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Intentional Community and Permaculture

For those of you interested in Intentional Community this essay is about two such communities.  The Permaculture Institute has presented the Permaculture Design Course (PDC) at Lama Foundation over the past 7 years, and will begin teaching the PDC at Sat Yoga Ashram next year.

Lama Foundation was formed in 1967 and is one of the few remaining intentional communities from that era.  Lama was founded around spiritual growth and has been the home and host to many of the leading spiritual leaders from around the world.  It was here that Ram Dass wrote “Be Here Now”.

It is an isolated place at 8600 feet altitude in the Sangre de Christo mountains, and has simple rules of membership which include no drugs/alcohol, daily meditation, seva (or service to others), and consensus decision-making.  There is an implicit practice of respect for others, and a dedication to seeking spiritual awakening.

It has been my experience that all of the communities that have sustained over the years have a core set of principles and goals that hold its members together and on the same path.

I recently spent 3 months at Sat Yoga Ashram in Costa Rica and was astonished at how the spirit of tolerance, respect, and spiritual practice held all of the members in a calm and joyful space of love and commitment.  It was  great to experience this community and to be included in their daily practice and their extended family.  I got more writing done there than I have accomplished in years and found a new direction in my pursuit of permaculture.

For anyone seeking community be sure that the invisible structures (governance, finance, social and legal structures) are transparent and well understood by the community members.  It seems that the core problems of community formation and long-term survival revolve around attention to these structures.  In my experience I find that it is ownership and finance that ultimately determine the success or failure of communities.

At both Lama Foundation and Sat Yoga one is able to see how community works and if it is truly something that one really wants.  At both of these communities ownership is held in common by the membership and not as individual property.  I certainly recommend that everyone who is interested in community spend some time “in” community to see if that is truly what is wanted.

I know from my years of teaching permaculture that many students of my courses have a longing for community and it is no wonder since most of our community structures have disappeared as a place that is supportive, safe and kind.  Even our families have gone through a process of separation either through divorce or separation for financial opportunity in other locations than the family hometown.

Humans are herd animals and have the same instinct to gather together and protect each other as do other herd animals.  In my life I have watched more and more of the community structures that once offered and supported such togetherness are slowly disappearing.  Our churches and religious beliefs used to provide some comfort in a hostile seeming world.  Our schools were once a refuge and gathering place for children that was safe and secure and offered a lifetime of memories of friendship, and loyalty to something greater than ourselves.  Most of those structures no longer provide the supportive environment that they once did.

I firmly believe that we must restore community if we are to survive a very threatening future.  We will have to have the support and comfort provided by other like-minded friends to build our future.  Permaculture has always offered a system of design that was dependent on understanding and cooperation with nature and while supportive of community building between humans it was never a high priority or at least the “how to” element was a little sketchy.

The ethics of permaculture certainly point us to a need for cooperation if we truly “Care for people”, which is the second ethic.  If we truly care for people then we have to care for ourselves and our own growth as caring and loving individuals.  We also have to participate with others in creating a supportive and nurturing environment for this “care” to happen in.

Through my on explorations I have come to the conclusion that we must support our own spiritual growth and understanding in order to truly understand what the permaculture ethics entail.  The permaculture ethics are certainly a very good basis for community formation.  I think that in addition to the three ethics: Care of the Earth, Care of people, and Return all excess yield to care of the  Earth and people, we must add the fourth ethic “Control population and materialism” which was inexplicable dropped from the statement of ethics sometime in the   80’s.

I hope you are able to join us at Lama this June or in Costa Rica in January 2016 at Sat Yoga to experience for yourself what true community looks and feels like.