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August 26, 2011

Even though I have been a solitary sort of person much of my adult life, I have always had a dream about living within an idealistic intentional community. Maybe this is because I grew up with a community of 6 brothers and sisters, or maybe it’s because somewhere inside myself I knew that I would be one hell of a crazy idiot if I was left only to my own devices my whole life … I don’t know. In any case, over the years I have lived for shorter or longer stints in a few different groups, each with a different set of core values, and each with a distinct personality.

When Peg and I moved to this area we moved into Dancing Waters Community near Gays Mills, Wisconsin, which has an even different personality than any others I lived in: it is smaller and more family-like. Small has its benefits, and it has its challenges … but overall I like it better than a very large community.  The challenge comes from the fact that conflict can reverberate more thoroughly, and have a larger impact than a larger group, which may be more able to absorb it better. Other than that there is the common challenge that any group has: anytime you get two or more people together working on a common vision, there is bound to be friction, and we are not immune to that here.

Dancing Waters is an intentional community that is legally structured as a land co-op, where we own all the land and the buildings in common, and  live by certain agreed upon values and ideals. My small co-op exists within a larger neighborhood community, which belongs to a much larger regional community (identified by many as the Kickapoo River Valley region, or -more largely- the Driftless region) whose inhabitants follow a looser, more diverse, yet similar set of values and ideals. This community, in turn, exists within a world-wide community of people who feel that lifestyle represents an important statement about one’s principles and the values one believes in. Those of us within this community, more or less, seem to collectively experience a bad taste in our souls whenever we disassociate our actions from principles we hold dear; and this is no-where more important than in the way we live our material lives. Since many of the values we live by may not conform with, or may be antithetical to, the lifestyle values of mainstream society, it can be said that many of us live an “alternative” lifestyle; forming a large, multifarious, visionary, world community.

So in this post I am going to talk about community, and about how this relates to values, money, and wealth; but this isn’t the core of what I hope to convey here, which will come a little later.

So, while some people in this “alternative” community are more conscientious, disciplined, or committed to their values than others are, and while some people simply and naturally have less needs and wants, and while still others struggle to keep up with their simplest commitments; I really don’t like to place value judgements upon these facts … there has been way too much of that kind of fractional judgmentalism in our world already. I know … I have done it myself. If I feel the need to evaluate and criticize those who are 80 or 90 percent in line with my own values, then how do I ever hope to get along with those who are 70% or less in line? We are all at different places in our lives, and most of us are constantly learning what it means to live what we believe; while at the same time working to overcome our own limits, our own excesses, challenges, hurdles, demands, distractions, and sorrows, and we are not always happy with our own personal progress or behavior either. So we “idealists” are not perfect, and are -intrinsically- no better or worse than anyone else. However, what does separate those of us in the “alternative culture” from mainstream society, and what binds us together, is a common view that happiness and well being are experienced through a harmonious way of living; understood as: harmony with each other (including the greater human community around us), harmony with our natural environment, and harmony with our inner selves. Many of us choose to live a relatively simpler way of life because we believe material simplicity (whatever that means to each individual) ultimately makes us happier. Money certainly matters, but it can all too often get in the way of the aforementioned values, and becomes a thing of pursuit within itself, and so is generally relegated to a less than prominent position behind those other quality-of-life values.

However, even here there is a broad range of interpretations, and there is no question that we could all do better in regard to how we live our values. Compared to most others on this planet, most of us in America are relatively wealthy, and most of us have more stuff than we need … and probably more stuff than we even want. But, once again, it is not our business to judge each other about this; we are only responsible for analyzing our own lives and changing that, if necessary …  and not worrying about the lives of others. What gives me the right -for example- to cast the first stone of criticism when I am not without “sin” myself in this regard. I can always do better, and I try to; and I would rather be appreciated for what I’ve achieved than for what I have failed to do. This is a journey, afterall, and -therefore- a learning process … not a state of being.

Simply put, while most of us within this alternative community believe that voluntary simplicity is a more just way of allocating limited resources, and is more in balance with the natural world we so deeply love; we should also recognize that it’s not always an easy choice when swimming in the cultural stream of material America. Coming from abundance, as most of us have, and going to simplicity, is a process of detachment … which is what we should be focused on anyway rather than distracting ourselves with evaluating where others are at. Persistently swimming against the stream requires a tenacity and a stamina that can fatigue even the most stalwart soul, so all of us who persist in this endeavor should give ourselves credit rather than criticizing those who don’t quite see it our way.

So, whether it be an intentional community -as I live in, an outreach organization, an action group, a religion, a support group, or a spiritual circle; I find community an important way of helping me live more comfortably within my chosen values pathway. My feeling is that as long as they are not isolating, exclusive, hierarchal, self centered, or otherwise destructive, then they are probably valuable for personal and collective growth.

Something I read long ago stated that environment is stronger than will. My experience has confirmed the truth of this statement, although I may refine it a little by saying: environment is more persistent than will. Even strong will power can be whittled down by persistent and frequent messages and images that contradict one’s determination. Every dieter knows this sad reality. Our commercial culture certainly provides a plenitude of messages that can erode ones determination to seek alternative behaviors, habits, and even ideas; and this is why I believe being involved in a healthy community of one sort or another is so beneficial. It reminds me that I am not alone with my feelings, while at the same time getting support for mutually agreed upon goals, activities, and values.

But this is still not the end of the story.

I have some neighbors down the road who have a personal vision toward community building … and they take this very seriously. When they have a gathering, they do not just invite their best friends, or only people who agree with them, or those who live like them, or those who believe what they believe. They invite all manner of people who they have worked to build a relationship with no matter what these people necessarily believe, do for a living, or how they align themselves with what my friends believe. When I am at a Michael and Lisa gathering I try to appreciate just being together with a diversity of “cultures”, and try to enjoy some of the differences, while reaching into and communing with our common humanity. And believe it or not, an M&L party is renowned for it’s fun around these parts. This spirit is at the core of community building. And this is at the core of what most intentional communities are trying to do, including Dancing Waters. Ours is a more homogeneous group than the one I just described at Lisa and Michaels; but then our commitments to each other are greater making our challenges even greater.

So, in my mind, merging communities is no more than suspending one’s own exclusive notions of what is right, wrong, true, false, good, bad, etc, long enough to see the person beneath these personal values. Because it is there that we find our commonality and even the teacher beside us. Belief’s, being of the mind, are transitory anyway … love is the eternal truth that lies beneath belief. When I have difficulty with this and have the urge to wrestle another with conflicting values, I have to just ask myself whether this issue is worth fighting over or not. For I find that it is within this kind of conflict that separation all too often gets a foot-hold; and it is within separation that I no longer listen to the potential truth in another. Worse case scenario is that I may even find the rational for the “lessoning” of someone else; and it is through this separation and lessoning that “the other” is truly created and where conflict is fed leading to violence; whether that be emotional, mental, spiritual, or even physical violence. All we have to do is look around the world to see how well each person fighting for their own beliefs is working.

If one is truly spiritually strong enough to disagree with someone without disregarding or diminishing them … I mean to still love them … I mean to see the other as themself … then this is a gift indeed and an example we could all work on developing. But I -for one- am not there yet, so I try to choose my ideological battles very, very wisely; and the rest of the time just let “God” figure it out.

What a relief!

The bottom line for me is this: we all live in a very important community whether we know it or not: the community of life on this planet Earth. If we ever hope to find peace here, we must start by finding peace with each other … neighbor to neighbor, and then grow this to include everyone.

No … I’m not there yet either.

But I still have time.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 29, 2011 10:23 pm

    So interesting your conclusions, since I have been happening upon the same ones this summer. Spending a couple weeks in Quaker community brought home the question, what is community if we all have to be the same, or the same in certain ways? I don’t think that is really community, but it seems common enough for groups to include or exclude people on various criteria, which are just dressed up judgements. It is more comfortable to be around people of like-mind and action, but that isn’t community. In fact, community by definition shouldn’t be all that comfortable. Seems to me.

  2. Lauren permalink
    August 27, 2011 7:43 am

    beautiful Rick, so glad we got to connect in person too.

  3. August 26, 2011 10:16 pm

    I couldn’t agree more, Rick…Diane and I just watched a DVD called PEOPLE LIKE ME…it is about social class in America…..and the idea of embracing differences is a central feature of community building, as you mentioned above…we tend to hang out with people who look like us, behave like us, think like us, believe like us…………the Michael and Lisa gathering sounds great! Consciously mixing with folks that are different from us is essential…….And we are forming a Transition Town group here in Viroqua ; we all acknowledge the fact that we’d better find a way to bridge the gap between the alternatives and the townies…..or Transition Town WILL NOT WORK!


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