Community road-tripping, Mark II

Just a few days ago, I was in the dark, seam-sealing our tent at Heidi’s folks’ house, trying to do the last couple of chores before we officially headed out on our 2016 Intentional Community road trip. IMG_8293A few days before that, I indiscriminately grabbed boxes of camping gear from our long-term storage, and packed them into our car without even looking inside them to check everything was there. Thinking of this now confirms to me the somewhat blasé nature of this current expedition we are embarking on compared to the “fanfare” of last year’s first trip. That’s not to say I am treating this trip lightly, but perhaps I am approaching it with a bit more knowledge and confidence in this life direction we’re learning about.

As we wrapped up our first trip through Victoria last year, we essentially just rolled on with our world packed on our backs, hopping around Adelaide house-sitting for the next 9 months. That sense of exploration continued as we left the possibility wide open to continue our journey where we left off, hoping to cement the feeling that intentional community living was indeed our Preferred Future Lifestyle.aquarius

While Victoria offered an amazing variety of communities, we felt that we would be remiss if we didn’t investigate the glory that is the north-east of NSW and SE of Queensland. Nimbin’s famous Aquarius festival of 1973 spawned numerous “hippie” communities in these regions, with the most resilient (and presumably most successful) of these still pushing along after over 40 years. There has to be some valuable lessons to be had in these places.

A fortuitous sequence of events brought us together with a new friend, Ed Wilby, who is a founder of the Alliance of Intentional Communities Australia (AICA) and let us stay at his home (in the middle of an amazing national park) prior to this trip. It was a wonderful opportunity to spend quality time and discussion with someone who is passionate about intentional community living and development, and who may well figure into our future more prominently as I hope to help the AICA out in their fledgling developmental stages.

It feels like all roads are heading towards our intentional community dreams, which is exciting to acknowledge. In the month or so leading up to our trip, we had a selection of positively-charged community-related experiences:

  • a good friend came across a piece of property that could be used for a communal village and opened a dialogue about that potential
  • I attended a talk from a resident at 700-member Findhorn community in Scotland who introduced all sorts of interesting possibilities
  • had opportunities to meet some great people through Ed (mentioned above) who are in the process of going down the road of starting a community in Adelaide
  • stopped in for a very inspired visit at Rose and Andy’s place (Cornerstone community we visited last year) in Bendigo, Victoria who continue to blow us away with their easy spirituality and positive affect on their community
  • encouraging enquiries from friends we’re visiting who are taking an active interest in our journey
Kito

Kito curled up for the journey

As of this writing, we have an eco-village, an Amish-like Christian village, a seaside all-rounder community and artistic/spiritual co-op in post-Aquarius Nimbin lined up over the next month to kick off our trip, so it should be very enlightening! By some people’s standards this might all seem a bit mad, but for me this colourful list of places only serves to engage my imagination of what is possible when we break away from the structures imposed by the mainstream.

And so we embark on the next chapter of our Intentional Community Adventure; we hope you will be coming along for the ride!

 

 

You can see Heidi’s first blog post for our journey here.

 

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Di and Ruth: compact community

~ DESTINATION ONE: STRATHALBYN ~

Community can come in small packages.

In our planning leading up to this little adventure of ours we’ve gone and chosen some communities to visit solely based on a paragraph or two of information via the ic.org website, our WWOOFing book or a brief phone call. Reducing the decision to a small set of “highlights” based on some preconceived ideas of what community is all about will undoubtedly reveal some surprising realities once we arrive, but I’m beginning to believe that this will be the joy of the experience – if we allow it to be that way. Our first community experience has already been that way: before arriving, I had conjured an image of what sort of “true” community could possibly exist between two people, but it has already proven to be an unexpected learning experience.

Heidi, Di and Mike

Heidi, Di and Mike

The baby steps of our 2-month trip took us to the homes of Heidi’s spiritual director Di and her friend Ruth. From the start, Di was comfortable using the term community to describe her and Ruth’s setup: conjoined properties consisting of two houses with no dividing fence and a shared backyard. Ruth and Di, who have been friends for 40 years, move between the two buildings freely but that divide is enough to provide some individual expression and some personal space to be able to retire to whenever they each want it.

So, looking at the way I perceive “community” to mean, I see it as:

  • a group of people sharing resources to reduce their collective environmental impact and save some redundant expenses;
  • living in close proximity with one another so that regular interactions are encouraged;
  • some common interests that connect everyone;
  • an overall care for one another’s well-being;
  • having shared experiences with like-minded people that enhance life’s journey

In this context, Di and Ruth are easily covering many of these points, but are simply doing it (at the moment) between the two of them. Their focus might not be so much on environmental concerns, plus having only two people to do everything can have its downsides, but their positive outlook, ease of lifestyle and welcoming hospitality definitely made it feel like they were creating a larger community than just the two of them. I definitely felt like a big warm hug was embracing us while we were there 😀

In planning this trip, we had broken it into roughly two parts: intentional communities and WWOOFing stops. However, I’m now beginning to think that the line is blurred with solid community likely existing in the WWOOFing stops as well. If Di and Ruth are an example of how it can be with just a small community then the places we are looking at who are often connecting with families, other like-minded individuals or the wider community will possibly have a similar feel. In other words, I will try to not place everyone in a tidy box before I experience what their version of community has to offer!

Go forth with an open mind.

Our preconceptions of what we expect to encounter on this trip will certainly colour how we actually experience it, as it was pointed out to us by Michael, a guest at dinner the other night at Di’s home. Michael had traveled extensively through Australia and abroad living communally and was a valuable addition to the conversation. His arrival at this meal was particularly fortuitous as our host Di had happened to bump into him the day that we were visiting and so we could pick his brain a bit regarding our own travels.

The advice Michael provided was useful but was one of the few things he actually told us (as not to contradict his own advice) was: the less we impose our own biases onto an upcoming visit to a community, the more we’ll get out of it. Upon arrival, it’s too easy to initially judge the way things are done by others if they don’t sync with our own methods, but if we wait, listen, learn and absorb, in due time we’ll get a more authentic view of how the community ticks. That’s not to say that our own perspective isn’t valid but it’s easy to arrive somewhere and think “why would they do that like this?” or “this community is broken here and here and I could do it better”.

Saying this, I think I’d like to experiment with my own bias and I plan to write a short paragraph before my forthcoming community visits in which I explain my own expectations and predictions of what the place will be like. I will be basing it solely on what I have read about the place, the vibe I get from any contact I’ve had with them, and my own biases like judgments about animal rearing/eating or lifestyle decisions. Hopefully this will help me examine my own reasons for thinking the way I do and see if I am putting too much emphasis on what’s in my head rather than what I am experiencing with an open mind! More to come…! 🙂

PS. Sorry for the analytical ramble: at this stage things are less about experiences and more about theory!

You can also view Heidi’s take on this visit to Di and Ruth in her blog at Miss Roo’s Adventures

 

Strathalbyn

The beautiful town centre of Strathalbyn

 

Be the change you want to see in the world

I love that quote by Gandhi; I have embraced it and strive to live by it but it’s surprisingly difficult. Not so much in the principle of it but rather the not-being-preachy-to-others part.

I try hard to live a simple life: happy with less needs, less “stuff”, less impact on this planet, less treating being financially successful like that’s the be-all, end-all of life. However, time and time again I need to be reminded that people will likely internally consider and respond to the subtle suggestion of observation of the way I conduct my life rather than having to explain why I think that the way they are doing things is wrong. If they see with their own eyes and in their own way how I respond to the challenges I face or handle certain lifestyle decisions and see that I am still happy (maybe less stressed, more free time, etc…) and functioning quite fine with less then perhaps they might want to consider incorporating some changes in their own life. Even if it has nothing to do with being personally happier as such, but seeing that I care about injustices, the world we live in plus the consideration for people around me, then the need to do something for the greater good might be inspiring in itself.

Even writing this down makes me feel preachy though. And a bit self-righteous. As if I am living the perfectly low-impact, community-centric, walking-with-the-poor, know-your-neighbor, self-sustaining lifestyle that I think everyone else should be striving for. I guess the aim of living this lifestyle that I believe in is that if there’s something — even if it’s just tiny — that makes someone reconsider something they could improve on in their own life, then the ball might start rolling to get more and more people beginning to change.

The reason for dwelling on these thoughts recently stemmed from my frustration the other night with hearing yet another self-absorbed person talking about how important and expensive their new car/house/furniture is, as if this is the most important part of their journey as a human being. I was frustratedly telling Heidi that I’d like to remind them of a few facts about how wasteful and shallow their consumer-driven, Earth-destroying lifestyle is, but she quickly reminded me of the risk of being labelled a hypocrite if even one thing in my life could be argued the same way (ie. driving a car, flying too much, using too many carbon emissions, living in a comfy house instead of under a tarp in the gutter, etc). Best to keep doing my best at what I’m trying to achieve and let examples of those actions give people some ideas.

Anyway, the very fact that I’m even writing this post is probably sounding hypocritical in its own right, but sometimes I just need to blather on to maybe make a point… 😀

Here; these guys say it really well and are being rather quite blunt about it!

Swirly lifey stuff

I’m on the eve of my tenth move in 2 years, weary at the thought in principle but on further reflection, relishing the idea that I have very little “stuff” to actually move. What a change!

As recent as 2 months ago, I had to haul things I had in storage at a friend’s place in Brisbane over to another friend’s place (bless their hearts for being so kind to make room for my crap) which took a 1 1/2 ton truck and about 10 hours of my time to load and unload. This is of course stuff that I am not using, just towing about from one location to the next with consideration of using it at some point. Meanwhile, I have been successfully living my life for the past year and a half with none of it. Sure, I miss the odd thing like when I say “oh, I have a Breville in storage; would be good to have a toastie right now” or “my golf clubs are in storage,” but these things happen so infrequently as to not recall thinking of them moments later. So when I thought “oh here we go again, another bloomin’ move (substitute “bloomin” with a more colourful term), I was pleasantly surprised to find when I really thought about it, I have about 4 or 5 boxes of stuff, clothes and 4 or 5 items of furniture and that’s it. Easy. Yay!

Interestingly, I’m possibly moving out with my girlfriend’s friend (my beautiful Heidi is old-fashioned so we cannot live together yet and thus the living with her friend 🙂 ) who is very much a simple-living-eco-friendly-sustainability-loving-community-oriented person like I have become, which is a new experience for me. Perusing potential dwellings with someone who heads out to the backyard first to see where the veggie patch might go before looking at the house itself is different but refreshing; I like her priorities! After many years of looking at things through the standard lazy commercialised-living lens as many other people do, I’m truly starting to consider things like: hoping for rainwater tanks and solar panels on the property; how passive heating/cooling will work effectively in the house; what fruit trees exist on the land and how much space is there for growing veggies; ensuring there is opportunity for community gatherings and sharing meals with people; and making sure that shops are walkable/rideable to conserve fuel. Whereby I was quite happy to live alone until recently, I’m now reveling in the opportunity to live with someone else and develop a greater sense of community; something I’ve spoken about but not really put into practice yet. It’s quite exciting!

I’ll update when I find a new place and we’ll see how many of these new thoughts have been put into practice.

All of this moving comes amidst a push for funding on my human trafficking film which we’re starting to work on. My feelings about the environment and climate change became blurred when I was away looking at people dying or screwing up their lives from poverty, but I’ll save that for my next blog entry. G’night! 🙂

Defeating my cravings

Yum!! No, no...naughty...

No matter how much great-tasting healthy food I eat, I never crave it like I crave junk food: chocolate, hot chips, ice cream, potato/corn chips. Why does stuff that tastes so good have to be bad for you?? (I know there are healthier versions of all these items, but I don’t crave those versions either!) Naturally, you don’t have to be a health-food Nazi to live simply, but I suppose as you start living ethically, all these things follow suit as it seems that so many of the companies that produce junk food are also unethical in their business practices (I wonder why this is? No really, I want to know why!).

I got a craving tonight for ice cream. I told myself that I could supplant this need with salt & vinegar chips if the ice cream was unattainable. It was 10:30pm. I had my car keys in hand and I thought “what are you doing? You don’t need this right now, at this time of night. And, all the companies who make what I want are evil!” I was so very right! Sitting down at the computer and looking online (ah, the Internet, how I love thee…), I found that my second ice cream choice, a McDonalds hot fudge sundae, comes from a company voted several times as the world’s most unethical company. From destroying rainforest to building farms for their cattle to illegally underpaying staff, they are a wasteful and shameful company from a respectable business point of view. I knew their food was fatty and unhealthy, but this will seal the deal for me never going there again.

My first ice cream choice, Streets’ Magnum series, I found listed in the great iPhone app “Shop Ethical!” which is a searchable database that tells you all about most food products sold in Australia and rates them for their ethical behavior. Streets is a Unilever subsidiary, and Unilever have a poor ethical score due to animal testing and human rights issues, and generally poor ethical practices, shameful for one of the largest companies in the world.

The backup plan of potato chips would have either come from Doritos (owned by Pepsico who sit near the bottom of several responsible shopping guides and ethiscores; though I could’ve gone with CC’s who get a decent score) or salt n’ vinegar ones from Smiths (also Pepsico; Samboy or Kettle would be ok). There are some alternatives to the unethical companies but you have to know who is owned by whom. For example, between the infamously dubious Nestlé, Mars and Kraft companies, there are hundreds of subsidiaries that you probably don’t realise have these irresponsible umbrella groups controlling them. When I was looking for dog food in Coles today, every single bag of dry food was owned under Mars & Nestlé even though there were all of: Purina, Lucky Dog, One, Beneful, Pedigree, Pal, Chum, My Dog, Good-o, Optimum and Supercoat. In addition to boycotting these companies, best to write the producers and suppliers and tell them what you think as it’s the only way they’ll know that we want some change to take place. I wrote Coles today to tell them this.

Anyway, at the end of it all, I safely convinced myself that I was doing the right thing by denying myself of these treats (which in itself is very good practice) and instead had some fresh bread dipped in balsamic vinegar & fresh, local olive oil. ‘Twas tasty for my tum too; better yet, it was tasty for my conscience! 🙂

Struggling, but kinda not…

Just a quick note on simple living when you’re a freelance artist and always kind of broke: it’s better than being kind of broke but with a mortgage, kids, a massive credit card debt and other sizable monthly expenses! That’s what I’ve been telling myself of late as I struggle to find work and am just getting by financially. If I had any lifestyle other than a simple one, I’d be forced to get a job I didn’t want, working too many hours and becoming a slave to my work and my debt. I might get myself out of debt, but then I’d be working too much, lured into spending frivolously, and then so the snowball grows…

Anyone reading this who makes a decent living financially is probably thinking I’m an idiot, suffering when I could be working in order to pay for the “good things” in life. There are times when the idea of greater financial security sounds appealing, and perhaps I just need to organise myself a bit better still, but the hardest part I struggle with that scenario is the working/commuting for 1/3rd of your life (plus sleeping the equivalent) and just squeezing in the real living we should all be doing. And by “living” I don’t mean shopping, I mean spending time with family and friends, following hobbies and creative pursuits, being altruistic and helping the needy or at least people around your community, being healthy with lower stress and greater chance to be relaxing and enjoying life – the real good life.

The great thing I’ve learned about my new lifestyle is when I get in a financial pickle, getting myself out of it is 10 times easier when the hill is not so insurmountable, like it was in the past. I’ll admit that sometimes I just want to go out and have a nice meal or just not have to think so carefully about my cash-flow, but when I think about the sheer number of things I have on my list of hobbies that I’d like to achieve/finish, I could never go out again and still not get through half of them! On top of that, I want to be able to spend time with my girlfriend or other friends at the drop of a hat and not be stuck at work, only fitting people in in evenings or weekends. I live for flexibility in my life!

Anyway, I’ll tighten my belt this week, push through a couple of pending jobs to get paid, and then a relatively small sum will carry me through for a couple of weeks. In the past, that same amount would last me half as long or less.

Green Smart Pots

I was in South Australia’s McLaren Vale wine-growing region recently and met a lovely gentleman and olive farmer named Tony who sold us some tasty homemade olive oil and then proceeded to show us some of his organic veggies. He had this amazing veggie patch with beautiful, healthy herbs and veggies all growing in these plastic tubs. He mentioned a business that his uncle had started called Green Smart Pots which were what we were observing here which have a clever self-watering system especially designed for Australia’s strict water restrictions. Little “wicks” draw the water up from the base and keep the plants healthy without over or under-watering them. This sort of thing has been around for awhile, but these were excellent designs that we could see working beautifully with our own eyes.

This is something I have been putting off due to being in a rental house situation and not wanting to alter things too much. That, and also not wanting to put a lot of effort into a garden only to leave one day and not be able to take it with me. This system definitely solves both problems and gives people with even the most modest amount of space a way to grow their own food and steal back from the big grocery stores the expensive, chemical-covered, food-mile laden and generally poor excuse for fresh veggies and herbs that they peddle!