Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Rules? Trust The Process, Trust The People — Denise Pendleton

Recently, as I talked to an acquaintance about my adventure in cohousing, I got a response of, “Cohousing sounds great and I’d love to have such an energy efficient home, but I couldn’t stand to live with all those rules. ” Umm…I’ve been thinking a lot about this perspective and why I, someone not terribly fond of rules myself, find myself three years into developing a cohousing community. Overwhelmingly, what I realize is that it’s the people that make the difference. From the outside, not knowing anyone, it certainly could seem like just a bunch of rules to hamper my freedoms. Yet because I know, like and admire the people creating the rules, I trust that differences can be worked out with honesty, humor, compassion and a commitment to healthy community.

As I continue to reflect on that comment, I remembered when I joined Belfast Cohousing three years ago and the reasons why. I had been on the sidelines of another cohousing community in development about ten years earlier and as I heard of their meetings and the rules that were emerging, I shook my head and thought it sounded pretty crazy. So I entered this community with my ears and eyes open for what might seem similarly unappealing. Instead, I found a high level of positive energy, competence and lots of laughter among visionaries who knew when to compromise and how to keep their eyes on the goal. New members coming in over the past few years have made similar observations after attending their first General Meeting.

Of course, this isn’t to say we don’t have conflicts. They’re inevitable in a project of this scope, and some have taken significant effort to resolve. But these challenges also present opportunities for self-growth through change. When some of us feel stuck, there are others able to step in and introduce a solution, a fresh perspective and help us move forward. This is the beauty of community and group work.

Perhaps I sound like I’m patting myself on the back as I talk of this great group of community members that I’m a part of, when honestly I just feel lucky to be here. All I bring to the group is my early years as a middle child in a family of five kids! What do others bring? We have a strong core of Audubon Expeditionary Institute alumni, which has brought us the dedication and experience of those who have lived on a bus travelling cross country to study sustainable living. We have a diversity of ages and lifestyles. We have teachers, farmers, and social workers. Many of us have had lots of experience with committee work. We have members who have lived in other educational, intentional or cohousing communities. Among this range of life experience, there is a capacity for bringing significant wisdom to the process of making decisions, sharing hopes and fears and guiding healthy group dynamics.

At a recent meeting, we reviewed Land Use Guidelines and I thought to myself, “Is this just another bunch of rules? ” Then a member noted how lucky we are to have this opportunity to set out intentional guidelines, instead of just living with the often misinterpreted or misunderstood implied rules that exist among neighbors and within neighborhoods. Here, we have an explicit process for sharing our hopes, dreams and fears in ways that honor and enlighten us all. As we shared our ideas about how the land could be a part of our lives, I grew excited in anticipation of the chance I will have to learn more about permaculture, farming, landscaping, and gardening best practices.

Once we enter into any relationship — be it marriage, friendship, or society — there are rules spoken and unspoken. What we get in return meets many of our deepest needs as social beings. I’ve just been reading about the En’owkin decision-making practice of the Okanagen Indian people, based on a belief that their entire community must be engaged to achieve sustainability. This practice follows a process, i.e. has its “rules” as it recognizes our interconnectedness and includes the perspective of the land and human relations. When decisions are made following this practice, “Material things and all the worrying about matters such as money start to lose their power. When people realize that the community is there to sustain them, they have the most secure feeling in the world. The fear starts to leave, and they are imbued with hope. ” (From an essay written by Okanagen Jeannette Armstrong, “En’owkin: Decision-Making as if Sustainability Mattered”) What I have been learning in my several years of forming Belfast Cohousing is that community steps in to transform fear into unexpected pleasures and gifts.

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