I used to be a lone wolf, going back as far as I can remember. For a long time, I was an only child with one cousin who lived far away. I was always left alone to play, never really allowed to have sleepovers or to go to kids’ gatherings. I grew up learning that in life I can only rely on myself. 31 years passed by and it never occurred to me that there is another way of living life. But certainly there is. This other way of living is communal living.
I moved into a communal house in Scotland with my boyfriend where we share the house and its main areas and the garden with other people, though we all have our own private rooms and someone even lives in a van in the garden. Here they call these places ‘intentional communities’ but really, it can mean various things. They include communes, communities, eco-villages, co-housing projects, and also camping communities. No two communities are the same and that leads to a lot of generalizations and might reflect aspirations rather than reality. An intentional community traditionally means a voluntary residential community that is designed to have a high degree of social cohesion and teamwork. The members of such community would typically hold a common social, religious or spiritual vision, often follow an alternative lifestyle and share responsibilities and property.
Communes have been common here in the U.K. since the 60s (eg. Findhorn or Erraid) , but I never experienced them in Hungary. I only heard myths about hippie communes in the U.S. and some in the Netherlands and Germany but they seemed distinct and far away. So when I found out about the many communities still existing and even flourishing here in the U.K. I was really surprised. There are more than 400 such “intentional” communities across the U.K. Many are co-housing set-ups, in which residents live in individual dwellings with a few common areas and domestic functions; others are based upon a lifestyle or worldview (spiritualism, gender, veganism) and feature a variety of communal labor arrangements and facilities.
For instance my boyfriend has lived at Erraid, a farming commune in the Inner Hebrides. He came to communal living out of a yearning to live close to nature, while others want to minimize their carbon footprint or was forced to look for alternative ways of living due to covid lockdowns. But one thing seems common: There’s a groundswell of common yearning for connectedness and for a sort of radical alternative lifestyle. It’s not only about housing, but also about how people are choosing to eat and to form human connections. The Isle of Erraid, and its sister commune Findhorn on the Moray coast, are paying members for their community labor contribution—digging vegetable patches, splitting firewood—in food and board.
This tiny community we live in and the way we lead our life helped me to gain valuable life experience. You can learn about things you had never seen before, try tasks that bring out skills you did not even know you had, and receive feedback and insights on many things. However, what is even greater is when a community changes your life. This is what this community in our shared cottage house has done for me. The people I have met and the jobs they have given me have realigned my life. My communal experiences got me out of my rut.
There is another idea on communities which I happen to really like and sympathize with. Rudolf Steiner’s idea of ‘community’ was more about a group of people who come together for the purpose of esoteric study in order to collaborate with spiritual beings to prepare for the next epoch of the development of humanity and in this way to fulfill the potential of humanity on earth. And in this process of preparation humanity would transcend blood, racial and national ties and make its enlightened way to the freedom of the individual. And in the next epoch of our development, having progressed from group consciousness to ego consciousness, we would finally arrive at the higher level of universal consciousness. In this future stage of our development, the well-being of the individual will depend upon the well-being of the whole. No individual will be able to be at peace if another individual somewhere else is suffering. This will be the epoch of the universal community of humanity, and it seems obvious that living in an intentional community is the best possible way of getting in some practice for this.
The idea of humanity moving on to a new epoch in its development has been echoed by many New Age philosopher. The idea is that a new cultural epoch of humanity is emerging; we are entering a New Age. Many people living in intentional communities share the belief that we have already moved beyond the Age of Tribalism, the Age of Empire and the Age of Individualism, and we are now emerging into the Age of Earth Community. Various writers has been writing about this calling it different names such as Joanna Macy and David C Korten, who both call it ‘The Great Turning.”
So, why should we live in a community?
We all want to belong
It seems that our sense of self-worth and well-being is linked to the feeling that we belong. This sense of belonging allows us to feel acknowledged and recognized for who we are and what we bring to the table. Being a member of an intentional community we can find meaning and purpose as part of a social setting that is positive and life-affirming. Through sharing lives on a daily basis we can also enjoy mutually supportive relationships that can be more trusting than usual. Intentional communities can be busy places and with a great variety of things to get involved in—socializing, garden work, DIY and art projects, sharing skills, meetings, and of course, having fun.
If you are trying to make your life better, you need a supportive community that knows you well and cares about you. We aren’t designed to grow on our own. This lifestyle is not for everyone, but if you are curious about it, it is definitely worth giving a try.
Cons: Some people don’t like other people telling them what to do and don’t appreciate it when they can’t get their own way. And in community, there can be a lot of expectations of what you should and should not do and a good amount of pressure to conform. Sometimes I feel like every aspect of my behavior is under public scrutiny and that I’m being held accountable. The balance and boundaries between the public and private life are at times also difficult to sustain and we can find ourselves overworked and overwhelmed by so much to do and nowhere to hide.
It helps you grow as a person
You might experience as much of the shadow side of yourself and of others in any intentional community just as you would anywhere else. The ideals and values of the community are premised on you becoming a better and more ‘authentic’ person more in tune with yourself, with others, and with the world. This process of personal growth might happen as a result of a conscious decision to walk a spiritual path or actively working on Self development, or it might just happen by itself as one of the many benefits of community living.
So what’s the difference? In an intentional community you’re living in a positive environment that encourages talk of spirituality and personal transformation and the people you share this with support you through the process of learning to deal with it in a positive way. We have weekly sharing circles and some other communities even run courses or events on spiritual, social, and ecological awareness.
A community is also a great place to learn a whole range of skills and every kind of knowledge. There are other people around with experience and wisdom to share and it feels as a safe place for me to make mistakes and grow in the process without being judged. Living in community helped me to develop extraordinary level of acceptance, empathy, and forgiveness.
Cons: I believe trust is one of the most vital ingredients of communal living. Once trust is broken from anyone’s side in the community it will never be the same again. Also, unfortunately I had to learn from experience, that you need to be a bit cautious when trusting people as not all of them might have your best interest and might want to manipulate you. Though it’s a rare thing but can happen.
You can live an holistic lifestyle that is in tune with your values
One of the most inspiring things about these communities for me is finding a way of life that makes it possible to live out my ideals and to put my beliefs and values into practice on a daily basis. Through being a member of a group of like-minded people who share the same set of values as I do—love, freedom, compassion, co-operation, non-violence, social justice and care of the environment—you can enjoy a sense of wholeness, connectedness and integrity that is not so easily found elsewhere on a day to day basis.
Cons: You might need to join or experience several communities before you find the right one where you really feel you could live in, where people really share the same values, similar age or sex, etc.
There’s a better form of democracy
Intentional communities aspire to be egalitarian, inclusive and participatory. They embrace governance and decision-making processes that are either based on consensus or a more refined forms of it, such as Holocracy, Sociocracy or Social Permaculture. The bigger communities make a big deal of self-management—usually through delegated and decentralized decision-making groups, although there should be a community-wide forum before making any decisions. In short, you have the possibility to have your say on all the issues that directly affect your everyday life.
Cons: The price you pay for this, especially if you end up living in a big community, might be countless and endless meetings every day that can turn into boring tasks if you’re not enjoying such activities.
A different form of economics
In such communities you end up re-evaluating sufficiency and move away from consumerism toward voluntary simplicity. Most of the communities expect members to make contributions to the community usually in the form of a share of communal duties such as, cooking, cleaning, showing visitors round, or attending meetings and taking up positions in the governance structures. Through sharing resources and work all members have more time for other things—things such as community celebrations, work projects, networking, art projects or basically anything you can think of.
Cons: Work contributions might be unpaid or in return for housing and food.
Making the world a better place
I always read about people who who stepped out of mainstream society and declared that they have found a better way of living and that once others can see how successful they are then slowly the whole world will follow their example and we will all be saved. A new age of peace, harmony and universal brother/sisterhood will begin. Intentional communities have taken a lead in social group processes, conflict resolution, alternative energy systems, ecological design of buildings, landscape preservation and restoration, and a wide range of tools and techniques for resilience, self-reliance and a sustainable future.
Maybe it’s already too late and maybe not enough people are going to be doing this to make a difference—but that’s no reason not to try. It all goes back to living a lifestyle that is in tune with your values.
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Photo: Hilary Ungson via Unsplash