[permaculture] Community Building

lbsaltzman at aol.com lbsaltzman at aol.com
Mon Jul 30 11:39:16 EDT 2007



Saturday, 28 July 2007

The inexorable reality is that any community that does not process feelings and build trust by doing so...is NOT, I repeat, NOT sustainable.

A treasure trove of information pertaining to preparation for collapse can be found on the internet and in libraries throughout the world. Earlier this year I reviewed Mick Winter's book on preparing for Peak Oil and have since posted on my site Stan Goff's piece on "35 Ways To Prepare For Peak Oil" My own article, "What To Do, What To Do?" addresses preparation for collapse from yet another perspective. Websites such as Matt Savinar's Life After The Oil Crash, Energy Bulletin, and Post-Carbon Institute offer ongoing suggestions for preparation as well. Yet the one topic which receives almost no attention is the notion of how individuals create community in the face of the collapse of civilization. This is curious since, in my opinion, all individuals raised in the culture of empire are deeply wounded emotionally and spiritually and have little experience of living harmoniously in community. In fact, more often than not, people who are preparing for collapse tell me that their experiences with attempting to create and maintain community have been disappointing at best and disastrous at worst, so it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out why so few people address the topic

[snip - picture of a circle of chairs]

Much talk of ecovillages and intentional communities abounds among collapse watchers, and in many of such venues that have actually been created, a significant amount of time is devoted to community building-sometimes a minimum of three hours per day. One may wonder how anything else can get done when people sit in community circles that many hours. Who plants and weeds the garden? Who cooks? Who washes dishes and empties garbage into the compost?

What many communities have discovered is that community building requires so much time that its members must have "sprung themselves" from the system to such an extent that they have the time required to devote three or four hours per day to sitting in a circle and processing feelings and making decisions about the community's well being. What does not work well, experience tells us, is a community in which people share residence but are still chained to a system in which they must commute to exhausting jobs, return to their groovy ecovillage, and have little or no time or energy left to do the emotional work necessary to sustain it.

The reader may be bristling with skepticism about this and inwardly protesting that he/she has little interest in "touch-feely" stuff like "processing feelings." One may just want to live comfortably in his/her head in a safe space with friends or family and detach entirely from empire doing work for the community and living sustainably. The inexorable reality, however, is that any community that does not process feelings and build trust by doing so or simply holds long meetings about "mission statements", division of labor, community logistics, or budgets, without addressing emotional issues is NOT, I repeat, NOT sustainable. The Lone Ranger is over-so over, and cooperation and heartfelt communication will be as essential as food and water in a post-collapse world.

I recently had the opportunity in a retreat setting to sit in such a circle, not because I am a member of an ecovillage or intentional community but because I am in the process of relocating and wanted to practice community building with other folks in transition. At first I felt absolutely overwhelmed with the amount of emotional work that needs to be done in order for community members to bond and build trust with each other. 

At the conclusion of the retreat, however, I felt less pessimistic and realized that it is not only possible for community members to consistently do such work together, but that when they do, they successfully break through their internalized culture of empire and experience and sustain the connectedness that empire renders utterly impossible. I'm not talking about momentary feel-good experiences where everyone holds hands and dances around the world, nor am I talking about everyone agreeing about everything. I'm talking about the kind of profound, intimate joining that natural cultures of indigenous traditions were able to experience and sustain and which allowed them to survive and thrive. And while circles of community building do not guarantee survival in the face of collapse, they are remarkably effective in facilitating the navigation of collapse.

What is more, every tribe, every community must develop skills for resolving conflict. Conflict will and should arise. Its absence is, in my opinion, a frightening red flag signaling glaring dysfunction and seething cauldrons of unspoken feelings and truths that need to be told. All indigenous cultures at their highpoints skillfully navigated conflict-in fact welcomed it as a barometer of their community's health. They also developed ever-more creative skills for addressing it compassionately and assertively.

So what actually happens in a circle? To begin answering that question it's important to understand that a community circle must be leaderless. Individuals may take turns facilitating them, but everyone in the group must be a leader. Facilitation simply means bringing up a topic or restating one that is already on the front burner and making sure that the group adheres to already-agreed-upon groundrules. Such groundrules include a commitment to stay in the group until the issue is resolved or until the group decides to take a break or decides to adjourn until a later time. For purposes of safety, everyone needs to agree to stay in the circle and not flee so that when someone is working on an issue with the group, they are not abandoned by anyone and know that space is being held for them by other group members. At all times, the group practices deep listening and compassionate truth-telling. When one person is speaking, the rest of the group listens attentively and stays present with the speaker. Likewise, when one speaks, one does so non-judgmentally using "I" statements, speaking as much as possible from a place of feeling rather than intellect or thinking. Perhaps most importantly, each person is accountable and takes responsibility for his/her part in whatever concerns or complaints he/she verbalizes. Deep listening and processing may involve other factors, but these are some of the most fundamental.

In facing collapse it is important to develop skills that will be useful in navigating it. We hear a great deal about learning permaculture, organic gardening, woodworking, composting, catching rainwater, and utilizing alternative energy sources, but the two skills without which communities cannot be created or sustained, deep listening and compassionate truthtelling, are rarely discussed.

As I have stated repeatedly, I do not know how collapse will play out. It may culminate in instantaneous nuclear annihilation, sudden economic devastation, or some other form of civilization plunging blatantly off a cliff. It may also unfold more slowly with consequences equally as dire. Therefore, it is important not to embrace the illusion that skills provide magic bullets of survival. Who knows who if any of us will survive no matter what we know or have experienced?

With every passing day it becomes clearer to me that as civilization continues to self-destruct, I need to discern how I prefer to spend my time and energy-and with whom. What I least want to do is mimic the culture of empire by rationally focusing on logistics and losing sight of humanity. I know that I cannot survive alone, and even if I have learned no skills whatsoever, I need my fellow earthlings in order to navigate collapse. Moreover, even if I have learned every skill imaginable, if I and my companions in collapse cannot deeply listen to each other and speak our truth with compassion, none of us will survive, and even if we did, an internally vacuous emotional domain would render survival nothing less than absurd.

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