Friday, March 18, 2011

Why I Live at Sandhill

This May, I will have lived in intentional community for 37 years, all at Sandhill Farm. That’s more than 60% of my life. While this experience has been profoundly inspirational and satisfying, it hasn’t been easy. My relationship with my home community is complex and has evolved over the years. In today’s blog I want to explore what’s precious about that.

At present, I divvy up my time mainly among four major commitments (there are other commitments tossed into the mixed salad of my life, yet these are far and away the biggest):

A. My Community

Sandhill is a rural, income-sharing community. We’re homesteaders who grow a large fraction of our own food and emphasize simple living and taking care of one another. As much as possible, we try to support whatever any member wants within the context of our common values of ecological consciousness, nonviolence, and a commitment to work through our issues with one another.

B. My Marriage

Ma’ikwe and I have been together for more than five years. While we share many interests and values, we don’t live three miles apart in separate communities (she is at Dancing Rabbit) and I’m on the road more than half the time. It is a significant challenge for our relationship to create and protect time together (the scarcity of which is a major reason for Ma’ikwe asking me hard questions).

C. Fellowship for Intentional Community

I was present at FIC’s birth in 1987, and have been a central administrator of this ecumenical network organization all along. It’s been an important way for me to give back to the movement some of what I’ve personally benefited from. I believe strongly in cooperative living and work through FIC to help make this option available as broadly as possible.

D. Group Process

It’s my view that greatest societal benefit of intentional communities is learning how to find cooperative solutions to vexing issues. As I (and the groups I’ve been a part of) have learned more about how to make cooperation work, I’ve been inspired to develop career as a process consultant and trainer, applying what I’ve learned how to do and teaching others what I know.

While there is considerable overlap and often a synergistic quality about how efforts in one arena support efforts in another, there is also tension among these commitments. Recently, Ma’ikwe has pushed me to look closely at what she feels is a dysfunctional pattern of spreading myself too thin, and not being sufficiently caring of my commitments. Naturally enough, she’s especially concerned with my availability for the care and feeding of our marriage. This is a serious question and well worth a thorough examination.

At my wife’s request, today I’ll look at how I am currently fed by my living at Sandhill. This is not about why I live in community; it is an examination about why I live in this community. It’s a good place for me to start my attempt to address the issue of my over-commitment.

—Connection to Place

I am deeply invested in the natural rhythms of life at Sandhill. I know the seasons and I have a personal connection to the subtle changes that occur as we cycle through the calendar. There is a unique quality about what I have carefully developed over the years, and I appreciate that at 61 it will not be possible for me to recreate that understanding at a new location.

—Connection with People

While my life has significantly diverged from the lives of my fellow community members over the years (my other three main commitments all pull me in different directions), I still cherish a rich understanding of the lives and interests of my fellow members. In addition to direct conversations, this plays out in how I hear and contextualize what they share in meetings and add to considerations when we collectively address group issues. I know these people, how they see the world, and how they want to be seen,

—Familiarity with the Work

There is a well-practiced ease for me about how to quickly plug into work at home. I know what needs to be done and how to efficiently use the resources at home to accomplish the work. After 3+ decades in one place, I have many well-defined niches at home where I can meaningfully contribute, and cover work that others would prefer to not do.

—Access to Resources

I know what’s available at Sandhill, and the ways in which others rely on the same resources. I know who to ask about a thing and I know whom I need to coordinate with when tackling a project. I know who will be bothered by my asking them a question, and who will be bothered by my not asking them a question.

—Home as Microcosm of the World

There are difficulties for me at home. Ways that I don’t feel well understood and valued. Personalities that don’t fit easily together. Yet where would this not be true? If I am going to be a person who helps others in need (see commitments C and D above) every challenge is also an opportunity to better understand my own limits and failings. At home, there is no one in awe of my capacity; no one with delusions about my blind spots or feet of clay.

—Charity Begins at Home

I have invested a large fraction of my life to this community and I’d like to see it succeed after I’m gone. By continuing to invest in the community (with my time and earning capacity) I enhance the chances that that will happen. It is also an exercise in letting go, in giving without insisting on control or in knowing how that investment will be used. While I definitely have the opportunity to have a say in that, it is not up to me alone. My potential to be an agent for good is all the more significant at Sandhill because the community is small and my capacity to contribute is a non-trivial component of what’s available to the group as a whole.

—My Bedroom is There

While not exactly a man cave, my bedroom is nonetheless a sanctuary for me. It is where I work, where I sleep (in the bed I made with my own hands), where I read, where I write, where I practice yoga, where I often have one-on-one conversations, where I organize my thoughts, and where I store the memorabilia of my life. It is my room and the center of my universe.

• • •

To be sure, this compendium is not manifest destiny. I care deeply about my marriage and my partner’s request for more time together. It is thinkable that I may chose to leave Sandhill in order to make more time available for commitments B through D. However, I am not making that choice today. I’m just at the beginning of this assessment, where I try to assemble an accurate picture of what each of my commitments means to me.

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