December 3, 2014

How (Not) to Live in an Intentional Community.

intentional community Barcelnoa

Some 11 years ago, quite by accident, I found myself in an Intentional Community in the New Mexican Desert.

It was formed some 40 years ago by a group of people who were waiting for a space ship to take them back to the star from whence they’d come. The ship never arrived, but the community then gradually evolved over the years into a place loosely organized around alternative living.

Here, there are domes fashioned of adobe and old colored bottles, underground dwellings, and homes made of adobe, papercrete and anything else that can be fashioned in and from the earth. While some of these are quite interesting—if not beautiful—there are also ramshackle trailers and some desperate lean-tos of sorts hanging on for dear life.

We like to say that our members are diverse and indeed they are comprised of every segment of society and some out of it. There have been and are artists, sculptors, photographers, writers, eco-gardeners, moochers, anarchists, and various people with no labels whatsoever.

One neighbor creates bio-char out of organic pecan shells, another wrote a book about papercrete, and there is a former monk who has created one of those beautiful habitats I’ve seen anywhere in the world. While we prize our diversity, in my early years here I began to think that the word referred to a bunch of people who should never have met and who agree on absolutely nothing.

People who gravitate to intentional communities are often self-reliant individualists with strong egos, who want to do what they want to do when they want to do it. Many feel that because they’re here they are free to ignore state and county laws. As one member put it, “I’m here because I can do what the hell I want.”

Such attitudes hardly foment a community that can work well together. Thus, an “us against them” mentality formed. Those who want to do their own thing regardless, and others who object to that—this in a sometimes self-righteous manner. If the ideal for someone is to truly live in community with people who at least share some basic values, it will need to organized around that paradigm.

I believe that the first mistake made here was to let in as a member anyone and everyone who showed up.

That said, the Community has lurched along for some 40 years, longer than most, so there must be something that keeps us all together, and I can only respond to this from my own subjective standpoint. One reason is that it’s incredibly inexpensive to live in New Mexico compared to many other states. So some may be marooned by poverty. Second, while the desert is harsh, it is also incredibly beautiful, and the New Mexican skies have even inspired an artist’s color known as New Mexico Blue.

I miss the green of my home state, North Carolina, but when I’ve gone home it seems crowded, even claustrophobic.

Third, while the incessant disagreements among community members can get one down, I really love what so many people are doing here. Fourth—while there are people here I don’t like and don’t like me, I don’t doubt that anyone here wouldn’t offer help if I needed it, and I would do the same for them.

So, however imperfect and rancorous as it sometimes is, it is a Community.

I also believe that I’m a better person for having come to this place. When I have rubbed up against some of these “sand-paper people” some of my egoistic traits have also rubbed off. I have had to learn to live closely with people who don’t love me, and sometimes don’t agree with me. My sensitive nature has taken a beating at times, but I’ve also learned not to take things so personally, and not let things fester.

Not a bad trade off in my seventh decade of life.

If the idea of Community appeals to you, do your homework. Research various places, and make sure that you’re not heading in the wrong direction. What are their rules? How do they operate? Is there a guru of sorts leading the pack, or is it run by some sort of democratic process? What are the requirements for members?

Visit first and listen to what your instincts tell you. If you find a place that appeals to you, I can promise you that it won’t be easy, but it will never be dull.



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Author: Lynn Faulkner

Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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