Living in intentional community, dealing with conflict, managing housemate drama, and doing paintbrush banishing rituals before a new housemate moves in. I wrote about the more challenging aspects of communal living first, saving the best for last. I concluded by saying that while intentional community can be hard, it is also ecstatically awesome.
I hope this doesn’t sound odd, but what about it is ecstatically awesome, exactly?
Someone left this comment on my post on housemate drama. Good question! Here’s a few things, the first that came to my mind. I was going to limit myself to seven, because there are currently seven housemates in my community, but even stopping at eight was difficult. I really do love living in community. Here is a collection of eight random reasons, in no particular order:
1. I laugh a lot
Like, all the time. Every day. I seriously can’t remember a day in which I haven’t laughed, not since I started living in intentional community. Sometimes the fridge has hilarious quotes scribbled on it. Sometimes a housemate shares something they experienced recently that has me in stitches. More often than not we sit around the dinner table long after the food is eaten and enjoy a mixture of deep conversation and light banter. Sometimes I’m dealing with hard times and a housemate intentionally does something so incredibly goofy that I can’t help but crack up.
We ruin each others’ bad moods often and in a myriad of ways. For a while I kept a scrapbook with our funny quotes, goofball pictures, and lyrics from silly songs we made up on the fly. But after a while I realized that these precious moments were no longer a scarcity in my life. They had become the norm. Community living is nothing if not funny.
2. I enjoy diversity
Some of us grew up in different countries. Some were raised in immigrant families and various subcultures. Some of us had parents who paid for college, others got kicked out by their parents when they were teenagers. Some of us walk through life with white privilege, economic privilege, straight privilege, while others don’t. We have a range of genders, cis and trans and queer and exploring. Our relationship styles and sexual expressions are all over the map. I’ve cooked and eaten food from cuisines around the world, traditional family recipes of current and former housemates.
In the few years of living in community I learned more about diversity than in the three decades prior. We humans are a colorful bunch and incredibly rich in our diversity. I love it. We laugh about our differences often, but we also learn from each other. I savor the many perspectives and experiences that the diversity of my community gifts me.
3. I live and breathe interfaith at home
Current and former religions practiced by members of our community include Witchcraft, Druidry, Heathenry, Paganism, Atheism, charismatic Christianity, Mormonism, Catholicism, Agnosticism, Judaism, Mainline Christianity, cultish wilderness spirituality, and, if you include close friends and frequent visitors, Buddhism and Islam. We’ve celebrated sabbats, blots, Shabbat, secular and Christian holidays.
A Jew, a Heathen, two Witches, a Christian, and an Atheist walk into a room. That’s not a joke, that’s just dinner at Evermore. When we get started on talking religion (which we do All The Time), we go down rabbit trails of mystery and hilarity and surprising insights. To a religion nerd like me, living in an interfaith household is a big fat slice of heaven (or Valhala, the Summerlands, mysterious afterlife, Nirvana, or whathaveyou).
4. I have plenty of pet and house sitters
I love living with animals and lots of plants. I also love to travel. And because I live with an ever changing number of people, I can do both. Someone is always around to feed the cats and water the plants with the notable exception of president day’s weekend in February. That’s when I call a bunch of Christian friends and beg them to come housesit, because my entire household will be at PantheaCon. The rest of the year, however, I can travel to my heart’s delight and know my critters, plants, and home to be in good hands.
5. I enjoy quirkiness
My housemate got a package in the mail the other day. They’d been excited about it, ripped it open, and then tossed the bubble wrap on the floor. I let them play with the contents of the package and wandered over to the discarded bubble wrap. Pop. Pop. Pop pop pop. I had just stepped on the edge of the piece with my toe when my housemate swirled around and stared at me in horror.
Why would you do that? they wanted to know.
Why shouldn’t I? I replied.
I figured they were upset that I stole the opportunity from them. It was their bubble wrap, after all. But I was wrong. They didn’t want the bubbles popped at all.
Did you need the bubble wrap for something else? I asked.
Uhm, not really, they said. They were going to toss it.
Does the sound bother you? I wondered.
So you were going to toss the bubble wrap? They did.
Then what on earth was the problem?
I learned that it was the principle of damaging perfectly good bubble wrap. One must not damage it. Period. Regardless of whether it ends up in the trash minutes later. Thou shalt not render useless an object whether or not thou plannest to use it.
WHAT? Who thinks that way? There are apps for popping bubble wrap. APPS, I say!
Of course my housemate could respond by pointing out that how many cutting boards I have. Ninety percent of the household’s cutting boards are mine. They are each labeled for specific use, and no housemate shall ever cut vegetables on the chocolate cutting board. Or, worst of all, allium on the fruit cutting board. NEVER EVER shall that happen. I dare not imagine the horror of it. I’d have to replace ALL of my cutting boards, on the principle of it.
Which one of us is weirder? The bubble wrap preserver or cutting board neurotic? No matter the answer, we’re both quirky, and I love it. I had no idea I could be so ridiculous about inconsequential things. I always thought of myself as easy going. But mess with my cutting boards…
Today we had a great laugh about the bubble wrap. Maybe tomorrow someone is going to crack jokes, once again, about my cutting boards. Living in community teaches me how no two humans are ever alike. We all have weirdnesses and quirks and I find them enriching and fascinating.
6. I’m a personal growth junkie
Last night the subject of pre-marital counseling came up. I was talking with my friend who is both a Witch and a minister in a Christian denomination. I suggested to her that every engaged couple should be required to live in an intentional community for a few months. If they manage to communicate and still like each other after that…
I’ve never experienced a surer way to be plunged into shadow work than by living in community. Neither my abusive marriage nor my stints in religious fundamentalism confronted me as many of my shadows. But that’s not to say that communal living is the cause of suffering, like my marriage or fundamentalism was. On the contrary, a healthy community is a platform in which shadow work emerges – but it is also the most amazing supportive container for doing the work. No therapy or support group has ever provided a better environment.
There’s a time distortion in communal living. I always feel like I’ve known my housemates much longer than I actually have. I believe that is because I have seen them change so much, and they have seen me change. When I look back, just a year ago, I was such a different person. I can see all of the ways in which I have grown, and it fills me with joy and gratitude.
7. I learn boundaries and compassion
Living with others has taught me to have stronger boundaries while becoming more compassionate. It seems like an oxymoron – setting firm boundaries toward others at the same time as I am feeling more compassion toward them. And yet both are true. I’ve learned to say “no” and to practice self care, even if another community member feels upset about it. I’ve learned to take responsibility for my emotions without trying to manage the emotions of others. And I’ve become more understanding of why people do harmful things to one another, why someone might act without integrity or in a hostile manner.
I used to think that boundaries and compassion were mutually exclusive. I thought that if I said “no” I was being mean and insensitive to others. I also thought that understanding why someone acted the way they did meant that I needed to rescue them, even to my own detriment. Community living has taught me that neither is true. I can see how someone’s harmful behavior is a way of acting out their pain, without me playing the savior. I can uphold my own boundaries while compassionately holding space for someone else’s process. Practicing both boundaries and compassion is bringing healing to my own life and to my relationships.
8. I am never lonely
I’ve almost forgotten what loneliness feels like. I still experience solitude, but not loneliness. When I need time to myself, I can retreat to my room or the ritual room and flip over the “come in” sign so that is reads “not now”. But if I’m in need of a hug, want someone to listen to me, or just crave some people energy, I never have to wait long. Sometimes I work on my computer while others are in the room, just to enjoy the background babble and banter. Sometimes I curl up by the fireplace with a book and others come and join, but we are so quiet that you’d think the room was empty.
Sometimes I am having a rough time, and I come home to find flowers on the table and ice cream in the freezer, my favorite flavor. Sometimes I’m too exhausted to function and a housemate herds me out into the backyard with a big smile – they secretly fired up the hot tub for me. Sometimes I’m the one throwing a surprise party for a housemate. But never for the one who hates parties and surprises. That one gets a movie gift certificate because they recharge best when they are out alone in a movie theater.
I could go on and on. I love how well we know each other as much as I love the surprises a new housemate brings. Both allow me to feel loved, and held, and that I belong. Living in community makes me feel like I am truly home.