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Moving to an Ecovillage
By Kassandra Brown

Intentional community and ecovillage living are not for everyone, but if your heart is longing for more connection with other humans, more sustainable ways of living on the planet, and challenges to your idea of reality, then it might be right for you.

Moving to an EcovillageOn April 2, 2012, my daughters and I moved to Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in rural northeastern Missouri. We came with a U-Haul full of stuff, hearts full of dreams, and some sadness about what we were leaving behind. Nervous, excited, and tired we tumbled out of the truck into our new home. We were met by friends we remembered fondly from our visit six months prior. They were ready to help us unload and proved that many hands do make light work.

I tried to get my bearings on where to put everything in our new two-hundred-square-foot home and the additional fifty square feet of storage space in another home. Needing a break, I suggested a swim at the pond. We took advantage of the unusually warm day to jump in. While playing, I remembered why we were bothering to make this big move that required learning new skills, giving away most of our possessions, traveling nine hundred miles, setting up a new home, making new friends, and learning a completely new culture.

It’s about freedom and connection.

Intentional community and ecovillage living are not for everyone, but if your heart is longing for more connection with other humans, more sustainable ways of living on the planet, and challenges to your idea of reality then it might be right for you.

If you think community might be right for you, where do you begin? Start your own? Join an existing community? Where? How do you find the perfect place for you? You may realize you don’t know which one and you don’t even know where to find one. Before you feel overwhelmed or helpless, read through the following steps that will help clarify your vision and give you concrete places to start.

Step 1 – Identify your ideals

You want something different than standard suburban or urban life with two cars, two kids, a mortgage, and relationships that never get the time they need to be as solid as you’d like them to be. You know what you don’t want.

Now you need to identify what you do want. This may be harder than it sounds. Most of us have more experience talking about we don’t like or what’s wrong with a situation and less experience expressing what we truly want and value.

Now’s your chance to practice. Use these questions to get your creative juices flowing.

  • What do you like to do? How do you want to spend your days?
  • What comforts (running water, electricity, tempera- ture control) are essential to you and what are you willing to do without? What about movies, sports, and other professional entertainment?
  • How much time do you like to spend with others? Alone?
  • How do you feel about checking in with others before you make a decision? How willing to compromise?
  • How urgent does sustainable living feel to you?

Each community is different and the better you know yourself and what you are looking for, the easier it will be for you to find the one that is right for you.

Another tool to help you know yourself better is identifying hopes, fears, boundaries, and possibilities. I first learned this in a workshop with French author and teacher Margot Anand and it looks like this.

  • Hopes. What are your hopes? The sky’s the limit. Say what you want, no matter how unreasonable or farfetched it might sound. Example: If you want to live in a shared house with six other adults and kids as family, this is the place to say, “I want to create supporting, loving family with six other adults and their kids.”
  • Fears. What are your fears? What makes you say “no” or hesitate? What awful thing could happen if you go for your hope? No matter how unlikely these fears are to manifest, this is the place to say them.  Example: “I’m afraid no one will want family with me. My kids are too messy and my relationship with my husband is rocky. I’m afraid no one else in the world wants the lifestyle I want.”
  • Boundaries. What are your boundaries? What are you willing to do or able to do? Boundaries with others include things like building codes and wedding vows. You can also have personal boundaries. What agreements have you already made with yourself or others that you want to keep? Example: “I want to make sure I keep $3,000 in savings and have someplace warm to live this winter that can shelter me and my family.”
  • Possibilities. Given all of the above, what are the possibilities you’d like to move into? How can you create a container that is safer for moving into your hope, helps address your fears, and respects your boundaries? Example: “I’d really like to live in community so I’ll research and visit communities. I’ll make a vision board to remind me of what’s important. I’ll talk to my partner and get support for our relationship.”
    "Many of your friends will say you are crazy. Being able to talk with someone who understands the longing to live cooperatively and sustainably is invaluable."

Now that you’ve clarified your values, you may wonder “Where do I find this amazing place?” There are so many options. Many of your friends will say you are crazy. Being able to talk with someone who understands the longing to live cooperatively and sustainably is invaluable. This coach, friend, or communitarian will have experienced the stresses – both joy and disappointment – of the journey from where you are to where you want to go. It can be very helpful to have someone outside your circle of family and friends to talk to about community.

Step 2 – Find Communities

Now that you know you’re interested in community and have identified some of your values, it’s time to look at what real live communities are out there. A great way to begin is with the movie Within Reach: Journey to Find Sustainable Community. The filmmakers take us with them on their bicycle tour through one hundred different communities. Watching it is a great way to get a visual snapshot of many different ways of living communally.

The Internet is a great way to make first contact with many communities. I just did a Google search for the phrase “intentional community” and was impressed with the results. The Fellowship for Intentional Communities website is a great starting point to find a community near you. Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage and Twin Oaks both have good websites on their communities, what to expect, and how to visit. A good book to read is Finding Community by Diana Leaf Christian. (See “Learn More” at the end of this article for links.)

Pick a few communities that look good to you on paper. Then reach out with an email or a phone call. It will often take longer to get a response than you expect. Remember that a great deal of community work is done by volunteers who are also building their own homes and businesses while living full social lives. Be patient and persistent.

Communities also have varying degrees of excitement for visitors and that excitement is often seasonal. During colder months, most communities work on building closer relationships with existing members rather than courting new people. Winter is a great time to research and outreach. Your visit is more likely to happen in the spring or summer.

Step 3 – Visit

No matter how wonderful a community sounds on its website and through correspondence, nothing compares to an in-person visit. You must visit a community, I suggest for two weeks or more, before you decide if this is the right one for you.

Please remember that this place you are visiting is home to the people who live there. While this is an exciting new adventure for you and a window into a new way of living, you are also coming into people’s homes. Respect, courtesy, asking permission, and other social graces will help the visit go well for all parties involved.

While there, immerse yourself in the lifestyle as much as possible. Learn what life is like in that community. Bringing too many of your own comforts with you may mask the authentic experience, whether for positive or negative, and either makes it harder for you to know if that community is a good fit for you.

Moving to an EcovillageWhen you visit, you’ll want to bring with you the insight you learned from identifying your values. Make sure you check out your ideas and stories and find out 1) if you really do want what you think you want and 2) if other people really live that way in this community. If the answer to #1 is no, then you can feel blessed that you learned that lesson and go back to asking yourself what you want. You’re doing valuable learning. Trying something new and finding out that you don’t like it after all is not a failure. It’s growing and learning.

If the answer to #2 is no, then you can either look for another community where people are already more in alignment with your values or create a sub-culture in the existing community where you continue to advocate for and create situations that support your values. Either option is a valid response. Both present challenges.

As long as you’re in the community, immerse yourself in your visit. Talk to as many people as you can, including ones you immediately like and ones who are less appealing. Get a feel for who lives there, how decisions are made, and what the underlying tensions are. This is not Utopia. This is a real place with real people and real issues.

While visiting, do your best to realize that living there is different than visiting. The real experience of living there and doing the day-to-day things that sustain life will be different than any visitor period. Talk to people about

the differences, how people deal with the transition, and what’s been found to be helpful in the past.

Step 4 – Move

Jump in the U-Haul and go. At some point, you just have to jump into the change and do it. For me that looked like climbing into the U-Haul friends had loaded, taking the keys, strapping my daughters in, and starting to drive. My husband stayed behind to wrap up loose ends, including the sale of our house. The step to drive myself, my daughters, and a truck full of stuff nine hundred miles was a big part of the transition for me. I was the responsible one and the one making decisions. For better or worse, it was all me. And I did it.
That’s the sort of challenge and triumph you get to have regularly living in community. You will be challenged. You will have others reflect back to you aspects of yourself that you like and aspects that you don’t. Either way, living in community is an intense growth experience and sometimes seems like a never-ending self-improvement workshop.

Save the World? By definition, ecovillages are trying to create new ways to live. In many ways we’re trying to save the world. This is a full-time job and not to be undertaken lightly when you join one. Devoting several hours a week to volunteer work is common. Some communities have quotas for how much a member is expected to work for the community. It’s good to get clear on those expectations and your enthusiasm for meeting them before you join.

"It’s awesome, great, and wonderful. It’s also challenging, frustrating, confusing, and complicated."

Get a liaison. This may be part of the new resident program or you may have to ask someone informally to be your mentor, helper, and person you initially come to with all your questions and concerns. Very rarely will you visit and then immediately start living in the community. A liaison can help you bridge from your current home and lifestyle to your new home in the community. As you get more acclimated to the community, you will build other friendships and may or may not stay close to your liaison, but it’s invaluable to have someone you can go to for that beginning help.

Why Community?

It all comes back to freedom and connection, for me. Dancing Rabbit is, hands down, the favorite place that I’ve ever lived. It’s awesome, great, and wonderful. It’s also challenging, frustrating, confusing, and complicated. Both experiences exist for me here, sometimes simultaneously.

I love that environmental concerns are universally accepted as valid reasons to do or not do something here. No one is pouring weed killer on the fields or cleaning the floors with ammonia. Permaculture, cob, straw bale, passive solar, and off-grid are all phrases commonly heard and understood. I love living with intelligent people who share many of my values.

Outreach and education are important to me. I love that we outreach to others through visitor programs, biweekly tours, our annual open house, and workshops. We let people see and experience for themselves that there is another way to live and relate to the planet, resource use, and daily interactions with fellow humans. We embody sharing and simplicity in ways that many people find inspiring.

Do you find this inspiring? Perhaps we’ll see you in an upcoming visitor program or workshop. Wherever you end up, enjoy the journey of exploring community. It changes lives. Will it change yours?

Learn More

The Fellowship for Intentional Communities

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage

www.withinreachmovie.com

Finding Community by Diana Leaf Christian (New Society Publishers, 2007)

Ecovillage Living: Restoring the Earth and Her People by Hildur Jackson, Karen Svensson (UIT Cambridge, 2002)

Kassandra Brown lives at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage where she works over the phone and by Skype to support people through a variety of life transitions, including moving to community. You can find her online at http://parentcoaching.org and Google+.

 

 

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