Sharing Stories and Rituals

Submitted by Rachel Elizabeth on July 23, 2014 - 8:37am

Over the last two years a core group of people have been working together to explore building an intentional community in Guelph.  Affectionately called SILC (Sustainable Intentional Living Community) the group has grown to a core membership of 16 with a listserve of over 60 interested people.  Lately we have been caught up in more of the details as we get ready to move forward with purchasing a property and designing our new home, so it was nice to step back for an evening and reconnect with why we are doing this together. The community conversation, as part of the 1000 Conversations Campaign, gave us the perfect chance to do this.

We started our conversation by sharing our own stories of community.  It was surprising to hear that all of us had experience being in a close-knit community, whether it was an intentional community in Latin America, a small town where everyone knew everyone or a church family.

Common themes that came out of these stories were the idea of doing things together, whether it was sharing food, chores or even organizing music festivals. Community was described as something active.

Mike shared how community was not something that he had been seeking or trying intentionally to build.  For most of his life it is just what happened.  It contrast, we are now intentionally trying to create community with SILC.  There is a fear that it will feel artificial.

We then had a discussion about the role of boundaries in establishing community.  The boundaries are not tied to us as individuals, we can cross them at our leisure but when we are in these boundaries we feel connected to the community that they define. Bill talked about how this was a natural outcome of our need to relate to our village.

Vicki discussed how some people can be paralyzed by the overwhelming number of people, which is the case for many people living in urban centers. They are people without community because they do not have a context to draw a perimeter.  Boundaries allow us to build a sense of identity. 

We discussed how community enforces conformity.  Bill talked about how communities push us to not act in a manner that is detrimental to self or others.  He discussed how there are certain limits that you have to stay within to stay a part of the community. Things get off track when those limits become hidden or arbitrarily applied.

Sustainability is a major focus of the Guelph SILC group, we draw inspiration from the natural world and how systems organically ebb and flow; new things are added, old things are discarded. We see the same pattern in a healthy community. When this does not happen, when a community clings on to staying the same, then it starts to become dysfunctional.  Despite this dynamism, it is still important to have a central gravity that holds everyone together and keeps a community grounded. We all agreed that this is the role of a set of common values.

Vicki described community like water. She said growing up in a small rural community people did not always get along, sometimes people would fight or not talk to each other for years at a time, but like water they got where they needed to go.  People would share farm equipment because that is just what you did; it is what you had to do to survive. When a disaster struck, the community would band together.

Melanie shared how some communities are about celebrating and having fun together, while others are about getting things done.  As long as everyone is clear and on the same page with what type of community you are then you should be able to all get along. 

Mike countered that community does not mean that everyone gets along.  It is a group of people who live and do things together and who can more or less rely on each other when things are needed.  He described it as the difference between like and love.  When you love people you do things for them because they need it.  It is not about the "warm -fuzziness," it is simply a way of relating. It is just what you do.

We then talked about how communities form around needs; but what if there is no obvious need?  Can we create a common need?  One need that was brought forward for SILC was sustainability. There was a debate about whether this was truly a need or an ideal.  Is it strong enough of a need to pull us together and help form this community?

We see SILC as a way of enabling us to live out the values we believe in.  But is the fact that we hold more or less the same values sufficient to make a community that works?  Bill shared how it comes down to our personal needs and how they will or will not be fulfilled. If they are being fulfilled, then the community can work.

At this point in the conversation we asked: Why SILC and why now?  To our surprise the answers were incredibly varied. For Melanie it was a desire to live out her values of a sustainable lifestyle that she felt she could not do on her own. Derek similarly said it was a chance to be fortified in living with integrity to the values he wants to embody. For Bill it was a chance to build more meaningful and lasting relationships that could support him as he got older. For Vicki it was an opportunity to preserve the beautiful garden that she had spent decades making (Mike and Vicki’s property is going to be part of the site for the intentional community). 

Finally, we shared ideas of actions that help build community. Bill laid out beautifully how there are three core components to recognize as we work to foster community together:

Personal: Things (ideas, emotions, objects) that lie within ourselves

Impersonal: Things we own

Interpersonal: Things that lie between/with others and us

Bill discussed how in community our interpersonal things are on display but our personal things influence it. So in community the personal is really important.  We need to develop mechanisms to work on the personal, rituals like meditation. Bill talked about how these practices help communities indirectly deal with issues.

We also added sports, or creativity like art and music as other spaces to release pent up energy and work on the personal. These activities also create space for us to come and play together.  In our hectic life it is often easy to let these things slip away.

Derek talked about rituals, the idea of setting aside a certain time to do a certain set of behaviors that have a deeper meaning. We are able to fall back upon these rituals during times of stress and uncertainty.

Melanie discussed governance as another action that helps build and maintain community. It does this by building a pattern of behavior for decision-making. She noted that governance is not about strict rules but rather an understanding of processes. The metaphor she used was a trellis that we, the vine, can grow it helps us keep form but we are free to grow through it the way that is natural and organic. 

We also discussed having a common communication.  In the case of SILC the expectation is that everyone takes nonviolent communication training.  This provides a norm of communication. 

This proved to be a very rich and rewarding conversation that left us feeling closer to each other by the end of it. Beyond the emotional experience, we were also able to bring forward lots of interesting ideas that forced us to dig deeper into how we are building our community.  It will be exciting to see how SILC grows in the months and years to come.