Ah, Earthaven : : : : : : and the elements welcome me home. It’s like suddenly receiving news of a giant inheritance, this reversing estrangement from nature. Upon entering, a speed limit sign with an all-seeing eye sing-songs “Slow down, you move too fast….” But more than your car is invited to a new pace – life here is at the speed of relationship, dependant on the weather, and in concert with bugs, mushrooms, & all the other unseen forces modern life might have us forget.
Set in the luscious, mountainous temperate rainforest of the Katuah bioregion, the 18-year-old intentional community rambles over 315 acres divided loosely into 12 neighborhoods, each with a distinct personality – from the cozy, quirky Hut Hamlet to the organized and impeccably-built cohousing Village Terraces, from the queer tantra neighborhood-in-the-making to the funky, beloved & cluttery Medicine Wheel Collective that I was blessed to call home during my stay. Current member population hovers about 60, and fluxes up to about 85 as “wex’ers” (work exchangers like myself and other temporary status visitors) come and go seasonally. In the center, the village green sprawls wide and grows thick with plaintain – perfect for barefoot volleyball or a pre-potluck Frisbee or soccer match. Adjacent is the circular Council Hall - the gorgeous and versatile gathering site for meetings, dance parties, yoga classes, and workshops.
While at first glance, Earthaven seemed to me the perfect bioregional antidote to strip malls and social estrangement, members are quick to point out that they are an aspiring ecovillage – not there yet! Frank conversations point right to the sore spots, even as they celebrate what is working in their shared vision of living in sync with the earth and each other. Not a paradise or a place to escape, just the same old sh*t approached with hopefully more strategy and consciousness. Some of the strengths I witnessed: success in living totally off-the-grid supported by solar and hydroelectic power; creating a social tapestry of unique and diverse skillsets; unconditional love and commitment; incredible patience with the pace of transformation. Some of the larger issues I witnessed at EH revolve around resolving concensus policy, developing more effective means for conflict resolution, and inviting the young members to participate more actively in the decision-making processes.
My two month stay, May and June, proved barely the tip of the iceberg to witness the lay of the land, meet some amazing folks, and let new questions come to the surface: How do people earn income here – sort of half in/half out of mainstream society? What about racial diversity in intentional communities? How possible is deep shadow work in a community that’s not committed to be substance-free? What role do shared spiritual practices play in unifying a community – do they limit diversity or provide focus? Is the proximity of nature more valuable than peer play for children who grow up in communities without large kid populations? Is it possible for humans in communal kitchens to consistently do their own dishes? ;0)
Like the ten minute mark in a seated meditation when the muscles behind my left lung shift and relax, at some point in my stay, my mind-swim of questions just . . . . softened. Walking in the woods with a friend, I hear bird song and ask, with my cram-for-the-Exam note-taking mindset on: “Which one is that ?” “ . . . . I don’t know . . . . . just experience it.” Oh. Yeah. I don’t have to name things to grok them. I don’t have to control things to enjoy them. I don’t have to track my learning meticulously. I can just be. Meanwhile, my cells know things I don’ t know they know! Surrender becomes the way; I hear Rilke whisper in my ear: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
Just as I intended at the outset of this visionquest, tasting life here has afforded ample opportunities to MOVE + LEARN + CREATE + WORSHIP deeper into my unique vision and into conscious connection with the web of life.
Effortless effort, so live.
M O V E
The predominant shocking shift from city living is the supreme physicality of life with nature. Remove the scrim, scrub the fog: sense doors, open! Kneel to feel the dewy grass as I squat for my morning pee. Inhale sweet pungent lemonbalm as I rub a leaf between fingers on a walk. Taste the bright sun of a sorrel leaf as I’m weeding. Hear the frog choir goodnight. Letting the elements have access to who I am – barriers drop, cloud lifts. I am realizing that all the protective filters that grow up in the city for safety and for “hygiene” also prevent the proximity that facilitates intimacy.
Ah- oh – ah – mmmmmmostly my power-ally in this remembering that it’s safe to fully feel is the beloved stream across the street from our house. Splash: Cold! Naked by moonlight, trusting —– // Press: Hard! Balancing on rocks in the water finding acupressure points on my feet —- // Rub : Grit! Exfoliating each others backs with fistfuls of sand. Belly laughter. Rhododendron blossoms float by and dance in eddies: I mimic their swirl, find my hips, mirror the flow. Bellydancing by myself, I lose my inner Beavis “uhhhhhh, this is stupid” and let the inner experience be what matters.
Move with new awareness: walk carefully noticing poison ivy –everywhere! Walk carefully, aware of snakes — I met quite a few. And walk everywhere, in fact, feel the power of my legs, primary mode of transport, carless in a place where that’s possible.
And gardening shirtless – I’m allowed?!? First the desire to cool off prompts the action, then the sheepish pause…. “But that means I’m ____(fill in oppressive learned stereotype here)___” ~ promiscuous? ~looking for attention? Push through that: no, it means I’m hot and I’d like to feel the wind. Interesting to feel the guilt that ‘equal opportunity’ brings up, just enjoying the same privilege my brothers get to without question. I am so grateful to be among menfolk who are willing to afford women the respect necessary to that freedom (what a tough gig ;0) , while aware of what comes up based in past programming as we work through it.
Besides the digging and swimming, the biggest gift of movement here has been sacred dance. It used to feel way too woo-woo, now it just feels good and simply human. One Sunday night at the Council hall, a neighbor’s father who is traveling the States to document ecstatic dance communities brought a great mix. From stillness to celebratory, we danced alone and with each other through waves of emotions and ample sweat! I marveled to feel the energy difference in exchange from pair to pair, letting playfulness, sensuality, aggression, and curiosity move through my body in turn. How quickly it shifts! Sexy tango morphs into hilarious freak show face-making, and back, like jumping jacks for emotional expression. On my last weekend, I traveled with EH dancer Travis to town for both waves of the Asheville Movement Collective’s weekly freestyle jam and sister had CHURCH !!! …the wide wood floor, the gathering of people willing to be authentic, the space to receive and give fully. The intern who called the circle invited us to move with forgiveness into acceptance and joy — my body replied as I let go of pain I’d been holding, feeling the light of love beam down through my body. Crying on the sidelines to flush the ‘let go’ out, a stranger woman came and held me, rubbed my belly. How did she…….? “Then we shall know fully, even as we are fully known…..”
Overall I am learning to practice marrying an action with intention, letting the physical world and my movement be an extension of my prayers. If I’m digging a path, how can the muscles I’m using be aware of the same intention in my life’s journey? Then: I’m ripping out honey suckle and vinca, two voracious vines that crowd out other plants, while meditating on rooting out patterns that suffocate my highest good. Or: While I’m tenderly spreading a mix of egg shells and diatomaceous earth around baby plants so they don’t get eaten by slugs and pill bugs, I’m focusing on how I can protect my baby ideas and dreams from predators. Come into consciousness, this walking, this gardening, this dancing: this is me, living my offering.
Letting the multiple dimensions of matter and energy kiss in my awareness, I wake up to my power as co-creator. The pleasure of this peaked beneath the falls at Chimney Rock, immersed in the clean, ice-cold, full-body gush. Reminder: right now, I am baptized into complete freedom. I can totally lose the story that “It’s too late”. My time is now, my rhythm and pace of waking-up is perfect.
L E A R N
But my practiced shadow-whine of “It’s too late, I’m tooo slow” sure had creeped in, especially right upon arriving. My first morning in the introductory garden tour, Patricia (the wise/wild woman, permaculture teacher-matriarch of Medicine Wheel collective) told us a story about one of the Earthaven kids’ first words: “Planta-polta mommy, planta-polta!” ~ asking for a plaintain poultice to be applied to a bug bite to still the itch. As she demonstrated tearing a leaf of the prolific “weed”, chewing a bit to a pulp that’s pressed against the welt, I recalled some of my earliest words, often repeated back to me to reflect my innate obedience: “Love god hate the debil, right mommy?” Ugh. Where kids here have a security based in the reciprocal provision and caring of nature, I established a binary of right and wrong that cultivated a profound fear of falling out of God’s grace by flubbing up.
Don’t get me wrong: my childhood was brilliant. I am blessed to have generous, skilled, amazing individuals who gave me the best, most lavish love they knew how. And, you can’t give what you don’t have. So upon landing, I definitely felt huge grief well up – - my own but also for the kids who play in parking lots and never know what they’re missing — grief for all of us, of being robbed of the human right to know the natural world and our place in it.
“Why try??” I felt jealous of kids here – the ease of their exploration, the depth of their knowledge, their freedom in joining in adult conversation as valued contributors…. as if it’s too late for me to dismantle walls of defunct beliefs to recuperate a deep connection to Earth. After my first potluck, I joined a volleyball “pepper” game between two pre-teen girls (and shared some needed pointers on technique) and noticed that one of them kept pausing to add to a small pile. She explained they were four leaf clovers, and that she was filling an unabridged dictionary backwards page by page. While the rest of the kids in the States do worksheets……. She’s up to T. We train our selves how and what to see by practice.
But once I felt my sadness fully, I could lose the ‘it’s too late” enough to open up & start learning in earnest. Patricia’s son Robin (who’s my age) is an accomplished Wild Edibles teacher and came to lead a plant walk. Browsing the nearby woods and our garden, he led us in nibbling and observing to discover medicines and foods commonly dismissed as weeds. That workshop & Robin’s ease flipped the switch for me. The more familiar these plants became day by day, the more I felt surrounded by friends. It reminded me of high school – the first day freshman year, walking down the hall knowing no one….compared to the last day hugs, high fives, and a sense of family. I love not being complete strangers to plants anymore, to start to feel their care and ever-presence and availability as beings.
This growing relationship between me and my ‘medicine’ has profound impact on healing, as well. I had tremendous allergies for my first few weeks; then I decided enough– I was going to shift it. People suggested I get to know Urtica dioica, stinging nettles, a great anti-inflammatory. So I started taking a tincture prepared for me by a friend, and I also started to harvest the broader-leafed woodland stinging nettles near the house to eat daily. Careful snip with scissors, chop tiny, sauté the stingers limp, add to lunch. This harvesting was a great practice – bringing into focus the interrelationship necessary for healing. No pop a pill cure-all. Inquiring at the cause/effect web of matter + energy, body + spirit…. Is it the walk that cures? The plant? The confident autonomy of choosing a cure and discipline to follow through? “Where do I start and you end?” -Asks the universe of itself……
Perhaps the most profound lessons in ecological awareness, for me, came from Patricia’s living permaculture. According to her precise reuse ethic, everything has a purpose or better yet ten: have you exhausted every use before sending it “away?” Carbon, compost, recycling, landfill – nowhere to be found a mere ‘trash can’. With her, the day is rife with teachable moments —- participatory, applied, relational, anecdotal, practical knowledge comes pouring forth. Whether it’s lamenting the pacific trash vortex over dinner conversation or celebrating the Indian town who made a living creating exceptional soil from dousing recycled cardboard with urine, she keeps conscious of the whole and is 100% passionate about sparking global change by our actions right now, in small movements of daily sustainability that gain momentum.
Besides nature’s sermons and Patricia’s garden walkabouts, Earthaven is rife with opportunities for more formal learning along lots of topics – sociocracy experiments, African dance classes, family constellation workshops, restorative circle practice groups, barter skill-swaps. Two classes that inspired me were “Evolutionize your Community” with Michael Dowd – a rabbit-paced powerpoint elucidating ‘why a unifying big picture matters’ —- and Mind-Mapping with Karen Savage – a diagrammatic methodology for manifesting dreams…prayer doodles!!! I was also excited to be neighbors with authors I’ve admired. Once I went to get change for the solar-powered Shangri-Laundry and ended up getting tons of great anecdotes about Earthaven history and international communities from Diane Leafe Christian, who wrote Finding Community. I got a little verklempt when Rudy Ballentine (of Radical Healing and Kali Rising) and his crew came over to Medicine Wheel on my cook night to discuss tantra & permaculture with Patricia. Cat got my tongue in between slurps of miso soup. Ha. Just folks!
With such self-motivated, curious, and generous humans around, juicy learning is rampant. And daily tasks are laced with insightful conversation – whether its planting rows of tomatoes or digging a trench for the fence — heartshares, impromptu history lessons, and philosophical meandering make light work.
C R E A T E
A village that plays together stays together? Creativity and whimsy abound at Earthaven, and such a small village definitely invites people to bring their piece of the puzzle. Tribal Condo’s brilliant colored windows and Kimchee’s bright outhouse mural light up the Hut Hamlet hill. At potluck, in walks a high-heeled leather-clad tranny for a lispy, hysterical ‘public cervix message’ … Banyan’s goofing to lighten up announcements, and I bet he’ll do it again. Travis rounds people up for epic board games and themed parties…. Let laughter be the glue that binds. At coffee hour, Ryan sells his gorgeous mini-watercolors of the woods to make rent; pre-teen Kayla sells her braided barettes to save for a horse. Hand-painted signs, uniquely-designed homes and gardens, out-of-the-box lifestyles… really, the entire choice to live at Earthaven is a creative act. Much potential for further collaboration beckons, including the under-construction Village Artist Studios, which doubles as Paul’s woodshop and grins like a thrown gauntlet calling all artists to come create.
With so much to be done, form follows function wins around here – beauty that’s also practical. For Patricia, though her attic is full of doll eyeballs and yarn galore bequeathed from her crafting mama, garden beauty takes the cake any day. Letting the elephant garlic bulbs bloom for their sheer elegance, leaving that clump of comfrey there just ‘cause – she sculpts her garden with sentimentality and friendship – feeling the palette and textures much like a painter. She also practices the corollary power of creation: destruction. Whether whacking back overgrowth with a kiss “back to the earth” or playing with the compost pile, death begets life is an everyday truth. Keeping up with my new tradition of creating “Us” Prayer flags as gifts (so far: Curious, harmonious, prosperous, luxurious), I celebrated Patricia’s birthday by creating giant MIRACULOUS prayer flags for the garden. After a morning of sifting organic odds & ends into ‘lasagna layers’ — piles of branches + straw + leaves + compost+ repea — she decided we should very ceremoniously hang the flags just above the fresh, decomposing pile — living fully into Bucky Fuller’s “Pollution is just the resources we are not harvesting.” Oh we’re harvesting them alright!!! And it truly is miraculous, a beautiful act of re-creation, to generate dense, rich soil from what we so typically see as waste — to be part of a circle of life instead of a consumptive one way arrow that leads to the mythical ‘away’.
During my stay, we began to make a beautiful circle of life in the garden – carving the start of a mandala bed, inspired by the original native formation, our namesake Medicine Wheel. Since I’m used to sketches and underpaintings, it was fun to learn the stages of creation in soil. Carpet squares flattened the growth down for ease in digging; then we leveled the soil and carved paths. Next up, mulch beds for planting – (that’s how far we got before I left). Since I generally love sacred geometry and was particularly hot on painting mandala to fund my travels, this was exciting symmetry for me.
Also exciting was the opportunity to paint a new neighborhood sign, since garden signs are another way I make my living. ( I painted ours based in “Carnivale Freakshow” font, which felt totally appropriate). The Atnas in me generally loves this creative work of making clear: streamlining, de-cluttering, and beautifying living spaces. I was so at home — dusting in places that hadn’t been dusted in years, hanging laminated Rumi poetry in the outhouse, upgrading ubiquitous ‘collective house’ signs, beating rugs for days, rearranging for optimal feng shui. Cook days were my favorite opportunity to nest and ‘romance’ the family…. sage the house, light the cook stove, cut some flowers for a vase and some to eat in the salad, find a poem to read at dinner. We walk in beauty.
For truly, the most profound and powerful creative act I witnessed and took part in at Earthaven, is that of creating family at Medicine Wheel. Take ten strangers, place in the pressure-cooker of a rambling partially-finished house with minimal technology and maximum ‘to-do’ chore list: voila. Love?!?! Intensity, honesty, intimacy. Beyond nuclear family: chosen family.
What a noble experiment.
Rethink: what if mom/dad/kids/ nuclear home isn’t the only or best formula to meet our needs? Medicine Wheel is living into the question with fervor. At one point we noticed we had at least one someone in all the decades from 0’s, 10’s, 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s — including a (self-proclaimed)Texan ex-trophy bride turned witchy permaculture whiz; a tender absent-minded/mad-professor tinkerer; an ex-psychotherapist gentle southern gentleman bibliophile in a lumberjack’s body; a gorgeous, silly & sex-positive African dancer escaping Chicago street life, a super-devout meditating idealist sweetheart, an elegant new yorker architect-in-training & student of the divine feminine; and a diy-whiz savvy single-mama/sexy-librarian and her adorable mischievous five year old; and me. We never would have chosen each other, yet we fit perfectly. Weekly check-ins, shared chores, and circling up before our nightly shared meal for song or silence were some ways we kept a rhythm together. Our house was far from perfect; some would say highly dysfunctional. And repeatedly I watched people enter and melt to feel what it feels like to be seen and loved for who you are. Living together intentionally is a powerful crucible that lets us access and start to heal the negative patterns that life has imprinted us with. Sweet tattered souls, so whole. Home.
W O R S H I P
“There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” -Rumi
“Dig a hole in the soil and scream in it.” – Patricia
At Earthaven, awareness of the intelligence and presence of the natural world shifted my sense of what is sacred. Growing up in a faith tradition that largely ignored “the rocks crying out” except as a sermon metaphor – danger! Pagan! – it took me a minute (and a beloved college roomie who took it upon herself to dig my used yogurt containers out of the trash, wash them, and label them with the Jesus’ words “Gather up the scraps that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” so I could hear her invitation to start recycling ) to wake up to the need to steward and notice nature. If dogmatic religion cuts us off from our own bodies, we are cut off from Nature. If I can’t feel me, I can’t feel This. Once that heals…. Everything is game to be sacred, again. Blessed be. We stand on holy ground because we choose to. We make a moment open to divine communication because we pause to listen to the ever-present messengers. Stillness, grief, story, and sensuality came forward as my teachers in this season.
Morning practice! With yoga school on the horizon next up, I was more motivated than ever to wake up and inquire within. My ‘when I feel like it’ became more devout – almost daily. I’d wake up, make tea, and tuck my Kripalu text under my arm for a jaunt through the dewy coolness to the council hall. I’d read and ponder a chapter on the wood swing, then step inside and onto my mat for a self-directed flow. This anchor gave me lots of leeway in my day-to-day – slack to listen to others’ needs, flexibility and strength to garden, and deep peace to draw from.
When I needed a break from the delicious and dirty chaos that was my life at Medicine Wheel, I could escape to Circle Rock, my friend Tomas and his partner’s retreat just up the road. They lead silent meditation retreats there, and his home and the land carry the vibe of deep listening and sacred attention. He and I met washing dishes at a Vipassana retreat in Texas and took a shine to each other. It was so meaningful to go see the buildings I’d heard him dreaming up a few years prior, and to meet his beloved partner. He is also deeply in love with his new baby goats, and their daily walks through the woods have become somewhat of a spiritual practice, adoring the comedy and beauty of their insatiable curiosity. The silence and interspersed bleats, the light on the ferns, the air…… I carried this reverence back to Earthaven, sitting still in the forest for hours, noticing, listening, thanking.
I was lucky to land at Earthaven just before a fifteen-hour ritual, May 5: a processional of the youngers to elders that culminated with the reading of The Toebone and the Tooth. Inspired by the work of Martin Prechtl and facilitated by some of his students, this day-long container intended to free up community grief to compost it into new growth. Shared intention was palpable in the air; my own grief had come swimming to the surface that morning during my yoga practice and lived on my quivering lips and in my tears all day. At 11:11am, the ‘youngers’ gathered to start a fire, with friction, tinder, breath, and song. As the flame caught, we spoke the gifts that past generations have given us, and carried the coals of our flame to the elders who sat in the village green awaiting. They spoke their truth to us, apologies for the condition of the planet, and desires to support our work. Back and forth, call and response, the youngers and the elders spoke their hope and pain. Our tears came from an ancient place that knows what it feels like to carry a lineage, to be known in a tribe, and from grief for the soul-homelessness of our culture, the difficulty of carving a new (old) way back Home. Throughout the day, people planted corn and shared handcrafts they’d explored since the last ritual. I weaved in and out of the gathering, attending to my own grief in the woods, face to the earth or walking the labyrinth, then back to the group. In the evening, we feasted; the night ended with atole and a community slumber party – around the fire, blankets and bodies as people drifted in and out of dreams as the entire Mayan-inspired tale was read aloud. This dimension, that dimension, blending, seamless.
The power of story to guide and spark was felt as well in women circles and in the sauna! New and Full moon lodges at the Red Tent created a safe, nurturing place for women to sing and be fed by each other’s truths. The day after I landed was a Full moon circle with the topic of Women’s Sexuality. Passing the talking stick, hearing from one another’s most intimate traumas and delights, we cried and laughed being witnessed in such a delicate way and resonating with each other’s experiences….understanding how deeply shared is our human situation, how typically we feel we must carry it alone. Another safe cave for story telling was the sauna near the stream. My first time in, Gabe thanked Grandfather Fire and poured water on the coals, calling a sacred space for ‘true stories’….. what emerged were powerful memories and tales around Birth and Death that needed to be aired, teaching me once again how transforming it is to listen in love to one another as we speak our hearts.
I am coming to understand worship as intimacy with the present moment. This, you, now is my Beloved. I am curious about rehauling our entire cultural approach to intimacy…. But all I can do is rehaul my own sense. So I’m experimenting. Exploring the spectrum: one one hand, open relationships — on the other, Brahmacharya. Two sides of the same coin? Beyond being property of one romantic partner, but also beyond ‘polyamory’ as a copout to the challenges of monogamy; beyond jealousy, beyond need and attachment — and willing to inquire into celibacy as an offering of my full energy…… Ultimately, toward an internal rebalancing of the masculine and feminine principles in my own self that, on a global scale of ourSelves, can lead to a restoration of balance in the dance between Shiva and Shakti at large.
On my last night at Earthaven, I’d hoped for an all-woman sauna to say goodbye. Way turns into way, people were scattered, firewood was scant. So what transpired was perfect: Patricia and I took fresh-rolled beeswax candles to the cool dark of the un-fired sauna for a heartshare. She sang me a Sufi song that is written: “All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you.” God is love, God is the lover, God is the Beloved. I remember you. . .
move learn create worship,
how to marry these power verbs into the fluid dance of my days?
How to let this rich new knowledge from Earthaven sink in to me, to emerge integrated as the wisdom of my actions?
Nowhere to go, nothing to do:
I relax into the pace of embodied knowledge.
I know it all comes from Practice.
I know it all comes.
Ask, receive. Effort, surrender. Night, day. Repeat. Practice.
Here comes the sun . . . .