Week 2: Social Sustainability
“It is possible that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community, a community practicing understanding and loving kindness, a community practicing mindful living. And the practice can be carried out as a group, as a city, as a nation.” – Thich Nhat Hanh, Inquiring Mind journal, Spring 1994.Our teachers: Kosha Joubert, CEO of the GEN Global Ecovillage Network, and Ariane Burgess, founder of Regenerative Living and Leadership
The Social Capacity of Ecovillages
Humans have historically lived in tightly knit, egalitarian tribes and clans closely coupled with Nature. In the Global South much of this traditional social fabric is still intact and we in the Global North have many lessons to learn from them. The vision of so many to live in some form of intentional community is real and powerful. The time now is ripe for turning our eyes and ears towards ecovillages and asking….What ingredients have created enduring, healthy relationships in your communities? How is conflict and tension handled? How do you celebrate your successes?
Ecovillages can be viewed as “living and learning centers”
Ecovillages like the Findhorn Foundation are great weavers of strong social fabrics. The life of expanding social opportunities is a big attraction, and this may be the ecovillage’s greatest assets. Within the grounds of an intentional community the residents enjoy numerous benefits not available to the rugged individualist.
A healthy ecovillage provides a safe and protected place to raise children, where a variety of adults may serves as strong role models; more time for family and friends and less time spent at stressful jobs or commuting to them; more opportunities for creative pursuits such as music and theater with neighbors.Shared meals may become a regular feature; shared office, shop and recreational space means less purchasing, reducing the need to earn; political associations are often centered inside the community; through the fulfillment of a longing for meaningful relationships, consumerism, addiction and crime are dramatically decreased; there are more possibilities for inter-generational connections, inclusive spaces and roles for all abilities, and retreats designed to support deep sharing and inner growth.
As a participant in the EDE Course, I became immersed in Findhorn’s social life with each week proving to be exponentially full and diverse: from intense design work in the classroom to 5 Rhythm Dance sessions, morning Taize singing in the Nature Sanctuary, hikes along the Findhorn River, mind-break walks to the beach and bay, evening lectures by visiting scholars and artists, community wide rituals to celebrate the season and – simply – enjoying new friendships!
These meaningful social experiences were made whole by studying and practicing “matters of the heart” as we prepared our Design Projects. For me, this was the main theme of our 2nd week and so of this blog entry.
The Red Thread
We first met in the Original Garden where Findhorn’s founding members first lived and where daily meditations instructed their relationship with nature…ultimately growing vegetables in nutrient lacking sand among other harmonious experiences over the decades.Kosha offered the symbol of the Red Thread which is an ancient Chinese Proverb about the fate of two people meeting, but can also be a symbol of a person’s purpose on Earth. She asked a series of questions and encouraged us to find a spot in the garden to inspire our answers:
What is my Red Thread? The strongest theme of my passions?
What has and is motivating my most joyful decisions?
Why am I here?
What and who have my greatest inspirations been?A stream of answers came to mind: inspirational places, people, artists, travel experiences, jobs, childhood dreams, histories of injustices and peace & reconciliation, and many playful days.
I meditated on this water fountain which I have only ever seen in a Camphill Community in Ireland. I was drawn to the concept of the fast streaming, determined water – my Outer Work Life – taking rhythmic rests in these calmer side pools – my Inner Life – and then re-joining the current with a mission – to get to the pond.
My Inner Work – my spiritual practices of Self Love, Fierce Kindness, Compassion, Empathy and Joy which draw me closer to the Divine and which shed light on my Shadow, “Gremlin”, or destructive thoughts. I do this with the Earth that reminds me of my Nature; through relationships with my partner, my family, and community; by participating in Women’s Circles to support inner growth.
My Outer Work: teaching nature-based education; empowering youth/honoring elders and bridging the two; participating in social justice movements; mindfully reacting to global and local news; supporting therapeutic, mindful communities
My Red Thread? So far I can see: a string of courageous moments of honesty, empathy and adventure while creating soulful connections with all ages and celebrating the Sacredness around me. Both my inner and outer work appears to be inspiring myself and others to live out our positive vision for the future through connecting more compassionately to our selves and each other. There is a large sense of healing on this path.
In our last week together we created a ceramic version of our “Future Self” with our Red Thread in mind. And so I re-designed the possibility of my outer and inner work being in more harmony. Pictures to follow on a post about that week.
With our Red Threads in the spotlight, we moved into how we can use this to design for the socially sustainability of projects and communities.
“Communities need time and space for visionary work, for practical talk and decision making, for the creative expression of feelings in the larger group but also with intimate friends, for celebration and silence, and, last but not least, for working together.” – EDE Handbook
This tool offers a way to use the earthly directions and elements to guide a project or simply one decision or conversation. I used this it countless times during the course to measure how the elements were showing up for me or my design group. We might place ourselves in parts of the room to physically represent where we felt most active in, for example, and then realize what area need more attention.
The 2nd tool was the triangle above. It’s simplicity made it the backdrop Go-To tool for me: how balanced is my attention to all three points?
Purpose/Vision – A simple statement that the group identifies with and can easily remember. Though this may be obvious, it can be more deeply informed by each person’s sharing of their own vision of themselves (Red Thread Theme) and a positive vision of the future.
Strategy/Organizing – The planning and action part of the project.
Deep Sharing – Space created for heart connections, personal reflections, and emotions to inform progress, discover “blindspots” or imbalances; for celebrating and sharing gratitude for each other and the work
The Glue of Community – Deep Sharing & Celebration
“The refusal to feel takes a heavy toll. Not only is there an impoverishment of our emotional and sensory life, flowers are dimmer and less fragrant, our loves less ecstatic but this psychic numbing also impedes our capacity to process and respond to information. The energy expended in pushing down despair is diverted from more creative uses, depleting the resilience and imagination needed for fresh visions and strategies.” – Joanna MacyCommunities or projects that fall a part or loose members tend to carry on with “Business as Usual” and habitually turn away from the need for deep sharing. Signs and, therefore, roots of conflict are ignored and suppressed emotions create distance and unhappiness. As well, the celebration of group and individual successes are neglected in exchange for productivity and time; both examples at the expense of the heart. Built up shame, fear, insecurity, and trauma create barriers to our beautiful visions for a better world.
The Wisdom: Trust grows from deep heart-to-heart communication. It has to be cultivated. Trust naturally arises and a sense of group well-being is created when we allow ourselves to be seen by others authentically, with our weaknesses and strengths, and when we vulnerably speak our minds and our hearts.
Deep Sharing encourages us to confront shame, fear, insecurity, & trauma and cast an empathetic, loving Light on them so that they can no longer created barriers to our visions and goals. And by so doing, a sort of “Glue” is formed that bonds and supports our movements forward together.The Experience: You see, dear Reader, what was happening here was 14 people from different parts of the world coming together to say…[In my words]:
“Can I tell you a story? Is it safe enough to speak my dreams out loud? Will they land on fertile ground? Can I also open up my chest and show you the fear and shame gremlins, my Shadow, that sometimes paralyze my dreams? Do you also REALLY believe that we can influence a future and a Now where we humans stop chasing joy through consumerism? Where we finally drop our destructive priorities to capitalize on the Earth and each other? Can I share some solutions I’ve seen work? Will you share yours? And maybe we can help each other apply them to our lives in a bigger way?
…Can I tell you about a project that I believe in?”
To answer these kinds of questions – and choose 4 Design Projects to focus on – our group of 14 people needed to create our “glue” just as much as the communities in which we imagine to live. We were being asked to open our hearts to each other; risk failure and encounter conflict; exposing our inner landscapes – which holds immense depths of emotion – and in a rather quick time frame.
The first week with Pracha, Jane, and Paula in “Facilitation and Leadership Empowerment” nurtured the energy for this crucial group practice and we were able to, I feel, flow into more vulnerable spaces.
And so, we showed up…
Daily Check-ins: most mornings we did a short round of sharing emotions present in the room. Often people spoke about energy levels, hopes or anxieties about the day, any lingering feelings from the day before. Also, unexpected family situations, health struggles, or disturbing or magical dreams were spoken. If this was skipped for some reason, it was greatly missed!By encouraged transparency and connection, we were able to connect on an emotional and sacred level before moving into learning and decision making. We knew each other less then 2 weeks….Imagine. But this wasn’t always smooth and easy. As the weeks passed, intimacy was both a struggle and a source of nourishment.
And the glue strengthened with more community building tools that offer safe space for matters of the heart to land:
- Sharing person histories
- Using a Talking Stick/Stone/feather in group circles
- Dreams shared or acted out; can express collective emotions
- Music, dance, games
Forum – * one that was especially new to me and that I found powerful
Forum’s History: created and practiced in the ecovillage ZEGG (Germany) inspired by experiences like war where possibilities to speak about traumas were limited. It is now used to express a vast spectrum of topics concerning the human experience.
It is a “deep and intimate process for groups with up to 50 participants. The aim is to reveal whatever is authentic, alive and true within us. Forum creates a space of trust and openness between people.” – ZEGGThe Practice: “The group gathers in a circle. The participants generally take one of three vital roles; the presenter or protagonist, the facilitators and the ‘mirrors’. The presenter enters the middle to share their current inner experience, something they find moving. She is invited to use the whole space in the middle, feel free to move around, to speak, act and to connect with her feelings [because by doing so she can be understood and seen more fully.] The ‘mirrors’ listen [actively and observe] other aspects such as the tone of voice, body movements and the presenter’s ‘energy’.” – ZEGGMy first Forum: I felt that butterfly feeling in my stomach and so knew I should stand up. I spoke about being a really young girl (pre-teen) having just returned from a summer session at Camp McDowell in Alabama. I was sitting in my home church pews during announcements and suddenly felt an overwhelming need to stand up in front of the entire congregation and tell them how happy I was about going to Camp…and so I did: I told them the good news that over 100 young people spent the week sharing life stories and inspiring hopes for the future. I thanked them for supporting me to go to Camp and hoped they did so for other kids they knew. And then…I sat down between my puzzled, yet seemingly proud parents. What happened later was dozens of older folks telling they want to know more about Camp and were delighted to hear my news.
What I was feeling while I was walking around the Forum circle was that every word I said had meaning – like I was my own Oracle but able to speak because the circle held me. I didn’t know what I was going to say when I stood up. This very small story just came out. And I spoke brand new ideas that inspired in me such a strong sense of purpose to share positive news with communities and bridge the gap between the generations.
Effect: “In many social circumstances ‘being observed through the eyes of others’ can be experienced as ‘the death of my possibilities’. Forum overcomes this difficulty. In this supportive environment, the eyes of the others cease to be ‘the death of my possibilities’ and instead serve as generators for healing, growth and empowerment. I can experience that I can be fully protected whilst exposing my deep vulnerability. I can experience that my greatest protection is my greatest opening as I am accepted and supported by others.'” – ZEGG
Long Term: This can be used at the start of project and can deepen over time as the group gets more comfortable with feeling exposed and sharing vulnerable emotions.
Learn more about the structure and impacts of Forum on ZEGG’s website.
Working with Conflict
Conflict is a natural part of making decisions together and it doesn’t have to be polarizing. It can be a gateway to better understanding each other.
Here are a few concepts and exercises we worked with:How do you know you are having a conflict?
Body symptoms, inner turmoil, tension, sleeplessness, etc.?
Conflict may be:
- about our unconscious parts, or our shadow, projected onto the other
- a struggle for intimacy
- a mirror of our inner struggle
- about old abuse and disowned trauma
- a natural part of growth and evolution
- connected to rank differences, labels
Exercise – Small group dialogue (in 5s) 30 minutes, Whole group dialogue (30 mins)
- How have you experienced conflict in your life?
- Think of a conflict you are in currently, or in the past. How do you know that you are in conflict?
- What does it feel like in your body?
- What is most difficult for you?
- What are your beliefs about conflict?
Exercise – can be done solo, but best with a partner to share feedback during and after you create the movements.
- Bring a conflict present. Think of both sides.
- Find a movement that represents your side. Repeat. Amplify.
- Find a movement that represents the other side. Repeat. Amplify.
- Find a flow to that includes both movements. Take time to allow this new movement to emerge from your body.
- What if anything might this movement tell you about the conflict and its possible resolution?
A questions that stay present for me:
When in conflict or overwhelmed…how long do I usually wait for the mud to settle? i.e. how long do I sit in the quiet until I see clearly what I need to do next?
Sitting with the tension or uncomfortable feelings about our situations while the “mud” settles can be a measure of our capacity to live in community or build a project with others.
Rest, Play & Celebrate!
As important are the deep sharing, visioning, and understanding conflict are times together resting, playing and celebrating what has been accomplished! One of the participants, Deborah Benham, gave us a tour of the nearby Scottish Highlands where we saw beautiful dolphins and peaceful shorelines. Part of the group went out on a boat for a closer look and had a beautiful experience.
Apple Day at Newbold House
We spent a morning in Deborah’s community “Newbold House” – a nearby sister community to Findhorn – raising funds to fix their conservatory. This was certainly a “matter of many hearts” and a beautiful example of social sustainability in action. There were folks giving garden and house tours, sharing knowledge about their bee hives and apple orchards, playing traditional Scottish music and generally enjoying the peace and beauty of the atmosphere.
Much more to come about Newbold House!
This week brought me to an awareness of how diversely our bodies, hearts and minds can absorb information and how we can choose to communicate in more holistic ways to strengthen the social sustainability of any project or community.
Our hearts are at the core of our visions and actions. I know now why its worth it to expose the words on mine with my fellow dreamers….