Category: collaboration

(originally written April 2015, but got stuck in Drafts because I never “finished” it…)

My springtime inspiration is to stop being nice.  STOP BEING NICE!  And, very much like that epic reality show from my teen years, to START BEING REAL.

The other, non-trademarked words I’ve used for this is to speak my truth with love.  It’s different than being nice.  It involves being honest, being open to hearing the other side, and being open to people not liking me or what I think/feel.


I have a gripping fear of conflict.  And this new intention pushes me right up against it.  I’ve worked very diligently in these 35 years to construct a personality and a life that no one could fight with.  I’m quick to say “I’m sorry”.  If I can’t say anything nice, I don’t say anything at all.  I hate conflict.

So with my new intention to stop being nice and start speaking my truth, I’m getting in more conflict — mostly at home.  Conflict still sucks, but I’m sticking with it, trying not to shut down, and to grab on to any opportunity to say what’s true for me without being a bitch.  It’s a challenge… How do I be angry and loving at the same time?  How do I be fearful and loving at the same time?

Sitting with these questions this morning, here’s what I came to:

My aversion to conflict is rooted in the experience of disconnectedness with another person.  Yet the reality is that we’re always connected.  We just are — it’s the nature of existence.  By “connected”, I mean “made of the same substance, with no distinction between where I stop and where you begin”.  For anyone who hasn’t had that epiphany yet (or read Ken Wilber), this might be a wild leap that makes the rest of this post meaningless to you.  But for me, this understanding is a building block of my understanding of my experience on this planet.  If we are all inherently connected, any experience of conflict is an illusion, a misunderstanding.

And so, if the experience of conflict doesn’t actually mean the actualization of that dreadful fear of disconnection, I don’t have to run from it and hide.  I can stay in that cloudy vague land where things don’t make sense, and trust that we’ll find our way out somehow.  The only flashlight I have is my self-understanding, my experience.  And what I can understand of the other person.  With that in mind, we can explore.  We can keep going until we find solid footing, something that makes sense.  We can be curious, and real, and loving… all at the same time.


One of the benefits of working at a church is having open access to sacred space.  We have a meditation room here that’s open 24 hours a day, and it rarely gets used.  I’ve made it my routine to start my day here, to walk into this beautiful, open room with large windows on two walls, and have some time to myself before I start work.

I only started doing this when I began attending seminary, and a daily spiritual practice was a commitment we made, part of our “homework”.  It took me weeks of setting the alarm for 5:30am, and then pressing snooze until 7, to realize that getting up in the morning before everyone else wasn’t going to work for me.  I finally decided that I could take half an hour after dropping off my daughter at school, before stepping into my office in the morning.  Sometimes I meditate, sometimes do yoga, dancing, or writing, or some combination of those.  I almost always begin or end with pulling a card.  This practice feeds me in amazing ways, helping me start my day with focus, intention, and a reminder of the real work I’m here to do.

Yesterday, I knew I had a meeting in the afternoon that would be emotionally tricky.  A co-worker wanted to take over an exciting project we had developed together, and we had already had one very intense and emotional conversation about it.  I hadn’t been thinking about the meeting much throughout my morning in the meditation room, until I sat down to pull a card.  “What do I want insight on today?” is a question I often ask myself when I get out the cards, and the answer came up in me clear and strong, remembering the meeting.  I took a deep breath and shuffled the cards gently, looking for the one that would jump out.  After a few patient minutes of sifting the cards, two poked up like they were raising their hands to be called on in class.  I pulled them out, set the other cards aside, and looked at the images.

I had the 9 of Wands and the Queen of Pentacles.  The 9 of Wands indicates defensiveness, having one’s finger on the trigger and ready to fight, to stubbornly protect what one has.  The Queen of Pentacles relaxes peacefully on her garden throne, generously sharing her abundance because she knows the secrets of a deeper source.  Because of her knowledge of the “magic” of the natural world, she is confident in her ability to get what she needs, and what she wants.

Image                                  Image

I saw these cards as representing 2 of my options for the meeting.  The last time we met about the project, I had quickly gotten defensive and fearful of loosing a project that was important to me.  I clenched my fist around it and got angry.  In the following weeks, I worked through my experience and untangled my thoughts and emotions, and came to some clarity about what I wanted.  I found the pathways out of my defensiveness (again and again).

The cards reminded me of the choice I would get to make that afternoon, and in that moment in the meditation room, I chose.  I turned over the 9 of Wands and focused my attention on the Queen of Pentacles.  I breathed in, and let myself feel her energy spread throughout my body.  I let myself become her, knowing that the Tarot represents archetypes that we all carry within us all the time.  It wasn’t anything the card itself imparted into me, just a reminder that I could let that aspect come forward and take prominence.

I kept the card propped up at my desk all day.  I held the image in my mind as I walked down the hallway for the meeting.  During the meeting when I noticed myself getting defensive, the image of the 9 of Wands flashed in my mind, and I mentally turned the card over and brought up the image of the Queen of Pentacles.  As I spoke, I held her image lightly in my mind, reminding me (again and again) of the power of self-trust and generosity that come from confidence in the deepest source.

I listened with compassion, and I spoke with intention.  We explored options together, and agreed to move forward by trying something new.  This is the work of collaboration, of creative problem solving,  and it takes effort, strength, and trust.  It’s not easy.  The tarot was my tool yesterday, helping me move more into being who I want to be — who I know I can be, when I don’t get tangled up in fear and ego.  The evocative images help us connect with potent archetypes of human possibility, and remind us of the larger journey we’re on.

Read more on my work with tarot here.

Inaugurate Yourself

We’ve had a student group from Berea College here for the past 2 days.  It’s a group of 19 students and 2 professors, from a class focused on studying intentional communities.   The students have been helping out with some work — onion peeling, cow herding, dinner cooking, calf feeding — and hanging out around the community and getting a sense of how we live here.  Some of them seem really interested, others seem too “cool” to enjoy it.  For the most part, it’s fun having them here.  I love sharing this way of living with people, watching them open to new ways of doing things (like not flushing toilets after every pee — or peeing outside, for goodness sake!).  On their first night here, I sat with them and talked about my journey to this place, sharing with them my conviction that collaborative living is possible and vitally necessary, and reminding myself at the same time.

A large group of Oakers are preparing to head up to the inauguration tomorrow.  My personal theme is “inaugurate yourself!”.  I’m going with the intention of celebrating the idea of self-governance and claiming responsibility for creating the reality I want, instead of complaining that other people (especially those who make up the current American government) aren’t going to do it.  It’s not just George Bush, but the entire system, that’s out of whack.  And so I’m going to the protests to invite people to find a way of living that’s not (as) dependent on the system.  This isn’t recruiting for the commune or anything like that — it’s wanting to inspire folks to consider the possibility of a radically different way of living, whatever that may be.  Off I go, with my dancing clothes on…

Even on January 7, folks are still recovering from the New Year’s Eve party.  The physical recovery was easy enough with the 80 degree (F) weather on New Year’s Day.  People gathered in the courtyard to sit in the grass in shorts and tank tops, drink carrot juice (quite a treat with homegrown organic carrots), and play music and sing and enjoy living on a commune.  Quite the vision of utopian life… whatever hangovers still lingered were melted away by the sunshine and commune love…

The real recovery is of the “I can’t believe that really happened/did that really happen?” variety.  The party was an extraordinary experience, and now people are figuring out how to move on with reality.  Maybe it’s just me… I had an amazing time on New Year’s Eve, and now I’m looking at how to incorporate all that happened then into my daily life now.

The New Year’s party is a time out of time.  It’s culturally developed into a space of unlimited possibility.  Twin Oakers anticipate the experience of wild magic, and create a collective energy that allows anything to happen.  Old relationships are rekindled, emotional wounds are spontaneously healed, and vibrant new connections are formed.  Dance music plays from 8pm until at least 4am, and the dance floor vibrates with raw energy — sometimes packed to capacity, other times vacated for a spectacle of performace by a few wild people.  Musicians filter in and out of the acoustic music room, the ladder to the “cuddle loft” is often occupied, and an upstairs living room hosts the “Temple of Oracles” where folks can go for tarot and rune readings by empaths, healers, and wise ones.

Ex-members come home, some even flying halfway around the world to be here on Dec 31.   Friends and other guests come for the experience too, so the community is full of people we don’t usually get to see.  The days leading up to New Year’s Eve help build the energy, as more people arrive and the excitement amplifies as we welcome more people we love into our home.  A friend and lover of mine came down from Massachusetts, my ex-member partner who lives down the road was here, and Pax —  who has been travelling for the past six months — was home for 4 days before jetting off to Europe again.  All this, in addition to the ex-members and other friends who made it out here for the party.  What a full life!

The party was extraordinary for me for a few key reasons.  I had a reconciliation with someone who I’ve had some friction with for the past year.  He and I had been getting close early on in our friendship, and then we both started to distance ourselves when things got complicated.  He and I ended up on the dance floor together in an intense dance that evolved into quite a fantastic spectacle — we’re both “contact improv” enthusiasts and we ended up doing lots of acrobatics together, rolling around and throwing each other alll over the place.  We ended up in a tangle on the floor and hugged, and he whispered to me “Let’s learn from our past mistakes.”  Then we both jumped up and started dancing, and I smiled and laughed uninhibitedly.   We shared a sweet kiss later on in the evening, and I’m excited about the potential for our deepening connection.  Part of my “party recovery” has been checking in with him about his experience of us that night, and finding out to my delight that he’s also interested in exploring a deeper connection.   I also had lovely moments with other friends — jubilant declarations of appreciation and affection, and intense confessions of respect and admiration.  Seeing these people around the commune in the past few days has been fantastic, reconnecting with that energy of love from the party.

The party was also an experience of much of the inner work I’ve been doing for the past 6 months (uh… 10 years?) coming to fruition.  Something about the extraordinary “carnival” nature of the party (time out of time) helped me allow myself to BE who I’ve been TRYING TO BE.  I got rid of the trying, and just did it.  In the midst of the experience, I took a step back for some brief analysis (so I could have a better understanding of it later, outside of the context of the party).  I realized that I allow myself to be more free when I don’t feel responsible for the experience of other people.  When I trust other people to take care of themselves emotionally, I can act from a more authentic and clearer place.  AND, when i don’t make myself responsible for other people’s experiences, I also don’t make other people responsible for my experience.  If I’m not enjoying myself, it’s completely within my capabilities to change how I’m engaging with a situation — I don’t have to blame anyone for my dissatisfaction; I can simply choose to shift my
participation in whatever it is.

An example of this for me was when I was engaged in a conversation with a woman at the party.  I realized pretty soon into the conversation that I wasn’t very interested in talking with her, and that I actually wanted to be talking with other folks across the room.  I noticed myself trying to make a graceful escape, and getting bitter at her for not taking my subtle hints.  I didn’t like being bitter with her (I actually like her!), so I decided just to be clear.  I smiled, and said “I really want to connect with some people over there — have a great night”.  I hugged her and moved away.  I felt GREAT having communicated what was really true for me instead of trying to negotiate through social conventions.  I don’t want to put my energy into trying to figure out the best way to take care of people.  I just want to say what’s most true for me and go forward from there.

Of course, the broader view is that I DO care about how my actions impact people and I don’t want to ignore my effect on the people around me.  This “New Year’s Revelation” is mostly about moving in a  direction on a spectrum — I’ve been so focused on taking care of other people to the point of not taking care of myself.  I see the freedom in taking responsibility for my experience and giving other people the space to take responsibility for their experiences, and I want to cultivate that more in my life, while still maintaining a deep awareness of what’s happening around me (and within me!).

so that was my New Year’s experience.  We’re all getting back to business here now, as the ex-members head home to their post-commune lives and we get back to figuring out our drastically-reduced finances for 2005.  There’s still a feeling of festiveness in the air as we head into this weekend.   One member, Sean, is having an art opening at a gallery in town and 40 people from the community are going in to support him tonight.  Some folks are making treats, and our own homegrown Klezmer band (the Vulgar Bulgars) are going to play.  I’m warmed so sweetly by the care people here show to fellow communards, especially around individual pursuits like this (though admittedly, this isn’t always the case… just to be honest).  And tomorrow night is the first performance of the play we’ve been rehearsing for two months — The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds.  It’s an intense emotional drama, and I’m excited to share it with the community.  We’ve taken over one of the larger living rooms (the same one used for the New Year’s party, in fact!) and converted it into a theater.  We’ve got stage lights and everything!  For those of you who know the show, I play Tillie.  For those of you who know me, it’s quite a challenging role for this former cheerleader, the character’s personality highlight being restrained exuberance.

well, I hope this post satiates all you hungry readers who I’ve slightly neglected for the past couple months.   Carry on your merry ways, and enjoy yourselves.

Someone asked me recently to share with them how I got to where I am. I just wrote them an email, and I wanted to share it here. Enjoy…

(updates about the holidays here — especially the New Year’s Party — coming soon!)

Asking me how I got to where I am is a great way to get me to talk. My journey is still fascinating to me (especially since I’m still on it!). The root of it was a deep belief that there was more to life than what I was experiencing, and I wanted to seek it. I graduated from college with degrees in Sociology and Religion, and a passion for social justice. I was involved in social activism at different levels, and I got a job doing residents’ advocacy in an economically (and otherwise) oppressed neighborhood in Cincinnati (the city where I grew up). In all that I was doing at that job, I felt like I wasn’t really being effective towards making anything better. I was doing band-aid work, trying to heal the wounds created by an exploitative system, without doing anything to change the system itself.

I had already accepted a job as an actress with a children’s theater company before I took on the residents’ advocacy work. When it was time for me to go into rehearsals for the show, I was ready to leave the first job. I felt totally ineffective and I was ready to be doing something that I was good at! I toured with the theater company for 8 months and loved it. We performed in elementary schools around the country, teaching about science and simple machines, and entertaining them with stories about the Pied Piper. I loved the work I was doing, and yet I still wasn’t feeling satisfied with my life. The actress job was a way of me making my life great and enjoyable in the moment, but I couldn’t see myself living like that for the next 40 years. I was convinced that something more was possible. I wanted to be working towards a deeper, richer way of living AND making it accessible for anyone, long-term. So at the end of the tour I left the company, packed up my apartment, and got in my car. My plan was to travel around the country and find other people who were seeking a different way of living. Before I left, I did some research, looking for apprenticeships and internships and other experiential opportunities I could plug into, and I found the website of the Fellowship for Intentional Communities. I had read about communes when I was in school, and for a while I had gobbled up any book I could find about people’s experiences from communities of the 60s and 70s. I had no idea that any were still around, or that communal living was something that actually worked (I thought they all crashed and burned because of some flaw in human nature). There were hundreds(!) of communes listed on the FIC website, and I started an extensive exploration of communes’ websites. There were lots that were in the early, formative stages, and I wanted to visit a community that had been around for awhile, so I could get a sense of people doing something that actually worked! I found Twin Oaks, which at that time had been around for 35 years (now nearly 38). There was a structured visitor program that I could come to for 3 weeks, and I liked the idea of visiting a community with a group of other people who also had no idea what they were doing (for an anarchist, I really appreciate structure sometimes!).

The rest is history. I visited, loved it, traveled for a little while but felt so clear about wanting to be at Twin Oaks. I’ve been here for two and a half years now, and I’m still learning so much about myself and how I want to engage with the world. I’m realizing how much of what we experience as “reality” is actually human creation — I’ve really been getting into History as a way of understanding the present, specifically how things got to be the way they are; it’s not just fate or “this is the way it’s always been”. So much of the world is the way it is because someone or some group of people made a decision to make it that way, or made a decision that had an unintentional effect of making things happen that way. That awareness empowers me to make choices towards things being different. That’s a big piece of the “anarchist” mindset for me. I’m also learning how to live collaboratively, creating “power with” people rather than “power over” them, and this feels like a key understanding that I want to share with other people in the larger. I travel around the country and share my experience of communal life at conferences and in college classes, and I feel more effective in creating social change than in any of the other work I’ve done in my life. And I’m HAPPY doing it! My life at Twin Oaks is rich and full of delight (and struggle and conflict and friction and confusion, too — that’s all a part of the richness).

in joy,


I recently posted a profile on an online dating service,  I know, I’m not single. But I’m always open to new connections, and the other folks on there are fascinating…. most of them.  Mostly I joined as another way of putting out the idea of communal living, making myself accessible as a resource for more information about life in community.  A whore for the revolution…

Even though I’ve described myself as “not looking for a life partner — I’ve already got a bunch of them!”, I’ve gotten a lot of “smiles” (the website’s way of communicating interest) over the past week.  The people who pay for the service can send real messages that you can respond to even if you haven’t paid (which, being a very poor communard, I haven’t).  Someone wrote to me a few days ago asking about anarchy and life in the community, and this morning I wrote a response, and liked it so much that I wanted to share it here.  Enjoy!

what attracts me to anarchy is the idea of empowerment — mutual empowerment, people supporting each other as individuals and folks making choices intentionally based on their own experience and awareness.  Anarchy, the way I think about it, fosters responsibility.  Our current culture and governmental system fosters complete IRRESPONSIBILITY, because it’s “someone else” making all the decisions.  No one out here in the “real world” has any say, and so we don’t take any responsibility for what the world looks like.  That’s fiction, it’s bullshit, and it’s the mindset perpetuated through the current system of governance in the U.S.  Anarchists are the most organized people at protests because they work together.  Anarchy isn’t against organization, it’s against coersion, manipulation, and dominance.

Life at Twin Oaks… well, it’s not a community of anarchists, that’s for sure!  There are about 100 people there, and everyone has their own thoughts about what it should be and how we should live.  There are enough systems and structures in place that we can disagree about many things and still continue to function.  We’ve been around for 37 years, and that history has given us a helpful foundation to build on.  We’re currently going though economic changes because of loosing a big customer of our hammocks business, so we’re doing a lot of looking at new business possibilities, and also the questions of how we can live with less money (and what the balance is between earning more and spending less).  It’s an exciting time to be in the community for someone who has a lot of options of other things to do with their life(like me), and not so exciting I think for someone who’s sunk their life into the community and would have a hard time leaving if things get too rough (like the people in their 60’s and 70’s who have been there for 20 years).

thanks for your interest — I’m happy to answer any other questions you have.

in joy,

Where to start? It’s been one month, almost exactly, since I’ve really written anything except a brief apology for not writing.

Do my readers deserve an explanation of what i’ve been up to, or should I just dive into the thoughts I want to share tonight? A synopsis of my last month will suffice for now, I suppose. I’ve been travelling, falling in love, sharing the commune with a college friend, pondering on the nature of sanity and otherwise, travelling some more, falling in love some more, negotiating complex relationships, and thinking of the brilliant reflections I wanted to write about the last round of comments about the insular life of the commune.

I’ve noticed a pattern in my blog writing that whenever a great conversation gets going in the comments, I pull back from posting for awhile. I think I get caught up in my “perfectionist” persona, wanting type out a magnificent manifesto in response to the comments, and I don’t want to post anything until I post brilliance. Well, I miss writing this blog, so I’m just going to give it a go and see what comes out.

I struggle fairly constantly with the challenge that Patch was addressing in co’s comments. I came to the commune driven by a passion for emotional, social, and spiritual health — not just for myself, but for the world. I had worked in Cincinnati and DC doing “in the system” political change work, and I felt like I was beating my head against a brick wall. I felt like the work I did was band-aid work, while the knife continued to slash and create more wounds in need of more band-aids. I wanted to be doing “knife stopping” work, creating a different social and economic structure not rooted in oppression and exploitation. (When I mentioned this metaphor to a friend, he replied that a more apt visual is pulling drowning babies from a river vs. stopping the person who’s throwing them in… grotestque, yes, and perhaps more poignant). Said again by MLK Jr: “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

Choose the metaphor that works for you; it’s important for me to remember that BOTH levels are important. You can’t bleed to death while you’re trying to stop the knife, and those babies need saving once they’re in the river. It’s just not a one-person job. There are many people working in many ways for the overall health of our world.

So then my struggle here is asking myself how my life on the commune is working to create any real change in the world. It’s so easy to get insular and isolated here, focusing on the minor details of bureaucratic process and community budgets and interpersonal conflict. And yet, learning how to negotiate these things repectfully and healthily is important for creating the kind of culture we want to promote! That’s really the piece that I focus on — making the idea of a healthy culture accessible to people. The concept of CHOICE about what one’s life looks like, of ACTIVE CREATION OF CULTURE, of INTENTIONAL INTERACTIONS with people that involve deep communication. Any person can choose to live with other people in healthier, more sustainable ways, but only if they know that they have that choice. Mainstream culture promotes an ideal that seems stagnant and passive, “this is the way things are”, “this is what success is”, and “this is how normal people interact with each other”. I see my participation in the larger world as offering the idea that something different is possible, and my life on the commune is directed towards creating and living that possibility — one manifestation of it, at least. I don’t purport that we’ve got it all figured out. We’re living in search of something different than the obviously unhealthy and exploitative dominant culture.

So how effective am I? How effective are we as a community? I don’t know. We haven’t gotten any new members from the talks I’ve done in universities, and I’m okay with that. That’s really not the point. The seeds we plant have a long incubation period, and we don’t really know what the actual plants will look like. This is all an experiment based on a deep conviction that something different is possible, and absolutely necessary.

I struggle with not having tangible effects of my activism. No legislation gets passed, no sick folks get well, and no candidates get elected. I often ask myself “what am I really DOING here? Should I be working to develop affordable housing in Cincinnati?”. And then I go out into the city, and I remember the path I’m on to “restructure the edifice” that produces the need for “affordable housing.”

And, not everyone here is committed to the same ideals as I am. There are lots of folks here who are quite happy with their lives on the commune and wish that all the visitors and tourists would just go away and leave us alone. And they wish that I (and other people who do work like I do) would redirect our energy and labor to the garden and the tofu hut. Sometimes I ask myself if I’m supporting the community enough, if I should spend less time doing outreach and more time making tofu.

This is enough for now. It is a fairly constant question to myself, how/if I’m really affecting any real change. Thanks to Patch, Chris, Free, Pax, and everyone else who commented for fueling the exploration. More comments welcome (if you’re all still around after my prolonged absence!).

love, tickledspirit

ps — you’re all invited to come out and visit, just to see what we’re doing here. Check out our website for information about our Saturday Tours and our 3 Week Visitor Program.