Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Village of Light

I just spent a delightful 24 hours visiting Ananda Village in Nevada City CA, a well-established intentional community of more than 200 folks (counting kids) that started in 1969, and has been influenced throughout by the teachings and spiritual guidance of Donald Walters, who goes by the spiritual name Kriyananda, and is still plugging away at age 86.

While Ananda Village is the original residential enclave for Kriyananda followers, and has the largest population, their network has expanded over the years to include eight other residential communities (two in India, one in Italy, and five more in the US—all on the West Coast), with a combined population of about 1000, plus a hundred meditation and teaching centers distributed all over the world.

Though it's now well into the rainy season in Nevada City (they average about 50 inches annually, all of it coming in the eight-month stretch of October to May), my visit was blessed by magical weather: sunny skies and daytime temperatures well into the 60s. Kriyananda wrote a short book last year, Cities of Light, that offers an overview of his thinking about what intentional communities can accomplish in the new age, and it was easy to appreciate Ananda's light with everything bathed in sunshine.

[Cities of Light, the book, is not to be confused with Paris, the City of Light, nor with Cities of Light, the 2007 documentary film that explores the rise and fall of Islamic Spain in the first millennium after Christ.]

Of course, Kriyananda was using light as a metaphor. He was thinking of the way that communities can illuminate a better way to live—one that emphasizes personal integrity and operates from a place of higher purpose.

As someone who has been a community networker for more than 30 years, it's a bit embarrassing that it's taken me this long to visit such a well-known community, but better late than never. The main impetus for my visit is that FIC is casting about for a different venue in which to hold our Art of Community gathering in 2013 and Expanding Light—Ananda's conference/retreat facility—is our most promising option. As I was already on the West Coast to conduct a facilitation training, it was a relatively minor deal to shoehorn into my travel itinerary a stopover in Nevada City en route home (the California Zephyr stops in Colfax, which is less than an hour's drive from Ananda), to see their facilities first hand and to meet the people we'd be partnering with (email and skype will only get you so far).

What I experienced during my whirlwind stay was highly promising on an energetic level, yet we still need to see if we can make the numbers work. FIC loves to put on events, and we have a great Event Coordinator in Susan Frank, yet we can't do it if we lose money. Last September's Art of Community was an overwhelmingly positive experience for participants yet we finished $15,000 below water, so something has to shift.

In partnering with a living community interested in expanding its outreach activities, we are asking Ananda to accept that part of their compensation come in the form of delivering on their mission and the opportunity for its members to participate easily in an event that both showcases what they have to offer and makes available to them what's being learned in other communities. We think of it as cross-pollination, and they're interested in the concept.

The past two years FIC held Art of Community gatherings at Westminster Woods in Occidental CA. While we were happy with their facility and the quality of experience we were able to create there, we were just another client to them. With Ananda, we are hoping that what we feel comfortable committing to (in the way of compensation) is high enough that they'll feel fairly treated, where significant portions of what they receive in exchange are non-monetary benefits.

Because of the lead time needed for marketing and program development, FIC is committed to making a decision about this no later than mid-January (for an event next September). That gives us a month to sort it out. 

During my 24 hours on site, I was easily able to establish that Ananda would be a suitable partner in that they share FIC's ecumenical spirit and are wholly supportive of others sharing their wisdom about community living, not just Kriyananda devotees. Even better, there appears to be a good match with FIC's mission to make available the lessons of intentional community to those desiring a greater sense of community where they are. (We figure a lot more people want more connection, neighborliness, and civility in their life than are open to jointly owning property with others.)

In nine days we'll reach the winter solstice, when the length of night is longest. Even as the light slowly returns to the northern hemisphere, FIC and Ananda will be trying to figure out a way to combine energies and thereby become a brighter beacon for cooperative living than either of us can be shining alone. While the outcome has not yet been illuminated, it's a thoroughly agreeable task to explore the possibilities fro collaboration.

While it's understandably appealing to stand as close to the flame of right livelihood as possible, we need to keep in view the dual imperatives that we want no one to be burned, nor anyone blinded by the light. Whatever the outcome, I'm confident we'll all be fine.

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