I am glad that so many Occupiers all over the country have been taking my advice and trying to start communities and grow organic food. But sustainable living is not just a physical thing that we do and goals of things to accomplish. Long-lasting and continually evolving sustainable living is a shift in consciousness, a state of being. It is a total lifestyle and a way of thinking and doing that is not done in part.
Thirty years ago I co-founded, with Niánn Emerson Chase, a vision of sustainable community living that turned into a reality. Now we live with nearly 120 people from all over the world in a beautiful 220-acre EcoVillage in southern Arizona. I want to share some of the reasons why more people should start communities like this and how they can succeed.
In order to manifest independence from the system and the 1%, it must begin in our mind, in our consciousness that determines our decisions and actions. And we can’t do it alone. It’s going to have to be with a group of individuals, all working together to make this independence happen.
Buying land together may be the first physical step, building “green” the second, but before you do either one, you should have many meetings together, deciding how to live in a “green”, sustainable consciousness, because really we are the permaculture—the new culture.
Perhaps the most important part of sustainable living is interpersonal sustainability. There needs to be efficient and effective conflict resolution. Values-systems must be taught to adults and children so that there is a unifying goal of self-improvement as well as community improvement. Through many years of blood, sweat, and tears, we have created a wonderful sub-culture of individuals who love each other deeply, are encouraged to hold each other accountable to higher ways of relating, and constantly seek for ways of being more selfless and service-oriented. Any potential new member must be willing to change, or they will likely cause trouble for the group.
Living “in community” interdependently, we have to learn “to live and let live”. If you move to a rural intentional community, you have to get used to the sounds of children playing and laughing right outside your window, of people using a kitchen appliance while you may still be in bed, of cows mooing, goats bleating, chickens clucking, horses whinnying, and tractors plowing the fields. It’s a different type of sound from what we would hear from a city apartment’s window—the constant hum of trucks, cars, and trains; honking horns; screeching sirens; several radios blaring at the same time on different stations; and so on. In intentional community, you’re not living alone anymore (or with just your small nuclear family).
Jesus said 2,000 years ago that the first-century followers of God should break bread together, go house to house, and have all things in common. Today there is a popular saying that “thick walls make for good neighbors,” but in a true community there should be many houses on the same land and no fences, except for those fences to protect the animals from predators and for safety reasons.
Many Native American tribes and other tribal cultures did not have fences to separate themselves from their fellow tribesmen. Fences that separate people from each other are a white man’s invention. Peaceful tribal peoples understand the way of true living together in community and were not the “savages” the white man made them out to be. They actually enjoyed each other’s children; they enjoyed the sound of their cries and playful times. They enjoyed the sound of their animals.
In the world of over-consumerism and self-serving values, people are always running around trying to be seen by the right people, buy the right thing, wear the right clothes, and go to the right event. This modern consciousness madness is so inbred in Western civilization today that many people miss one of the greatest things that they can do for humanity, and that is, slow down and give someone a smile or a kind hello, take time to really know another person. In true community life, whether in a city apartment complex or suburban townhouse or in a small farming town, there should be more time to have an experience with another human being of quality time. It is easier to do that in a rural, agrarian lifestyle where the pace is slower, people pay more attention to each other, and they are more “at home” with nature.
You’d be surprised what you can share with each other of physical things in a community of people with sustainable consciousness—not just clothing but getting together as a group and watching a worthwhile film together. Afterwards, people can take time to discuss the film—its meaning, messages, and artistic strengths.
Many people have the consciousness of “bigger is better” and “more is better”. However, in forming a community, even if you have the money, you should consider how much land you want to buy. You better think twice about how many acres you’re really going to be able to plant, maintain, harvest, and steward. All you may need, if you have just a few people, is a few acres. The more people you have, the more acreage you’ll need. If you have the finances of buying many acres and just planting on a few of them, letting the others sit, great! But even those few acres are going to take a lot of work, and it’s going to take equipment to work that land.
We also have to have a consciousness of realizing the necessity of good leadership. Using only consensus for making decisions, especially with more than 6 individuals, is usually counterproductive because everybody has their opinion of how things should be done and run. So if we really want our community to actually survive and grow, we need leadership—a decision maker—because when people are locked in their opinions and do not agree, someone has to decide. Many situations and emergencies come up in a community where snap decisions need to made, and you can’t go to consensus to decide what to do when your place is burning down.
In a democracy, 10 or 20 or 30 people in an intentional community may agree on how to do something, and all of them may be dead wrong. A good leader values the opinions of others and seeks advice from others, but ultimately the leader has to make the decision in so many areas or nothing will get done. So the consciousness of only consensus has to change to a consciousness of leadership, with room of course for both consensus and democratic decision-making when applicable and effective.
Eating organic food rather than foods full of toxins is very sustainable because it saves on many medical bills and ultimately will extend our life and the life of our children and loved ones. Our bodies are amazing in how they can respond to healthier food.
And how about the preservation of water? Living in an intentional community helps us begin to realize that others are watching how we use water and other natural resources, and so our consciousness of personal responsibility begins to blossom more quickly in that social situation. You will find that in choosing to live in a community of people who want to become more sustainable in their lifestyles that you become more aware of the natural elements and how precious they are for our survival. For example, you will learn to create water catchments for the rain and how to reuse grey water from washing machines and showers.
In community living we need to get away from the consciousness of just looking out for our own biological family, because the whole community becomes our extended family. I coined the saying: “My child is your child, and your child is mine,” for we not only share material things, we share the care and upbringing of children so that the burden of parenting is lightened.
Ideally, in a community no one should own anything except private clothing and heirlooms; everyone should be stewards of things that belong to all. From automobiles to computers to tools, everything can be shared, and that’s very sustainable, because we don’t have to run out and buy everything. Someone in the community probably has it or brought it with them when they came. So in community-living people develop the consciousness of giving and sharing.
Many people in community find that their creative abilities begin to come out, and they begin to develop a more creative consciousness. And so individuals can begin to have time to have ideas and to try to create more energy-efficient systems and machines. Some may even be able to develop free-energy devices. People begin to write songs and create art of all kinds. They discover that they can even sell their art and bring in income for the community.
We will find that the Creator has ways of blessing the individuals and the community as a whole when we are serving each other. We begin to live a life of serendipities, and life doesn’t become so much a struggle as it was in our pre-community days, when we had to be concerned about keeping a roof over our head and buying food for our family and paying the electric, gas, and water bills. In community we pay the bills as a group, and the every-day-living bills are decreased because we are sharing more and consuming less. Many of the mental burdens of being in survival mode are lifted when we join others to create a better quality life together that benefits even others outside of our community as well as the land we live on.
Consciousness in humans does indeed have cause-and-effect ramifications, a domino cascade of short-term and long-term impacts in every area of human and natural life. Is our consciousness part of the perpetration of the rapidly unraveling web of life on Earth or are we moving into a consciousness of sustainability that contributes to the correcting and healing of people and planet, building a culture of community that is in the Creator’s pattern of freedom for all citizens to live joyfully and lightly on this earth?
You will only find your true freedom and inner peace with those of like mind who, like William Wallace, cried out as the 1% (of his time) was killing him:
“F – R – E – E – D – O – M”
To learn how to take the necessary steps in leaving the system of greed behind and forming a sustainable community, check out the Earth Harmony Sustainability Seminar: How to Build an Eco-Village