The idea of living in a communal setting, where all members of that community have likeminded ambitions and orientations, each supporting and inspiring the other, has a romantic notion to it.
For the past couple of years, this idea has begun to really captivate enough daring individuals to actually pursue what otherwise may seem like a utopian naiveté.
Self sustainable, eco friendly, growth orientated communities, have sprung up all over the world, in hotspots such as Costa Rica, Portugal, Bali and even Mexico.
In a time of chaos, such as the limbic state we find ourselves in now, it is not surprising that we have the urge to commune; to stick together and band around shared principles and values. However, there are some key principles and skills that are needed to make this dream a reality.
In order to create a stable and thriving community, between humans from diverse backgrounds, there has to be a unifying language, belief system and a framework within which all members can feel they can be safe, understood and nurtured. And right there may lay one of the biggest challenges in establishing a thriving community.
Right now in the world, humans a scrambling and squabbling to define agreeable frames of reference through which we see the world. The truth is we are not doing a great job of it.
Over the centuries we have created some solid and reliable frames within which we were able to agree about what was true within those frames. For a great insight into this topic I strongly urge you to watch this Rebel Wisdom video, Decoding Culture. The problem we face now is a total disintegration of those reliable frames, let alone getting anywhere near agreed truth.
There are however, some brave attempts going on in our culture, at presenting frameworks that may hold us together long enough to establish some truths. Examples of these frameworks are movements such as the New Age spirituality, QAnon, right wing politics, left wing politics, wokeism, to name but a few of these fragile frames. I am not a proponent of any one in particular and all have their merit as well as their dangerous ideas we must agree on to get rid of, there we see the problem again, how can we agree on which ones are dangerous?
The problem with these different belief structures is the lack of an agreed and stabilised higher purpose, a guiding sense of oneness, or what some call God. We are in the age of information, decentralisation and dynamic leadership. All new and confusing and quite frankly chaotic things are happening in our culture as a species. This truly is the ‘Death Of God’ that Friedrich Nietzsche once warned us of.
Okay, so we are in some seriously muddy waters, things are scary and we don’t know who to trust. The richer appear to be getting richer, the politicians are not far behind and there are so many conspiracies out there you could be forgiven for believing there is some kind of autonomous AI machine designed to pump out new conspiracies on the weekly, and designed by Bill Gates; don’t get me started on the Covid and vaccine disaster.
So what can we do? Well for the past couple of years I have experimented with forming and being part of communities. Not online ones either, real, in the flesh, brick and mortar communities.
Having left the Marines in 2009 after an exhilarating ten year career, I have always been familiar with living in a tight community, governed by a singular purpose, guided by strong, well defined set of values and a sense of safety that comes with being with people who would be willing to die for you.
However, since leaving the Marines, I struggled to find that sense of belonging again. Until recently.
My career outside of the Marines took me to some pretty strange jobs, in some even stranger places. Adventurous for sure, but I was missing that sense of being in a group, a tribe really. We are after all inherently tribal, story telling monkeys.
So fate played its part in 2016, when shortly after separating from the mother of my two sons, I met a young woman who showed me where I may be able to find that sense of community again. Together we had both been on a growth journey of change. Reading similar books thirsty to find and seek what was out there, where we could thrive in and be a part of something wholesome and good.
Books such as The Power Of Myth, The Power Of Now, The Surrender Experiment, and the Gene Keys, all began to paint a picture and give us a clue of something out there that we resonated with and that we wanted more of.
The first opportunity that presented itself to us, was a project in Spain. A dear friend of my partner, had lived there for some years, and had found a repossessed complex of villas. This friend had a grand vision of turning it into a community of likeminded and loving people. For the both of us this seemed perfect.
The truth about this project, I now know, was that it was to be a stepping stone towards understanding what it really takes to form a stable community. After a little over two years, we had to let the project go, as we could not form a strong enough vision that roused enough of the devotion that is needed to create such a community.
The partners that were involved in this project are wonderful human beings, dear friends to this day, but something was missing. We were all collectively lacking a set of skills that would have supported us in the foundational stage and into the full manifested vision.
So my partner and I went back to the drawing board, still thirsty for that community. The next opportunity came to us around 2018, when one of the dear friends involved in the project in Spain, offered us the chance to join a growing tribe of pioneers in Boulder, Colorado, they were called The Light Leadership. But first we had to go to ‘school’ and learn the art of authentic relating and relational dynamics.
Luckily at the time I had invested about two years of deep research and studies into Jungian Psychology. This would turn out to be a key tool in this quest to live in community.
So my partner and I decided to leave the the ‘comfort’ of our jobs and embark on what would become a pretty epic journey. First stop Costa Rica for five weeks.
After 36 hours of travelling across four countries, we arrived at a privately owned villa, somewhere high up on a mountain in Costa Rica. What we were greeted by was nothing short of a dream like vision. Among this villa were around 25 people, scantily clad dancing around a sprawling infinity pool with views down the valley. The music was a low hypnotic rhythmic vibe. It reminded me of a hedonistic Roman villa. The energy was viscerally different to anything I had experienced before in my life.
Altered states of consciousness, deep and challenging conversations, intimacy and comfort zone expansions were on the menu in abundance those first couple of days. “Some school!” I thought. Soon a loose sense of organisation began to appear, as we were guided by about eight individuals who clearly had knowledge of what may be planned in the coming weeks.
If there is one word that could be used to describe what I experienced that first day, it would have to be shocked. Shocked into a new state of seeing the world, of how we as humans can interact and a new way of relating at a deep and meaningful level. Women were able to express a full range of emotions from rage to grief, while the group masterfully held the space and navigated complex and nuanced language, emotions and archetypal concepts. My mind was quite overwhelmed but my heart and soul felt nourished and alive!
This firsthand experience of witnessing and participating in a new and interesting way of communicating and communing, would lay the foundations to what I would go on to use in other communities around the world. Including our recent 8 month stint in an 18th century mansion in the British countryside, an unlikely setting for a community to form around, but a beautiful experience of collaboration, entrepreneurial endeavours and healing.
Yet the holy grail of a stable and long term community still alludes me. I have gained many critical skills needed to maintain such a community, but this is not sufficient, I have to be in a community of people that hold the same or more of the key skills needed to make this dream work. I also contemplate the macro perspective of wether or not community living is the actual holy grail at all.
As a resilience coach, I often come back to the profound realisation that the constant seeking for external bliss, must first be found internally. Sure being around likeminded humans is a great thing, but the holiest of holy grails is the search for inner peace.
So one of the key skills needed to form a cohesive, stable and functioning community is self-responsibility. We must all come to the table with an agreement that we must be doing the inner work. However that manifests for you, which ever philosophy or school you use. So long as we can all agree that we all must take responsibility for our shadow, core wound and how we show up in the world, then we can advance onto the next key skill of human connection.
Human connection as another core skill, will facilitate a successful collaboration. How well can you interact with the other person? Can you refrain from making assumptions, not take expressions personally, be mindful and impeccable with your word? Can you own your emotional triggers? Can you hold space for someone as they navigate owning theirs? More importantly can you stay in the fire of your emotional triggers and not bounce out, as so many do?
After this I would have to say that the next vital skill is Emotional Intelligence. An often misunderstood concept. And one that must be preceded by Emotional Literacy. We must first grasp the ABC of emotions. Describing how they feel, what language to use to communicate them to others, how to feel the emotion all the way down to its conclusion, without collapsing into victimhood, martyrdom or blame. What does shame feel like? How does it spread and contaminate your thoughts? How do we navigate jealousy, rage or the pervasive one, FEAR? All this is the art and science of Emotional Intelligence. The good news is it can be learnt, the ‘bad’ news, it takes hard work and devotion.
Which leads me onto the next key ingredient in a successful and stable community, devotion. Like in the Marines, we were taught to be devoted to the man next to us. This in turn creates a chain, which in turn creates a chainmail as the units interlink with this concept. A community needs an agreed upon devotion that makes all the effort and commitment worth it. Otherwise there will not be coherence, the glue that is needed to hold it all together.
I think this last key element is what we are lacking on a grand scale in the world today. We cannot begin to agree upon what it is that we are devoted too; Is it money? Saving the planet? Leaving the planet? Finding God again?
As I sit in my own home, alone except for my loving partner and our dog, I wonder where the next adventure is coming from and I can’t help but think that it is already underway. Every hero’s journey has a descent into chaos, the dark abyss of the unknown. And as the systems around us disintegrate and are replaced faster than we can all agree on which ones to keep, I find comfort and peace knowing that there is one place where I can go to find stability, and that is my very own community that I call me.
Adam Gornall is a Resilience Coach and Therapist. He is devoted to helping others find their own stability, purpose and vision for the future, alone or in community.
Go to www.adamgornall.com to find out how you can work with him and start your own hero’s journey to resilience.