By Nick Jankel

Author, Keynote Speaker, Leadership Theorist, Transformational Coach, Wisdom Teacher, Co-Creator of Bio-Transformation Theory & Practice®

Community Living Comeback

You might think of communal living as a long-haired 60’s thing – but modern communes and other forms of intentional community living have had a huge comeback in recent years as people have got fed up with their lifestyles and looked for a change that can help them thrive. An environment that inspires them, feeds them and allows them to give to others. Living in separate houses uses up a lot of energy – both from the environment and from inside, as we struggle on our own to keep all our balls in the air with work, studies and family responsibilities. Whether it’s the need for more nature – and the difficulty of affording your own plot of land – or a desire to share space with others of a similar bent, more and more people are looking to intentional communities, housing co-ops and co-housing situations.

Eco Communities, Spiritual Communities & Kibbutzim: Something for (Almost) Everyone

Intentional communities are a powerful way of breaking out of our isolation and sharing our gifts with each other, as we enter into reciprocal relationships and re-invent our lifestyles with the help of others who share our values. Maybe you feel that your needs for community are not met in our ‘boxed’ lifestyles of nuclear units, where you might not even know the names of your neighbours – or even meet their eyes on the street. Intentional communities are as varied as people themselves: a ‘green’ or eco community has ecological principles at its base, while others are based around spiritual beliefs – like Findhorn in Scotland – or simply a desire to share resources and have others to hang out with around a fire or in the kitchen. You can have a room in a community house – for example, in a housing co-op – or have your own dwelling on a shared plot of land with communal areas, and various different versions in-between. There are eco-villages – which have the strongest emphasis on sustainability and re-generating the local environment – kibbutzim, and co-housing developments.

But communal living isn’t for everyone – depending what kind of set-up and values the community has, you might find your needs for privacy and your right to decide how to live are not met, which can outweigh the need for connection and sharing. Be prepared to deal with human conflict, just like in any other area of life where people are brought together. It takes huge commitment and effort to stick to ideals and live out of those. For more on the benefits and issues around communal living, see here. If you feel you have what it takes, dive in!

 

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Sustainable Living, Chosen Family and Heaven on Earth: What Intentional Communities Offer

So what’s behind community living? Utopian theory, basically: the idea that we can experience unity as a society and that happiness in the here and now is possible. In these crazy, often disconnected times, a lot of people are looking for a new sense of family – a chosen family – and are also after a way to feel closer to the cycles of nature, growing their own food and experiencing the peace and beauty of rural living that unless you’ve inherited a farm, can be pretty hard to come by in today’s economic climate. In a community living arrangement, it’s all about people helping each other to fulfil their needs, instead of competing with each other. Sustainable living is also a huge plus of living more communally: even if they are urban, communities can buy in bulk and more easily afford ecologically sound, ethical products, as well as sharing cars and childcare. Communal living can also be the answer to housing shortages and lower income situations. Living in an intentional community develops your ability to be co-operative, respectful and caring – but ideally you should have a good dose of those qualities to start with. Cohousing is a kind of intentional community where each individual or family has their own living space but shares areas such as communal dining halls, gardens and activity spaces – from yoga studios to gym areas – with the other residents. Housing Co-operatives are basically housing associations where people come together to raise funds and buy property – or take over unused property in the short term – that they then own collectively. Think common ownership instead of private ownership.

Community Living Directories, WOOFFING & How Communities Work

If you’re in the UK, Diggers & Dreamers have an awesome directory of all forms of community living. Have a look at international listings here. For Cohousing specifically, check out this site, or if you’re in the US, check out The Cohousing Association of the United States. Wikipedia also has a list of intentional communities. How do you decide which community is for you? Read all the write-ups you can find, and then check them out – calling them up first to arrange a visit, of course. A lot of land-based communities offer a chance to do WOOFFING (Working On Organic Farms) so you can get a taste of what it’s like to live there. You can also find a group that is still forming, and join up with them to discuss what ideals and values you all want – expect this process to take up to 2 years. Once you’ve chosen a community and they choose you as a member, you may need to buy your space from an outgoing member, and then pay a monthly maintenance sum to cover utilities. Some community properties are available to rent. And there are also charity-based communities where you live in return for working there.

There’s a huge variety in the way different intentional communities do things. For example, in some communities there are collective meals and you would contribute a regular amount for the food – in others, like co-housing set-ups, there are monthly pot-lucks and people cook separately the rest of the time. Community living is not for the lazy: expect to contribute between 10 to 15 hours a week, which can include anything from milking cows to cooking on a rota to gardening. Be willing to learn and to get your hands dirty, and even if you have few skills you are likely to find a place to call home. In most communities decisions are made by consensus, and there is no ‘head honcho’ as such. As a result, the whole process of moving into community living is not a quick one, so be patient! For more on the ins and outs of community living, see here.

Tribal Ancestry, Back to The Land & the Danish Co-Housing Movement

For our ancestors, living in community was the norm – we could only survive by living in tribal set-ups and sharing our resources. Of course, these communities were not ‘intentional’ as such – we would be born into them. Over the centuries these traditional societies have split apart and we’ve found ourselves mostly living in relative isolation – so the need for ‘intentional’ communities has arisen. In Israel, kibbutzim have been around since the start of the 20th Century, and are still a model of communal ownership and resource allocation despite many changes. Post WWII society had become more about ‘things’ than people, and so the commune movement and the emphasis on ‘back to the land’ in the 1960’s and 1970’s was a bit of a backlash against that: re-personalizing a materialist society and re-connecting with the earth. Co-housing began in Denmark in the 1960’s and has spread all over the world since then, with many British people taking it up in the last decade or so as housing prices have risen exponentially. There are still original ecovillages – struggling for survival – and new ecovillages are springing up. Ecovillages as intentional communities were named in 1998 as one of the United Nations’ top 100 Best Practices – a model for sustainable living to take us into the 21st Century.

How will this help you to transform your problems and pain?

If you’re ready to transform, intentional communities are a route in: they offer the potent medicine of cultural and personal change through opening up the possibilities of sharing space with others.

 

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