How to Find Community

byron bay
Byron Bay, Australia

caves branch
Caves Branch, Belize

woodland home
The 500sf home above was built using local, healthy, natural materials into a woodland hill in Wales, is sustainable and energy-efficient, and cost about 1500 hours plus £3000 ($6000). They are now planning to build a whole community of such buildings.
On Saturday I’m off to my second meeting with an impromptu Natural (Intentional) Community forming group. The guy who brilliantly researched the 18 very diverse people he invited to the first meeting has moved aside and is letting the group self-organize, which is an inspired move. Those who have self-selected out of the group won’t show up again, and each of us has been invited to bring some additional candidates for membership Saturday. So there will be a whole new playing field.

It’s a strange experience, accepting an invitation to meet a bunch of strangers in a huge house in the forest. I felt like I was in one of those mystery movies, looking for clues for why we were all there!

The greatest single challenge in creating a sustainable Natural Community, or for that matter a Natural Enterprise (which is a form of Natural Community) always seems to be finding the right people. For it to work, you need to have a shared purpose, and trust and love for all the other partners in the community. If the chemistry is bad, forget it.

So I got to thinking about the Natural Enterprises I know, and the Natural Communities I’ve heard about, that work, and how their members found each other and made it happen. In some respects Natural Enterprises are a little easier, because you need to go in knowing what your shared Purpose is, and what Gifts and Passions you bring to the endeavour that complement (but don’t seriously overlap) those of your prospective business partners. Not simple, but it’s a bit more methodical than what I’ve seen among those in Natural Communities, whose members often seem to be drawn together for the strangest and most illogical reasons.

It is very much a self-selection process, and a self-managed one. There are a huge number of Natural Communities that are perpetually in the formation stage, always looking for the right site, the right financing, but mostly, the right people. Never realized. Perhaps the best idea is just something like a big Open Space event, where you work very hard on the invitation, and let whoever shows up find affinity where they will. 

Or maybe not. Those people who created Natural Enterprises by discovering the people who shared their Purpose and had complementary Gifts and Passions, those people who have created Natural Communities, mostly small but sometimes bigger, mostly physical but sometimes virtual, mostly fleeting but sometimes enduring — these people all have one important thing in common:

They know themselves.

Every once in a while I find myself in the company of some physically stunning young woman who gives me the impression that she might be interested and I imagine her as part of the Natural Community I hope to create or discover…and then I think better of the idea. With very few exceptions, young people don’t know themselves very well. They don’t know what they want, only what they think they might want. They don’t know where they belong or who they belong with. They have these dumb ideas of monogamy and parenthood and owning stuff, ideas that I have long outgrown and realized aren’t what I want or who I am. I know who I am, now. It took me fifty fucking years but I know.

I am only interested now in finding community with people who know themselves. Not perfectly, of course. Parts of us constantly emerge and surprise ourselves, and we look at them and say “how can that possibly be me?” but it is, and it’s all good. One more piece of the puzzle, and we can see enough of it now that we recognize the overall picture, and know what’s missing to make it complete.

On Saturday I will probably disappoint a lot of the people at our second meeting. I am going to tell them that, rather than the Natural Community close to where we all live now that they’ve already picked out, a big, beautiful, hilly wetland East of the city, I would prefer to live in a Natural Community in a subtropical to tropical place, like Queensland (top photo above) or Costa Rica, or Belize (second photo above) or AÁores, and that rather than a large modern house with suites and a common area I’d prefer to live in a community of adjoined small multi-purpose units blended into the landscape (like the third photo above) made from local materials, by the members, together.

I will tell them that my dream is such a community with about 50 people in it, in the forest, not too far from the sea. I will tell them that my intention would be not to work hard there, but rather to spend my time in reflection, and writing, and in permaculture forest gardening, and that I would not be prepared to spend a lot of money or invest a lot of sweat equity because I don’t think life should be or needs to be that much work, or that expensive. I will tell them that I’d like our tropical subsistence hobbit-like permaculture forest community to be open to others as a model, to show them not so much a better way to live, as how easy and simple and joyful and responsible and sustainable life can be when you don’t complicate it unnecessarily. When you just be who you are.

I will tell them all these things, even though they will be disappointed in me (and will probably indicate, subtly, that I might find something better to do with my time than attend the third meeting), because I know what I want, and who I am and what I want to be and do. This yet unfounded community, far from here, simple and sustainable and lazy and responsible, is where I am meant to live. I know that.

In coming months, some of them will undoubtedly work desperately, idealistically, diligently, to make this promising fledgling community a success in the designated place East of the city, and will make themselves believe it’s what they really want, and in the process make themselves into something that they’re not just so they can be a part of this adventure, so that they can be admired and appreciated, and belong. Hey, not too long ago I would have done the same. I didn’t know who I was, and I was prepared to try to be everybody else, if that’s what they wanted.

The only thing that can prevent us from being everybody else is to know ourselves. No one can be nobody-but-themselves if they don’t know who that is. And we can’t possibly know who we’re meant to be in community with, all the people we’re meant to live with and make a living with and love, sustainably, until we know who we are, what makes us happy, what makes us unique. What makes us us.

That self-knowing is the start. It is the way out and the way forward. It is the only way. My self-knowing has taken an agonizingly long time, since I’m a slow learner. I repeat my mistakes because often I just don’t recognize them as mistakes, if you can imagine anyone being that self-unaware. 

I’m sure you can do better, make it in half the time. I can’t tell you how, because it’s probably different for everyone. But it’s important. Maybe reading Patti’s book will start you on your way. Maybe for you it’s presencing, or meditation, or just paying attention. Maybe it’s getting outside yourself, or getting outside your head. Maybe drugs might help. Maybe learn to really love yourself, or write your future obituary and work backwards. Become the author, at last, of your own story. Get out there and try stuff and discover what you really love being and doing, and where, and how, and why. Stop waiting or looking for permission to become who you want tobe, who you really are.

Know yourself. With self-knowledge, anything is possible.

Without it, you are just everybody else.

Category: Being Human
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10 Responses to How to Find Community

  1. melinda says:

    I simply loved this!!! Was an ideal way to start my day today and might it be that I should continue starting each day affirming to be who I am.Also so desire also to see Open Space get togethers of those who know themselves; or at least on the path of the right direction. It is my belief that these would need to be regional in nature, perhaps even to a district level. My first concern being that those of us who have already scaled down our lives would simply not have the means of traveling large distances. I also believe that there are many areas that are ripe for Natural Community, each having their own merits and those who are drawn to them such as I was to the area of Prescott, AZ. ( I must admit however, as lovely as oceanic settings are, to a bit of a concern about them in the big picture of things)I have recently discovered Allen Butcher and his site/works that he calls Culture Magic. A real Communitarian with quite a bit to say on the subject and wondered if you are aware of him as well. Thank you for the recommendation of Life is a Verb; and thank you for your work,melinda

  2. Hi Dave,I really like your idea of taking the Natural Enterprise to a place in the forest, preferably closer to the Sea.How about taking it to a Third World Nation? Lets say Africa or somewhere in South East Asia? If not, why not?In my humble opinion, getting started on the Community irrespective of the location is important. I think a hand build community is a wonderful idea but there is a good chance that by the time its ready and done, most people will realize that maybe this is not exactly what they had in mind… but if it can happen by Christmas then we will all be very happy for you all!! Once the template is ready, getting people to accept and adopt it will be the greatest challenge you guys will be facing. But quick work is what is the need of the day!Keep up the spirits for this monumental work!!Thanks,Srinath

  3. ranie says:

    You wrote in another post – The natural world is inherently beautiful for the same reason it is inherently cooperative and peaceful — because we (all-life-on-Earth) collectively wanted it that way and made it so, conferring Darwinian advantage on the beautiful, the collaborative, and the fit.That is completely counter to what we know by simple observation

  4. David Parkinson says:

    I looks forward to hearing how the meeting works out. What if they all decide to gravitate to your notion of community? No chance of that??Do you intend to look for the the other people for whom being nobody-but-themselves means following a dream like yours? Rather than the ones who might be willing to tag along on that kind of plan because they don’t really know who they are? Or is it too hard to sort out people’s motivations?

  5. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks, all, for the comments and suggestions, which I’ll follow up. And I’ll report next week on what transpires Saturday.Ranie: You need to learn not to accept conventional wisdom. The dogma of nature “red in tooth and claw” is propaganda designed to make us afraid to walk away from all the horrors and constraints of our political, economic, religious and social systems. It’s simply wrong…look closer and you will see.David: Brilliant questions. I am not interested in finding people who want to follow MY dream. Community must be peer produced, in an egalitarian and consensual way. Innovation comes from different perspectives honestly put forward from a strong base of self-knowing, and the rubbing together of those perspectives. I want to find people who are, like me, neither leaders nor followers. Most people never get any practice doing anything else.

  6. Without those who regularly ‘burn their bra(s)’ as Dave does so well–and be a non-leading leader, we will perish. Thank you for your vision, Dave. We look forward to hearing news from the Saturday Circle…

  7. Without those who are regularly ‘burn their bra(s)’ as Dave does so well, we will perish.Thanks for your vision, Dave, and we look forward to hearing back from the Saturday Circle. Hope the Circle has enough space and clarity to invite you back…

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