Why Community Life?

As I have mentioned before, what I think is needed to build towards a more sustainable and harmonious future, is a shift of consciousness and a paradigm shift. The current crises are pushing us to reframe our worldview. A crisis is a situation where the old patterns/approaches of dealing with that situation suddenly are not sufficient/adequate anymore. In our rapidly changing society, with more and more people competing for limited resources and with a climate that is changing, it is clear to me that our current mainstream worldview and the politics it holds is not providing a holistic approach to these challenges.

I don’t believe anymore that for a long term sustainable peaceful future building walls to keep refugees out, separation, abusing power and Rank to safeguard privileges, etc. are a solution. And on the other hand I am also asking myself how these things could ever work differently on a bigger scale if we don’t first start by bringing down the walls between each other in our daily lives, transcendent our small sense of ‘self’, and start to feel connected and compassionate with what is beyond ‘the edge our skin’. We are often so disconnected with our own inner world, our emotions and feelings that it becomes more difficult to genuinely connect with others. I hope we can learn to feel safe with each other so we can be authentic and that there are more options than to wear a mask or to hide away to protect ourselves from judging and hostile actions or looks .

I see the crises we face as an invitation to shift our consciousness, and to find new way of relating and living with one another. We have the choice to gracefully accept it and proactively change our ways, or continue the old ways until there is so much pressure on the system that it all collapses.  

One way of proactively taking steps is through communities. I see community as a beautiful playground where people can experiment, be exposed to- and be challenged to explore new ways of perceiving “reality”. When people get together who see clearly that the current set of beliefs and worldview is not serving us anymore, we can create an environment which fosters a new way of looking at the world and start creating a new reality. Community life in itself is not a panacea for all the challenges and it is not a guarantee for making this inner journey or live more connected and harmonious. By living closely together the processes we go through are intensified and it becomes a lot more difficult to hide or to run away from our blind spots. Depending on our attitude this can become an opportunity of growth and transformation, or another thing that needs to be resisted or to run away from.

The time I was in the Findhorn community was truly a wonderful transformative experience. I was lucky to be part of the “Yes to Sustainability youth exchange” program that provided a 2 week course in Findhorn. The daily interactions with the people there were deep and eye opening. The community (not just the people but the whole setting) was able to create a safe space where deep conversations and authenticity were fostered. The magic of the place made me take on a different attitude towards my interaction with people and events around me. Where before I used to think “I don’t like this person” of “Why did this have to happen”, the conscious support of the environment made me more aware of myself and my dislikes as a part of my own shadow side that has been mirrored by the other person. The problem suddenly was not anymore in the other person or the event, but became an invitation to get to know myself better. Another example was that when I was sharing  some experience or thought, I would come to a point where I found it more difficult to find words and where I was avoiding eye contact. Normally I would have tried to change the subject, but now I was curious which hidden belief of judgement I was having about myself that that made me shy. This reflection was possible because I felt that the other people were open, kind and nonjudgmental, but also because the whole atmosphere was inviting me to take on an attitude of trying to consciously relate with whatever crosses my path, as if this way of looking at life is the norm. It felt like living life in a different gear, looking at it with a new pair of glasses. Everything that happened was not merely coincidence, but a reflection of my own mindset and patterns and therefore a very interesting object of observation. Not that suddenly everything was easy or perfect, but I felt that whatever was there, joy and pain, was welcome and was teaching me something about myself, my shadow side and where I was invited to grow to be more free.

Not all communities I visited were like that. But there is a big potential when conscious people come together with the intention to challenge one’s own belief system and to discover new ways of looking. These communities can become a “transformation hub” and creative center where more harmonious and holistic ways of thinking and living emerge. They are in their own way an important piece of the puzzle of sustainability. When you bring people together who are hungry for going to the edge of their comfort zone and go beyond it, people who want to live life fully and squeeze all the juice out of it, people who want to be challenged, go deeper within and are tired of repeating the same old patterns over again, people who aren’t bothered by the obstacles but welcome them as part of their search in living life more intensely, their synergy can create a powerful space of transformation.

I hope to find a few more people who want to live this intensely, live in community, hold the space to catalyze the transformation of others and who want to take baby steps towards an harmonious future.

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“Bienveillance” and being connected within

So, in living harmoniously, awareness about Rank is important to handle hierarchy and authority in a conscious and constructive way. But besides this there has to be a deep heartfelt care for and connection with the group. The word I find best capturing this intention is the french word “bienveillance”. I guess the English word coming close to it is the combination of the words ‘consideration’ and ‘kind-heartedness’, taking others into consideration with a caring intention. This positive caring intention sounds rather obvious, right? but I was surprised how easy it is to forget this positive intention when being caught in the heat of a decision making process. Anyway, without this positive intention I don’t think any community or relationship can last for long and especially in times of tension it can be difficult to stay connected to that feeling.

When traveling on the biketour this became clear to me. We have a meeting once in a while to make decisions and as it is common in the bike tour, decision are made by consensus. I was still new to all of this, and one of the things which struck me was the kind-hearted consideration of one of the facilitators. Even though I knew she had a certain preference on the outcome of the decision, she was able to take distance from her point of view and held the space for the people with a different preference to explain their objections and concerns. I was still in the ‘mode’ of pushing and pulling to get my will across and subconsciously I perceived our meeting-circle as a small battlefield. The ones who shout loudest and with more determination win. This was what I was used to before. However, the facilitator made it possible to create a safe space where people felt free to speak out their concerns and felt heard. Being confronted with the contrast between my own attitude  and the one of the facilitator, it made me aware of how easily I get caught up in my own wants and losing focus of the others. The attitude of the facilitator helped me to connect again with the caring part inside of me, and to realize that, in the end, the relationships are more important than getting my want.

Although it is obvious that there is this need for a positive intention when living together, it is a challenge to stay in touch with this caring intention. A way I find helpful to stay more easily connected to this feeling of caring for the others, is firstly by bringing my own feelings and needs into awareness and listen to them. When our own needs are not being heard and are not put consciously into attention, they will keep on shouting, making it very difficult to listen to the others. Once I am aware of them, they are heard and are given attention, something in me relaxes and makes it possible to open up my heart and start to be receptive to the other’s point of view and needs. Our own personality is a community in itself with many different voices and parts, and when we don’t listen to our own needs, feelings and emotions, a part of ourselves is not being heard. If there is no connection within the different parts inside of us, then there is  also “nobody home” when we try to connect with others. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to genuinely connect with other people if there is no connection with the emotions, body feelings and needs within ourselves.

Both “Non Violent Communication” and “Circling” are beautiful tools/skills to live in a way that is truly connected within, and to be in touch with what is alive inside; the feelings, emotions, needs etc. Using this inner connection as a starting point, it can be used to relate and communicate with others on a different level and create a much deeper connection. In these communities I have been meeting many people that communicate in such an authentic, honest, vulnerable and constructive way. It is so nourishing for the heart, empowers me to be more in touch with myself and enables a deep connection in a short time. These are such vital skills in living an authentic and fulfilling, connected life. They enhance life so much and make the interactions between humans again an exciting adventure. I would recommend it to everyone, but for people living in community it is indispensable! If only we would learn these skills at school as kids, the world would already look so different.

RANK: a tool to deal with authority

Building on the previous posts Rankwhere I talked about hierarchy. I will elaborate more on this and on the question how to deal with authority in a ‘healthy way’, using it for the common good. The way I see it, as I mentioned before, not hierarchy itself, but its unawareness is what makes it ‘problematic’. When the role of power and hierarchy has become omnipresent, like a fish that doesn’t realize it is swimming in water, it is  difficult to see clearly how deeply rooted it is. In order to become aware of this game, a tool is needed.

Rank is one of these tools that  opens our eyes to understand hierarchy and authority in group dynamics and helps us use it constructively. When I stayed in Lakabe, a very nice and charming community in Spain, I found some of the answers related to the topic of ´how to deal with hierarchy´. I got in contact with ‘group facilitation’ and the concept of “Rank” which is developed by Arnold Mindell. Rank refers to the amount of power a person has relative to others. It  can be understood as the sum of power and privileges someone has in a certain social context. Differences in Rank affects someone’s self confidence and self worth amongst others.

Here are some examples of different types of rank:

  • Social Rank is generally unearned, and its relative powers and privileges are supported by social norms. They cover areas such as gender, class, ethnicity, colour, wealth, nationality and education.
  • Contextual Rank arises in a particular situation and is specific to an individual’s position in that situation. Someone’s high social rank may not apply in a particular social situation such as the workplace.
  • Psychological/Spiritual Rank is the power that you gain from life experiences, particularly overcoming and surviving difficult and challenging situations and transforming the pain into a strength; or it may come from a feeling of connection to a higher power or to nature/the environment, etc.

Knowing these different types of Rank, we can start thinking of privileges we have and how our power relates to those of other in our different daily situations.

This concept of Rank does definitely not mean that some people are ‘worth more’ than others, but it tries to bring hidden hierarchies into the light. The point is not to eliminate Rank but to highlight these unwritten ‘conventions’ so that these privileges and power can be used for the benefit of the group. As mentioned in the previous posts, when unaware of having a higher Rank and thereby having some kind of authority and power over others, this power can easily oppress people. In order to be conscious of Rank we need to remember how privileged we are. When unconscious of Rank, we marginalize the pain and troubles of others, we might for example think that we live in a classless society but this is a false perception, blinded by our own Rank and the privileges we take for granted . The thing is that we are very blind to our own rank/privileges, but see very easily the ones we are lacking. So let’s change this by becoming aware of our privileges, and start using it for creating more balanced and harmonious relationships.

Personally I prefer horizontal structures because the intention to take care of each other is clearly present. But it is important to note that when we are unconscious of Rank, horizontal structures can be oppressive as well. In an implicit way, power and dominance will be taken up by certain personalities which tend to be more active, determined and pushy. When there is no clear structure, this dominance is more invisible and makes it difficult to defend oneself against this form of oppression.

So to summarize what I took from this, is that not hierarchy nor authority in itself are the problem but that the intention behind it is crucial. If there is an intention to take care of the others, AND there is awareness about Rank, it can create an empowering scene where the ‘little ones’ are giving a safe space to express, grow and unfold themselves. But it takes a hell of awareness to not fall into the trap of letting your own ego take the lead and start using other people for your own intentions. The good thing is that if more people are aware about Rank, they can keep others accountable when suffering from the abuse of Rank.


If you want to go deeper into this topic, check out this video. A funny way of explaining Rank: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jKG4EUD2z5E

Further questions can help to deepen the topic and become more aware of our Rank:

  • Remember a recent situation when you felt uncomfortable/small/intimidated by someone. What was the relationship of the different Ranks?
  • What are my privileges? What is my social/contextual/psychological/spiritual Rank
  • Where am I in authority? How can I use my Rank there to benefit the others?

Born To be Free

During my travels, at a certain moment this poem came to existence as an expression of this desire to be free.. Enjoy

Eagle (1)

Born to be free

We all long to be free, whatever that might mean

 

But there they are, the patterns of oppression

The choking constraints of social convention

The hiss of expectations and obligations

Panting in my neck

Crammed into a corner, to be small and insignificant

Holding me back

 

No,  I’m born to be free

I throw away the burden, Don’t tell me what to be

Fuck you all, I go my own way

I know what I want, I stand in my power, I’m wild, I’m free

And don’t even think of taming me

 

Left behind that burden,

I now dive into my fear

Inner oppression as demons

are coming to appear

The patterns in my brain

Ingrained over time

Keeping me captive

Yet no one else to blame

 

Why is it so difficult, this quest to be free?

Why do I force me to be this or that?

Why can’t I simply be?

 

Standing in this tension,

The struggle to be free

From time to time, when lucky

I get a taste of what could be

Streams of Love where fear has ruled

Shame and guilt no longer fueled

Compassion and care swell from within

And ‘re giving birth

to our new earth

Hierarchy

Linked to oppression is the topic of hierarchy. Traveling with this ecotopia biketour community, it made me question some of my beliefs and triggered questions like; How to deal with leadership, authority and hierarchy?…and how to avoid oppression and abuse of power?. Do we try to get rid of all of it? Is there a healthy way to be a leader and use authority? Does a leader imply followers? (and is that a ‘bad’ thing?) In this and the following posts I’ll share some of my reflections concerning these questions.birdstory

Our society consist mostly out of hierarchical organizations and our human interactions are characterised by this pattern. As the picture shows, hierarchy can feel pretty ‘shitty’ at times. I think we all have been in situations we felt just like those birds at the bottom. The main point of this blog is not defend hierarchy, nor to prove it wrong, but rather becoming aware how present it is in our societ. To mention a subtle example, when meeting a new person, I realised that one of my first reactions is to categorise the other as rather superior or inferior to me. [Not that it is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in itself, but interesting isn’t it? always looking for our place in the bigger context through the eyes of hierarchy.] Once we are aware of its presence, we can think about what the best way is to deal with it.

What made me realize this presence of hierarchy was by experiencing a different model at first hand. My first real experience of a horizontal self-organized group was in Ecotopia Biketour. It is a biketour organized by the people who want to join and it can be seen as a very dynamic fluctuating traveling community. For this to happen, all sorts of tasks need to be done, like people planning the route, contacting different communities and sustainable projects to visit on the way, people taking care of the food, others of cooking, and again others for transporting communal tools etc. All of this  was done without any formal leader delegating tasks… and to my great surprise it worked amazingly. Being a group of around 25 people, it really worked and opened my eyes to a different way of making decisions and moving forward as a group.

I remember that when I newly arrived in the group I was confused about its dynamics but I could not tell why. It was only weeks later, when I became more aware of hierarchy and horizontalism in social interactions, that I realized that it was because I could not really identify a leader. This contrast was needed to wake me up from the trance of hierarchy. I became aware of my habitual pattern of identifying the leader of a group, understanding his/her expectations and complying to it in order to be ‘liked’ and get approval, because this time it was not applicable. I started to see how I was used to identify authority and subordinate to it. As a ‘survival mechanism’, I learned to please the ones I identified as having authority to get approval, but I was not aware of it.

I realized how, unconsciously, I was constantly giving away my own decision making and in a certain way also my responsibility. Instead of asking myself what is true to me and acting accordingly, I repressed being true to myself, in order to comply with expectations. I gave away my freedom.

So, having told this little anecdote of how I woke up to the more hidden aspects of hierarchy, I’ll tell what I take away from this. Authority and hierarchy are not only out there, represented by organizations and institutions, but are also very implicitly present and are part of our default way of interpreting life. Authority nor hierarchy in itself are ‘bad’ things, but when we unconscious about their existence, it might start playing a corrupting role in our social dynamics. Unaware of it, it could be like something attacking us from behind, and before realizing what happened, it overpowered us. When I am unaware of the authority I am submitting to, when I am not even questioning it, when I forget that I have a personal responsibility in holding the authority accountable and that I have a choice in complying or not, I give away my freedom and the joy of expressing myself authentically. Authority is something that we give (consciously or not). When I am aware to whom I give authority (explicit or implicit), I can look it  in the eye, stand my ground and stay true to myself.

Related to community life, it is important to be aware to whom we consciously give authority. If it is not possible to have a transparent horizontal governance structure, then at least make sure that the hierarchy structure is very clear, that people are conscious about who they give authority, and that these people can be held accountable in using their ‘power’ for the common good.

In our daily life, authority is sometimes imposed on us. In that case I guess what is best, is to realize to which degree it limiting us, and taking responsibility of our role in suporting this authority. Authority is only made possible by enough people who subdue to it. Like Ghandi demonstrated, sometimes an act of civil disobedience is needed to make authorities realize that they are still held accountable for their actions. By becoming aware of our responsibility and possibilities we can reclaim our freedom in mind and spirit despite outer structures. We are born to be free.

Oppression

The first topic I will be diving into might be a bit controversial and a bit difficult to digest at first. But I think it is a pattern which is left unnoticed by many (including me at first), yet crucial towards harmonious living together. Let’s make our hands dirty and get right at it.

One of the things that the people in anarchistic communities in Spain have opened my eyes to, was the theme of oppression. [Before knowing ‘anarchists’ my perception of them was to be rather violent, negative, reactive, even drug addicted people. But the ones I met were very nice, loving, caring people pursuing their own vision of freedom and harmony. I realized that the image I had from them was quite distorted by the media.]

Before, I was blind to oppression and how impregnated it is in our ‘mainstream’ society. Oppression,  the abuse of authority, by using fear or force to get what one wants, is omnipresent. It became very obvious when I was in Catalonia the 1st of October, during the referendum for independence. I witnessed the violence the Spanish state used to prevent the referendum from happening, beating up citizens who were nonviolently protecting the voting boxes. But it  can be found in the way military oppresses other countries to protect national interests, how minority groups experience racism, discrimination and feel that their point of view is not taken into consideration when the politicians form their policies, or how one of the police’s function is to ‘make people behave’ (just think of the last time you passed by a police car and see if you felt a slight sense of fear, a raise in heartbeat or a higher concentration in order ‘not to do anything wrong’. Of course they are doing a lot more than that, like protecting citizens against violence and crime. Our society is still too far away from a utopia to make it work without this ‘enforcing, supervising role’, but it is still present, and it is important to be aware of it).

Oppressive behavior is actually very much present in our daily life, and we do it more often than we realize. As soon as we have the power to make a decision or want something and we are willing to get it without taking into consideration the people affected by this decision, we already fall into the trap of oppression. When we want things in a certain way and we suspect that some people might object, if we try to change the story or hide parts of the truth, oppression is there. Or even more subtle, when we try to cloud transparency and give more importance to the outcome of the decision rather than caring for the relationship, it can be considered oppressive behavior. We are forcing the consequences of our choices upon the affected. This is not just limited to the oppression of people. The same pattern can be found in how we deal with the animals and nature, and how we can exploit them for the gratification of our desires without considering the damage we cause them. But even further, I realized that this pattern was so deeply ingrained that I even oppress myself. This was a shocking realization. There are many parts of me that I don’t like and would rather have them gone. Instead of giving it a warm-hearted and receptive ear, I ignore it or violently repress it. I force myself to behave in ‘the right’ way and all the parts which don’t match this ideal are left repressed in the dark. I was surprised to see this pattern of oppression present on so many different levels.

The thing all these different forms of oppressions have in common is that, sooner or later, they will violently get back at us, weather it is oppressed minorities that find no other way to make themselves heard than by turning to terrorism, the ecosystem that is ignored and thereby we put ourselves and other species in danger, or our repressed shadow side which makes us feel depressed and/or at other times violently lashing out at others. This pattern is characterised by a sense of separation which ‘gives us the permission’ to overrule ‘the others’ in order to get a desired outcome. Yet by overlooking the interconnectedness of the individual as a complex web in a higher system, it puts the seed for undermining its same goal in the long term.

This is why oppression is an important theme in the search for sustainable and harmonious living together. In human interactions, this oppression creates resentment, and pain keeps piling up in ourselves if unaddressed, until it explodes. But this pattern has been so subtle in invading many of our social interactions without realizing it, and causing harm we did not intended. If we aspire to live this more harmonious living it would be wise to bring more awareness to this pattern of oppression in our daily lives in order to not feed and perpetuate this existing pattern.The outer world is a projection/manifestation of the paradigm and patterns we have inside our minds, and as long as the same old patterns are ruling our inner world I am afraid that the outer world will not transition in a more harmonious direction. Becoming aware of where we oppress people in our lives can help us to shift this behaviour in empowering people.

 

If you feel like going deeper into this topic, the following questions might help.

Reflection questions

  • Where do I experience oppression in my life?
  • Where do I cause oppression and perpetuate this pattern?
  • What can I do to remind myself and stop before falling into this pattern again?

Starting to share… Finally

Currently I am in Italy, almost 6 months after I started this journey. One evening, talking about the communities I visited, Corinne, a Canadian woman, asked if I wrote down some stuff for the people back home. I said that I don’t really like to express myself writing and that I don’t like to expose myself to the public like that. Yet during the conversation, she made me see the importance of simply sharing that what passions me with others. Reflecting back on it, I realized how much I have received over the past period and how beautiful it can be to just try to give back and pass on what I have received, like a little gift to the universe and its people. Most often, without really realizing, I listen to the little voice in my head saying that I don’t know enough yet, or that what I have to share is not relevant. I had the idea that first I need to be an expert at something, always gathering more and more information, before I have something to give back. But here I saw that this kind of thinking will always keep me “not knowing enough” and that the best way to learn more is exactly to share what you know. I don’t need to be perfect or nor need my ideas need to be so refined that they are beyond the reach of criticism. By welcoming criticism, and not running away from it, it actually allows me to grow and learn more. [So hereby I invite you to share your ideas, challenge my words and present your own point of view, highlight where some topics are too one-sided and nuance it, so that we might all learn together and make these blogs more interesting]

So, encouraged by the people to write down some of my thoughts and reflections, here it is. […And I hope this too can perhaps be a stimulation for yourself to start sharing something which passions you, you don’t need much, all you need to do is to start]. So even though it took me awhile to get me writing, the good thing is that I have had some time to let some of the thoughts sink in and crystallize a bit. So this should make it easier to make the post build up on each other and be a bit coherent, making it easier to digest.

Perhaps now is also a good time to give a brief overview of where I have been so far, before I dive into some of the topics which my mind pondered on. [if too boring just skip this part 😉 ]

The end of August 2017, I started in France, close to Perpignan, in a place called Can Decreix. There I joined Ecotopia biketour for around one month. Ecotopia is a self organized, anarchistic biketour [more detail on their website but really amazing!!, if you like cycling and want to experience what a traveling community feels like, if you want to meet awesome people and give not only your legs but also your mind a stretch, then that’s the place to be next summer 😉 ]. On the road we visited several projects and communities. Arriving south of Barcelona, the biketour ended and I continued alone by bike, heading north towards the pyrenees. There I visited some abandoned villages which were squatted starting from the ‘70 and onwards. Aineto, Solanilla and Urniza, all interesting places of between 8 and 30 people where they live together in community and experiment with different ways of how to live together. By the end of October, I arrived in Lakabe, a wonderful community with very open, warm hearted people. During 2 weeks of open ‘open doors’ they exposed us and made us participate in their community life. There I dropped my bike, befriended some hippies 😉 and traveled with them for a while, visiting some more abandoned villages. One of them, Artaso had a strong ‘hippie vibe’, and the other, Sieso de Jaca, another abandoned village that was occupied 12 years ago. Again lovely people with a very welcoming and open atmosphere. At a certain point I ended up back in Barcelona and stayed some more time in Can Masdeu, a squatted social center in the outskirts of Barcelona, and visited some more communities in the area. For Christmas and new year I had a short ‘break’ and went back home.  Feeling the need of not just visiting communities, and crossing them of from my to do list, but to reconnect with ‘the why’ I am doing this journey, I went on a 10-day silent retreat in France. Close to Nimes, Ferme haricot, another open community inspired on the rainbow tribe, sharing and personal responsibility, hosted me. From there I hitchhiked to Italy where I am currently staying in Damanhur.