Two years ago I was introduced to the concept of intentional communities. It happened through attending burns a burner related events. I realized that I have been part of few before hand, but never appreciated them as much I did the past two or three.
It’s a pretty bad ass concept… Hey we’re all into the same activities, we hold a lot of the same beliefs, share a lot of the same values, and struggle with a lot of the same challenges…. let’s all hang out and create an environment that helps foster the hell out of that and provide support for each other! The reward is amazing, but unfortunately making it happen is easier said than done.
The biggest factor that I’ve seen control the longevity and effectiveness of an intentional community is size (aside from the obvious compatibility factor). Starting with a small group is significantly more manageable. Things shift when you have a bigger number of people involved. What you were able to do with 15 people doesn’t work as will with 50. You figure things out, and you hit this sweet spot of harmony and productivity that is life changing to some… then the tempting part comes up:
“hey there’s 15 of us and we’re rocking the hell out of this and we are making amazing things happen. I wish there were more of us… we’d make even bigger things happen!”.
Sadly, we get carried away and overlook those scaling factors. The nice spontaneity turns into schedules. The white board of cool stuff to do, which we trust that anyone will get to when they can, turns into a chore list of accountability. The vision and dreams we started with age out, and a single sit down with beer and music to bounce ideas off each other becomes almost impossible without an agenda. The all-inclusive cuddle puddle turns into cliques and consent circles. The need to say “keep this between us” increases because you wouldn’t be ok with everyone knowing anymore. All these small things happen gradually. and unless we have the long sight and awareness, it sneaks up on us. One day you take a step and you find yourself hanging on to the last bits of what used to be your home. You find yourself weighed down by all new challenges that are less fun. Drama makes its way in. We end up getting disappointed and broken in a way because this really beautiful thing we had is gone, along with half the people and relationships that made it shine.
After a number of laps around this cycle, I find that I have learned a lot. There are two ways this could go: You either make an active and well thought out effort to account for this from day one, or you let that boat float where ever it wants to go, and let it sink when it’s ready to sink. I have never been part of a community that attempted option A… maybe because the conception of these types of communities comes as a result of natural growth and a spontaneous “why the fuck not?”.
What I have a lot of experience with is option B. Many factors were different between the communities I’ve been part of, but the cycle was a whole lot of the same. I’m not sure if I’m jaded, but I’ve come to the point of skipping the disappointment when the boat sinks. Now I just grab my favorite things and favorite people out of there and jump off… with the hope and acceptance that it may hit the bottom and turn into an even better and more awesome thing. Like a gargantuan coral reef or something. Maybe it becomes part of an existing cool thing that morphs into a new and improved creature. Becoming even more alive than the boat and the people that were on it. Maybe it just dies and is never seen again.
My choice is that regardless of what happens, I’ll be happy that this boat existed. I choose to cherish and perpetuate the positive things about it, mend the injuries I got from it. Forget the pain but always look at the scars, and start looking around for the next group of motherfuckers who know how to build a better boat, this time with lasers and fire cannons and mirrors.