also channeled creative energy into our lives at home and into creating a renewed commitment and relationship.
“Through these years, we’ve been tested and challenged. Our relationship with each other and our community is still strong and creative. We need our community’s culture and we’ve learned they need us too.”
Now our community members are looking at the world situation and we realize that we are headed for times that will be seen by most as times of scarcity. In actuality, many in the world have been living in such conditions for years, but now countries such as the US will be undergoing great changes. A fear of scarcity can result in denial and refusal to recognize the situation. A sense of abundance can lead to more creativity and more opportunities as needs change. Our community wants to respond and prepare, not just for our own sustainability but as support and resource to others.
Our plans include expanding the number of full-time residents at Sahale and researching and planning for alternative energy technology, since we realize that our reliance on outside energy sources will most likely need to change. We recognize the growing need to be self-reliant regarding energy, supplies, and food production. We have already had workshops with expert consultants and contributions of work time in creating and implementing permaculture designs for the property. This year we have focused on maximizing our food production capacity. Sahale functions as a training and educational center as well as a place for other groups to hold their own retreats and workshops. We have attracted a committed group of enthusiastic supporters of Sahale over seven years. Our intention is to both create a sustainable village for our membership and those who join us, and to continue to utilize our demonstration and learning center to educate and encourage others to prepare for the certain dramatic changes that will be occurring in our global system: economy, energy, climate, social justice. While the future can bring a sense of scarcity (others in the world already know this), we believe that communities of all kinds can help us all feel the abundance of working together to weather great changes in our lives.
Norm has this to say: “What touches me is the abundance of support among us to collaborate in learning to bring more compassion into our lives and the world—even as we notice the abundance of resistance to doing so, within and outside of us. I also learn the difference between perceived scarcity that is simply my difficulty in receiving, and scarcity that is real and worthy of learning from. Then I strive to grow a greater abundance in my life and in the lives of those around me. I believe our world suffers from a genuine scarcity of compassion, nurture, and care for one another. My own awareness of my lack of capacity helps me humbly ‘begin again’ to learn a deeper compassion, and to join a path from the perennial wisdom that helps me learn from the ground up how to cultivate an inner life and act in relationship to ‘be the change I seek to see in the world.’”