Monday, August 31, 2009

"Holy Work" — Arielle Bywater

I attended a workshop this weekend with the Coho folks about facilitating meetings. Mundane topic, one would think--except that it wasn't at all. Instead, it was a group of folks from different backgrounds trying to figure out how to run meetings in which we can meet one another with compassion, curiousity, and good will in order to work toward a greater good. In the process of learning how to do this, we had such a meeting: lots of laughter, good food, friendship and ideas exchanged.

One highlight for me: Dyan, the woman who led our training, asked everyone to get into "spectrum" formation over an issue as an example of how to use this meeting technique. (It involves people lining up according to where they are on a "spectrum" in terms of their feelings about a certain issue.) The issue she gave us was how we felt about firearms in the cohousing community. As someone who has lived mostly in major urban centers--New York City, Boston, and Chicago--my adult life, and who has never hunted (I don't even eat meat!), I sort of assumed that a room full of eco-minded progressives such as we have at Belfast Cohousing would all be of like minds: "Firearms in our community?! No way!" Little did I know! The "spectrum" line ran the gamut, and soon I was paired up with another Coho person who was as pro-firearms in the community as I was against.

And guess what? After only a couple minutes of discussion on the topic, my mind was changed. Absolutely changed. While I like to think I'm open-minded, I am also opinionated and pretty reactionary, so it was utterly refreshing to see how easily and smoothly my mind could be changed...and with zero conflict. This happens all too rarely in my life! In place of conflict and stubborness was a genuine willingness to listen, on both sides, and the result was that I walked away from that day with a new understanding about the culture and belief around firearms in rural Maine...and my own ignorance on the matter.

And this was just a sample exercise, to demonstrate how to use a technique! We weren't even really discussing firearms in the community!

Dyan called what we were doing that day, gathering to learn how to be better at facilitating and participating in our group meetings, "holy work." It struck me that this was not an overstatement at all. There is something deeply spiritual about trying to form an intentional community. It reminds me of meditation, or other difficult, worthwhile spiritual practice.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wisdom of the Lost Boys — Steve Chiasson

We just saw a powerful movie about the Lost Boys of Sudan called "God Grew Tired of Us"
The film follows a handful of the Lost Boys — young men from age 5 to 15 or so — who were forced by civil war to flee their homes in Sudan, ultimately to be resettled in various parts of the US. One of the things that really struck me about this film was that, despite their gratitude for the opportunity they'd been given, they deeply missed the community they left behind in Africa. All their material needs were met (and then some!), but the kind of community they were accustomed to — full of shared experience and genuine interest in each other's welfare — didn't exist for them here in the states. It was an interesting and right-on observation — one that cohousers, too, are well aware of and working to remedy…

Friday, August 21, 2009

Shifting Consciousness — Elizabeth Garber

Good morning, Arielle. I woke up thinking about your dream and wanted to tell you how this first year of being involved in the Cohousing community has been for my urgent self, like yours in the dream.

I, too, had very headstrong parts of me that were quite nervous about joining a group that would be designing and creating a place where I would live. What if something that was really important to me didn’t happen? Would I have to work hard to “make” something happen? What if it didn’t go the way I wanted? I think of the wise statement about a new relationship that we bring our old patterns but we have the possibility to heal ourselves or we can harm ourselves. I came to cohousing with my old patterns on alert from being in groups, which are certainly complex layering of many relationships. I remembered arduous discussions of Robert’s rules at Berkeley Free Clinic meetings in the 70’s, and exhausting board meetings for the parent-run Toddy Pond School in the 90’s. After a year with Belfast Cohousing, I can say this has been a remarkably healing year where I have come to trust the wisdom and magic that happens with this mature group of individuals working skillfully in the process of creating community together.

I think I have experienced a major shift in my consciousness as I have come to trust our group decision making process. I hear other members repeatedly remarking on this happening for them as well. So many times we have come in with a strongly held belief, and then over the space of the meeting and discussion, so much information and many points of view are expressed and heard. Somehow a common understanding and resolution seems to arise out of our talking together; a consensus agreement becomes almost effortless, taking most of us to a decision we might never having imagined making. We sometimes talk with wonder about what happened afterwards. I sometimes feel like we come to a river with all our personal little boats of different ideas, yet something happens when we get into the river and begin sailing together. In this process of coming to understanding every aspect of a decision, we often end up in a beautiful schooner all sailing together.

There are so many stories of particular moments I could tell. We could sit around talking for hours to do that. But for now, here is a glimpse of the astounding day we realized we could live wisely, better economically, with more energy efficiency, and with less impact on the land, if our homes were duplexes. Most of our members have been living in individual houses, many on vast farms with no other houses in sight, and at the beginning of the meeting duplexes seemed unimaginable. But by the end, something had shifted in us so much that it was as if we were breathing differently, yes, as if we breathed together, yes, we can do this because it makes the best sense for the whole project, for the whole community. Other decisions, like the pet policy, we are developing slowly, with many discussions so that we can come to something we can all live with, seeing our pets in the context of a whole community as well as in terms of the impact on the land and wild animals.

I think of Coleen talking about how we are going to have to make a shift in consciousness in this millennium, in how we think about living in groups and to create small households. We have to shift in our attachments to our ‘stuff’ and expand in how we are with each other. We have to become aware of the arrogance of our expectations from the privilege that we assume as Americans. I am aware of the process that is unfolding as I am involved with this group. I came in a year ago as an individual thinking about how I want My House, and My Gardens, and I now think about what I want to share and bring to the Common House and Common Gardens before I think my cozy little house.

I know there will be many thresholds of developing trust. I know there will be honeymoon periods and other times in the trenches of hard work together. I know the shadow sides of all of us will rear, and hopefully our dreams will help us understand those sides. But in the meantime, I see how I am healing from this journey. I am trusting the skills and willingness to learn and grow together that is happening in our community.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Dreaming of Cohousing — Arielle Bywater

A few nights ago I had a cohousing dream. It was, of course, about consensus decision-making. In it, a group of folks were trying to decide on a name and signage for a retail store we were doing through cohousing (on site?). There were three guys who wanted to name it after and use the image of a goddess, which for some reason I thought was a terrible idea. (Interesting that it was three GUYS aruging FOR a goddess which I was AGAINST...but that's fodder for a different kind of blog.) I finally realized I was not going to get my way and I had to stand aside, which was not easy for me.

All of which is to say, I guess, that I'm realizing that cohousing is not just buying a house in an established community and getting to know your neighbors well. It's not even just planning such a community. It's working with and establishing that community from the beginning, which, like parenting, partnering, or any other difficult and long-term and complicated relationship, requires real work and one's best self.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Why I'm Considering Cohousing — Arielle Bywater

One of the members of the Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage recently suggested that we use this blog to explore some of the reasons why we're considering this option as candidly as possible. She made the point that many Americans respond with fear to the idea of their individual needs being met. I admit to often being one of those people!

Anyway, as a first stab at this enormous topic, here's what I wrote for the BC&E e-newsletter:

Ever since I can remember, I've been fascinated by countercultures and subcultures. (Watching the documentary Woodstock on video twenty years after it took place was enough to reduce me to self-pitying, born-in-the-wrong-time tears.) As the suburban kid of religious Jewish parents who were also sort of hippie ex-urbanites who also loved tent camping (and took me to Acadia when I was still in diapers), I was brought up in a wealth of interesting dichotomies, and have always been most at home outside the mainstream culture.

Now that I have a family of my own, I am constantly thinking of how best to live a life that reflects my values and satisfies my desires — which, like my childhood, are full of dichotomies. I want quiet (I write poems) and fellowship (I'm pretty outgoing, especially for a poet). Interdependence and independence. Simplicity and challenge. Freedom and responsibility. Like many people I know, I am striving to live a slower, greener life, but don't have the skill-set or time to homestead — and don't want to spend one more second in a car than I have to. I love pedestrian-friendly, in-town living — heck, I love big-city living! — except when it feels crowded and noisy and unfriendly. I want a life that is affordable, sustainable, and connected to the seasons, the landscape, and the people around me in deep and meaningful ways. Oh, and I want community with like-minded souls who will teach and inspire and enrich me. It's not too much to ask, is it?

To me, the idea of cohousing offers both a very old-fashioned, wholesome vision — kids running through the grass in wild packs! Baking chocolate-chip cookies for sixty people! Car pools!--and a genuinely radical experiment in living, one which offers a downright revolutionary antidote to many of our accepted but misguided American notions about house and home. Even what worries me about cohousing — how I think I would have to learn to be a better listener; how I would be forced to own less and share more; how, as a parent, I might not know where my children were every minute of the day — excites me, because I can see how much I'd benefit from those lessons.

I hope others in the group will chime in here about their hopes and fears!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"Instigating" — Arielle Bywater

Steve's nickname for me is so much more revolutionary-sounding than I feel! I will aim to live up to it, in a good way.

My idea for this blog was that it could be a way for those of us participating in the Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage community-in-progress/process to chime in about it as we go along in an informal, as-it-happens sort of way. Maybe it can serve as another log of our experiences as they happen, and hopefully others out there interested in intentional communities will listen in. It seems like there will be multiple authors to this blog, which will make it all the more diverse and rich in its perspective.

For now, though, I'm off to bed (the dog was sick last night, and kept us all up--we're wiped out). So goodnight. And bye, Sanna and family! We can't wait to hear about what you discover while abroad!

Heading to Denmark — Sanna McKim

Our bags are packed, kids are finally sleeping after much excitement about tomorrow's plane flight (it's not Denmark they're excited about as much as the flip down tables and free movie!), list of Danish cohousing communities in hand, and we're off to visit my mother's homeland tomorrow morning. Hoping to see Jernstoberiet, Tinggarden and Munksogaard (Danish bofaellesskaber) at a minimum, after several days of riding ancient bikes along the north coast of Sealand. Stay tuned! (I'm open to ideas of rural communities to visit when I'm there, so surf the web and post suggestions!).

A new outreach tool — Steve Chiasson

Many thanks to Arielle Bywater, AKA "The Instigator" for putting her shoulder to the wheel and providing the nudge that was needed to get this particular vehicle moving. Looking forward to it! — Steve