Category: intimacy


(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.

Ugh.

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.

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Monkey Mind on the Ego Vine

Image

Fighting with my husband last night, I noticed the moment when I thought “I don’t want to be fighting like this”.  And then, rather than pursuing self-righteous resentment towards him for the fact that we were fighting, instead I let go into a deep knowing that I could stop the fight.  How?  What words did I need to say?  I didn’t know.  I sat with that thought for a little while, alone and naked in the dark living room after having stormed out of our bedroom screaming “You’re delusional!”.  I sat in the purgatory of releasing my claim on rightness, without knowing how to move forward.

That limbo of the unknown was uncomfortable, but not scary, like it used to be.  I’d been there enough times before that I had faith that we’d get through it, that a way would open and we’d get to the other side on a different path than one of us winning and the other losing.  That faith is different than “knowing”.  I still couldn’t see the answer, the right thing to do or say that would clearly solve the problem.  But I felt a release from the fear that we wouldn’t solve it, or that we’d only solve it if I gave up and gave in.  And with that release from fear, I felt peaceful, and strong, and capable of moving forward.

I got up and walked back to our dark bedroom, and climbed in under the covers next to him.  I didn’t have a plan for what to say, and I wasn’t worried about that.  I put my head on his shoulder and my hand on his chest, and we lay there silently.   In the dark, in the silence, in the beingness of just being together, an understanding rose up in me of what I hadn’t seen before of what was true for him in all of this, what my ego defensiveness and need to be right had blocked me from seeing.

I opened my mouth and spoke before the thought was even fully formed, letting it unfold from my heart instead of my from my mind.  He responded gently, and we started saying what we had been trying to say all along that had gotten lost in the act of fighting.  We worked through it easily and compassionately, and went to sleep in the bliss of love.

We’re 9 years in to our relationship.  We’ve been working this out a long time.  And we still go to that place of complete separation and ultimate frustration and not knowing how to move forward.  I still scream and run out of the bedroom.  The magic, though, is that we know there’s a net to catch us if we let go of that ego vine we’ve been swinging on like screaming monkeys.  Instead of ME ME ME ME I’M RIGHT YOU’RE WRONG, we drop into noticing each other and ourselves on equal footing, as part of a complicated and connected web of experience.  We let go of that vine, and realize we’re supported by an unseen power.  We’re Indiana Jones on the invisible bridge.

invisible bridge

Our egos keep us separate, when what we really want is to be connected, but we hold on because we think they keep us safe, powerful, and strong.  I’m learning that faith is letting go of the ego without fear of loosing the fight.  Faith is knowing that I win when we win together, when we enter into the experience of love that we can only access when we let go of our individual power, and surrender to the power of (insert your word for the connectedness of all things here).

Partner Dance

After a conversation with new friends last night, I woke up with a revelation about the evolution of my relationship with my husband — I had been trying to describe the tricky balance we’re walking of each being on our own paths, and sharing our lives at the same time.   When I woke up next to him this morning and I wanted to roll over to be more comfortable, I realized the core of it.  In the past, when I wanted something and he was “in the way” (if I felt resistance from him, or he didn’t want the same thing), I’d give it up.

I quickly built up resentment and blamed him for my life not being what I wanted it to be.  I felt powerless and depressed, believing I had gotten stuck in a life that wouldn’t ever be what I wanted it to be.  At some point two summers ago, I reached a breaking point.  I knew I needed a life that worked for me, and if Free was in my way, I would have to push past him.  I traveled for a month with our 2 yr old daughter, to the Rainbow Gathering in PA, to a week-long personal/cultural transformation workshop, to my mom’s wedding in OH.  Somewhere along that journey, I remembered that I’m the one that creates my life.  In some story about what it meant to be married, I had imagined that we were going to be creating our life together, and had let go of my own sense of agency (there’s vocab from my sociology background… “agency” is one’s ability to act autonomously and make independent choices).  On that mother/daughter month out in the world, I rediscovered my independent spirit, and a confidence and strength that helped me remember myself.

Putting this into practice over the last year and a half has been easier than I thought it would be.  Free *wants* me to be happy and thriving (surprise!?).  And, believe it or not, we get along so much better when I’m not blaming him for the ways my life isn’t what I want it to be. When I have an inspiration, I don’t let myself drop it if he’s “in the way”.  I ask him to move, or find a way to go around.  It’s a partner dance, and he’s not leading.  I dance my dance, he dances his, and because we want to, we dance together.

So this morning in bed, I asked him to scootch so I could roll over.  He sleepily did, and we snuggled in to go back to sleep.

I’m pretty excited to be stepping back into blogging.  Integrating the old “Over the Edge” commune blog into “Passion and Patience” is fulfilling work… turning my seemingly-fragmented life into a cohesive body of work.  Tonight I’ve been re-reading posts from the last several years  — seeing what feelings, intentions, and pursuits have persisted or changed, especially since leaving the commune in January 2006… almost exactly 6 years ago!  In honor of that anniversary, I’m re-posting part of my entry from January 23, 2006, just a few days after I left:

journey of colorI’ve left Twin Oaks. In most moments, it doesn’t feel particularly extraordinary. I’m here at my partner Free’s house, hanging out with him and his kids. This is familiar to me; this has been a part of my life for nearly a year… this house, these people. I’ve been slowly integrating myself into this place (and this place into myself), and it doesn’t feel significantly different to be here without Twin Oaks to return “home” to… yet.

Right now, from the comfort of a house where I feel supported and loved, on a cozy Monday morning of tea and NPR, it’s hard to dive into the grief and fear of two days ago. Where to start? I spent my last day at Twin Oaks in a strange limbo. I had high expectations… I wanted intensity and meaningfulness, symbolic releases and powerful goodbyes. Instead, the whole day was fairly mellow. I had a morning date with Hawina, who has been a giant force in my life since early in my membership. She’s Paxus’ life partner and co-parent, and throughout my time at Twin Oaks we had several intense rounds of polyamory-induced emotional and logistical processing. We started to develop our own independent relationship through working together on the Mental Health Team over the last year, and our friendship now is deeper than I would have expected, given our history.

We chatted for awhile, then walked around the community and told each other stories of our experiences in different places. We ended up at the dining hall, and went inside for lunch. I got a plate of food and sat down with a group of friends in a small lounge area. Taking in the scene around me, friends laughing and entertaining the new baby, I felt an immediate emptiness, noting the joy and comfort and deep friendship I would be leaving in just a few hours. A friend across the room made eye contact with me, and the tears that had been building in my eyes suddenly released down my cheeks. She came over and wrapped her arms around me while I sobbed. I don’t mind crying in public; in fact, I like it. I want it to be natural to see people expressing sadness. I want to embrace sadness as an acceptable emotion, and so when I’m sad I don’t go hide out somewhere to cry unseen.

Other friends came over and sat with me, holding me and stroking my head. I calmed down and talked about how weird it felt to be there with them, and be on completely different trajectories. They were engaged in the continuing functioning of the community — I wasn’t. I was engaged in extracting myself from the fabric of their lives, while their lives continued on.

After lunch I spent a few hours getting ready for my goodbye party with another woman, Alexis, who was also leaving in a few days. We decided to have party together, sharing the experience of letting go and moving on. We decorated a large living room with all of our clothes and other items we were getting rid of, for other people to take. We hung clotheslines around the room to display our clothing, and laid out candles, earrings, condoms, and posters for our friends to choose from.

Once the room was ready for the evening’s festivities, I left to say my final goodbyes to the community. I walked around with my journal and took a few moments in different places around the commune to write memories and reflections on my experiences in those places. I wrote in the dining hall about rehearsals for musicals, meals with friends, wild dance parties, and hackey sack circles outside on sunny days. In the dairy barn, I wrote about the smell of the cows, the playfulness of the calves, the intuitive skill of herding, and the silence of solitary winter mornings. In a high field near the graveyard, I remembered moments of retreat and reflection, rituals for full moons and other pagan holidays, and running in the rain for sanctuary when my grandmother died.

In that same pasture, I engaged myself in a ritual of release. I had brought a piece of wood that I found in Maine before I moved to Twin Oaks, a bouquet of lavender from the herb garden that had been hanging in my room, and a rock I had found during a full moon mediation in that very field. I released the wood and set it softly on the earth, symbolizing that which I brought to Twin Oaks with me, and was leaving there: hesitance, passivity, deference to authority, fear of being wrong, naive independence. I then scattered the lavender beside it, symbolic of that which I acquired and experienced at Twin Oaks, and was also leaving behind: the cows, the land, daily responsibility to community members, full benefit of the collective resources of the community, safety, sanctuary. Finally, I held the rock against my chest, envisioning the confident, powerful, compassionate Self that I’ve found at Twin Oaks. Awareness and empathy, clear and honest communication, an active sense of responsibility… I want to carry this persona with me as I move on, and so I brought the rock, infused with that vision, with me. I looked at the wood and lavender on the ground, and felt the weight of the rock in my hand, and I realized that I didn’t have anything to symbolize that which I brought with me and am also carrying on with me. I looked through my bag and couldn’t find anything that fit the description, so I used my body, my eyes and lungs and nose and skin and heart. I thanked my body for carrying me to Twin Oaks, and thanked it for staying healthy enough to carry me away.

I came down from the pasture, and had enough time before dinner to hang out a bit with Paxus. It felt important to spend some time together on my last day, rooting ourselves in our continuing connection despite our many changes. We will certainly have a different relationship now that I’ve left Twin Oaks; what it looks like is up to us.

After dinner, I headed down to the courtyard to finish preparations for the party. Alexis and I had decided to have a “feed your friends” party, where no one fed themselves from their own hands. Instead, we had finger food (pineapple, grapes, chocolate, popcorn, and cake) that people could feed to each other. Once it got rolling, people walked around with platefulls of food and offered to feed each person they interacted with (I did it a lot, and loved it!). The whole party was great — folks grabbed the clothes we had on display and wore them as party outfits. We had a coffeehouse where people performed (juggling, singing, and spoken word tributes to Alexis and me), and we all danced until late in the evening. I returned to my room around 1am to finish packing. I went to sleep at 4:45 and woke up again at 6:15 to get ready to leave with the 8am trip into town.

I spent my last hour and a half at Twin Oaks running around doing final details, cleaning out my message slot, returning things I’d borrowed, and emptying my trashcan. I found Paxus one last time for our final goodbye, and then picked up my bags to load into the minivan. A friend had posted a note on the office door for me, saying simply “You will be missed” in big bold letters. I took it down as my tears started, and held it in my hand as I climbed into the van with the other folks going into town that day. We drove around to the dairy barn to pick up the milk that was to be delivered to cowshare customers (though raw, unpasturized milk can’t be sold, people can buy a share in a specific cow and receive milk from the cow that they partly own). On top of that day’s milk was another note for me, from a friend who was that morning’s milker and knew I was going in with the town trip.

Her note kept my tears flowing as we drove away from Twin Oaks, my home of three and a half years. Folks in the van asked me about my plans, and assured me that I could always come back if I wanted to. The driver offered jokingly to turn around. I cried, and felt comfortable with my tears. I chatted with a friend who I hadn’t spent much time with lately, a man named Thomas who joined the community just before I did.

The 45 minute drive passed quickly. We dropped one woman off at an early dentist appointment, and then everyone else unloaded at the downtown library. Before we headed off in our own directions, Thomas hugged me tightly and offered to help me carry my bags into the library. “No thanks,” I said. “I want to know I can do it all by myself.” It wasn’t a feminist political statement — more, it was a symbolic act of independence and my capacity to take care of myself.

As I write it now, I realize that’s only part of it. The truth is, we are all interdependent, whether we recognize it or not. The very nature of life on Earth is interdependence. Living in community just makes it more tangible. I don’t want to forget that truth simply because it’s more obscured in the mainstream culture. And yet, it felt important to me to feel my independence as I walked away from the van and my life at Twin Oaks.

Friday was hard for me, more than I expected. Sitting in the library, I felt aimless, no roots, no direction, just floating in limbo. I spent the day in deep grief and sadness about leaving my home and my friends of over 3 years, wondering what I’m heading towards and being fearful about not knowing. I cried with Free and he held me. I blamed him for picking me up late at the library and dragging me around town to run errands, and he held me. I cried and talked about my fears and he just gave me the space to be scared, giving me his love and reminding me about hope and faith.

Then on Saturday, I borrowed the car and ran some errands around town. I started a bank account. I stopped by the library to check my email. I sang in the car about how the earth is my home. I’m not rootless, I’m rooted in the earth and the global community.

As I walked down the street towards the library, this time unencumbered with bags, I felt my independence and my interdependence merging. I smiled at people I passed on the street, and they smiled back. This is my mandate for myself on this piece of the journey. Trust myself, and trust other people. Remember my independence, my capacity to create what I want, and my strength, and at the same time remember my connection with others, my responsibility to the people around me, and my commitment to honoring each person for who they are, even when I don’t understand them. We’re all in this together.

radical radical intimacy

Lately I’ve been feeling the itch for inspiration, feeling antsy about getting a project to really throw myself into.  Rora is always here for whatever energy I have to give, of course, but I’m wanting to do something on a larger scale, involving more people.  I might direct a children’s play this winter, or facilitate an Authentic Movement class at the local community center.  My yearnings extend beyond the immediate, though… I want a long term journey to invest my energy in.  I want a mission.

I recently came across this piece I wrote for a Wetpaint wiki site on Radical Intimacy (spawned by the workshops that I’ve facilitated with Pax and Sky)… and I felt inspired:

Radical Intimacy is about more than just creating a healthy and fulfilling relationship between you and me — it’s also about creating a culture that is more conducive for intimacy. In a radically intimate culture, opportunities for intimate connections are widely available and welcomed. One vision: I’m having a hard day, and I’m walking down the street crying openly (which doesn’t make the people around me uncomfortable). I get offers for hugs or time to talk from friends and strangers alike. Whether I accept or decline, I know that the people around me welome my truth, and I feel their compassion reflected in my own compassion towards myself.

Intimacy as activism involves bringing intimacy into the public. “Visibility actions” of crying, loving, and sharing deeply in public spaces can help other people feel comfortable doing the same. We can invite others to participate in public intimacy by making eye contact with strangers. More broadly, intimacy as activism can involve redefining the traditional schedule of work all day, watch TV all night, party with friends on the weekends. Instead, we can create alternative possibilities where we work with our friends, working shorter hours because we need less money because we barter and gift within our network of intimates (and beyond!). We share our experiments, our lessons, and our challenges with others who have similar desires for a more intimate life.

This could be a piece of the mission, but it’s still not the comprehensive vision.  That’s coming — I can taste it, tingling through my body like an approaching orgasm.  Not there yet, still a ways to go… but I know I’ll get there eventually, so I can relax and enjoy the journey.

I gave a lecture about Twin Oaks today in my Sociology of the Family class, and I suggested they check out this blog for more stories about my experience there.  Afterwards, I realized that some of my students might find it weird to be reading such personal information about their TA…

So, this is your warning, SOC 252 students at UVA!  I’ve written about lots of different parts of my life here, and it might just be more than you want to know about me…  Read on at your own risk!

(I left in Jan 06, so most of the Twin Oaks stories are from posts previous to that)

I wrote a post almost a month ago about how things have been going better for me, how I got a massage table for Solstice and how much I enjoyed playing “Santa” on Solstice Eve after the kids had gone to bed.  It was a long, happy, hopeful post… and somehow it didn’t ever make it onto the blog.  I think I hit “preview” and never hit “post”… alas.

So today, we’re back to the doldrums.  I’m stuck deep down in my  muck. I wrote an email to a group of friends this morning, and I figured I’d post it here, too, since I have friends who check here periodically.  I wish I could write a more thoughtful or insightful post after being gone for so long… but this is all I can offer right now:

Hi there, lovelies…
I’m struggling pretty deeply these days, and this morning I had the brilliant idea to (gasp) ask for support.

Here’s my story: I’m in grad school, and at best I mildly enjoy it.  At worst, I’m miserable and see no purpose in my life.  There are many days I want to quit… and I don’t, because a)I’m worried that I’m just looking for immediate gratification and I’m impatient and if I quit now I’ll have wasted this year and if I stick it out for one more year I’ll have my Master’s Degree… and b)I don’t know what else I’d do.  This was my “plan”.  Other things I might want to do feel inaccessible because I’m partnered with an amazing man, and he has 3 kids and is tied to Central Virginia for at least 10 more years (becuase the mothers of his kids live here).

I’m feeling limited and scared and stuck in fear.  I’m not looking for possibilities or asking for what I want and I miss the me that I know who knows how to do that.  I miss myself.  I’m not passionate, and I’m not smiling.  I’m crying a lot, and I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning.

I have lots of self judgement about being such a mess about all this.  There are so many people struggling with so many other things (poverty, cancer, oppression)… I feel petty.  And, it’s what’s true for me right now.  I feel stuck and I feel hopeless about getting unstuck.  I’m scared of being in this stuck place for a long time.

I’m suprised about how difficult it is to ask for support.  All that self-judgement makes me worry about judgement from other people.  I don’t want other people to think I’m petty or weak… and of course, I know that those are stories.  Who cares if other people think I’m petty or weak? And in this dark place, that fear holds so much power.

I also think one of the traps of monogamy for me is getting focused on my one partner for all emotional support.  I’ve been doing that, and it’s stressing both of us and the relationship pretty significantly.  And then I remembered, I have other friends and lovers and people who want to support me!  And this group is full of them!

Asking for what I want:
Please write to me.
Questions help me a lot.  Questions help me acknowledge what’s really true for me.
I also welcome your perspective, reflecting what you see in me and hear from me.

whew.  I feel a raw and vulnerable, and I’m scared to press the “send” button.  I want to present a more powerful and wise self to you all… but I also want to present an authentic self, so this is what you get.

love,
tickledspirit

blog recommendation: a newly-started account of another just-left-the-commune journey. Kassia is a vivacious, passionate, wise fiddler exploring polyamory, travelling, and life after community (and a close friend of mine!) Find her HERE.

I’m having a hard day, acknowledging the ways that my life isn’t what I want it to be right now.  I feel like I’ve lost my passion — at least, I don’t know where it is right now.  My days are lazy compared to my days at Twin Oaks, so much routine, so much unimportant bullshit.  I haven’t created a meaningful life for myself out here.  I guess I should say, I haven’t done it YET.  A lot of what’s hard for me is getting stuck in despair and hopelessness.  My life isn’t what I want it to be and I don’t see the path towards it… (but really, that’s because I don’t have a clear vision of what I want!)

 I visited Twin Oaks this weekend for a birthday party for Jonah, a six year-old who turned 2 just months after I moved to the community.  I’ve watched him learn how to talk, count, and argue, and seen his personality develop through mirroring the many adults close to him.  It felt like home to be at his birthday party.  It was a Harry Potter party (yup, even on the commune, people are obsessed with Hogwarts!), and everyone dressed up as a character from the stories.  Jonah was Harry, and his 3 yr old sister was Hermione (as was my 6 yr old stepson Ruis, Jonah’s best friend).  An older man in the community (Jake, for those who know) was Dumbledore (using a green graduation robe from Commie Clothes, and his own gray beard!).  There was a Prof McGonagall (Madge) and a Prof Snape (Thomas).  A couple who just had a baby last year (Mala and Ezra) were Harry’s dead parents, and Zadek (their son) was baby Harry.  A red-haired boy was Ron (Rowan), and a redhead Canadian woman was a distant Weasly relative from Canada (Valerie).  I ran up to Commie Clothes (the collective free “thrift store”) before the party to find a costume, and settled on Moaning Myrtle.  It turned out that I wasn’t as original as I thought, because Hawina showed up crying with pigtails, too!  (There were also several muggles, who hadn’t found anything to wear as a costume)

 I loved being at the party, celebrating and playing dress-up with my (still) closest friends.  Jonah’s mom had arranged a treasure hunt as part of the party, and asked me and two other women to canoe around the pond and place lighted tea-lights in the water for the finale.  In the light of dusk, we rowed across the water and talked about our lives, lighting candles until we looked behind us and realized that the wind had blown almost all of them out.  Alas! When the kids came down to the pond they were still excited to be rowed across to the sauna, which was really Hagrid’s cabin, where they all received wands.  When the kids were safely across (life jackets and all), I curled up on the bank of the pond with my two friends.  We snuggled and talked about our lives until the sun went down and it was time for dinner.

Earlier in the day, before the party, I facilitated a meeting between two of my friends.  They work together as part of a team at Twin Oaks, and had been struggling some with personal dynamics, old issues for both of them.  We had all worked together as part of the same team, and they had asked me to come out and help them talk through some of the issues with each other.  I was honored to be asked, that they trusted me to hold the space for them to talk about hard things.  This is another thing that I miss out here… people who want to work through their issues and who take steps forward together.  There’s a deeper incentive to do it at Twin Oaks, because people are interwoven into each other’s lives.  Though not everyone at Twin Oaks does it, there’s an assumption that it’s at least a possibility, and many (if not most) pursue mediation together when there’s a conflict.

By dinnertime, I was feeling the power of life at Twin Oaks, a rich mixture of work and play.  I felt fulfilled in the work I had done to mediate the dialogue for my friends, and assist Thea with Jonah’s party (and take responsibility for childcare for Ruis all day!).  The whole time I was “working”, I was also engaged in deep connections with my close friends.  Everything I did was working towards strengthening relationships, and thus strengthening the community.  I miss that clarity of purpose, present through all kinds of different actions and experiences.  How can I find that out here, beyond the commune?  Can everything I do be a part of strengthening relationships when I don’t know the people around me?  When there are cultural expectations that foster isolation and superficial relationships?  How do I catapult beyond those?  And, how do I immunize myself against their influence… how do I keep myself from getting sucked in by the pervasive culture of isolation when I’m surrounded by people not making eye contact, ignoring the other people standing at the bus stop, sitting in a whole roomful of people and not interacting with a single one because they’re all staring straight forward at their computer screen?  How can I foster community here, when no one feels connected to people except who they’ve “chosen” as friends?  The KEY of community is recognizing our interdependence beyond our small sphere of experience.

 After dinner I hung out with two close friends while Ruis, Jonah, and Willow played down the hall.  Ah, the power of a communal residence.  We were in my friend Sky’s room, which is just up the stairs from Jonah and Gwen’s room (right next to their dad’s room), which is just down the hall from Willow and his mom’s rooms.  The kids bounced back and forth between Willow and Jonah’s rooms, and I didn’t have to worry at all about Ruis because he could easily come get me if he needed to.

 Sky and Kassia and I talked about our lives, relationships, fears, and possibilities… these are the kinds of conversations I miss.  Sharing deep reflections, laughing and snuggling, taking turns being in the middle… Is it just that I haven’t developed new relationships in my life out here, or is there something intrinsic to the communal experience?  I think it’s a little bit of both.  The depth to which we’re able to share with each other is rooted in our shared experience and our intense interdependence.

 I’m working on being patient, remembering that I left the community in part because I wanted to do the work of building community in the larger world.  I need to remember that it will take time and work, and I need to find other ways of nurturing myself while I’m doing this work.  Going back to Twin Oaks feels healthy, reminding me of what’s possible.  Instead of feeling hopeless because of how much of my life out here isn’t what I want it to be, I want to focus on the work that I want to do to offer something different.  What does that look like?  That’s the question I want to focus on… it’s all about believing that it’s possible.

bridge building

I just finished my second-to-last day of being a camp counselor. It’s been a long and exhausting journey, and I’m relieved to be at the end of it. I’m satisfied now, feeling like I’m on the road to accomplishing what I wanted: having a healthy and opening influence in the people’s lives… and today was the culmination of all of that work with the kids at camp.

Every Friday we have an event called “All Camp” that involves all of the campers and counselors in the entire camp. Each week, a team of 3-5 counselors are responsible for planning it, making it loosely related to the theme for the week. Past themes have been things like “Into the Wild,” “Musical Mayhem,” “Stars and Stripes” (for the 4th of July week), and “Disco Fever.” This week’s theme was “Express Yourself,” and I was on the committee for planning it. I arranged for several of my friends from Twin Oaks and Shannon Farm (another nearby community) to come out and teach juggling, poi, and “advanced hula hooping” to the older kids, and then perform for the entire camp. They came, they taught, they performed, and the camp was enthralled.

What I love about today’s event is that the kids got to experience “alternative” type people in their own comfortable environment. It was a mixture of the new and the normal, which I think helps folks open themselves more to new experiences. The kids got to work with and learn from talented, beautiful, powerful women who didn’t wear makeup or shave their armpits. No one made a big deal about it, it was just a subtle exposure to people doing things differently, and it so happens that these different people are also very very cool and taught the kids some very cool things.

The metaphor in my mind is that all summer I’ve been building a bridge between the camp culture and the culture of places like Twin Oaks where collaboration, personal responsibility, communication, and creativity are of primary importance. At camp, hierarchy and the need for control seem to take precedence over most other things. Today the kids got a chance to choose their own activities, take responsibility for themselves (they left their assigned groups and counselors that they’ve been with all week), and challenge themselves in new creative endeavors.

The camp directors were worried about there not being enough control of the groups, worried about the potential for chaos. I was so frustrated yesterday when we turned in our All Camp plan, and one of the directors started telling me all of her concerns. I wanted to tell her, “Just trust the kids — give them the opportunity to be resonsible and they will be! When you expect them to act up, they will, because you don’t give them the chance to take responsibility for themselves.” Instead, I said “I understand your concerns… I’ll do what I can.” After All Camp ended today, I felt totally validated (though of course, my boss didn’t say any kind of congratulations — I hate having a boss! It’s such a weird power dynamic…)

Ah, back to the bridge metaphor. l feel like I’ve been building this bridge all summer, sharing myself and my ideas with the other counselors and the kids. Not being overtly “different”, just authentic in who I am. (Except for last night at the end-of-summer staff dinner, when the three progressive women counselors ended up sitting with the most conservative male counselor on staff — I was more overt and passionate about my beliefs than I’ve been in awhile!). So, the bridge — building slowly, step by step, and today I opened the bridge, and the kids and staff got to take a peek into this other culture by experiencing more than me as an individual… by experiencing and observing some of the culture itself. Multiple people communicating deeply, loving openly (lots of hugs), and having confidence in their natural bodies. Seeds have now been planted…

And next week, some of the high school campers are going on a field trip to Twin Oaks… crossing the bridge.