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.