Love & Limits–A Lifelong Lesson

There’s a fine line between giving someone their space to deal with their own stuff and enabling. When does being supportive become giving someone license to hurt you? And what do you do when someone else’s addiction comes very near to destroying the life you’ve built?

We had a lesson in that recently. One of our tribe reminded us of the need to be watchful of addiction and keeping our eyes open when it comes to pain and suffering. A couple weeks ago, Todd got a DUI.

I’ve known Todd for 10 years. He’s still friends with my ex-husband—one of the few people who can easily flow between us. When I met him, Todd was clean and sober. He went to AA meetings and sponsored other men through the 12 Steps. He struck me as a guy who’d made it through, all the way. But, hah! That’s not how alcoholism works. You never actually stop recovering. You’re always and forever “in recovery” because one must always be vigilant for that single drink, the drop that takes you back over the edge into the abyss.

When his marriage broke up, shortly before my own, he started to lose his grip on sobriety. His wife, my dear friend Alexis, started over and left Todd to deal with the pieces of his own life. Within weeks, he had that first drink. Off he went into his dark place.

Because one of his greatest qualities is his ability to see himself clearly, he gave up custody of his kids knowing alcohol had regained its grip on him.

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Creating Intentional Community

When this all started about a year ago, I don’t think any one of us had in mind that we would become an intentional community. There are plenty of groups that make it their sole goal to become a community (visit http://www.cohousing.org). Ours came about from inner guidance more than from direct and verbalized intent. So if you’re not yet ready to go move into an established IC, start here. See what happens.

1. Pray/meditate on it. Living with others in an intentional setting is a spiritual as well as practical journey. Unlike the families of our birth, we have a say in how we craft our lives and whom we invite into it and how it operates. Bringing yourself into quiet awareness will help you access what you already know is for your greatest good. If your spirit resonates with the notion of community, you’ll know.

2. Get clear about how you want your life to look. The best people for your community will start to appear when you visualize how you want your life to be. Yes, this is a little bit of “The Secret” but it goes deeper than setting an intention and expecting it to come true. There is a subtle language to our bodies and spirits when we are clear about what we want. You may want community at a neighborhood or an in-home level. You may want community around your evenings but not your mornings. You may want a big community or a little one. Regardless, the world resonates with your thoughts. People who fit your vision will see themselves in your eyes, and that recognition will draw them to you, and you to them. Enjoy the inquiry, stay open.

3. Become aware of who you attract. You know how some people attract drama while others attract peacefulness? Well, if you know you attract drama, then you will attract it into your community as well. And that could be just fine, as long as you are aware of it and accept it fully. But attracting drama and then bemoaning it doesn’t help anyone. Ask yourself what part of you is served by attracting people who hurt you or prey on you or encourage you to wallow in your own crap. If that’s what’s in your life now, take a deeper look before you set your intention to live in community. Living in community offers us the opportunity to become conscious of our life structures, what serves us, and what no longer serves.

“Love is pull, not push.” Lolita Tademy in Cane River.

4. Follow your intuition. Your inner voice will have a lot to say about how you live and with whom. If you get that nagging feeling about a particular person, listen to it. There may be old baggage between you that needs to be unpacked, or the two of you may have differing communication or lifestyles that will take a lot of work to mesh. Honor your gut. If you can’t find a place of quiet peacefulness about living with this person, move on. But don’t miss an opportunity to dig into a challenging relationship either. Community is a place to learn how to resolve conflicts with dignity, honor, mindfulness, and hope.

5. Commit. Oh yes. Living in community requires commitment. Not marriage-like commitment but a vow to yourself and others to bring your greatest gifts to the whole. If you don’t believe you have any great gift, think again. Everyone has gifts to give. What is yours? Are you good with finances? Are you good with kids? Do you know how to help someone see themselves in a positive light? Are you patient? Do you have healing or sacred knowledge to share? Are you skilled in building bridges between people? Do you work with cars, with wood, with pipes? Are you most creative when cooking, or crafting jewelry, or writing, or photography? The beauty of living in community is that we have access to knowledge and wisdom that is beyond what we can access alone, even with the aid of the internet. No amount of Google searching is going to turn up someone who can show your son how to climb a super-technical spot on the local mountain bike trail. Nor can it offer Reiki on a sore neck. Nor console you when you ding your fiancé’s car. When you bring your gifts to the table, believing with certainty that you have something to share, you’ve invited others to come share themselves with you. You’ve opened the door.

6. Be Willing to Fail. Most of us are terrified of failure. But there is no life without it, certainly no feeling of success or mastery. Living with others means stepping right into our fears, most of which are from childhood. The things we couldn’t or didn’t get as children haunt us as adults and often interfere with our ability to get vulnerable and real with others. In community, having other adults around who know when we’re not at your best can feel scary and can help us learn to make mistakes well, to own them, and to become wiser from them, rather than be ashamed. The trick isn’t to be perfect but to find people who think it’s riotously funny and love you and encourage you even when you’re colossally imperfect.

7. Check your ego at the door. There is very little room for the ego in intentional community. Put on your big girl panties. And learn to take life a little less seriously. Living in an intentional community, we are able to see each others’ silliness in a whole new light. The dumb shit things we do aren’t used as ammo but as fodder for a good laugh.

8. Be Prepared for Change. We just learned this, again, when Corina told us that she’s setting sail for California. At her young age, it’s natural for her to want to go experience the wider world, and yet she’ll be missed by everyone. Feels like losing a limb. But now our job is to keep the light on for her as she goes out into the world and to reassure her that she has loved ones rooting for her. No sooner had Corina driven off into the west but three new folks arrived. Todd’s sister Beth Ellen, her partner Dwayne, and my nephew from California. As my father would smile and say, “How ’bout that?”

I would love to hear what you experience as you begin to think about crafting the life and community that you want. Tell your story, share your wisdom.

Next Up. Living in Community. Part III. Finances and Logistics.

Assisted Living for Kids. Part II. How It Works.

First Kickball Game of the Season

Of the nine adults here, we each will have our own observations on how it works but we agree that it does work, and that it has some amazing advantages as well as challenges. So I’ll just go on ahead and describe how I think it works and how we get through the challenges.

  1. We value each other and each child as whole beings with a lot to offer the world and each other.
  2. We each contribute according to what gifts we have—time, talent, and treasure.
  3. We try to stay neutral when something is out of balance and talk it over.
  4. We allow for emotions to come and go.
  5. We cook together.
  6. We eat together.
  7. We help each other’s children when a parent is unable to help either because the child has triggered an emotion in the parent or because they’re simply not at home.
  8. We care about each child, recognizing that we’ll always love our own best but can be powerful guides for the other children.
  9. We don’t discipline each other’s children, but we do set limits on bad behavior.
  10. We talk over difficulties using non-violent communication methods.
  11. We accept each other’s flaws and cheer on each other’s magnificence.
  12. We’re all pretty liberal and have similar political and spiritual belief structures.
  13. Our physical relationships are not fluid. They’re committed and monogamous. But there are only two couples here, me and Timothy, and Alexis and Dave. Everyone else is single but “free love” is not the name of the game.
  14. We laugh a lot.
  15. We celebrate the good things in life a lot.
  16. We cook bacon every morning. Bacon really does make everything better.

For a single person, and single women in particular, living in community offers a way to tackle life fully supported and with your eyes wide open. By having other people at your side to encourage you, to challenge you, to open you, and to care for you, life takes on many facets that would be unseen without the brilliant light of community shining through.

The abundance that I feel in this space full of loved ones is profound. I come home from a long day at school, and my love is in the kitchen making one of his wonderful meals (gluten- and dairy-free for me!), the fire is lit in the fireplace, my children are playing or doing homework, my friend is sitting at the table sipping tea and working on homework with her son. Life is good.

The picture isn’t always perfect. One kid may be arguing with another, the laundry may still need to be done. A child may have broken a precious picture frame. Dinner may be an hour late. But being with people I like, with all our basic needs met, food, shelter, clothing, I am able to be there fully present and alive.

Next Up. How to Build Your Own Intentional Community and How to Manage Finances and Logistics.

Assisted Living for Kids. Part I.

I’m the youngest of ten children. I’ve been continually surrounded by a symphony of people, each with their own unique expression on the earth, like flavors in an ice cream shop, dizzyingly delightful, sometimes scary. I like it like that—the raw material of life that makes a certain sense when you look at it from far away. Like an impressionist painting—at close range, a confusing smattering of blotches and smears, but from a distance, when you scrunch up your eyes and blur them, the image is breathtaking, ingenious.

My Brothers and Sisters, minus the eldest.

The sound of pots and pans clanging in the kitchen, water running through the pipes, voices of loved ones in the distance is the music of life in motion, conversing, arguing, learning, creating, struggling growing, and loving. Here, in my home filled with friends and family, I am certain of something. That life simply is.

I’m in my 40s now. My brothers and sisters all have their own lives. My parents have passed on. I am divorced with two kids, and I finally have the opportunity to create another family to travel along with my children and me and to be of service to. It’s taken me this long to figure out that I don’t have to go through life alone as a single parent, and I don’t want to. I can choose to surround myself with people who like who I am, who believe in my life purpose and who challenge me to live it out; who are willing to let me be imperfect and are willing to be imperfect too.

A wonderfully strange twist of fate dropped just the right mix of people into my life to be my new family—the family of my choosing. After my divorce, I was alone for the first time ever. [And I loved it!] I spent time getting to know myself and started to truly value who I am. I dated a bit and within a couple years, settled into a new and very different relationship with my now fiancé, Timothy.

During a time when he and I had stopped dating, I got a roommate, Kat, who, with her eleven-year-old son, rents the downstairs floor. She’s a nurse, a single mom, and a woman of piercing insight and deep spirituality. I didn’t realized it at the time we agreed to be roommates, but she turned out to be an amazing friend and confidante. A short time later, when Timothy and I reunited, he slowly, gingerly moved back in with his kids. Now, we three share my six-bedroom house with our five boys.

Very quickly, we realized we had a well-functioning combination of kids, schedules, and personalities. And magic happened. We were happy. Each of us began to feel a deep contentment with our lives—even the struggles were more fun and enlivening. Combining our resources—both mental and physical—we became more than the sum of our parts.

A few months later, one of my two dearest friends from California visited and, seeing how we worked together, decided to relocate here. Alexis moved in three doors down with her ex-husband Todd, their two children, and her boyfriend Dave who drops in and out. Shortly after that, my former nanny, Corina started working for Alexis as her executive assistant and also moved in with her (Hooray!)

The Wearing of the Green

Alexis and I have another friend from California, Joanne, who also landed permanently in the area, not too far away. Each of the three of us, who had been married when we met ten years ago, had since divorced or separated. Joanne lives about 15 miles away with her two boys—longtime friends of my and Alexis’ children. Joanne’s husband bi-locates between here and Los Angeles.

Between nine adults, we have nine children, three dogs, three cats (not mine), and various small animals and fish and five ex-spouses; one very present grandpa as well as a handful of other grandparents who visit often and offer their wealth of life experience.

!

Yes, that’s right.

?

The question you’re asking is, “Is that a commune or what?”

Well, I suppose you could call it that, but we don’t, mainly because the word “commune” is loaded with baggage. We refer to it as “living in community,” and we all sense that the way of living we’d stumbled on is the way humans will have to live in the future to prosper and be truly alive. Had it been more acceptable in the 60s, without so much of the “commune” baggage, I think more people would have opted in.

The next question that might have popped into your head is, “Why on earth would you want to do that?”

Because it’s easier. Plain and simple.

Life is easier when people support you—people who understand you, who care about you, and who want to help you thrive. Thrive, not just survive, though that’s terrific too. What’s so remarkable about our community is each person’s unstated agreement to contribute to the whole. There are no slackers here, no hangers-on, no free riders.

Everyone works or is working on their advancement in some way. Everyone contributes of their time, their finances, and their talents in whatever combination they are most able. Yet, no one has been asked to make a commitment for any particular thing (except housing expenses and that without written agreements, which for two lawyers should shout, “Danger, Will Robinson!”) Each adult puts in whatever they can at any particular moment to logistics and operations.

If a child has to be home sick, there is usually someone around to stay home with them to minimize the impact on that parent’s work. If someone needs an ingredient, one of the houses probably has it. If someone can’t get their kids to soccer, someone else can.

Each adult has a relationship with each child and some are closer than others. The kids have some adult they can play, talk, be vulnerable with. Each child has someone other than a parent to help with homework resulting in a giant reduction in homework drama.

We cook for each other, a meal a week, which alone is a giant blessing because each person only has to cook once and that meal can be as elaborate or simple as the chef wishes. As it turns out, we all enjoy cooking more and create make more extensive menus. We have all week to figure out what to make and can put some real effort into it. Each person is nourished inside and out in a way we could not be alone.

Dinnertime

Consequently, we can all ease up a little and enjoy our children more. We avoid being the helicopter parent because there are other people to tend to and the children see that each person is vital to the whole. When working on our relationships with our ex-spouses, we rely on each other to keep us real and in control. When confronting our own feelings of inadequacy or fear, we help each other see a better reflection of ourselves.

What greater lesson in life is there than learning to live together, resolve conflict, cooperate, grow, thrive, and love?

Next Up: Part II. How does it work and why?

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