I’ve always been a floater, moving between groups rather than firmly planting myself into a particular one. This means that sometimes, I feel that I’m lacking community. But I cannot help but see each community’s connections to other ones, and want to make them stronger, more vibrant.
The word “communitas” is used by anthropologists to refer to a sense of solidarity that develops amongst people who are experiencing liminality together. Typically the phrase connotes a movement from a secular, or unmarked, position in society to a sacred one that conveys status. Communitas, therefore, is a necessary stage in a rite of passage. If people think they are going alone through a social process, they are somehow missing the point, because it’s in connecting to others and realizing that they, too, are experiencing those emotions and thoughts, that one develops the ability to manage one’s new position in society.
We get up each day at 5am to do some harvesting before the sun comes up. There is a break for the morning meal, and then the bulk of the day’s work takes place in the hours before noon when the Middle-Eastern sun is somewhat gentler. For three days now, we’ve been harvesting quinoa by hand – a laborious but meditative task, and one that we get the privilege of doing in the shade of the greenhouse. In the afternoons, we nap, then work a bit before dinner, after which we read or play guitar before an early bedtime in our tents, guarded by mosquito nets. It’s nice to be working someplace where people share meals and everyone takes turns cooking, cleaning, and generally being responsible for the place. If I weren’t still feeling traumatized by the sight of rockets crashing into the hills near the border with Lebanon – if each Israeli jet flying overhead didn’t sound like a missile sent from Iran to wipe out Tel Aviv – I’d stay here, most certainly, for much longer.
An intentional community is a group of families or individuals that create an autonomous mini-society, where the habitants decide upon social rules and economic principles that are often based on alternative ideologies. The origins of intentional communities, according to internet wisdom, is the Indian ashram, a communal spiritual organization where people contribute labor to the broader good in return for living there and partaking in resources. Ashrams were centuries-old but had largely fallen out of fashion when Gandhi made them a key part of his Hind Swaraj campaign to establish India’s independence from Britain. Seeing that Indians had become dependent on British goods that were sold to them at exploitative prices, Gandhi made ashrams into centers of communal, artisanal production of good like salt or cotton clothing. Now, ashrams cater heavily to westerners, who come seeking independence from…themselves?
In a high school where jocks are at the top of any popularity list, to be a member of the theater community is a marker of how much one doesn’t belong in the overall scheme of things. It was theater that saved me intellectually and emotionally, and gave me a home in which to not only be myself, but also imagine alternate societies where creativity, alterity, and irreverence for the norm were valued rather than disdained. Carol Cadby, the head of the theater department, is the voice I hear in my head whenever I see myself becoming a sheep, drifting toward the middle path. Take this script, the voice says, that you’ve been given, and adapt it, make it yours, give it stage directions that no actor would know how to perform without your guidance, find props that have to be built from scratch, and then, you will have written a play that is worthy of producing, that is your own story.