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Creating Connection In Conscious Community: Healing Our Cultural Disconnect

By Lisa Reagan

The seasonal transition month of September 2012 found me and Pathways traveling from the Art of Community conference in the pine forests of Charlottesville, Virginia, to its sister conference among the redwoods in Occidental, California. My bi-coastal research on creating community was rewarded with insights from pioneers and veterans of the intentional living, ecovillage and cohousing community movements, and the discovery of an ingenious, newly developed tool/toy for quickly connecting in groups that I am happy to share with you here. But first, why do we intentionally create conscious living communities, whether through Pathways Connect Gathering Groups or more permanent ecovillages? For Pathways Connect, our purpose as Cultural Creatives is to actively participate in the Global Wellness Shift by establishing safe and welcoming circles where we can be our authentic selves and bring our deepest parenting concerns. By acknowledging one another in these intimate settings, we also counter the scientifically acknowledged social phenomenon of feeling/being invisible in a dominant culture that does not reflect back to us our holistic values.

To say that the importance of gathering and supporting one another as Cultural Creatives may be the key to tipping human civilization towards sustainability may sound too fantastic to be true, but according to some of the best scientists and thinkers of our time, it might just be that simple. As Paul Ray, Ph.D., shared with me in an interview this year, “It is the necessary mission of Cultural Creatives to bring forth their practical wisdom into the failing mainstream and unsustainable industrial worldview.” Ray is the co-author of Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World.

Ervin Laszlo, Ph.D., agrees. “The evolution of the values and the ethics of people in all walks of life and parts of the world is the best and most reliable avenue toward the creation of a more peaceful and sustainable world. This evolution is occurring already, but it is not widely recognized,” writes Laszlo in his book, Quantum Shift in the Global Brain: How the New Scientific Reality Can Change Us and Our World. Laszlo is the recipient of the Peace Prize of Japan, the Goi Award (Tokyo, 2002), the International Mandir of Peace Prize (Assisi, 2005), and has been nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize (in 2004 and 2005).

In an endorsement of Pathways’ nonprofit vision this fall, Laszlo wrote, “Wellness is the key to a peaceful and sustainable world. And wellness on the level of the family is the way to achieve it. Pathways to Family Wellness and Pathways Connect are precious guides for achieving this paramount objective.”

In addition to making visible the practical wisdom of our holistic values in an unsustainable culture, when we gather with the purpose of forming a conscious living community, we are also redressing the historically recent trend of believing and then living as if we are disconnected from one another and the Earth. “We humans evolved in small hunter-gatherer bands,” writes Richard Heinberg in his foreword to Diane Leafe Christian’s Finding Community. “Thus roughly 99 percent of our history as a species has been spent in groups of 15 to 50 individuals where each knew all the others, and where resources were shared in a ‘gift economy.’ Even in recent centuries, the vast majority of people lived in villages or small towns. Little in our evolutionary past has prepared us for anonymous life in mass urban centres, suburbs and exurbs.”

While we were not biologically or spiritually designed to live in a disconnected world, little prepares us now for the task of creating sustainable models for living, whether the issue is healthcare, attachment parenting, compulsory education models, or sustainable food systems. Consciously creating connection, building a support system and sharing our lives with like-minded souls is the thread that runs through all forms of intentional communities, whether group members are meeting once a week around the common purpose of family wellness or daily around a communal kitchen.

It is interesting to consider that, while people have lived simply in communities close to nature for millennia, this historical fact and re-emerging model of sustainable living is considered fringe by defenders of the industrial, urbanized mainstream. Andrew Jacobs of The New York Times has written that, contrary to popular misconceptions, “most communes of the ’90s are not free-love refuges for flower children, but well-ordered, financially solvent cooperatives where pragmatics, not psychedelics, rule the day.” This was my observation at the Art of Communities conferences as well.

While a few intentional communities survived their birth as communes in the 1960s, like Ina May and Stephen Gaskin’s community known as The Farm in Summerville, Tennessee, the exact number of intentional communities in North America is guessed to be around 12,000. Whatever their true numbers, the growing popularity of intentional living communities is evident by the long wait list of the 45-year-old Twin Oaks community, the hosts of the Art of Community conference in Virginia.

Intentional communities, ecovillages and cohousing movements are inspired avenues for Cultural Creatives to experimentally work toward living sustainably and in like-minded community. Because all of these movements are responses to a growing need for sustainability and connection in an unsustainable and disconnected world, all of them explore why community building is so difficult in our culture, and have developed insights and tested tools for making the process easier.

While most of us will not be moving in together or building a yurt village, thousands of families are actively seeking like-minded souls to share the joy of our brief time as parents together through Pathways Connect Gathering Groups. As Ina May Gaskin wisely quipped to me in our Pathways interview last year, “You are trying to have The Farm without The Farm!” [You can hear the entire 90-minute audio recording on the Pathways website.]

She’s right. We are seeking the treasures of genuine connection and community of The Farm, and other intentional communities, in our Pathways Connect Gathering Groups. To help us achieve our lofty and necessary goals, what if a large collaborative group of experts on creating community took a few years to amass their wisdom and then shared all they knew in an easily accessible, open-source tool like a deck of cards or a mobile app? What if you could download these cards and have guidelines for games and activities with them online? For free?

When I saw Group Works’ beautifully illustrated and boxed set of large cards at the Art of Community conference in Occidental, California, I knew instantly this was the reason I’d hazarded winding mountain roads and crossed a narrow salmon creek bridge. While Occidental is renowned for its high concentration of visionaries and famous artists, and was the hub of community-centered social movements in the late 1960s and early ’70s, I hadn’t expected to find such a potent and brilliant tool so easily!

Published in 2011, the Group Works cards were created by more than 50 volunteers from diverse organizational backgrounds who collaborated over three years to express the core wisdom at the heart of successful group sessions. The cards are accompanied by a five-panel explanatory legend card and a booklet describing the deck’s purpose, its story, and ideas for suggested activities and practical ways to use the cards as individual facilitators or in a group setting.