We are exploring what we want our lives to look like in the now and are currently in the midst of designing a tiny house with our builder friend, Matthew Willox (https://howlingdogconstruction.wordpress.com/). It’s taking much more time than any of us thought it would, but the process we are engaged in is amazing! The many blogs we’ve read, written by people who have built their own tiny homes, added to our own experience, illustrate that just as “Everyone walks their own Camino”, so too does everyone walk a different path to their own tiny house manifestation. We clearly have a different life plan and set of circumstances than many of them did – and at the very least they live in a place other than Cape Breton, NS! We are ready to be in our wee home now – but are not ready to accrue a whole set of building, plumbing, and electrical skills! And the materials we need have proven not to be readily available where we and our builder are. So, while we find ourselves becoming an informed part of the extended tiny house community a little bit at a time – it has been a prolonged, varied, and informative experience on many levels!
As we are working through the details, we are also moving ahead on the plan behind the plan of moving into a tiny house: We want to have more time to be together, to be connected to our deeper selves, to be with our beloved corgi, Shanti, to be profoundly engaged with the natural world, and to spend more quality time fully present with family and friends. We are attempting to put our values & priorities front and centre: our relationships with self, others, and spirit.
In order to manifest these goals, we decided to give away much of what we owned – to downsize, as some say. We are pretty sure this is not the language we will use. It doesn’t feel like a downward thing to us at all. And it doesn’t feel like we are giving things up either. It feels as though our lives are becoming more rich and arriving at more insight and understanding. Rightsizing perhaps feels more appropriate. It seems to us now that all these things that we felt were almost a part of us, and perhaps served to define us, were merely aids to a life (if at all) and are best served to hand along to others when they are no longer more than repositories for memories. So, in gifting our possessions to others – known and unknown – we are becoming more connected to an extended community.
There are, of course, countless understandings of what makes a community, but we are trying to discern what it means for us, right now. Does living in community mean living in an ecovillage? Does it mean living in an intentional community? Does it mean living in a neighborhood or on the land of friends? Does it mean living in a monastery? Does it mean creating an ecostery? (A term borrowed from Alan Drengson, used to describe a place where the reflective aspects of a monastery come together with restorative ecological action and wisdom. A long ago, and ongoing, vision of ours.) Or does it mean just exactly what we have already? We have had so many offers from people we know – and people we don’t – to stay with them while we are moving ahead in this process. We feel so blessed!
Reflecting on our community odyssey from a vantage point some months removed from when we “began” it, it seems that our recent community journeying started much earlier than we had thought, and lasted much longer! For example, in walking part of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail this past May, we joined up with a community that spans time as well as space. People have been walking this path for more than a thousand years. Many, many people. One article we read said millions. Statistics are not available for those early pilgrims, but 192,418 were counted in 2012! This certainly sounds like an enormous community to count ourselves a part of.
Then in August, we did a week long retreat at Gampo Abbey (http://www.gampoabbey.org/), a Western Buddhist Monastery in the Shambhala tradition, in Pleasant Bay, Nova Scotia, the sometimes home of spiritual teacher Pema Chodron. Here, with 10 other retreatants, we joined the regular daily practices of residents and monastics. Our small group, melding with the larger, spent four to five hours a day in sitting or walking meditation practice and service, as well as chanting and receiving individual and group instruction. Although we were in silence for much of the time, our small community bonded together, and we found ourselves corresponding with and even visiting one of the participants several weeks later (see New Hampshire visit written about in more detail below!)
Judy had lived in Western Massachusetts for almost thirty years and we were out of touch with the face-to-face experience of friends there. For her, the return to “the valley” is always infused with strong memories of the places and people who were a part of her life there. She noted that it is disorienting at times to return to a community that in many ways has gone on without her: Where people shop in the same stores, drive the same roads, and carry on with one another. On some level, it seems as though nothing has changed there, while she has wandered the world! It’s an odd feeling.
While our plan for this journey was to visit with friends and family, we began to notice another thread to our travels as we moved about in, and then on from, the Pioneer Valley. In Shutesbury, MA we visited our friend Monique, and walked the paths of the Sirius Community (http://www.siriuscommunity.org/), from which, many years ago, we began two Living Routes university semesters of travelling and teaching about (and within) ecovillages around the world. And we spent time with the family of Jacqueline Carole Mizaur whose memoriam appeared earlier in this blog and who was involved, with her partner, in coalescing the local food cooperative movement in the region. While not so intending, it was as though our journey was stitching together a quilt of communities – and exposing us to the many, many forms they take these days.
It turned out that a number of the people we were visiting were actually living in intentional communities – meaning that they had come together around a common vision – whether spiritual, political, social, or environmental (or some combination of these!) Our new friend from the abbey retreat, Dori, welcomed us to her home in the Nubanusit Neighborhood and Farm cohousing community in Peterborough, NH (http://www.peterboroughcohousing.org/). It reminded us a bit of the Shaker communities of New England from long ago.
In just a few hours after leaving her home we were with our friend Coleen – in another cohousing project – with a completely different feel from Nubanusit. Coleen is renting a 400 square foot apartment in the 6000 square foot common house in this active farming community in Vermont, and we got to stay in one of the community guest rooms just down the hall from her. Cobb Hill (http://www.cobbhill.org/) is relatively “old” in the annals of cohousing projects in the US. It was started (in part) by Donella “Dana” Meadows, PEW scholar and an old friend of our old friend, who was a pioneer is ideas about transitioning to sustainable systems. Cobb Hill was, and is, a laboratory for some of the visions she and others were exploring in the arenas of local and global sustainability – and a near perfect home for our community and ecologically committed friend. We had a wonderful time reconnecting and learning about her latest venture in the realm of community living. It would be way too much for this entry to try to connect all the community threads that Nicky and I and Coleen share. But they were all vibrating together and informing our lively visit. Suffice to say that we once shared living, learning, and teaching in a retrofitted school bus that travelled across North America (see the reemergence of this amazing program at http://www.expeditioneducation.org/). So, in many ways, as you might see, we are well prepared and suited for tiny living!! We’re just waiting for the next version of our experience to manifest in this tiny house we have planned!! And meanwhile, we’re living with our builder and his partner and two boys and their husky and two cats and Shanti. How’s that for unexpected, unintentional community living??!! (Even Shanti manages to find community wherever we land :))