What does it mean to live in community?

What does it mean to “live in community” as we do in cohousing? This sounds wonderful, but the concept is hard to explain. I was struck a couple of Sundays ago, listening to my minister’s sermon (Rev Deborah Cayer, Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Durham, NC), by her exploration of this concept and the alignment with cohousing principles.

Deb described in beautiful detail a walk she took some years back with a friend, during a glorious fall day – the outrageous colors, the appealing sounds, the sweet smells – and feeling more than friendship…“something more like kinship….feeling held, sustained, renewed, made whole.” Perhaps living in community can mean being “held,” allowing us space and support to be “whole.” Deb continued that the feeling was not one of observer, but being part of everything around her. This is akin to the philosophies of “interconnectedness,” that all of life touches another life. Even something as simple as holding your breakfast toast means you “touch the life of the farmers who grew the grain, the lives of the workers who harvested it, the truckers who took it to the mill, then the bakery, who took the fresh loaves out to store.”

Cohousing is inherently interconnected, from our physical design, to how we choose to live in “intersection” with each other. Deb described that while our own unique personal identity is important, “we are not complete all by ourselves alone….Our identity actually comes out of an experience of belonging to a group, a tribe, a people.” This concept really hit home with me: my experience building a cohousing community, and committing to covenants, has translated to a deeper sense of belonging, and a deeper understanding of who I am.

This need to belong is part of being human. We are inherently social beings; we affirm this all the time within cohousing. Deb quoted psychologist Kathleen Brehony, “Inclusion in a group is a human necessity; it’s the enduring cement that holds us to one another. It’s a basic need that we require only a little less than air….the deep resonating sense that we are part of a group that surrounds us and holds us with love.”

Although we can all intellectually agree that life is based on relationships, we are all too familiar with our tendency to act in “functional” ways to check things off our to-do list. I loved this from Deb: “We live inside the bubble of our own agendas.” Many of us arrived to cohousing knowing there is more to life than “staying on schedules.” Cohousing provides the possibility of participating in a life of meaning with others who share a fuller attention.

Deb described the yearning for “some kind of secret sauce that will make life go from black and white to full color, from bland to zesty, from ordinary to rich with love and meaning.” I’d like to think that cohousing is that secret sauce! In cohousing, we show up for each other; we pay attention. “We hold open the possibility of having conversations about things that really matter, not so much in the daily world, but in the realm of heart and meaning.”

Sounds good, yes? but cohousing relationships can be “messy,” too. I appreciate Charles Durrett’s concept of the “cohousing tax….the little annoyances that every individual puts up with in order to enjoy all the other gifts of living in a high functioning community.” We also ask a lot of each other: to give time and talents to the community, to deeply listen to each other, to commit to a life together. Hard work, but worth it, yes?

One huge benefit for me in cohousing is knowing that I am not alone in figuring it all out. Another is the sense of “wholeness,” allowing a relaxation that has opened up my mind and heart for more awe and wonder in all that I do. And isn’t that what life should be all about?

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