Life in an intentional community – a healthier and more sustainable way to live

Blog home
Posted Apr 10 2018 by Grandfather Michael of Being Nature
Love in action at the Findhorn intentional community A creative reminder at Findhorn community of over 200 people, that the true community spirit of work is “LOVE IN ACTION”

If I hadn’t fired up my vision to form and live in an intentional community some 45 years ago I wouldn’t have learnt cheese making, selected and planted an orchard of rare species of fruit trees, co-organized arts festivals, learnt and practiced conflict resolution and given my three sons an opportunity to broaden their horizons. This all came about in the wake of the hippie 60s when I took the plunge and as a single parent set off with my three young children to explore the southwest USA and Mexico. I didn’t have to justify school absence in those days! I still reckon this adventure added something special to their lives. On that journey we visited many communities particularly in California.

The enthralling artwork of Damanhur community  in Italy. Much of it created underground.

Approaching communities

So what is an intentional community? How does one go about exploring this way of living? The idea has spread all across the planet. There are established communities in many countries, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for establishing a new one. The tribal spirit sits just under the surface in a surprising number of people whenever I speak on the subject. To be realistic – to promote this way of living without recognizing the challenges involved would be foolish. Some communities have a high turnover and that’s one factor to note if you visit.

A way to approach community is first to look at their website, because most don’t encourage people to just drop in. But for many people, making their first visit to an existing intentional community is a challenge simply because they are unsure what to expect. Of course you can expect challenges, but the rewards are great too. Life is about taking risks.

Looking back to 1974, the risks we took, the embarrassing public inquiry for planning permission where we were asked how we were to live in this grade 2 listed Franciscan Friary. But it was worth it!

Many communities have special events during the course of the year. This can give you a flavour and help find the answer to the question: “is this for me?” Another way to visit rural communities is to join WWOOF (volunteers on organic farms) – practical help is always valued in a land-based community. This way you will get experience of organic smallholding as well as a flavor of community life without feeling you are the odd one out.

Ecovillages and the Global Ecovillage Network

Ecovillages are urban or rural communities of people, who strive to integrate a supportive social environment with a low-impact way of life. To achieve this, they integrate various aspects of ecological design, permaculture, ecological building, green production, renewabel energy, community building practices, and much more. An ecovillage is intended to be a socially, economically and ecologically sustainable intentional community. Most aim for a population of 50-150 individuals because this size is considered to be the maximum social network that an individual can cope with.

La Caravana Huehuecoyotl community Mrxico, Alberto Ruiz co – founder of community and peace pipe carrier drove this hand painted bus throughout south America using performing art to teach local people about the dangers from pollution.

Listings of Ecovillages are accessed and identified mostly through the internet and within environmental networks. Individually they tend to encompass variations on a sustainable eco-spiritual vision. How people build and live is a measurably important part in assessing the group’s carbon footprint. For example the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland has been a low-carbon pioneering Ecovillage since 1985. In addition, in Europe there is now a network of 10 communities: Sieben Linden, Damanhur, Tamera, Valle de Sensaciones, Matavenero, Schloss Glarisegg, Schloss Tonndorf, Krishna Valley, La Borie Noble, Finca Tierra.

Search for “community” on Google and examples are as wide and varied as there are fish in the sea. But by definition, community simply means a body of people who hold a common interest. It may be religious or secular.

Connecting with the spirit of Nature in the sanctuary at Findhorn.

Beginnings of the modern movement

The aim of this introduction is to focus on a particular social movement, which some would describe as alternative but I prefer to describe as cutting edge for social change. Since the mid 1950s, a reaction to the way society was heading in the US and Europe has been swelling, brought about by groups of people with a desire to share common interests – environmental, economic, social and political. People have reconnected with the awareness of their strength in group action. (2+2 = at least 5, energetically speaking). The more adventurous formed intentional communities, sharing their lives for mutual benefit.

The essential elements of community became a touchstone, sparking many initiatives; some of these communities are thriving 50 years on as a beneficial way of living. I remember in those early post WW2 days, the work of B.F. Skinner (behavioral scientist) sparked a genus of social experimenters, which led to the formation of communities like Twin Oaks (1967) in the States. The community idea then evolved through communes in the hippy era of the 60s, transiting to eco-spiritual communities and ecovillages of the 80s. Community for now has become an expression of ‘Thinking globally and acting locally’.

Zegg community in Germany demonstrating the practice of win  win  win in group decision making.

Another event that influenced my views on the importance of community was a meeting with visionary architect Paolo Soleri at the Arcosanti Community, which he designed for sustainable, creative and harmonious living in the desert near Phoenix, Arizona. On one occasion I asked him how he felt the community direction was developing in relation to his vision. He replied, ‘I make the violin, they play the tune’. Thirty-four years later, his visionary tune is as strong as ever.

Starting intentional communities

Returning to UK, the dream quickly became a reality for me on seeing a Franciscan Friary for sale. After lengthy discussion with Chris Mattingly (pioneer of Postlip Hall and Cannon Frome communities) I set about creating Old Hall, a land-based organic farming community in Suffolk. 30 years of experience in this community brought much joy, many challenging experiences but enabled me to ‘walk my talk’ with honesty and integrity which inevitably leads to sometimes challenging situations.

The wood store at Old Hall was a demanding devouring focus of energy. Eating communal was the norm but peoples  private space required heating too.

I could never have developed to be who I am at 84 if I had lived in an ordinary family home. Living together as a group makes for economic purchasing power. But the social power of the group creates a different kind of tribal power. Combining all the abilities participants have to offer as well as an opportunity to be oneself and not have to project a false image make this kind of life enticing. I continue to encourage and experiment with sowing seeds to germinate the spirit of community, and realising its value in these turbulent times.

My nine positive key factors for living in community are

  1. Equality
  2. Eco-sustainability
  3. Adopting the concept of win-win
  4. Honouring traditions
  5. The art of peace
  6. Fulfillment through leisure
  7. Tribal / community building
  8. Love – unconditionally
  9. Evolution through realization

Old Hall 1979 saw the Fire Festival at Old Hall, one of four annual events.  Bruce and Jill were always creating spectacular ceremonies. Festivals attracted upwards of 9000 people.

Michael Baker is a grandfather committed to social and eco-spiritual change. He co-founded Old Hall Community, Suffolk, U.K. in 1973 and is a Findhorn Foundation (Scotland) Resource Person. He travelled extensively visiting communities in SW USA and journeyed with indigenous leaders of Central America. He featured in the film Land Awakening by Raul Alvarez. Grandfather Michael is currently developing an internet community, Being Nature.