The first steps before a great choice: dream and decide to follow a dream, collect information, read, study, plan. Listening to one’s desires as much as facing one’s fears and then deciding to make the change towards a different lifestyle, not yet experienced. Take action! Because the only way to understand if a dream can become reality is to live it!
With the kind translation by Mark Bruno
I remember well the moment when I thought about the word “village” for the first time. I was holding a baby in my arms, looking out the window at the garden that I had been taking care of full of weeds, the already-ripe fruit fallen on the ground. I was wondering when I could have come back to work the land with my hands…but when do the colic attacks of a newborn end? When will she sleep through the night? When will she let me eat something else than olives?
It would have been nice to have a home full of people, sleeping, eating, talking, and seeing the garden come back to production.
It takes a whole village to raise a child
“It takes a whole village to raise a child”. This is a famous quote by Sobonfu Somé from The Gift of Happiness, a woman from the Dagaaba (or Dagara) people of Burkina Faso.
With my great surprise (and joy!) I found this quote, that is also a widespread African poverb, in Eurotopia. https://eurotopia.directory/
At the time, almost seven years ago, I didn’t yet know of this famous directory that was born in the German community Sieben Linden. It talks about intentional communities and ecovillages. I didn’t even know the word “ecovillage”. I bumped into it by chance in a bookstore. No, not by chance, actually: Sobonfu’s quote continued to spin around in my head and had influenced my attention.
The book I found then had just been edited by Terre di Mezzo. It was written by Francesca Guidotti and listed different cohousing and ecovillage projects, which take part in RIVE (the Italian Ecovillage Network) and GEN.
A new of model of life?
Page after page, a new world was opening up to me. More authentic? Acheivable? I was discovering a huge attraction towards an…ideal!! Yeah! How many people would have felt my same emotions (pure exaltation!) in discovering the existence of places oriented towards ecological and relational sustainability?!
But what does intentional communities mean, how can we live together, without necessarily being related?
Step One: seeking information!
Today these questions make me smile. Maybe it’s only in the past couple of generations that people have had to grapple with these things. Not long ago, for many people they weren’t even questions to pose; they were simply lived in the experience of daily life.
But people born in “captivity” (in the city) like me, have to begin from ABC.
I needed a practical handbook. Which one to choose? Where to begin?
So here I am in the library, looking for answers.
The first books that opened up my journey toward the wide world of intentional communities were Comuni, comunità, ecovillaggi (“Communes, Communities, Ecovillages”) by Manuel Olivares. Olivares gives a panoramic view of the history of communities: from Magna Grecia to today’s ecovillages, surveying religious communities fleeing persecution in Europe to find stability in the New World, Israeli Kibutzim, and the communes of the 1960s (just to name a few!).
I also found Rob Hobkins‘s The Transition Companion: Making Your Community More Resilient in Uncertain Times clear, practical, and to-the-point. It centers on the potential scarsity of the energetic resources on which we base our mondern global economy and on the need to transition toward an economy that lets us drastically reduce this dependency.
Then I bumped into Diana Leafe Christian’s Creating a Life Together: Practical Tools to Grow Ecovillages and Intetional Communities.
Just leafing through the table of contents I felt a sense of alarm.
The word conflict appeared more than once, in fact many times. More and more uncomfortable, I began to turn the pages, “Ok, let’s see how this goes.” Without getting very far (not even past the introduction), I found this heading: “The Successful Ten Percent“.
She made it clear: only one group out of ten, out of all who invest the energy, time, feelings, money, and dreams, turning their lives upside down, manages to do it.
Step Two: Awareness of the 90%
Did I really want to know what happens to the other 90%? Yes, I did. And so I read on.
In that 90% there are stories of those who, after talking much about their dreams, did not find a way to bring them to reality and the group disbanded, like leaves scattered by the wind.
And then there are those who manage to overcome a obstacle course with courage and determination, only to find an uncontrollable variable that made everything go up in smoke.
It begins with small cracks in grandiose plans that require both broad vision and attention to detail. Then the structures begin to crumble and the energy to rebuild yet again dries up.
Fears, disappointments, bitterness, new wounds.
People who lost friendships, companions, financial security.
Did I really want to go through this experience? No! I closed the book.
But did I want to rule it out? No.
And so? What now?
Step Three: Field Research
I began to study, transforming my existential questions into anthropological ones. I studied, from the everyday practical experience of a 30-year old community (Torri!) to the academic language of field research (maybe less than I should have!) for my thesis. My tutor kept pushing me to clarify: what do I want to understand?
I was trying to define the discontents of postmodern society, from which spring the impulse toward community. Then again, isn’t this “desire for community” (Bauman!!) also at times the desire to escape from a reality that we don’t know how to face? And how grounded in reality is this marvelous community to which we aspire, rather than being an idealized form of our desire to avoid confronting our loneliness, difficulties, and wounds?
How much of what we seek in community is really a refuge and how much do we put ourselves on the line to give space to everyone’s needs? What does sustainability mean in an everyday context, among the real possibilties of a specific territory?
Is it possible to find a harmony between the tensions of the group without losing faith in one’s self and each other?
What does it mean to re-inhabit a place, to live in a completely new reality, to come to learn a new territory, its history, its people, its land, learn to work the land without ever having done it before? And do it all in different languages and with different interpretations of the same reality?
Alright. I’ll stop myself! (But to tell the truth, there was even more!!)
One thing that I had understood just from books: everything that has to do with that being called human is complex. Very, very complex. And so, if it’s able to pull something off…it’s a miracle! A “miracle” of humanity.
Is it worth it?
I was still left with a question: is it worth it? No book can give us the answer, only the life experience of each person.
Could I stop there having discovered Torri Superiore? Difficult.
Going on with life, family, and work, ignoring all of the other questions that filled my mind and heart? Difficult.
It was a matter of choice. A choice of seizing the opportunity, especially when it opens up before you with a good dose of luck (or destiny?). With its difficulties and possibilities.
And no matter how much we ponder, plan, calculate, and project ourselves into the future, trying to avoid every possible bad outcome, the choice requires a change, a leap into the unkown, a loss of certainty, of the excuse of books. A transformation.
At times, transformation asks of us explanations that are impossible to give, because not everything is explainable. “The essential is invisible to the eyes,” said the Little Prince. And even he had cried and made others cry.
But change is following a dream, as has always happened in history, in big ways and small.
It is taking risks, without yet knowing the outcome.
It’s an act of trust and wonder as we discover ourselves and the other.
It is…yes, more of less what Klaus Meine says in The Wind of Change.