Episode 35: EcoVillages & Intentional Community: Diana Leafe Christian
Interested in Community Living? Diana Leafe Christian, former editor of "Communities" magazine, published by Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC) helps define and deepen the types of questions as well resources you need to guide you to your optimal community living research project and perhaps, new living situation!
You'll learn more about the launch of her new online Ecovillage newsletter, Ecovillages as well as get an overview her first book on Finding Community. In this episode you will learn the distinctions between Ecovillages, cohousing neighborhoods, rural homesteading communities, spiritual communities and Christian communities. Diana shares her insights, resources and over 25 years of community experience in this 24 minute episode filled with the information you need to determine the values, locations and work opportunities that are important to you and available in communities all over the world.
Meredith Medland: You’re listening to Living Green: Effortless Ecology for Everyday People. I’m your host Meredith Medland and today on our show will be Diana Leafe Christian. Diana Leafe Christian is author of Creating a Life Together: Practical Tools to Build Eco Villages and Intentional Communities. She is also the author of Finding Communities: How to Join An Eco Village or Intentional Community, the subject of today’s show. I’m excited because I’ve spent many of, many of my years living in community, and so today I’m committed to talking to Diana about what you need to know if you’re interested in joining a community and co-community or intentional community, what resources you can discover and we’re going to get real personal with Diana and ask her about some of her great adventures. Here are some highlights from today’s show:
Diana Leafe Christian: I feel like I’m in a network of a lot of brothers and sisters and cousins. I feel like I’m living inside of a family of likeminded people going towards the goals of learning how to live more ecologically and economically and socially sustainably.
Diana Leafe Christian: I’d say that the average person thinks that when you join a community, you know, they have highly idealistic expectations with sort of stars in their eyes or they might not even be interested in their topics in their communities or everybody has to think alike because somebody tells you how you’re supposed to think.
Diana Leafe Christian: Enter that community like a wolf entering the wolf pack, someday you’ll have full wolf status and your ideas will be accepted.
Diana Leafe Christian: Now the average person who doesn’t know much about community but remembered the 60’s might think, “Oh yes, communities, they’re a convent.” Well now, that’s not exactly true.
Meredith Medland: Hi Diana and welcome to Living Green.
Diana Leafe Christian: Hello.
Meredith Medland: Alright. So tell us where you’re calling from and tell us about the community that you’re living in in North Carolina.
Diana Leafe Christian: I’m calling from Earth Haven Eco Village in the Southern part of the Appalachian Mountains, the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina. It’s 320 acres, 40 people. We’re all off the grid, living in small homes we built ourselves without bank loans.
Meredith Medland: Wow, and when you say off the grid, what specifically do you mean?
Diana Leafe Christian: The power grid, which is the electrical power company that provides power service. We don’t use it, instead we grow our own power by collecting it from the sun in solar panels in everyone’s backyards or on their roofs, and also the micro hydro unit in a stream that provides water because of water pressure to the central part of our village.
Meredith Medland: What do you like most about living that way?
Diana Leafe Christian: Well I feel like I’m in a network of a lot of brothers and sisters and cousins. I feel like I’m living inside of a family of likeminded people going towards the goals of learning how to live more ecologically and economically and socially sustainably, and also we’re learning, we’re teaching what we learn to others through classes and workshops.
Meredith Medland: Now you are, for the last 14 years, you’ve been the editor of Communities Magazine, which is a publication about communities in North America from eco villages to co-housing neighborhoods, even to urban group households, and you also are the editor and the publisher of eco villages, which is the free online newsletter about eco villages worldwide, so given that you have all that information what do you think the most important thing is that people need to know as they open themselves to the journey of finding an eco community or intentional community?
Diana Leafe Christian: Well I guess the first thing would be for them to know what they want themselves so they can match the community to what they want. For example, a lot of people don’t think of the five things that they need to know before they go to a community and one is, you know, what is the location and part of the country and climate that you want to live in. And another is what are your values, what is your lifestyle, what is your own mission and purpose? Does the values and lifestyle and mission and purpose in each of these communities you’re considering, does it match your own? Is it going to be a good fit that way? Will you be able to make a living there, whatever you do for a living, is it going to be possible to do it in that area? And another one is, how much does it cost to join and how much does it cost in annual dues and fees and will you be able to afford it? And another one is, is it an independent income community, which is what most of them are, which is everybody earns most of their own money and then they spend it whichever way they will? And the second kind of community is income sharing, which is not that common but there still are some large old big ones, and that is we all work for a community business and put our money into the common pot and then we get room and board and a stipend.
Meredith Medland: You’ve done an amazing job at providing information for everyone about how they can research communities through the internet, visit communities, get the most out of their visit, evaluate communities intentionally, enter into communities gracefully. I mean, it’s really quite amazing. You have two books and I want to talk about, today I want to talk about finding community, how to join an eco village or intentional community. But before we do that I’m hoping that you can turn back the clock and tell us about the time when you weren’t living in community and what it was that had you branch into this whole realm of community study and investigation.
Diana Leafe Christian: Well I was motivated by ecological values, but when I started living in community I realized that I loved it, not only because I was able to walk my talk in terms of the environment, we don’t only just recycle and compost, but we don’t build homes made of toxic materials, we build them usually out of earthen materials of from lumber that we sell and mill and use here on our property, we don’t use the local power company, we’re off the grid as I mentioned, we catch roof off of the water and use local springs, we have gray water recycling and composting toilets, we get to live our ecological values instead of just wishing that we could. But that is not the most pleasure about living here, that’s just really wonderful. But the most pleasure is that I get to have a large family of people who help me and I help them and we just have a good time together.
Meredith Medland: What do you think are some of the misconceptions are about your community?
Diana Leafe Christian: Well I’d rather answer that about communities in general because it’s so broadly inclusive to communities and Earth Haven is so specific. Yeah, well, I’d say that the average person thinks that when you join a community, you know, they have highly idealistic expectations with sort of stars in their eyes or they might not even be interested in the topics in the communities or everybody has to think alike because somebody told you how you’re supposed to think, which of course is not true at all. But I would like to address those stars in our viewpoint. The one misconception is that everyone will feel included and connected and like one big family right off the bat, that they’ll experience a sense of community as soon as they join, which isn’t true, it takes a while for that to happen. In smaller communities it might happen sooner, in larger communities it might happen later, and it depends upon the chemistry of the person or family that’s joining and the people that they’re joining. It also has to be a good fit, a good match. Another, another misconception is that the community will take care of you, now matter what happens to you, you will be cared for, and it’s not necessarily true. Here at Earth Haven the community itself does not have the budget or any management for caring for caring for ill people or for caring for people who might have a car accident or who might lose their job or who have financial or other needs, but individuals within the community will get together and help people. Sometimes people join co-housing communities for example with the idea that “everyone will help me if I need help”, and the answer is no, only people who want to help you will help you if you need help. So it, it has to do with personal relationships. Another misconception is not often true with people that are in their middle years or older, but younger people will think, “I’ll just join the community”, but the answer is no, you have to be admitted to it, you have to pass through the membership process and be assessed to see if you’re a good fit, and in most cases though not all it costs as much as buying a house on the market wherever you live to join a community. If you can afford to buy a house where you live, you can afford to join that community. If not, you probably can’t.
Meredith Medland: When you think back on when you were living more traditionally, can you tell us about that? When did you discover your first community and how did you come along through this process?
Diana Leafe Christian: Well I used to think about communities in the 60’s and 70’s when I would hear about The Farm in Tennessee and Twin Oaks in Virginia and Findhorn in Scotland, they were very famous and very big, and in the sort of alternative circles that I was in I would hear about them in publications and on the radio, and I was very interested in them and I had this yearning but for some reason I thought, “Oh, I could never do that.” And then decades later I got interested in intentional communities because I, like thousands and thousands of people across the country, this is in the early 90’s, I began to feel like something was missing and I finally could feel my way to identify that what it was, was community. I didn’t live in one so I started a small newsletter about how to start them, and then I got hired by Communities Magazine, and as I mentioned I worked for Communities Magazine for 14 years, I just stopped working for them back in September, and when I was working for the magazine I learned a whole lot more about communities, and in the year 2000 became interested in Earth Haven and joined in the year 2001.
Meredith Medland: And so when you were discovering communities, where were you living them?
Diana Leafe Christian: Fort Collins, Colorado.
Meredith Medland: And was that a traditional housing, you know, well traditional like, were you living in a house or an apartment?
Diana Leafe Christian: I lived in a house in a suburb.
Meredith Medland: And then when you first went into your community what was one of the things you wished you would’ve prepared for that now you know and share with people?
Diana Leafe Christian: Well I already knew an awful lot about community before I joined Earth Haven because I’d just been editing a magazine at that point for 10 years and I had visited many, many communities and interviewed many community founders, both those of communities succeeded, and of the 90 percent of those that failed I interviewed people from all of those categories, and so I pretty much had a lot of knowledge. One thing I didn’t know though, I didn’t know that I should not try to start telling people what I thought would be beneficial and helpful improvements right off the bat. And so in my second book Finding Community, which is how to join a community graceful, I do warn people, please, if you have a 12 point program for how to make the whole community better just keep it to yourself for a while until you establish a repertoire and a connection with others, otherwise you might come off as a somewhat obnoxious know it all and that’s not great for your relationship to the community or its to yours.
Meredith Medland: One of my favorite parts about your book is when you talk about that, and you give a great example of the lone wolf and wolf packs and…
Diana Leafe Christian: Oh yes.
Meredith Medland: I was wondering if you could tell that story.
Diana Leafe Christian: Sure. I soon discovered upon talking with incoming people here at Earth Haven I was the vocalizer of our committee for many years, and also in talking to people who are going around the country wanting to join communities and in talking to membership committees across the country in various communities, that what really, really works well is to have an attitude of both confidence and humility. Now what animal out in the wild joins a community with an energy of confidence and humility? The wolf. The lone wolf who wants to join a wolf pack is confident enough to want to join, but knows very well what to do when joining a wolf pack, so here’s what wolves do. Now I’m using this as a metaphor, I surely don’t expect human beings to actually literally do this, but the lone wolf will howl from a distant mountaintop and the other wolf will say, “Oh yes, that’s that new wolf in the neighborhood”, and they’ll all howl along together for a while, and then the lone wolf will be upwind of them and they can catch a whiff of the lone wolf and say, “Oh yes, that’s that new guy in the neighborhood.” Course they don’t, they’re not interested in having him join them but they’re slowly getting used to the idea by hearing him howl and smelling him. And then at some point he approaches the pack, he crawls along on his belly with his ears flattened and his tongue hanging out with this kind of crazy puppy look that says, “Hello, hello, lets play.” He’s not got an aggressive posture at all, he’s got a lets play posture. Then he flips over on his back and bares his vulnerable stomach and jugular vein to the other wolves, and what he’s essentially saying is, and I’m translating this into human being talk, “I don’t know anything, you know everything, you’re the boss, you have status over me, I know nothing”, and one after the other the wolves come up, including the alpha male and the alpha female and the other wolves come up and growl and snarl and slobber ferociously over his neck just inches from his jugular vein, and what they’re saying is, “You don’t know anything, you’re the new guy, you don’t know anything, you have no status, I have status, I know stuff, you don’t know anything, I’m the boss, you’re nothing”, and so, then after all of this is established and this ritual has taken place, the wolf flips over and tongue lulling out, ears cocked and that kind of crazy puppy look is saying, “Want to play?”, and then they all play and sniff each other and leap around and have a good time. And so naturally I don’t really mean that people should do this, but if they would enter the community with a certain amount of humility, not assuming that they know it all, not assuming, “Oh, that consensus decision making process, that’s too slow, that’ll never work”, or not thinking, “Well you have to change the whole way you’re doing this and this and this because clearly that’s not working, I know about his because I used to be a such or other and I know this. No, no, no, don’t do that.” Instead enter that community like a wolf entering the wolf pack. Some day you’ll have full wolf status and your ideas will be accepted.
Meredith Medland: I love it. Literally, my favorite story of the whole book.
Diana Leafe Christian: Oh great.
Meredith Medland: When we come back from the break we’re going to talk about the 13 different kinds of intentional communities. And I’m delighted to have you on the show, and I think the most important piece of this whole interview is the number of resources that are available to you as the listener is immense. I’ve been involved in communities for maybe five years, and when I discovered Diana Leafe Christian I couldn’t believe all the amount of work she’s done. So we’re going to give you links on the episode page, which is located at www.livinggreenshow.com. We’re also going to tell you more about some of the books that she’s written, her resources, her newsletter coming up. So the most important piece of information I can give you is make sure you follow up with this episode and utilize all the resources that are provided for you. So, Diana thank you so much for being here with us. I really appreciate it. We’re going to take a break to thank our sponsors and we’ll be back right after this. My name is Meredith Medland and I’m your host and you’re listening to Living Green.
Meredith Medland: Welcome back from the break. My name’s Meredith Medland and you’re listening to Living Green. We’re here with Diana Leafe Christian and she is the publisher and the editor of a new online eco village newsletter called Eco Villages, and the mission of this newsletter is to help you and encourage you to be able to get lots of information so you can start your own eco project worldwide. Alright, well lets start with the intentional communities that are out there. There’s 13 different kinds Diana. Walk us through the options.
Diana Leafe Christian: Okay. I’ll start with eco villages, my favorite kind, which are intentional communities in the industrialized north and often traditional indigenous villages in the global south. In an eco village the people care about environmental sustainability, economic sustainability and what you might call social cultural spiritual sustainability. The people are interested in alternatives such as being off the grid, growing most of their wholesome healthy organic foods, living in small natural earth friendly homes they maybe built themselves, and using the techniques of alternative, appropriate technology such as gray water recycling, roof water catchment composting toilets and so on, being ecologically sustainable and economically because the idea is you have businesses on site that employee people that have multiple different income streams from different businesses so that they don’t have to go a distance, short distance or long distance, to make a living. Socially sustainable, that is they’re having a good time, they’re making their decisions cooperatively, they’re sharing some resources, they’re having parties and dances and plays and sing alongs and fun things that they do together to create a rich and thriving social life. So that’s eco villages. The eco villages that I know of are aspiring to meet those goals, they don’t necessarily meet them all at this point in their evolution.
Meredith Medland: And can you, can you name a few of the ones, the more popular ones?
Diana Leafe Christian: In the United States, sure. Los Angeles Eco Village and Urban Eco Village in downtown L.A., Dancing Rabbit Eco Village in North Eastern Missouri, Eco Village of Ithaca in the town of Ithaca in Upstate New York, Cleveland Eco Village, a project being sponsored by some redevelopment agencies and the city of Cleveland, Earth Haven Eco Village where I live. Some say that Twin Oaks, a very large community, an income sharing commune in fact, in rural Virginia is itself and eco village because it makes a living onsite with its many businesses and grows most of its food onsite. Others might say The Farm Community in Tennessee is an eco village because they have so many businesses onsite and so many people work onsite. So I hope that gives you a bit of a flavor here in the US.
Meredith Medland: That’s fantastic. Now just as a quick aside, why is The Farm so popular other than its been around for a long time?
Diana Leafe Christian: I don’t know that it is. What do you mean?
Meredith Medland: I just, whenever I speak with people about eco communities they mention The Farm or Findhorn.
Diana Leafe Christian: Well I think you’re, I think rather than popular you mean well known, right?
Meredith Medland: Sure, yes.
Diana Leafe Christian: Yeah, well The Farm is well known because it made history. The people who live there, first of all, made friends with their rural central Tennessee neighbors who were considerably different from them, their neighbors were fundamentalist Baptists but for the most part, and the farm people were long-haired hippies directly from San Francisco back in the early 70’s. So what they did was they always paid their bills and they always helped their neighbors and then after a while you couldn’t cash a check in that county unless you had long hair, meaning they’d made a standard of good behavior that was followed by the others who wanted, who knew that they could trust the farm people. Secondly, they had a lot of really smart people in the technology side, so they invented all kinds of new technologies and put them on the market, and they had a lot of very smart compassionate women who almost single-handedly revived the art and science of midwifery in the western world from The Farm. So The Farm is famous for having done many, many, many things that were beneficial to others.
Meredith Medland: Thank you, I really appreciate the explanation there. Lets go on to the next kind of intentional community.
Diana Leafe Christian: Co-housing neighborhoods, co-housing communities are the fastest growing kind of intentional communities in North America today. There are a hundred that are up and running and existing and about another hundred and sixty in the planning stages. The organization, Co-Housing Association of the US, has a website, cohousing.org, where you can go and look up all the co-housing communities. It’s where a group of neighbors gets together, builds their own small neighborhood, all live in smaller than normal housing units, share a large common house where they go for community neighborhood meals, optional meals, two or three nights a week. The large house has meeting space, teenage hang out room, children’s play room, laundry facilities, mail room, so they have a lot of chances to interact with each other. It’s a pedestrian friendly kind of neighborhood, so the cars are off to the side in a parking lot and people do not have cars separating them, they get around by pedestrian pathways, the site plan of their land is such that the front windows in the kitchens face on to the central common green where the children are playing and they can see their neighbors walking by and footpaths about ten feet off their front porches. Their privacy section of their house and their yard is in the back, and their public ‘hello neighbor’ is in the front. Co-housing communities are very, very popular with the media and there’s been lots and lots of stories about them lately, as have been there stories in The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and Forbes Magazine about Eco Village of Ithaca. So both of these are media darlings and they’re rapidly growing in the US. Another kind of community is student housing co-op’s. Many students who go to a college where you can live in a housing co-op if you want to, say it’s the best thing I ever learned in college, the students often own the property for the duration of time they’re there, they manage the property, they pay the bills and do the maintenance and shop for the food and do the cooking, and they learn all the skills of community making decisions by consensus and so on. Another kind of co-op is an affordable housing co-op. There are many of these in different cities. People who live in the various apartments together make decisions for the whole property. Senior housing co-op’s, the same kind of thing except it’s for seniors. Rural homesteading communities are where people say, “Hey, we want to go out to the, to Uncle Joe’s farm and we want to grow our own food and we want to live a simple rural lifestyle”, and you might say, “How are these different from eco villages since eco villages are both urban and rural….”
Meredith Medland: Yeah.
Diana Leafe Christian: The reason that they’re different is because people in rural homesteading communities often aren’t interested in having a lot of interaction with the wider world and certainly not having tours every Saturday or classes and workshops. Pretty much they say, “Hey, leave us alone, we’re just trying to live our lives. Don’t come down our road.” They don’t even put a sign out front quite often ‘cause they don’t want you to visit. Whereas eco villages are eager for you to visit because they want to share with you what they’re learning.
Meredith Medland: Now if someone’s interested in that kind of community how do they explore those communities?
Diana Leafe Christian: Well, shall I finish the list and then tell you that, because all of these communities are explorable in exactly the same way.
Meredith Medland: Perfect, keep going.
Diana Leafe Christian: Okay, the other kind is conference and retreat centers which usually are rural, and in these kinds of communities that is the community business and the people who are the staff live onsite and sometimes they have more people in the summer, work exchangers who help them with the cooking and the cleaning maintenance and the cleaning of the rooms, and fewer people in the winter time when there aren’t so many guests. But it’s kind of like a alternative sustainable rural hotel experience, and also various groups will rent their facilities as a venue to put on conferences and workshops. Another kind of community is Christian communities and there’s at least four kinds that I’ve been able to identify, and the oldest kind of community in the western world of course are Catholic convents and monasteries. Another kind of Christian community is contemplative communities where they might not necessarily be a trapise monastery, they might just be a place that you go and you spend time in prayer, contemplation, meditation, in a fellowship surrounding with fellow believer and it’s very serene and the whole purpose of being there is to get deeply in touch with your spiritual self. And so that is another kind. There’s not very many of those kinds of Christian communities, but there are a few. Another kind is what I call Protestant Separatist Communities, separatist because the, usually it’s fundamentalist Christians and the people in the community are wanting to be with like-minded believers whose interpretation of the bible is the same as theirs, and they quite often have their own school for their children and businesses which they share and that they share the ownership of so that they can all work together. And while they have a lot of strong and wonderful community connection within the group, they pretty much don’t want to have to do with other people because they consider them mistaken if not damned. The last is my very, very favorite kind of Christian community, which are both Catholic and Protestant communities who have as a mission and purpose to be guided spiritually by their Christian beliefs to do good work in the world and to serve various kinds of other people. There are soup kitchens, places for homeless people to stay, counseling services for the homeless, services to help immigrants in the United States get established, services to help political refugees from Central American countries find a haven here, services to help people with developmental disabilities, various ways that these kind of communities will help other people. And so that’s Christian community. Another kind I call spiritual and it, you might think, “Well don’t you think Christian ones are spiritual?”, and I’m only, only using this term to distinguish them from the Christian religion, this would be eclectic spiritual communities where the people go there and have multiple different kinds of spiritual practices, Native American ways, (unintelligible) dancing, Yoga, meditation practices from the East, Buddhist practices, and there are many different kinds of practices in the same community. Or what I call single flavor spiritual communities where the whole place is a Tibetan Buddhist spiritual meditation retreat or the whole place is a Zendo, practicing Zen or the whole place is doing (unintelligible) dancing or something like that.
Meredith Medland: I want to talk a little bit about those communities just for a moment ‘cause our can have some access to some very extraordinary information on the Personal Life Media Network which is the network that hosts the Living Green show. There’s a community in San Francisco called the One Taste Urban Retreat Center, it also has a location now in New York, and interestingly enough it’s a spiritual community dedicated to the expansion of female orgasms and threading the conversation of orgasm throughout the world, and they have a practice called orgasmic meditation, that’s their form of Yoga, and it’s pretty interesting, it’s not like something I’ve seen anywhere else, and on the Personal Life Media Network there are interviews with the community members about what it’s like living in community, and the number one thing they’re committed to is connection within community. So that’s just a, it’s the first podcast that I’m aware of that really gives the reality, kind of the reality TV of what’s it like living in an urban community, but it’s, you know, it’s not, it’s real, it’s not, you know, kind of sensationalized the way that television is. And then I also wanted to mention and just briefly discuss the community that’s located in Italy that is underground, are you familiar with that one?
Diana Leafe Christian: The community isn’t underground, you’re speaking of Damanhur. The community is above ground but what they have done over the last 35 years is dug out seven temples underground which they light from behind stained glass, and the temples are filled with mosaics and paintings and sculptures and stained glass and they’re quite beautiful and they’re interconnected, and it’s a spiritual community so from their viewpoint each of these temples is devoted to a different aspect of divine reality. And it’s a very famous community, Damanhur if any of your readers want to Google it and get their website.
Meredith Medland: And Alex Grey’s work, The Hall of Mirrors, is one of his pieces of work is there I believe, right?
Diana Leafe Christian: They have a temple called The Hall of Mirrors, but I don’t know if it has anything to do with Alex Grey’s work.
Meredith Medland: Alright. And you’ve been there, right?
Diana Leafe Christian: No, I haven’t been there.
Meredith Medland: You haven’t been there. That’s on my, that’s my, one of top three of the list of things that I want to do is go visit that community, so…
Diana Leafe Christian: Me too. Shall I tell you about the thirteenth one?
Meredith Medland: Yeah.
Diana Leafe Christian: That’s income sharing communes. Now the average person who doesn’t know much about community but remembers the 60’s might think, “Oh yes, communities, they’re convents.” Well now, that’s not exactly true. Commune is an economic term and it means an intentional community where everybody has common first, put another way a common treasury. Either everyone works for one of several community businesses or several community businesses and works doing things for the community itself and they receive room and board and a stipend, or room and board and they don’t get a stipend but they describe what it is they need and the community will pay for it. The people arrive with the shirt on their back, they don’t have to have any income, they don’t have to have any assets, there’s no joining fee, and they leave if they leave years later with the shirt on their backs, they don’t have any equity, they didn’t build any equity while they were there. But they did have a fabulous time and lots of wonderful experiences I would hope. And so it’s a wonderful kind of community for people with few assets or young people or people who might be young and looking for a fabulous experience for a while. Sometimes they’re rural, in which case they usually have one or more community businesses such as Twin Oaks in Virginian which has the hammocks business, the tofu making business and the book indexing business which the community owns and the community members work for. Or they can be urban intentional community which is a commune in case, most people go outside the community and work at various jobs around the city, come back and put their salary money into the common pot, and then they receive either room and board and a stipend or, like I said, room and board and their needs are paid for by the whole group. So those are communes. My opinion is there are maybe only one or two percent of the whole intentional communities movement in North Americas is communes. Most are independent income like Earth Haven where, you know, you make your own money through whatever job or jobs that you have and then it’s yours to keep and of course you pay the annual dues and fees.
Meredith Medland: Wow, there’s so much information here Diana, and I just, I really appreciate it and your website it filled with information. Your website is dianaleafe, and it’s spelled with an e, dianaleafechristian.org, and that link is also available at livinggreenshow.com, and I also just want to mention that you’re available for presentations on eco villages, intentional communities and pique oil issues. You’ve also given presentations on how to join a community as well as start a community, and you’re great at resolving structural conflict issues in communities and helping people really get going with the communication skills, legal structures, how to find and finance land as well as how to just research, visit and evaluate communities. So we’re going to take our last break, and when we come back we’re going to speak a little bit more about evaluating the community that you might be looking for. My name’s Meredith Medland and I’m your host of Living Green.
Meredith Medland: You’re listening to Living Green: Effortless Ecology for Everyday People. My name is Meredith Medland and I’m here with communities expert Diana Leafe Christian. Diana we were talking a little bit about the about the difference between communities and cults, and you have an amazing and extraordinary viewpoint on this for anyone who’s interested in communities and might have some concern or communication around the word cults, so give us the full scoop.
Diana Leafe Christian: Okay, well first of all, I can be, I’m happy to say how to assess communities ahead of time on the internet to get a good sense of them before you even take the time to join, and then when you’re visiting, what to look for and how to tell if this is a place you might enjoy. But I want to back up and say I actually never use the word cult and I wish other people wouldn’t. What it really means is a small non-mainstream religion with a charismatic follower, a charismatic leader and a small group of followers, which is how both Christianity and Buddhism began. And with me, when people use the word cult, is a dangerous group, a destructive cult, that is to say a place with a follower and a small group of, a leader and a small group of followers and that’s destructive, that hurts people. Well, we have horrible sensationalistic news headlines about groups that do horrible things and then we call them cults, and then we think that all intentional communities are cults. Calling a community a cult is like calling a woman a bitch or making a slur word against a racial or cultural group. It slanders all intentional communities, and so I never even think of it in those terms. How I think of it is how most people I know in the communities movement thinks of it is some groups are high demand, other groups are not. A high demand group is one in which when you join it, and you know this before you join it because you look into it first and they tell you, you are expected to rise at 4am and meditate by the bell and then go to this service and do that service and do this work project and do that and follow these rules and follow those rules, and people join them usually because it helps them be in a community of believers or fellow practitioners of their own spiritual practice and they’re doing it for a reason. If you join a Zen Buddhist monastery or you join a Yoga Ashram, you follow their rules and you do what they say and you do it on purpose because you joined them for that reason. And you can leave anytime. You can walk away anytime. And so that’s, to my mind, simply a high demand group. If that’s for you, great, if it’s not for you, you’d know it before you ever joined a community. So how do you know it? Well, when you’re checking communities out on the internet, and the website you need to know about is directory.ic.org, that’s director.ic.org, where you can look up any community by its name alphabetically or you can go to any state or province or country and look up the community. It’s North America based, so you’ll find most communities in the US and Canada, and then you can read the listing about the community and you can read their website if they’ve got one. Here’s some things to look for: does the community have a lot of people? Do they have land and have they been there for a number of years? That tells me that they actually exist as a community. But if it’s one or two people and they have no land, that tells me that it’s a good idea, but it’s not manifest yet. Does it have a couple of people and some land and it’s been around for five or ten or fifteen years and it’s still only got two people? Why haven’t people been joining? I want to know. I think that’s probably not a real good situation and it’s visitors can tell, and so people don’t join. Read their mission and purpose. Is it in alignment with yours? Could you make a living there? Is it in the part of the country that you’re interested in? Is there internal community finances, one that you like, income sharing, independent income? How would you make a living? What are the annuals dues and fees? What’s the joining fee? How can you, can you afford it? So you look up that kind of thing before you go visiting communities. Then when you visit a community you want to know things about it. Do most people there generally seem upbeat and glad to be living there? Do they seem to like each other and enjoy each others company? Do they seem warm and friendly with each other? Do they seem to care about each other? Do they seem to enjoy their meals together? Do they linger over meals in conversation ‘cause they’re having a good time? Do the children seem well-cared for and happy and confident? Do the children seem to have trusting and friendly relationships with other community, with other community adults besides their parents? Do you see kids of different ages playing together? This is common in community. Does the community have work days and work parties and do people seem to enjoy working together? And does the group as a whole seem proud of their community? Do they seem generous with one another, loaning tools and equipment to each other? Do they laugh openly? Do they seem affectionate? Do they put their arms around each other? Do they tell you the answers to your questions? I hope that when you go visit a community you will ask first before asking questions as in, “Is this a good time to ask you a question?” “Yeah, this is a good time, go ahead”, rather than you just burst in, you know, while they’re trying to sit quietly and enjoy their breakfast, by demanding answers to questions, no, no, don’t do that. Ask first, “Is this a good time to ask a question?”, and then you can find out who owns the land, how do you make decisions, who determines who it is that makes decisions when you get decision making rights, do you have more than one decision making group, what are the criteria for joining, what are the criteria for asking someone to leave, what are the work requirements, what are the financial requirements, what kind of housing is here, what are the options for housing, what are the options for families with children, are there schools nearby, do the children here have childcare during the meetings that the adults attend. There’s all kinds of things that you can ask the group. What kind of legal structure do you have? And by the way, if it’s owned as a 501C3 nonprofit, if the property is owned as a 501C3 nonprofit the community may very well have a high turnover. If they do, this is a long story as to why that would be so take my word for it that they often do, if there is a rather high turnover is that alright with you? Will that be okay? Just know that in advance. And then find out if they have a well organized membership process, because if they have a well organized membership process with steps that new incoming members go through and requirements that they have to meet, that means that they’re looking out for the community’s long-term well being. That means when you live there as a member they’re looking out for your long-term well being by screening carefully the people who join them. Rather than being offended if they’re screening and asking you for references and checking to see if you’re the kind of person that you say you are, that’s actually very beneficial for the community for its members and for you when you will become a member. So if you think that the community is a high demand group when you’re visiting or when you’re spending more time there in preparation to consider perhaps joining, then leave. Don’t join. If you think that one person there seems to have all the power and they seem to be somewhat abusive about the power or authoritarian, meaning they would ignore or punish other people if they don’t agree with them or don’t do what they say, get in a car and leave. Don’t stay. You can’t get sucked up into a community, it’s not like being assimilated by the board on Star Trek, you have free choice.
Meredith Medland: You really do, and I, you know, the reason I wanted to have you on the show, well one, I wanted to talk to you about, you know, how exciting it is, is for me in my life joining and starting and engaging with friends who are starting communities here in California, but also I just have to say that my experience has been that living in a community allowed me to grow as a person in ways that I’ve just never experienced before, and it was the most really delicious part of my whole life, there were three that I lived in. So I just really want to recommend to our listeners that if you have that seed of interest in you and you’re curious and, it will work. I was able to take time off from work and really investigate communities and move forward in them, and you definitely don’t need to leave a job to do it, so Diana has given us an extraordinary amount of information. You can find it on the episode page, and before we go today, before we say goodbye to Diana, we just want to mention a few things to you about the show. So, lets see, well the first is I want to just thank one of our listeners that wrote in, which is, her name’s Liz Monos, and she said she just loves “the laidback fun and approachable way” that I had with guests Tom Froyd, who’s part of hugtrees.org, and she said “connection and authenticity is so important to me. Thanks for being so sensitive to that on your show. I really appreciate the go with the flow and let it unfold style.” So, thanks Liz for your comment. If you have any comments you can email me at Meredith@livinggreenshow.com and I’m happy to interact with you, chat back and forth with you as well as take any requests for guests or subjects that you’re interested in. I also wanted to let you know that we’re right in the middle of taking a survey of all the listeners so that we can learn really more about you, where you’re located and what you’re interested in. So all you need to do is go to livinggreenshow.com and type survey in and take that survey. And then, lets see, what else. Lots of fun. You can go to the Personal Life Media website and look at the links on the episode pages for Living Green and there’s all sorts of great offers. You can get a free book from audible.com, there’s discounts on really cool jewelry and many things from both the sponsors Living Green and other sponsors that sponsor the shows on the Personal Life Media Network. So good, good stuff, and also just wanted to wrap it up and let you know, if you happen to be visiting Santa Barbara and want to come in for an evening at the Living Green Community Center, we have evenings where we have live shows that get recorded, this one was recorded over the fantastic phone. So Diana thank you so much for calling in today, and if you’d like to be on the Living Green Connection email list you can just email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will certainly do that. Diana, we’re going to wrap it up today, and the last question that I’d love to ask is if you look ahead thirty years from today, what kind of transition and awakenings and new emergings do you think are going to be happening in the co-housing and intentional communities based?
Diana Leafe Christian: Well I think that many, many more people will be living in various kinds of intentional communities, including ecologically oriented ones like Eco Villages in cities and towns out in the country, I think that income sharing communities and independent income communities will be everywhere, and food co-ops and worker owned co-ops will be everywhere. People will be getting around I would say by bicycle and donkey cart and not using petroleum and using all kinds of transportation methods from olden times, people will be growing their own foods in urban areas, on their rooftops, on their balconies and in public parks in the median strips just like in Havana today, and people will be growing most of their food in towns and in rural areas because of the industrial shifts without petroleum.
Meredith Medland: It’s going to be really exciting.
Diana Leafe Christian: Yup. I think that people will be in communities because they want to be in communities and also because it’ll be economically sustainable and desirable to do so.
Meredith Medland: Well thanks for that prediction, and you’re certainly a great person to make that future prediction. I want to make sure our listeners know about your book, so the one that we’ve been talking about today is Finding Community: How to Join an Eco Village or Intentional Community, and you also had your first book, which we’re going to invite you back on the show, I’m so glad that you’re going to do another show with us, for your first book which is Creating a Life Together and that’s what you’ve learned from dozens of community ventures and founders about what it actually takes to start successful eco villages and intentional communities in today’s financial and stony climate, so that’ll be a show coming up in the future. Is there anything else that you’d like to share before we wrap it up today?
Diana Leafe Christian: Yes, thank you. I’d like to let listeners know about my new eco village free bi-monthly newsletter which they can subscribe to for free, ecovillagenewsletter.org/subscribe. The first issue will be out in about 2 weeks and it’ll come into people’s email inbox, a notice about it every 2 months, and they can learn about the eco village movement worldwide. It’s a very exciting movement.
Meredith Medland: Fantastic. Thank you so much for joining us on the show Diana. I really appreciate it. My name’s Meredith Medland. I’m your host right here on Living Green, and if you love today’s show and you’re able to go into iTunes and write a customer review with five stars, what that’ll do is put us up to the top in iTunes which means Green will get more coverage, the show will get more coverage and we’ll be able to get more and more great guests coming right to you live into the ears of you iPod or off your computer, so thanks so much and have a great day Living Green.