1. I’ve learned that wherever you go, there you are. No truer words have been spoken, there’s simply no escaping yourself. I naively thought that community living could be the answer to my problems, might soothe the lifelong solitude in my soul, but was rapidly disavowed of this notion. ‘Turning towards’ oneself and coming into a deep acceptance of the nature of solitude is where true peace lies.
2. In a similar vein, I’ve learned that the only zen you’ll find at the top of a mountain is the zen you take up there with you. All the unsuccessful attempts at establishing a twice-daily meditation practice at home, continued in earnest while living in community. Beyond the daily community requirements of the 6am morning meditation, frankly it was still extremely challenging to commit to more. Unexpectedly, for me, learning to drop the self-aggression and self-criticism around this has been the most valuable practice. To quote Ajahn Sumedho “Right now, it’s like this”. Next month or next year, I may develop into a world-class meditator, but right now, it’s like this.
3. I’ve learned that it’s ok, brave even, to be the voice of dissent in the community that you so dearly wish to belong to; provided you are very clear on your intentions. Are you coming from the heart; or the ego? Are you dissenting simply to air a beef or because you have a creative solution to offer?
4. I’ve learned that the desire for belonging is innate – but not equally obvious to everyone. In the unconscious minded, this sometimes manifests as resistance, rebellion, or even outright attack.
5. A benevolent dictatorship is not a community. Sure, leadership is essential to its function, but true community is one where everyone’s voices are given weight and consideration.
6. I’ve learned that it’s ok not to like everybody. ‘Conscious’ people have just as many annoying quirks and habits as anyone else. BUT it is vitally important to love everybody. This sometimes means putting the needs of others before your own, or it may mean drawing and upholding healthy boundaries. I personally experienced seismic shifts in my relationships with certain characters when;
a) I sat with the triggers that arose
b) RESPONSIBLY voiced the triggers and resultant emotions
c) listened to AND heard the other side
d) negotiated a mutually agreeable path forward.
Sometimes even after all that, I still didn’t particularly like the person in question. But with this level of intent between people, deep healing and mutual respect can occur organically regardless of personal preferences.
7. I’ve learned that community is built over time, and takes great commitment. Difficulties in maintaining community standards often arise when the community is made up of transient people or those that do not share common values and goals. Long term community members are much more invested in upholding principles such as noble silence, or maintaining cleanliness of the kitchen than people who are just passing through. In order to uphold community standards, the reasons behind the ‘rules’ need to be effectively communicated on a regular basis.
8. I’ve learned that good relationships are crucial to healthy community, and that everyone, from the top down, needs to be willing to explore contention and disagreements. Without this, the claim of being a conscious or mindful community holds little water. Shadows must be brought into the light. Oftentimes, the closer one gets to the hub of decision making and power, the darker the shadows can be.
As community ecologist Jason Hine writes “Everything will not be ‘perfect’ in the more beautiful world. There will still be problems, but we will perceive them as opportunities to gather together in council and ceremony, to remember those parts of ourselves that we have forgotten, to descend deeper into our being. There will still be challenges, but we will not have to face them alone, we will have the support of trusted community to overcome them. There will still be conflicts, but we will learn how to resolve them by stepping into our ‘opponents’ perspective and by listening to their deepest feelings and values.”
9. I’ve learned that the deepest connections are made when people are brave enough to bare the darkest parts of their soul. Vulnerability is not weakness. Bearing witness to our shared common humanity in all its beauty and terror is a profound privilege, and fertile ground for the cultivation of loving kindness.
10. I’ve learned that mindfulness feels incomplete without ritual, art, ceremony, song, story and dance. Stillness and silence are just two aspects of living mindfully. Time to play, time to explore the more embodied aspects of mindfulness are important for psychological and physical health.
11. I’ve learned again and again to examine my snap judgements and assumptions about people. Each time I turn towards someone with an open heart, drop the ‘knowing’, I have the opportunity to see past my own filters and projections to the truth of who they are, not whom I think they are.
Living in community provides the perfect conditions for this because in a sense, there is no escape. Everyone is your teacher, if you are willing to sit with the discomfort of irritation, or the heartbreak of feeling misunderstood. These are invitations to look deeper at our reactions, or to offer ourselves love when it feels that we’re not receiving it from outside.
12. I’ve learned that the most committed spiritual seekers, practitioners and even therapists can still have huge blind spots when it comes to their own shadows. Rather than being a cause for disappointment and disillusionment, if we choose, this can open our hearts even further to the commonality of suffering. We are each doing the best we can to travel through life with our own particular suitcase stuffed full of unconscious material.
Though initially painful, the seeing of this gave me immense freedom. Where once I considered myself ‘the wounded’ and the other ‘the healer’, I discovered that all relationships; even those of student and teacher; client and therapist, are on an equal footing. Pedestals are unhealthy for the elevated and the prostrate alike.
13. I’ve learned that developing a synergetic relationship with sustainable food production and waste management are essential for the health of a community. Toiling in intense heat in the vegetable gardens, caring for the animals, and sorting through the community garbage and recycling by hand have instilled in me a far deeper respect for the earth and gratitude for our place on it.
14. I’ve learned that community WILL let you down. At times your hopes and expectations will not be met and that’s just as important an experience to have as any other. If you allow this, your resilience will deepen. And when all is said and done, the resilience of any community is dependent upon the resilience of its members.
In summary, if you feel the call to live in conscious or intentional community, I highly recommend the experience. For me, it was the steepest learning curve of my life, and though there were aspects that were extremely challenging, the experience helped plant the dreaming seeds of the kind of community I would like to co-create some day.