Sunday, August 23, 2009

Not for Everyone

Community is on the rise. Google “intentional community” and you’ll get a bunch of co-housing sites. I explored co-housing myself over 10 years ago. After trying and failing a couple of times to put together group houses, I still thought surely co-housing is the way to go. It didn’t keep my interest because the focus seemed to be on limiting the potential bad, and there wasn’t much actual relating. Nonetheless it could be a safe option for many people. You don’t have to get too close to anyone and you can maintain a semblance of the American dream in the form of real estate ownership. On-the-other-hand, a bunch of people living in one house, now that’s a real challenge.

On our block there are at least four other houses in which rooms are being rented to multiple unrelated individuals. It cuts down on the cost of housing and you have additional social opportunities. Over the years, I’ve talked to dozens of people who have spent time in such arrangements. Almost nobody talks about how much money they saved. Mostly they talk about how easy it was for relationships to break down and how hard it was to recover them. I’m usually the persoon nodding her head in agreement. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. I have a vivid memory of seven people sitting in a circle in a gorgeous redwood paneled living room while a young woman sniffles about one of the other women not liking her. The other five people coming from a variety of backgrounds and personal growth vehichles are groping for something useful to say or do. The very next month, we gave notice on the rental and we all scattered, most of us to the solace of individual apts and cottages.

Around here we like to say with a wry chuckle that living in a Morehouse is not for everyone. More than once over the past couple of years, I have stared at the ceiling above my bed and said to myself, “I’m not going to make it.” My friends on facebook will confirm this. I think of myself as sensitive, easily hurt, and mostly a wuss. I abhor conflict and confrontation. I often forget that conflict is going to happen when your rub up against so many people in close proximity.

That’s what I love about living in a Morehouse, specifically, the Oakland Morehouse. We place a premium on communication and civility. A variety of forms are valued from gossip to withholds*. We talk about what we’re going to talk about. Beyond being effective in landing our communications with one another, we also have the goal of it being sweeter between us.

In addition, we really do believe everyone is 100% responsible for their lives and whatever shows up in it. It’s not that easy finding a buyer for your victim story – how someone did you wrong - in a Morehouse. Most likely you will get some acknowledgement for your angst, but then it will be quickly followed by a conversation about how everyone is perfect, what did you do to create the current circumstance given that you are the master creator of your universe, and what could you say or do differently to get your goal.

The great thing about living in an intentional community that has been around for over 40 years is that you have a variety of viewpoints available to you from people who have been wherever you find yourself. Moreover, Morehousers love sharing their viewpoints on most anything. We consider it form of entertainment, like a good TV show, watching our friends stumble and recover. We call this bouncing. We know everyone falls down from time to time, what’s compelling is how fast you get back up, reaching for the next most fun thing or something good. That’s the bounce.

To live in a Morehouse, you got to be willing to set aside your angst and get back on the on the field of pursuing fun.

* a withhold is the extent to which you have a thought or feeling that you decide to withhold because of positive or negative charge.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Communal Family

Ordinary people living extraordinary lives for no the other reason than we live together in a unique experiment.

My friend Rachel came to our dance party last Friday night ready to let her hair down and have some fun. She had spent the previous weekend with her family of origin. She commented a couple times about how good we looked and how good the house felt. She finally attributed it to us living among “chosen” family.

“Chosen” family. I have long been familiar with this term. I used to hear it a lot when I lived in Marin. As I understand it, it’s a term that refers to a group of people who have formed an intentional community with a high level of commitment and intimacy. The adjective is important because it implies that you have selected a particular person or set of people. A reality no one gets with their biological family.

As I take a conceptual survey of the people with whom I live, I ask myself would I choose each of these people to be a part of my “family”. The answer is mostly no. My criteria for friendship is pretty narrow, and it gets even narrower when you start talking about family. If my checklist determined community membership, there would be nothing but a bunch of over-educated, corporate dropout, superficially spiritual baby boomers. I suspect the people with whom I live have similarly narrow criteria. Fortunately that isn’t how it works in our house, a Morehouse.

We say anyone who shows up and can make it with us for two weeks, can continue making it with us assuming everyone agrees that would be fun. One of the results of living in a Morehouse is your criteria for what you find pleasurable in this responsibly hedonistic community keeps expanding. It’s not about lowering standards, it’s about opening your mind and expanding your capacity to notice and feel and remember that you created it so it must be perfect. Every person living here has touched me deeply at one time or another. That’s because I have allowed myself to be touched. Admittedly, there were many times that occurred only because I had run out of power to the shields.

Every person. Yet these are mostly people I would not have chosen, just like my biological family. Still, just like my family, l love these people. We have shared exquisite highs and dreadful lows. And we’re still relating, often with warmth. We are committed to the social experiment that Vic created over 40 years ago for which we signed-on when we each moved in – how much fun can we have individually and with each other by living together. More to the point, here is an excerpt the from the Lafayette Morehouse website:

Our research, started by Vic Baranco and his first wife, Suzie Baranco, has explored how people can live together pleasurably, with the group providing support for the individual's goals. We have found that people with increased knowledge and awareness enjoy fun relationships, which endure and deepen in intimacy and, moreover, that gratified people tend to treat others with more compassion and love.

Chosen family? No. Family because I choose it? Yes.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Choosing Life

Last night, I found out that Indigo would have come to our Fourth of July party, but she found out a few days earlier that she had vaginal cancer. She’s hopeful, though, and is exploring alternative treatments. A ball in my belly began to form – fear, sadness. Then this morning, Julie informed her friends that she has decided to share her journey to fight the cancer in her breast with us via her travel blog.

Shock and despair. How did this happen? I feel so many things all at once. One feeling is vulnerability, as if I’m in the same building as them and a bomb just went off. Tumbling down.

Five days ago, I watched Carol Sue grabbing for every ounce of pleasure there was to be had in the space of an hour as she crossed a pivotal threshold in her path to be a certified participant in the public demonstration of a woman in orgasm for an hour. She changed in the weeks leading up to her graduation from her training. She seemed to have a singular focus, choosing to go for whatever good there was to be had in any given moment.

All three of these women have inspired me suddenly and profoundly. Memories of my experience on September 11, 2001 come back to me. I remember I had a choice that morning, the first session of my Expansion of Sexual Potential. Gini, one of my teachers, told me that it ultimately it was just energy, this shock and grief. I could use it anyway I wanted. I had a choice. I could join the chorus of negativity, or I could be a spot in the universe that uses this energy for something good. Choosing to be in a state of orgasm, choosing pleasure over grief, could be my gift.

It’s so clear to me that this is what each of these women is offering anyone one who is noticing. By their sheer example and the exquisite way they are pursuing their paths with grace and honesty, grabbing for all the good there is in this life; they are offering a choice.

Flying up for no other reason than I choose to do so. Choosing to life.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Best Job I've Ever Had

Almost everyday I catch myself smiling or giggling to myself that this is my job. All the fun stuff I was doing before – working on the website, mulling over the business, going to Mark groups, doing Effect for courses, throwing parties, conspiring with my girlfriends for fun, investigating my life and reporting, organizing people, gossiping, being absurdly happy – all this is my job now. This is without a doubt the best gig I have ever had, and I have had some really cool positions from corporate organizational development in the era of the “learning organizations” to editor of a metaphysical magazine. The Housemother position allows me to apply what I enjoyed the most in previous careers: exploring how groups work best and playing with energy. Moreover, I get to do it in a context where everything and everyone is already perfect and now we’re just having fun.

Many days it feels like I just won the lottery, Some of my best adventures have happened in this place. First Vic, and now Cindy have had enough attention on me to serve up my dreams on silver platter. I hope I’m in a position to do that for someone someday, or maybe I already am.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Being Gratified and Having More

I’ve been thinking about gratification lately and how being overtly grateful for what you have makes space for having more. Like a lot people I picked up the idea that the secret to getting more of anything was to communicate that whatever you had was insufficient. I’m not sure how well it worked. I recall some amount of grumbling and people taking action under duress. If you think about it, though, the people you are most attracted to are the ones who are happy with what they have, and graciously open to having more. My neighbor across the street, Carol, was like that, and my friend, Janet, is another great example. Not only have I been drawn to these women because they appear to have it together, but it’s also easy to be around them. Moreover, I find that it’s fun to give to them things. Rather than compensating for a deficit, it feels more like I get to join in on their great life by contributing even more good to it. How much fun is that.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

An Experience of Surplus

Last week I was driving around Lafayette and this wave of giddiness washed over me. It was having this unfamiliar feeling although I had felt it before. It took me several minutes to pin it down, but when I did, I got chills. It was the feeling of knowing without a doubt I had everything I wanted and I could have more if I wanted any time. I was at the point of looking to see what my friends want, like what would please them and tickle them. There was no obligation or shoulds involved. It was a true space of abundance.

I was feeling full and blissful just by noticing my current circumstance – I was out shopping. Moreover, it included feeling the intention of the people I live with that I be happy and well cared for in the way that people would come to our room and ask us if there was anything we wanted.

When you get to the point that your next desire, your next impulse is truly for someone else to feel what you feel, to have whatever it is that they want, to be tickled to get a pair of speakers or socks, to have their feet rubbed or a have a cup of chai; it’s completely gratifying. To truly be in a state of surplus and recognize it is the highest level of havingness I have ever experienced.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Perfection in the Context of Group Living

Perfection, the idea that we are all right, beings, has been on my mind lately. It is the cornerstone of the Morehouse philosophy. There is a private course anyone can take in which teachers from Lafayette Morehouse argue for your perfection while you spew all the reasons you have stashed in your head about why you are not perfect all the time, or before . . . or back when . . . or if . . . . It’s called a Presentation. I’ve had this course. I proudly wear the pendant you get when you complete the course around my neck.

Lately what I have been contemplating is other people’s perfection. As House mother, I have a great excuse to hold the most loving view point in the house. To me this means remembering that everyone in the house is perfect and right the way that they are, including me. If someone in our house does something offensive, like not keeping their agreements they’ve made with their housemates, the knee-jerk response would be to think that person is wrong and bad person for not considering the impact of their actions on their fellow housemates. There are other alternatives.

It seems an important element of the concept of perfection is that we are not our actions. Perfect people do and say things that are not in agreement with their stated goals or earlier agreements. I have observed that everyone I live with is basically employing their best strategy for navigating any given situation in any given moment. They are doing or saying what has worked for them in the past. If the strategy didn’t work for them on some level, they wouldn’t use it. If I find their strategy offensive, hurtful, or silly; it doesn’t mean something is wrong with them. They are perfectly reasonable people doing what seems to them to be their best move at the time.

If I have them has being a right person, I have more options for responses available to me. For instance, I could get curious. Why would my friend choose that behavior which appears to be in opposition to their stated goal of wanting to be closer to the people in the house? Maybe I could have a sense of humor about it and tease them, “You little rebel you.” I could also consider their behavior a cry for help.

Moreover, these other responses take me off the hook of being angry or upset. These are emotional responses that I have chosen to a set of actions. I could choose an emotional response that feels good to me. In some circumstances, it’s really hard to choose a response other than the one that is familiar to me. I go unconscious and find myself heading down a road in which dark clouds are forming and my friend is an asshole. In those cases, I have found it helpful to start with finding myself right, the situation is perfect because I created it. From there, I can create it differently, maybe choose another response based on the fact that I and my friend are perfect and right. Perfection includes the potential for change. Perhaps we can conspire and find a more pleasurable direction to go.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

How I Came to Morehouse aka How I Met Vic

In 2001, I was at the top of my career game in corporate human resources, single, and living in Marin, CA. Like a lot of people in Marin, I was on a sensual quest and researching being in a conscious relationship. A friend who was staying with me on her way to HI observed the men I was dating and told me that I needed to go to a Mark group. That was the only place to get a “trained guy”, she said, someone who knew how to please a woman on several levels.

I went to my first Mark group at Curt and Ruth’s home just after the New Year. It was all very civilized, except for this guy Tom, who would ask the most outrageous questions. I was terrified and intrigued all at once. In March in Lafayette, I took my first Basic Sensuality course with Jack, Ilana, and Kassy. I loved it, especially the communal living information. I was always interested in communal living and had failed in previous attempts. I thought these people seemed to really have it down in such a way that they are actually having fun. These people really know how to live, really live, is what occurred to me. I wanted to know everything, and I definitely wanted to meet this Vic guy that everyone was talking about.

To this day, what impressed me the most was how the community responded to the desire of a woman, to give her everything she wanted and more, in this case it was me. They delivered courses and experiences as fast as I could consume them. In one memorable week in May, I took three 2-day courses. People would say, “You’re going so fast!”, which occasionally caused me to second-guess myself, but then I would remember my goal, which was to meet Vic.

In July, just after my 39th birthday, I finally got to the center of the tornado I had made of my life. For four days, I sat with Vic and Cindy and the gang, and had the ride of my life, which was so small looking back at it from my current vantage point. I went up and down and up again so fast; they actually had to bring in a bucket for me to vomit into. So many things I remember . . .. What really blew my mind was how exposed I felt. Vic was speaking the thoughts I had not even dared to utter to myself. One of them was that what I really wanted was a man who could fill me up with everything I wanted, happily, and be man enough not to take all that silly bullshit I liked to dish out. “YES! That, I want that! How do I get one of those?!” I exclaimed. I can see him like it was yesterday, taking a drag off his cigarette and telling me to go stand at the exit door of the “man-factory” aka Lafayette Morehouse.

And that’s precisely what I did . . .. and that’s another story. . ..

Thank you, Vic. Because of you I have more real love than I ever imagined I would have, and I’m living, really living at the Oakland Morehouse.

Monday, June 15, 2009

An Introduction

Becoming the Housemother of the Oakland Morehouse with my partner George has changed the way I look at group living. Over the years, I have played from many different spots: from newbie to out to in to supporter to control-problem to non-confronter. I’ve enjoyed them all. Each spot offers a different vantage point from which to see yourself and others. Certainly, it’s true you can win from any spot.

Now I find myself in the leader spot. This is the most expansive vantage point I’ve had yet. I suspect you can have this expansive view in a couple of the other spots as well, I just never chose to go there until now.

In this blog, I will be exploring various aspects of group or communal living as they come up for me in my life here in the Oakland Morehouse. Specifically, I will be looking at the application of the More philosophy in the context of being a student and a house member in a very unique experimental community.