If you want to leave it all and start a community, you should focus on inner work first. If you focus only on action, you risk building yourself another prison. You might just change one form of unhealthy lifestyle and toxic relations for another as a result.
by Katarzyna Gajewska
(Help Katarzyna bring her book “Imagine a Sane Society” to the world and available for free by donating to the crowdfunding campaign. You are also supporting Cambia and Twin Oaks this way.)
Living in less and less livable cities to attain an unhealthy lifestyle with a toxic job situation makes many wonder, what if they started a community? You may have talked about it with people around you. Congratulations! Seeing what you do not want is the first step out of helplessness and stagnation. You’re so much further than many who just endure unbearable situations. They keep going in the wrong direction by numbing and relativizing. However, the fantasies of moving to a farm and living in a community need to be considered carefully. Boldness is good. It drives potential for change. However, an action needs vision. Otherwise, it may end up as a nightmare as a Japanese proverb warns us.
I am sharing with you some reflections that came into my mind when talking with people who want to create a community and be self-sufficient. One might argue that I have no expertise because I have not done it myself. I have not even tried. The reason why I have not undertaken such a project is not that it is a bad idea. To the contrary, I have met many people who lead a fulfilled life in egalitarian communities. And it has been beneficial for their health. Personally, I prefer to neither live in a community and strive for collective autonomy nor fit the mainstream employment system. This decision is based on knowing my limits and predispositions. I believe that a life that is an expression of one’s unique set of gifts – when creatively combined – brings fulfillment. I have conducted dozens of interviews in communities in Germany and the US. Furthermore, I have met many people who want to leave their mainstream lives and create a community.
First, I would invest in self inquiry before moving anywhere. If you are escaping from something rather than pursuing a project, you may end up reproducing old dissatisfaction. Once you find yourself in a new situation you may start daydreaming about another life as an escape from the discomforts and challenges. So much empowerment comes from knowing your purpose and your capacities. If you have a dream, it is a better investment to put hundred percent into it in order to verify whether it is really what you want instead of moving to a community as an escape from temporary frustration and stagnation.
Second, it is worth spending some time in at least one community. Both egalitarian communities where I have conducted interviews welcome interns and visitors. Twin Oaks community has an orientation program, which can give you an overview of things to consider. Paxus Calta offers personal coaching to help you find your place in communal world. This can be vacation well spent with a lot of self-knowledge as a result no matter whether you want to join one of the communities or not. By seeing what you like and dislike about the experience you will be better equipped to define your own vision. Living in such settings can give you an idea about things to consider and prepare for in case you still want to create a community. We go to school to be adapted to the system. Similarly, spending some time in a communal setting may be a necessary preparation for unlearning what may prevent flourishing in a group.
After all this time spent on personnel inquiry and experiential learning, you are ready for the third step. This is probably the most difficult one because it goes against all the conditioning that has been skillfully put into our system. If you want to leave the system, you need to start with the inner work of questioning. Replacing the old with a new setting may actually turn out even worse. Imagine you wanted to escape the nonsense of being employed. If you reproduce a similar atmosphere and problems as you experienced in a job you hated, you risk to be in a similar situation and ask yourself what had been all this effort for. Not only this, you may not be able to numb and use the salary to compensate for your suffering.
If we want to live a radically different life, we need to touch upon the beliefs and automatisms that serve the status quo. We need to address the core of who we are. Since we have been inculcated into our beliefs and rationality at the age of unconscious learning, you may find yourself in a group of people who want to live a different life but are emotionally attached to the vices, habits ,and influences that are powerful in preventing any success in creating an alternative. There are two questions that you need to ask yourself and deconstruct your conditioning.
– What are my true needs?
There are many ways to analyze how you perceive what you really need. For example, you can experiment living in different conditions as I did for myself. You can look at your habits, addictions, rewards that you think you cannot live without understanding deeply their function in your life. What meaning does the system attribute to them? How do they help you cope and prevent you from facing head on potential discomfort?
I once met a man who wanted to start a community. He also seemed to have problem with alcohol. Whatever he was escaping from, I doubt a community would fulfill his needs because he has not addressed the underlying causes of addiction. It is also worth considering the additional work needed to respond to this craving instead of doing the work to heal from it.
It is important to understand what you really cannot live without. There are things that make us flourish. And things that we got used to even though they do not serve our best selves. Whether you do it alone or in a group, it is a great preparation for setting the priorities for your community. Obviously, you don’t want to live in a setting that feels like a compromise and deprivation. However, our perception of deprivation may be shaped by the commercial interests. For example, shampoo has been used since 1930s but many of us cannot imagine not to use it.
– How do I meet my needs?
This second question is about rationality behind the organization of production. We have been imbued with images and stories about efficiency and productivity. They are well adjusted to maintaining the current system. However, if you want a change, you cannot apply the same set of beliefs. Take farming. I was surprised seeing that in many alternative projects, people follow relatively conventional methods of organic farming imposing working in the sun and unnecessary labor. I have heard of cases of burnout, injuries, and exhaustion because of farming. This is quite ironic that people who want to escape the constraints of the capitalist system put themselves in a situation of the type of labor predominating in a system where human life is not valued. Instead of doing farming in a strenuous way, it is worth investing time in understanding how to work with rather than against nature. There are many publications and movies that describe approached to farming with minimal human labor, energy use and tools. The most famous is Fukuoka’s philosophical book but there are more practically oriented books.
What is the gain of trading a boss who does not care about your wellbeing for the self-exploitation resulting from ignorance and beliefs inculcated by the system that does not want you to be autonomous?
Studying alternative forms of production and meeting basic needs is essential if you want to liberate from the constraints of the system. It requires giving yourself space for creativity and experimenting. The problem with pursuing the beaten yet labor-intensive path is that you may create a lot of sunk costs and emotional investment in the methods that undermine your community in the long run. And then you follow the problems of mainstream institutions and organizations, which you so much disliked. I have heard of a project producing farming tools as a form of liberation. A true liberation would be not to need to rely on tractors and other machinery while bringing satisfying results and making work an enjoyable pastime.
Katarzyna Gajewska, PhD, is an author and educator. You can contribute to her crowdfunding campaigns to help publishing the feminine utopia “Imagine a Sane Society” or other forthcoming Creative Commons books. She has brought out many articles on egalitarian communities based on in-depth interviews.