On today’s The Art of Togetherness podcast I’m talking with Trish Becker-Hafnor, founding member of two Denver co-housing communities about the raw nitty-gritty of relationships in intentional community. We peer into the radical and counter cultural practice within many communities of articulating needs clearly and honestly. And we consider that there’s a modern renaissance in communal living happening right now. Are you in?
“It will be a process to unlearn what is thrown at us in every direction from before we exit the womb. These binaries and these ways of being and all these values are put on us, and so it takes time and it takes community to unlearn that we need each other to help connect us to our why, to the bigger vision of where we’re headed, and to keep reminding us how we can do that, how we can live in a different way, and to keep us accountable.”
You can see Trish’s Ted Talk right here.
LUCY: It’s great to have you on The Art of Togetherness. In some ways, you feel like an ideal guest because you are not only living community and social justice, but you’re also working in that field as well. It’s like, wow, you live and breath this stuff.
TRISH: Thank you. I’m honoured to be here, and yeah, you speak to an experience that I’m having right now which is feeling my work and my home situation are aligned with my values in a way that I want to show up in the world all the time, and especially now. It’s nice to be able to find ways to plug into a movement towards a more just world both at home and at work.
LUCY: Yeah, that’s awesome. I’m really interested in your journey to this point. I’m wondering if you could start off by sharing with us what your first experience of community living was like, perhaps even as a child. What was modelled to you around community?
TRISH: Let’s see. My family has always had this beautiful intergenerational element to it. We kind of have this history of each family lives with the matriarch of that family. For about four generations, the mums have moved in with the daughters, and so that was something that was a part of my life from a very young age. My grandmother has lived with us for many, many years, so I think since a young age, I’ve known the value of intergenerational community, and also just having atypical, something outside of the two-parent nuclear family. I was raised by a single mum with a lot of help from her mum, my grandmother. And so, I think that that was embedded deeply within me.
But outside of that, honestly, I wasn’t really exposed to communal living until later in life. I had many situations that were communal living, maybe not intentional community, but I started to really appreciate this feeling of community and this feeling of togetherness and belonging, and I found myself feeling so much more alive in spaces where I felt like I truly belonged and was seen by others. I didn’t know what to call it for a long time, and then I called it ‘community’ for a long time, but I thought that just meant deep friendship or mutual support, so it wasn’t until actually I found myself very lonely in the suburbs with a baby on the way that I entered intentional community and living communally in a more—I don’t want to say a more formal way but a more explicit way, I suppose, if that makes sense.
LUCY: Can you tell me a little bit about the community that you’re living in right now?
TRISH: The community that we’re living in right now is a little bit different. We joined a formal co-housing community of 28 units. This is where we brought our daughter into the world and lived there for several years and loved it. We love the community of it. At the same time, we physically outgrew it. Interestingly enough, in the other generational direction, my mother and my 93-year-old grandmother will be joining in community with us. The community that we are some members of, but not currently living in, just couldn’t allow for us all to live together.
We purchased an acre of land in a traditional neighbourhood. It currently has two houses and room to grow. We’re kind of doing—I’ve heard it called the Robinhood model for our privately owned piece of land, and we’re moving towards collective ownership, and then designing to build additional structures. But the element about it that’s most exciting to me is that our vision is to have the communal aspects as far as the common spaces, and invitation to membership to extend to the community that surrounds this piece of land. So, for membership in the community to not necessarily be limited to those who live in this acre of land.
We wonder what it would look like to have a neighbourhood be invited to participate in common meals and to raise our kids together and to support one another, to share resources, to share common spaces like a maker space and a community garden. And so that’s kind of a different model, but one that I’m really excited to create here in this space.
LUCY: That sounds so beautiful, and it’s so interesting to hear of your transition from a city-based co-housing thing to something a bit more rural. I’ve never heard of Robinhood model, but yes, it’s very cool.
TRISH: I can’t remember where I heard it, and I thought, “Yeah, that’s pretty much it.”
LUCY: I like it. It’s kind of what we have going on here. We’re a really tiny intentional community in that we’re only two families. But we have a tight community and kind of widening circles, so we have our neighbours in either side who join us regularly for meals and get-togethers and parties. And we’ve got a wider circle around that of the actual neighbourhood who turned up to help us plant all of the trees that we’re on a mission planting. We have a little learning collective of unschoolers based here that meet together weekly. In a way, it’s slightly easier way of doing intentional community in that there’s only two families at the moment. But it feels really rich because of how we’ve bought the same intention to all of the other relationships around us.
TRISH: Yeah, and provided an opportunity to enter community for folks who maybe had no idea what intentional community means. Maybe it would never have been on their radar, and so you’re able to connect with people who certainly deserve the benefits of community, but maybe for whatever reason, wouldn’t have entered it.
LUCY: Yeah. And also I think demystifying or maybe ‘de-nervousing’—that’s not actually a word, but the neighbours around are rural Kiwi farmers. They might have thought, “What the heck? Is it some kind of commune?” Whereas, now they come down for a meal, and they’re like ”Oh, no. They’re just a couple of families working hard to live out their values, and they’re doing it in a way that’s far more financially accessible than it would be to own land by yourself.”
TRISH: Yeah, absolutely. I think the demystification and – what did you say, ‘de-nervousing’? I love that. It’s so true. There are so many misconceptions. When you can get up close and see what it’s all about and see the people that live in community, you think, “Oh, gosh. That’s something that anyone could buy into.” I think that this model of smaller communities—I just have a feeling that this is the future of intentional community.
It’s not to speak to whether it’s better or worse than any other models. I think that it’s beautiful that there is a very wide spectrum of communal living, and that people are finding that they need each other and finding their own realm. But just kind of taking the temperature of my peers and especially in this young parent phase in life, I do think that that’s what folks are being called to. It’s just seeing one, two, three other families create a larger family or a micro village, and then the element, of course, of widening the circle to a broader neighbourhood, I think, is another important part of the movement. I do think that this is a movement.
LUCY: Yeah. So, through your work—I guess I’m a bit curious about which came first, community living or your work. Was it through your work that you were aware of people living in intentional community situations so that when those pangs of loneliness hit, you were then able to discern that there was a model that might be the remedy for that? Or has it been that you’ve moved more into your community engagement work through your intentional living?
TRISH: It’s a good question. I feel like they went hand in hand. I kind of see the birth of my social work career and the birth of communal living all taking place when my partner and I lived abroad. We lived in a Burmese refugee camp on the border between Thailand and Burma. The lessons there were many, but two relevant ones were, number one, I saw models of a profession that I wanted to enter. I met people doing social justice work, anti-oppression work that had the same background, and it was social work that was not something that was really on my radar before.
Honestly, I held the same misconceptions about social work that many people do. I thought it was a really limited profession. I had no idea how broad and flexible it could be, and that at its heart was social justice. That is kind of what began my journey into social work, and at the same time, that really was the first experience of true, deep community—residential community. I’ve never felt so alive as the time that I was in community there, just being seen and loved.
So, we came back to the States, made a commitment to a deeper life, both taking on the form of living in community and committing our life to working towards social justice. I don’t know—it’s kind of a ‘chicken and the eggs’ scenario. They definitely braid together in a really beautiful way. I’m not sure which one preceded the other.
LUCY: Yeah, sometimes life is like that. It’s maybe one of those phases in your life where you’re heart and your mind are so open to a new reality that some really important shift happens, and you can then step into a different paradigm where your work and how you want to live, your lifestyle, just get turned on its head.
We had some similar examples in our life. We’ve also had examples in our life, like periods, where it’s about intentional living has been really easy for whatever reason. I’m interested in hearing if it felt easier to access that intentional community in Burma compared to in the States.
TRISH: I’ve spent many years since we’ve lived there unpacking the dimensions of our experience there, and so that word ‘ease’ is definitely one that comes up in my own reflections. I think there’s a conversation around ease and how that had to do with my own identities and the privileges that I carried in that space being a white woman and working in a refugee camp and all of the elements there.
There was kind of a foundation of shared values in many of the spaces that I entered. So, at least, when I think about the community that I lived within, we were all either there from another country for a common purpose or working within the human rights community with Burmese and Thai folks who were there. And so, it was just this knowing that we were all on the same page and had similar values and wanted the same things out of life, certainly not entirely, and so that did invite in ease.
I think too there were moments of youth and of being outside of our society which is obsessively individualistic, competitive and capitalist, so my being removed from that added to the ease and ability to be creative and ability to connect, and just an absence of the BS that we’ve built around ourselves, that we tell ourselves is important here. A lot of that dissolved away during our time abroad.
LUCY: Thanks for digging into that a little bit. That does really feel for me like one of the biggest barriers to intentional community is the fact that, value-wise, it stands so starkly against the other collective values of living in this capitalist system. That can take so much energy to stand in the truth and the desire to live communally. It can be something that means people don’t step into it, and it can also be something that makes it really hard to maintain.
TRISH: Totally. Of course, I speak from my lens and the society that I grow up in and with the identities that I hold, but for me I have found that to live collectively, to live communally requires an intentional decision minute after minute, day after day because otherwise the mainstream, the norm will just sweep you up. And yet, that word “ease” is still coming up for me. It feels more effortful to exist in this hyper-competitive capitalist society than to let go and say, “There is a better way to be. There is a more natural way to be. We can lean on one another.” And so, even though I do think it takes a conscious decision over and over again to enter that space, it still feels so much easier.
LUCY: I think you’re so right. We have so experienced that here in our farm. We’re having our fifth year anniversary of living intentionally on our farm here.
LUCY: Yeah, and I would say every few months we have to have a proper pep talk to ourselves. We don’t really have much conflict or dramas at all. It’s just really small stuff. My husband and I, we’re like, “No, this is why we’re doing it. We really want to do this because of this,” dah-dah-dah. Just with that pep talk, we then get invigorated for the next few months to keep showing up, keep being vulnerable, and keep making space for the things that need to happen with our children. It’s actually stuff that normally would happen in neighbourhoods rather than intentional community. But I think we can shy away from it if it’s a normal neighbourhood, whereas when we’re in intentional community, things that come up with your kids, for example, you have to think deeply about how you’re going to navigate them, and it can feel quite tiring.
On that a little bit, I’ve been wondering after a conversation with a friend who was hearing what our life is like, and she is a self-professed… Is it self-professed or self-confessed?
TRISH: Great question.
LUCY: I don’t know.
TRISH: I think professed but I don’t know. I think you’re right—confessed.
LUCY: Maybe it depends if you’re embarrassed about it then it’s self-confessed, then if you’re proud of it, you’re self-professed.
TRISH: Yeah, that makes sense.
LUCY: She is a self-professed introvert and she has heard elements of our life and has been like, “Whoa! I can never do that.” It’s made me wonder, is intentional community just for the extroverts in this life? Because you’ve had quite a lot of experience in the two different intentional communities that you’ve set up, what do you think, is it just an extrovert world?
TRISH: No way. I think even intentional community can be even better for introverts. I’m reflecting on the community members of the communities that I’ve been a part of, I think more of them are introverts. And I think that the reason is because it does provide kind of a baseline expectation that people will meet you where you’re at wherever you’re at. I identify as one of those introverted extroverts or extroverted introverts, and just smack dab in the middle.
TRISH: Yeah. I think one of the pieces around introversion can just be the energy that it takes to extrovert or to reach out and connect with someone. So sometimes it’s just easier. It feels more comfortable. It feels more authentic to opt out. And I think that intentional community provide such an easy way to connect where you don’t have to make plans, and you don’t have to get dressed up and go meet somewhere, and it can be much more organic in that way.
There was an article several years ago about how hard it is to make friends after the age of 30, and it’s because we don’t longer have this frequent and unplanned interactions that we so often have growing up with our neighbours, or through many people in college in the dorms or any of those spaces. And so, we get into this world where our friendships look like making plans weeks and weeks out, and how that really is not the way healthy relationships are borne and maintained.
The introvert in me relates with that and things about how much easier it is to pop down for a community meal in my PJs and then be able to opt out and go home when I want to instead of feeling obligated to stay and go get a drink, just all of the energy that it takes to create relationships in the world. I think that it’s a beautiful space for introverts. And also just knowing that you’re surrounded by a community that knows and loves you and can hold your story—I think just that, swimming in that water, having that knowledge around you all the time provides a lot of people with the connection that they need if they’re not an extrovert and they don’t crave a large group or formal outings, which is being seen and held by people around you, can really be a powerful experience.
LUCY: That’s such a beautiful perspective. Thank you. I’m just going to ask one more question about the introvert thing. Super practically, in your care housing projects, have any of the introverts come up with a practical way of protecting their space a little bit? Like my friend, she has done a little bit of community living and now she is living in an apartment. She talks about the relief of not having people just dropping in on her all of the time. She is obviously swinging to the other end and might find her way in the middle a little bit, but she was wondering if maybe the next time she moves back into community, she might have a little sign on her door or something, or a little flag people could see from a distance away which indicates the time that she doesn’t really want to be disturbed. Have you seen a system like that before?
TRISH: What comes to mind is actually a strategy that myself and my partner had to employ right after our baby was born. Our child was born three months after we moved into our first community, and it was the first baby in the community. I cannot even tell you how excited everyone was to meet this little baby. We felt just wrapped in love and excitement, and it was such a beautiful time. And yet, when we got home from the hospital, the introvert in me was flaring. I think even Myers-Briggs says that under stress you go to your opposite, so an extrovert would actually become introverted.
I was feeling that hard, and wanting our child to be celebrated and loved, and wanting all that support, and yet knowing that having the threat of a knock on the door at any moment in those first weeks of having a baby when we need to sleep and rest and all of that would have been a real stressor for me. My daughter’s name is Kaydan. We set up some Kaydan’s office hours which was like during these hours, open-door policy, come by whenever you want, and if it’s not office hours, then just assume that we’re sleeping and/or just trying to survive. So that was the strategy that we employed.
I think what that’s an illustration of is something that I see a lot in community which is just this ability to directly communicate your needs and for that to be received by the community. So often, whether it’s in work or friendships, we have to abide by these social contracts, especially as women—I’ll just say that. There are these niceness contracts and you have to bend over to make people happy, and you have to make sure you’re not offending anyone and not shunning anyone down. We think so much about how we show up in the world.
When you are in community, that’s going to be your fulltime existence, I think that it necessitates some freeing conversations about, “Here’s what I’m going to need, and here are my boundaries and so I’m just going to have to put that out there for my well-being and for our relationship’s well-being.”
LUCY: Yeah, that’s so true. In that sense, it’s really a ground-breaking space. It’s one of the few areas in society where people are being that clear and that truthful around their needs and how they need them to be met.
TRISHL I mean, human beings are messy, and I think that that’s a misconception about intentional community by the wider world. It’s this like “So, you all get along” thing, and it’s like, “No, we’re also human beings. We’re not magicians in relationships. We don’t have things figured out that other people don’t.”
LUCY: In our community, we’re anticipating that living in community isn’t always a smooth, easy ride. But instead of putting into a contract form exactly what would happen when conflict arose and that sort of thing, what we said was that if there was any conversation that felt tricky or any area that felt just like it could be slightly heightened we’d get some friends in to help us mediate that conversation.
We have used that a couple of times now, and it’s stopped something blowing up into something bigger or it stopped something fermenting deep below the surface of things. It’s having people come in to hold that space. When we do that, it has allowed us to get back to what it is that we’re doing why we’re doing it. It’s involved them literally just listening and asking a couple of questions, but also doing a little bit of ritual with us to help us, to remind us. It’s been really cool because, like you say, we’re not relationship magicians. It’s nice to be able to call on people to help you out if you feel like you might need a little bit of buffering around a tricky conversation. I guess for me that is really part of community living—drawing on other people’s strengths and recognising maybe some weak areas or just areas where you need support, and then being able to ask for and having somebody step in to provide that for you.
TRISH: Wow, totally. Another thing that strikes me about that is that the process that you’ve created. It really honours the intuition. So, you’re saying you just start to feel that little vibration and maybe an outsider would never see any conflict there. Everything would appear to be fine, and yet you’re listening to yourselves and your bodies and your hunches and saying, “Something about this feels like it might be headed in a direction that might not be where we want, so let’s meet right now and let’s bring in some mediators to hold space with us and let’s honour that intuition that’s coming up for us.” I think that that’s really cool.
LUCY: Thanks. What you just said prompted me to think about—the thing is recognising that the way we’re trying to live and the conversations we’re trying to have is so radical. I wasn’t raised to speak this way about my needs and to actively listen. We’re really practising this. We’re trying to get better, but it’s bringing in our friends to mediate as a sort of recognition that what we’re doing is counter-cultural and we’re not experts at this conversation yet, even though we’ve been living this way years and years and years. It’s recognising that we’re still deconditioning a whole lifetime of not really listening and bringing old stories in and assuming things of people.That’s how we’ve lived our whole lives so far, and so to then lean on people to help us step into a new paradigm where we’re connection-based, we’re healing ourselves, and we’re part of each other’s healing. This seems to make sense, and also doing it on a little bit of a sense of, “Oh, maybe we should get our friends in for this” means that it’s not a big deal to call people in to help us. Do you know what I mean?
LUCY: It’s not like a big drama—”Oh, my goodness! I’m on the verge of collapse. We need to get mediators.” It’s never really like that. It’s just sort of like, “Hey, this would be a good chance to have that conversation with our friends.”
There’s a real implication there to get more help and get more support and call in elders and other people who can hold you true to this feeling that you have of doing something radical and doing something different. And yeah, in this kind of liberal culture, we think we should be self-sufficient. We think we should be able to just forge ahead and do the do, but actually living radically, I think there’s a requirement or an invitation more to ask people to help you to do that.
TRISH: Yeah. I think that it touches on what you speak on of which is this unlearning and the fact that you or anyone is living in an intentional community does not mean that the unlearning is complete. It’s really highlighting this is a process for the rest of our lives. It will be a process to unlearn what is thrown at us in every direction from before we exit the womb. These binaries and these ways of being and all these values are put on us, and so it takes time and it takes community to unlearn that we need each other to help connect us to our why, to the bigger vision of where we’re headed, and to keep reminding us how we can do that, how we can live in a different way, and to keep us accountable. That’s a cool model that you’ve built there.
LUCY: Whenever I’m talking to anybody about community living—as part of our unschooling community, we get together regularly in these big camps. We have about five a year, and it’s another example of when you’re living quite a radical lifestyle and turning your back on something that’s very, very normalised like a school-centric paradigm. Getting together in these big camps is a cool way of getting what you need to get you through the next few months. Very often at those camps, it’s like, “Oh, we should just all buy land and live like this 100% of the time,” and then people will be like, “How does that work?” One thing I say is, “It’s so great, but you have to be prepared to put so much time into your intentional community.”
TRISH: So much time.
LUCY: It reminds me of a meme of sorts recently on Facebook about anarchists and it was like a little cartoon that was like “What people think anarchists are like”, and it’s just this group of people and they’re like, “Guys, let’s go burn some stuff down!!!!” and then it’s like the reality—a seven-hour meeting of whether we’re using the term “guys”.
TRISH: [laughs] Yes, totally.
LUCY: It’s the same. People think intentional community will be like sitting around a campfire, singing Joni Mitchell, when actually it’s a book of policy guidelines that is like thicker than your wrist kind of thing.
TRISH: Yeah, absolutely. It’s messier, and it’s more laborious. It’s just so much more complicated, and certainly that good stuff is there and that’s what keeps us going. But, yeah, it really takes a committed person. I do think that’s the lens that informs the work that I do and also informs the second community that we’re working on is that I don’t think the intentional community is for everyone, and yet I do think that most people crave a stronger sense of community and connection.
I can’t tell you how many people, when I describe co-housing or intentional community, they say, “Oh, that’s my dream. I dream of having this little village with all my friends and we share meals and babysit each other’s kids.” For many people, based on the society that we live on, based on their own preferences and limitations, based on their upbringing, maybe fully entering community is not for them. Maybe they don’t have the drive to commit all of that labour that we are just talking about.
And so I really do like thinking about how people can take the values of intentional community and infuse them in their neighbourhoods and then their own networks. I think that elements of community and a stronger connection with one another and supporting one another and working towards a better world is possible for everyone, and that there is a spectrum of commitment that we’re all invited to join in at a space that works for us. I mean, would the world be better if we were all living in intentional communities? I probably think so, but we’re all individuals with our own stories, and so we enter at different places.
LUCY: What are some examples of where you’ve seen people living intentional values in their neighbourhoods that have really gone well?
TRISH: When people from the outside ask me what co-housing is, I usually explain that it’s shared time, shared space and stuff, and shared values. Of course, that’s an overly simplistic way to explain it, but it’s a good starting point. And so, using those same models as a lens to look at the world specifically since COVID, I’ve just seen some really beautiful expressions of community in each of those categories.
In the shared time piece, it’s really tough, but it’s been inspiring to see how people are gathering virtually, how they’re just finding ways to still connect with one another and create joyful spaces in a way that is safe to everyone. And I’ve also just seen this dearth of planning or at least I’ve experienced that myself, so I have found myself reaching out by phone to people in the moment because I felt called to do so, and those connections are so much stronger in that we didn’t plan that brunch a month out. I think that we’re sharing time differently.
The shared space and stuff has been inspiring to see, too. In traditional neighbourhoods, we’re seeing people set up, sharing tables where they put out things that are hard to find. I don’t know if you have the same toilet paper, flour, and hand sanitiser crises, but you’re seeing tables where people are sharing these things and saying, “I have an abundance of spaghetti sauce, and I know that the aisles are clear, so here’s a table out front of my house. Help yourself. Leave what you can, or just take what you need.”
And you’re seeing really unique ways to use shared spaces within communities that can no longer gather in the same ways. So certainly, many communities are together saying, “Let’s continue to be together physically, but let’s adopt a more restrictive way of being with the outside world so that we can continue to gather together.” I’m also seeing communities repurposing their common rooms to collect and distribute donations, or we have kind of a maker space here and we’ve been able to allow folks to come over and paint and do their kind of crafts there in a safe way. I think that it’s creating some creativity.
And then the shared values piece is so alive right now. We’re in the midst of a global movement for racial justice, and you’re seeing people show up for that in so many ways, and so they’re connecting not only to one another, but to a larger cause by advocating, by showing up in the streets with masks on, by joining or starting mutual aid networks, and those exist outside of whether or not you live within an intentional community. People are finding new ways to find connection based on their values and saying, “Let’s come together based on something that we care about,” and it’s been really inspiring to see.
LUCY: Yeah, that’s such a great point to kind of look over the last few months and see how the pandemic has contributed to that greater value of community. I was chatting to a friend, and she was talking about how her street has set up a WhatsApp group. It was set up to talk about how they were all going to put rainbows in their window as a kind of active solidarity and for the kids to point out rainbows as they went for their daily walk during quarantine kind of thing. It was a small thing, “We got to put rainbows on the window. Let’s set up a WhatsApp group to do that.” But then obviously it blossomed, that WhatsApp group. And now, their street communicates in by text everyday about different things and different issues and resources, and that kind of thing.
A couple of days later, my auntie mentioned her street’s WhatsApp group about teddy bears that are going out in the windows. I was like, this is so fascinating that something like a pandemic has us people to reach into that shared value and those common values and to set up practical things. I would imagine quite a large percentage of streets now in the UK have these kinds of digital means of communication that they probably did not have before the pandemic. It’s going to be really interesting if they last beyond this time of catastrophe, if it’s going to be potentially a legacy of this thing—while we were in isolation, we’ve realised how much we actually needed each other. We put things in place that honoured that need.
TRISH: Yeah, absolutely. I think that there are many gifts to the great pause if we are willing to give up so much that we held dear and we’re able to see, this is an opportunity to strip away so much of the pieces of life that we thought we’re important, that we’re realising don’t matter anymore. And then in its place saying, “Here’s what matters. Here’s what we need. In the quiet of quarantine, here’s what I find myself craving.” Sitting with that, and instead of filling that void with hopping on Amazon or running back to the stores as soon as they’re open, and instead if we’re willing to push past that consumerist drive and say, “What’s here? What is this craving deep within me?” I think often we’re finding what we miss is one another; what we miss is a slower pace; what we’re missing is time to think and be with ourselves, be with our families, and be in nature and to be human because we had become such machines.
I think that so much of what you’re saying is true. This is an opportunity, if we’re willing to take this machine that we’ve been a part of and really examine it and decide whether it was working or if it’s time to build something different, and I think in many ways we’re hearing loud and clear it’s time to build something different.
LUCY: Yeah. On that a little bit, I’m also picking up the point you raised about how people are now getting on to the streets in solidarity and activism and doing community that way in anti-racism work. I do really believe that the very act of intentional community is decolonising work. It is doing that dismantling of all those colonial values of independence, self-sufficiency, competition, and all that sort of thing. But I’m wondering if within your current community, if you are doing anything even more proactive than that in terms of anti-racism work and kind of really trying to pull apart white supremacy culture that might be within your community. How actively are you trying to create equitable space?
TRISH: I think that in terms of anti-racism work within intentional communities, first of all, I completely agree with you in that simply the act of establishing and existing within community is an affront towards supremacy. I also think that collectivism has been done and done well by communities, specifically by communities of colour for as long as humans have existed, and yet white supremacy has squashed those efforts at every turn. And so, given that, I agree with you, and I think there’s a conversation around the anti-racism within intentional community, and it’s connected to a conversation around accessibility and connected to a conversation around diversity.
I really do think that in order to do that work, it really takes an examination of the motivations of a community. So, if a community is wanting to increase diversity, it’s important that they ask themselves why. Is this self-serving? What is this about? What are your intentions in terms of pursuing a more diverse community, and then start to go in that direction instead saying, “Are we not a diverse community?” Then let’s do our anti-racism work as an individual and as a community to create healthy spaces for the sake of anti-racism work, and then see what happens. First, we must create spaces that feel positive, affirming, and healthy for people of all identities rather than seeking to include in an already homogenous group.
I think another challenge of intentional community is to resist insularity, and so I think that right now there is a call to intentional communities to show up in this way. I think it’s really easy for communities to say like, “We’ve all joined this because we value these things, and so we’re going to work to create a safe and anti-oppressive space within our community.”
But they forgot that there is an entire world out there. And I do think that communities have a moral obligation to engage in work beyond what’s right for themselves, simply because we all have a moral obligation. Specifically if you are a white person, then I think that it’s a white person’s responsibility to dismantle white supremacy.
LUCY: I agree totally. I’m on to my last few questions now, and these questions come from my Patreons. I have a bunch of amazing Patreons that support this podcast. It’s the reason it can happen basically. They’ve got some great questions that are also very practical, which is cool, because maybe people are really thinking about doing this and they want to know how.
LUCY: So you’re obviously involved in a couple of intentional community founding, can you talk a little bit about how long that process is and some of the practical parts of it, like how did you choose where to settle? What were some of the factors in choosing your place and that kind of thing?
TRISH: I think two very different stories. The first community, I’m a founding member in that I joined before the physical community was built, and yet I have just eternal gratitude to the founding mothers, as we call them—especially the original four women, who were working on setting up community for years and years and years, and then even so many members who joined before us who put in so much love and labour. The amount of time between me joining and moving into the community was under a year and so short in relation to how long some of the other founding members have been working on it, and yet it felt excruciating, and part of it was because I had a baby on the way, and I said, “I swear, I need to be in a home before this baby is born.” But, yeah, it takes so much more time.
The second community we moved in, we moved here and we had the dream of what it could become, and it’s pretty far from what it was on the day that we purchased it. We know that we have years and years ahead of us because you’re lining up so many different tracks. You’re lining up the physical environment, and that takes so long. You know how long construction takes, and in some cases, rezoning and design and all of that. You’re also building a mission or guiding principles, and that’s the essence of community and community takes time and labour and making sure that every member sees themselves in it. That takes time.
I talk about at my very first community meeting, we had a discussion about whether or not guns would be allowed in the community. I entered the conversation thinking, “This is an easy one. We’re on the same page here.” I was wrong! It was emotional, and it was critical that we ensured that every single person had as much space as they needed to communicate their feelings on the matter because that’s the essence of the community, but because it was such a highly emotional topic. So it’s things like that when you think about setting up governance and making decisions, you really can’t pick any assumptions. You can’t think, “That part will be easy. We’ll just all be in the same page about that.”
When you invite every voice, you commit to the time that it will take to invite every voice and to create an outcome that everyone could live with. So, I would say whatever anyone is imagining the time that it would take, multiply it by three—I don’t know. The question of where to settle—I don’t know if I have a good answer to that because both of these—we didn’t have a lot of decision around where to settle, so we joined the community for the sake of community and not the location for the first one. The location had already been decided upon. And for the second one, it’s just kind of a long story of how this land came to be, and it’s wonderful, and I wouldn’t have picked a different place.
LUCY: That’s like our land as well. We looked for ages. We were looking and looking, and then we just walk into this one, and it was like (sings hallelujah) – angels came out behind the clouds and we’re like “You shall live here.”
TRISH: Totally. The clouds and sing hallelujah to you and then you’ll know. (laughter)
LUCY: Maybe just an invitation to people to be super practical and also surrender to the mystery a bit. and sometimes things should happen, and you just know when you got the right thing or the right people or this is the right place. I think, in an intention community, that is so, so real.
TRISH: Can I speak on that for one second because it makes me think about the concept of linear versus non-linear growth? I’ve done a lot of reflecting about our journey in this second community, and a lot of folks—2020 may have started for many with having potlucks or you have a piece of land or you have a great amped up group of people who are ready to start community or are just committed to finding stronger connection. You have all these goals, and then a global pandemic happens, and it halts that trajectory of it that many people—or I’ll just speak for myself.
We were experiencing a lot of momentum towards establishing the community of dreams here, and we were really excited. A lot of that momentum has been halted by the pandemic. And so, I’ve been reflecting a lot on non-linear growth and thinking a lot about what’s here. If I’m being encouraged or forced to stay here in this part of my journey, what can I learn from this moment? What is the desire for me to stay here? Why do I need to spend more time here, instead of getting attached to this like, “You know what, I’m headed towards—the end of the finish line is when we all have our first community meal in our community, and I want to get there as fast as possible.” And instead saying like, “This is going to be circular journey, and there’s something to learn from every rotation,” and so the sooner that we can embrace that and try and learn from that process, I think that we’d be better off.
LUCY: Yeah, that is so good and so important and so relevant to so many dreams and ambitions. It’s decolonising work to say the whole process is part of the thing. Even that end goal, you can get there and be like, “Oh, this is such a strange end goal. This isn’t even an end goal.”
LUCY: I love that. Thank you so much for speaking to that because I think there will be lots of people here who have had those dreams that have been—the heart having a sense of being thwarted by this pandemic, and it’s a really liberating thing to see it as actually being a part of the whole thing. It’s not their dreams not happening. It’s their dreams happening, but in a way that they couldn’t anticipate or imagine. Thank you.
LUCY: I’d love you to talk a little bit about your selection process, how you find people, how they end up coming into the community, the practical side of that, and just another layer, how you bring in safeguarding around it. Obviously, there are kids in your community. Do you do police checks as part of your selection process? How do you make sure that all of the people that end up in your community are safe for everybody?
TRISH: Such a good question. I’ll just speak to the second community because we are still figuring that out. I think that the model that we’re finding our way to, and so far it’s a model that I would promote, at least for those who are in the very early stages of establishing a community, is to first identify a core steering group, so it’s certainly needs to be bigger than one family because it’s community. And maybe, I don’t know, I might take that back, but identifying a core group to say, “Why have we found our way to one another? What do we value? What is it about you that attracted me to joining a community with you and vice-versa?” And then take that and translate that into what about this relationship here applies outside. And so that can really help inform criteria for how to select new members.
It also keeps the process from getting unwieldy. In those early days, it’s really important to set up your ethos and some guidelines, and from there, you can invite people and you can say, “This is what we’ve decided we’re about, and if that’s something that fits with you, then let’s enter into a relationship and explore that further.”
I will add though, the first community that I was a part of did not have a membership selection process, and it may later. But because it actually is unique in that the community was built before it was populated with the community. So it was basically anyone who wanted to enter could enter, and we have members who entered without knowing anything about intentional community, and many of them have become some of our most active members. And so, I do see the value in saying, “If you want to enter community with us, these are the values. This is how we do things. We need to make sure you have a baseline willingness to exist in comfort in a certain way and all of that.”
But I think that we’re also missing a little bit when we short ourselves off and only inviting who already speak that language or knew where to look because it’s been really powerful to see some very valued community members come to us without having to look for us but rather just found a hole in and said, “What is this thing like? This is amazing!” I think there’s a lesson there in terms of how we pursue and define our membership.
LUCY: So, in the TED Talk that I watched that you did which was awesome. I super invite everybody to head over to TED Talk and watch it, and I’ll put that in the show notes. You mentioned how just ten years ago, people would have been super grossed out, freaked out about the idea of jumping in somebody else’s car to get a ride to a place or staying for their holiday in somebody else’s home. Both of those things would be like, “Eew, you’re doing what?” Whereas now, we have Uber and AirBNB an intricate part of how we run our lives in 2020s. Things are just moving so fast, and I love how you invite us to look at those things and consider how actually we can potentially shift into an intentional community paradigm quicker than we know.
Your TEDTalk was even pre the pandemic, and a little bit of me is super excited and filled with wonder a little bit to think how many people might have heard that invitation to dig deeper into the relationships around them or do something so radical as to start investigating what intentional communities are around them or even to start one.
TRISH: I loved the article “The pandemic is a portal” by Arundhati Roy. She talks about taking capitalism and grabbing it in our hands and examining it and saying, “This is a time to put this back together or build something different.” And so I touched on that a little bit already, but I do think that this moment is inviting creative solutions.
It’s showing us everything from remote work that can be more accessible and inclusive to folks with different needs, to learning how to support one another without physically being present. I think that we’re learning a lot in this moment, but I do think that we are in the midst of re-movement towards more communal living, towards stronger connection, towards sharing. AirBNB and Uber are funny but great examples of that.
I think that there’s a generation and maybe it’s not this specific generation, but just this humanity’s moment in time that is coming out of feeling pretty disconnected and gross and saying like, “This doesn’t feel right.” Or just asking why, saying like, “Why do we exist in this home with a six-foot fence around it, hop in our car, oftentimes within our garage, so we don’t even leave the house?”
I was commuting for an hour to get to work where we just enter the building, we sit in front of a screen, and then we leave. Somehow some way, I feel like we’re receiving permission to ask why and to be creative and innovative in ways that are showing up like sharing our cars or sharing our homes. But also in people saying like, “What if we bought a land and built a yard on it?” or “What if we converted that garage into a home for someone? Wouldn’t that be great because we could help house people in and increase housing density and have stronger connection?”
And so I think that there’s an invitation in this moment to be creative and innovative, and really just kind of smash down the way that things have been doing and say, “There is a different way to just about everything out there.”
LUCY: Thank you so much for sharing with us a bit of your story and a lot of your wisdom over this last hour. It’s been a real treat for me to be in your company and hear all this stuff, and I’m sure it’s going to be super helpful for listeners out there. So, thank you.
TRISH: Thank you, Lucy. This has been an honour and a delight. I’m really grateful for the time.
LUCY: I just wish you all the best with your current intentional community and the non-linear journey that you’re taking to broaden that. All the best things on that amazing dream.
TRISH: Thank you, Lucy.