Updated: Jan 13, 2021
By Uli Nagel
“Do you have land yet?” That’s one of the questions people often ask initially when they hear about us—or others—forming an intentional community. It makes sense, given that shared land and property has defined communitiessince they were started in the US in the early 19thcentury.
In this century, the awareness of injustices in the way we have used resources and the questions about what kind of human culture earth’s systems can support can’t be avoided any longer. Sharing resources and living in harmony with and healing of land, water, and all of life is more important than ever.
At the same time, we are also learning more about the complexities of our systems, bringing up questions about how many people can really live the idyllic country life that has defined intentional community. We are learning that more of nature needs to be left alone, that we need to live together more densely, to support ourselves more efficiently, and to use resources as lightly as possible—and that includes looking at the efficiency of buildings, land use, and food production.
We did not speak about this a whole lot when we first began envisioning our community, but we did intentionally set out to focus on our relationships first: get to know each other, learn about each other’s strengths and dreams, and learn about those parts of us that need healing and development. Of course, all of this takes time and is never complete.
Last fall, we spent four days on Cape Cod, on a community retreat of sorts, that included play time and focused conversations, structured group work, and a lot of good food. Having regular times like this in which we can tend to the “soul” of our community seems essential. This time together gave us a lot of energy and confidence to keep defining and pursuing our ambitious project—ambitious, because only 10% of communities that are started actually survive in the long term.
We also decided on a method to make decisions and structure our work—Sociocracy—which is based on inclusiveness and effectiveness: hearing every voice and basing decisions on a shared “range of tolerance,” adapting as we go along. This has served us really well so far in what we are getting done, in including all viewpoints, learning from our decisions, and developing quickly. It can often feel like swimming in a river, where the next tree limb or rock is just around the corner but we can trust that, just like water, we will find our way around any obstacles.
And while we have spent time looking at properties and have spoken about the kind of places we might like to build, after our retreat we knew that we were already a community, even though we do not have land yet or even a completely clear vision of what we are looking for.
I have sometimes thought that for humans to be at ease with and trust each other, the most ecologically sensible and necessary thing to do is to appreciate and support each person’s strengths, unique contributions, vulnerability and creativity, leading to us feel rooted in the sense of truly being part of the whole, or The Whole—all of life and the universe.
Though it can sometimes be challenging to focus on process in this way, tending to relationships before land seems to get to the heart of what community means. Whether we will share a rented community space in town, a multifamily building, a large piece of land with homes and a farm, and/or a community garden easy to reach for all of us, we are building relationships with more and more people that are helping us navigate and enrich our lives right now.