Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Enter the New Country — Coleen O’Connell

Coleen helps Cat with her costume.
Recently Joline Blais, another BC&E member and I were having an engaged conversation on the phone about the stresses of the life we are living as we long for our vision of being together as a community on the property we own collectively in Belfast. Kids, two jobs, household tasks, wood heat, tough winter, isolated country living – no one around to take up the slack or lend a hand. Yet people live this way all over Maine- all over the world. In cohousing there is a solid vision, and we are slowly working our way toward it, and yet at times it is easy to get scared that it won’t really be what we hope it will be. Or we worry that it won’t happen and we pull back in fear.

Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage is a true social, ecological experiment that we are all planning together. Though there are over 130 built cohousing communities in America that have accomplished their mission, each developing community is still its own organism with its own personality. That would be true for us. The metaphor I shared with Joline that day on the telephone is one of having my foot on one bank of a rushing stream with the other foot on the other side – straddling the rushing water, hoping not to fall in, and trying to get up the momentum to jump to the other side. I want to be on the other side, working with a group of people to be an example of how to live elegantly, simply, off oil, raising food sustainably, having fun with one another, while the whole village raises our children. But the independent, isolated life I know is so familiar. Why would I throw my time and energy into a bunch of people I don’t know that well? How will we ever work it out together? Humans are so testy. Can we really do this? Will we really do the hard work of sustainability or will this all be green wash? I worry about these things.

The following reflection has soothed my worries on many occasions. I sent it to Joline after our phone conversation and her response was positive - that we all need this wisdom to get us through these difficult times in our earth history and to move into the world that is possible... the world that will sustain our children and their many ancestors to follow. The work of social transformation is not easy.

Enter the New Country

You have no idea of what the new country looks like. Still, you are very much at home, although not truly at peace, in the old country. You know the ways of the old country, its joys and pains, its happy and sad moments. You have spent most of your days there. Even though you know that you have not found there what your heart most desires, you remain quite attached to it. It has become part of your very bones. Now you have come to realize that you must leave it and enter the new country, where your Beloved dwells. You know that what helped and guided you in the old country no longer works, but what else do you have to go by? You are being asked to trust that you will find what you need in the new country. That requires the death of what has become so precious to you: influence, success, yes, even affection and praise.

Trust is so hard since you have nothing to fall back on. Still, trust is what is essential. The new country is where you are called to go and the only way to go there is naked and vulnerable.

It seems that you keep crossing and recrossing the border. For a while you experience a real joy in the new country. But then you feel afraid and start longing again for all you left behind, so you go back to the old country. To your dismay, you discover that the old country has lost its charm. Risk a few more steps into the new country, trusting that each time you enter it, you will feel more comfortable and be able to stay longer.

From The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey through Anguish to Freedom 
by Henri J. M. Nouwen p. 21. NY: NY: Random House

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