Author: Dianne G. Brause
Published in Communities Magazine Issue #159
Everywhere I go, as I travel across the country, I hear friends and strangers talking about the difficulty of learning to navigate the waters of change and transformation which we all seem to be swimming in right now. As the systems of our society break down at a rapid rate and people do not know where to turn, the communities movement has a great deal to offer the larger society.
Those of us who have braved the world of intentional communities, ecovillages, shared housing, and the like have all gained some wisdom over the years—or we wouldn’t still be doing it! Collectively, we also have a great deal to share with those who haven’t taken this route in their lifetime.
What are a few of the “wisdom teachings” that I have gleaned from my 40-plus years of involvement in one kind of community or another?
Sharing Makes Sense: Most communitarians learn to share to a greater degree than the majority of people in the larger society. I remember one day in our community watching the kids play with their Pokémon decks of cards. After lots of discussion and some arguing about trading cards with one another to get the best deck, one of them suggested that if they all shared all of their cards they would have “the biggest deck in the world!” Everybody thought that was a perfect solution and they went on playing very happily.
In community, even the adults often come to the same conclusion regarding vehicles, gardens, tools, stoves, irons, dishwashers, showers, books, babysitters, swings, accountants, town runs, etc. The list is endless. The more that is shared, the fewer things need to be owned individually and thus the fewer precious resources are expended by the same number of people. And, it is usually much less expensive that way. Simple wisdom—but not heavily practiced in our dominant culture!
Living Closely with the Earth Is Healthy: Many communities have a tendency to be more in contact with the “living earth” than others in the culture. In my community, we had gardens, woods, a stream, meadow, swampy areas, a “fairy forest,” as well as chickens, ducks, bees, cats, and dogs on the land we “owned” and “stewarded.” Every day we had the opportunity to walk on, roll on, swim in, play with, and tend to this land and its living inhabitants. In addition, we bordered on miles of private and public forest land, and were near enough to the mountains, rivers, ocean, sand dunes, and high desert to get there and back in a day. We might have the privilege of seeing deer, elk, eagles, and occasional cougar or bears on our property and beyond as well as giant Douglas Firs, tiny wildflowers, spawning Salmon, beautiful night skies, and many rainbows.
I think that our kids (and we adults of course) were physically and emotionally healthier due to this constant interaction with the natural world and “all our relations” than we might have been otherwise. Our children felt safe to spend the day outside without adult supervision wherever they felt like wandering and playing. Sometimes they decided to sleep out under the stars at the fire circle by themselves. They also learned lots of skills which made them confident to take care of themselves in the out of doors and the “wilderness.”
Experiencing the Cycles of Life Gives Meaning: In my community and others, there is generally a diversity of ages, with people at all stages of life from pregnant mothers to elderly grandparents. Although these people may not be related by their DNA, they certainly get the opportunity to learn about birth and death, love and romance, strife and calm, challenges and successes—and often from a variety of points of view. Children, teens, adults, and elders get the opportunity to choose one another for sharing, caring, playing, learning, and just hanging out. Almost everyone finds a special friend and confidant when times are hard or when they have had a success they want to share.
Celebrating the seasonal cycles in addition to religious and cultural holidays can give a breadth and depth to one’s life. For a while in my community, we had a practice of giving handmade coupons to a birthday person, which offered a special gift of relationship (taking a walk together, going ice skating, reading bedtime stories, going out for ice cream or a special movie, relieving one of a cook or clean shift, or giving a parent a date night out by kidsitting, a massage or hair-cutting session, etc.) which could be cashed in at any time within the next year! At other times, we would each light a candle and tell the person something special that we really appreciated about them. The success of celebrations was usually not related to money spent or material gifts received, but rather to the depth of intimate sharing by the people involved.
Leadership and Communication Skills Are Enhanced: In the majority of communities (where there is not a designated leader, guru, or set of unbreakable rules), everyone tends to learn at least some of the skills necessary for leadership, since they most likely will be strongly encouraged to become a leader in some area or activity within community life. How this is done varies greatly and people come at and to leadership with very different perspectives. Every community has endless decisions that must be made by someone, and usually there is not one “daddy” to make them all. In my community, we tried to spread leadership around as widely as possible, and acceptance into the community was judged partially on a person’s perceived ability to have skills in both leadership and followership—which were both necessary to navigate the multiplicity of daily tasks. We also offered monthly workshops during which we practiced the skills of clear and honest communication—which again are not skills generally learned in school.
I recently attended a weeklong program which taught and modeled the skill sets associated with the “Eight Shields”—each with a different way of perceiving and acting in the world. Over the course of a lifetime, people were encouraged to practice and improve their skills in each of these ways of being. I noticed that the teachers in this group tended to be unusually good at both leadership and communication and it was a pleasure to watch them do their work.
Out of the depths of experience gained from people within the communities movement, there is a wisdom that is sorely needed on the planet today in order for us to survive and perhaps even to thrive! The question is: Are we ready and willing to offer our gifts of community wisdom to the larger culture? Or will we choose to “hide our light under a bushel” and sequester it for some imagined other time or more deserving recipients? My hope and desire is to offer what I know in a way that may be of great help to others looking to find or create community as a way of life.