We’re Not in Kansas Anymore: Reflections on the Conference

This is part of a “Go Ask Alice” blog posted by Rosemary Wyman with Jubilee Cohousing


Jubilee Cohousing was a National Cohousing Conference Community Sponsor
I can promise you I wasn’t smoking or doing anything trippy, but the three days that I spent at the national cohousing conference in Durham, NC were powerful, and felt trippy. Accustomed as we are to being the lone cohousers for at least 25 miles, we were suddenly just seven Jubilee members from Floyd, VA, at sea in a living ocean of nearly 500 cohousers from all over the nation as well as Australia and South Africa.

Not to mix my metaphors, but we just weren’t in Kansas any more.

And, boy, that felt terrific. Not once all weekend did we have to try to explain to any of those 500 other people what cohousing is; why it’s neither a commune nor a gated community, or why we might want to have community meals 7 days a week!

Each workshop I attended was a passage to a new adventure where participants explored harvests of experience and wisdom shared by people who once were exactly where Jubilee members are now, people who’ve also trod the path of uncertainty, and now are successfully living in their communities. These presenters were energetically coaching the participants from the vantage point of having (some of them) two or more decades in community behind them. Suddenly we were having passing conversations with influential cohousing community leaders I’d only ever heard of before. What a rush!

Sunday morning, which was the final day of the conference, a few Jubilee members pushed into the crowded workshop called Community as an Economic Engine led by Terry O’Keefe and Laird Schaub. This is the workshop that was, for me, completely mind altering. These presenters opened me up to a different set of questions regarding our building community. As a good cohouser, studied in the 6 common characteristics of cohousing, one of which you may remember is no shared community economy, I had not allowed my mind to stray. Stray, for instance, into the territory of how our community might intentionally be proactive about economic changes headed our way regionally and meet them with greater foresight and imagination. Under the influence of what was in that room I could see how this work could strengthen Jubilee and also offer something of a stabilizing influence in the larger community of rural Floyd, VA in tough economic times.

In fact, here is a subject of such importance and inherent complexity to communities that entering it alone, in one’s own mind, can be scary and unproductive. But these amazing guys managed to, in effect, entice me and fellow Jubilants (as we were quickly dubbed) into this very trippy area of community vision that I’ve previously held out of bounds. They worked as a team to set the fire, bait the hook and reel me in, just by clearly, optimistically communicating the higher sustaining purpose of such a pro-active exploration; for me, for Jubilee, for Floyd. Hey, now I’m in the frying pan! Yikes!

Terry was one of the happiest surprises of the conference for me. I was introduced to him at the reception generously hosted for participants by the community at Durham Central Park a very well planned and executed urban cohousing community within walking distance of the conference center. I hadn’t any inkling of who he was. I enjoyed talking with him. He had that sparkle when speaking about his work and community experiences that says,

I’m onto something here. As a result of that brief conversation I felt strongly led to attend their workshop next morning.

Terry was the co-founder and executive director of a green business nonprofit and now maintains a small entrepreneurial coaching practice near Asheville, N.C. He wrote a weekly column on business and economics for the Ideas section of the Asheville Citizen-Times and he blogs.

At one time Terry lived in an intentional community in Western MA called Sirius. Sirius community was founded in September 1978 by former members of Findhorn Community in Scotland wishing to establish a similar community in their American homeland. Its foundation is spiritual, but in a non-sectarian manner that allows for each person to find their own way to the heart of all beingness and reality. The shared expression reflects reverence for all Life and willingness to live in accord with this intention as much as possible. We thus employ ecologically sustainable methods of living and a consensus-style governance process, striving to honor all that is.

Terry’s work is shaped by the belief that if we can understand how we are changing and why we are changing, then perhaps we can get out ahead of the change process and “co-create” our future with as much grace and as little damage as possible.

Many times over the course of the weekend I was delighted to see our old Jubilee friend Laird smiling at us from the Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC) book table practically across the hall from our Jubilee information table. He was for a long time the main FIC administrator and is one of the creators of the FIC, itself an amazing community resource. He had a full plate as a presenter at this conference.

In addition to being an author and public speaker about various aspects of community, Laird’s also considers himself a meeting junkie and has parlayed his passion for good process into a consulting business on group dynamics (Canbridge Consultation and Facilitation.) He’s worked with over 60 different groups, many of them multiple times. His specialty is up-tempo meetings that engage the full range of human input, teaching groups to work creatively with conflict, and at the same time being ruthless about capturing as much product as possible.
Laird lived 38 years at Sandhill Farm, an income-sharing rural community in Missouri that he helped found. More recently he lived at Dancing Rabbit, a growing eco village, also in central MO. Currently he is moving practically into our neighborhood, taking up residence in Chapel Hill, NC where we can have easy access to his stellar group process consultations and trainings. You might enjoy Laird’s blog.

Having access to Laird when you are forming/building community, or run into a bump in the road when living in community, is like having access to Alice when you are navigating all things Coho/US – he can put a positive spin on even the most tender feeling and desolate looking places. And that’s what he practices in his own life, so you know he can bring it to yours. Both are great allies for the mushrooming cohousing communities movement in America.

Do you have questions about how to find a community that fits for you, how to form a community, how to build a community, how to sustain a community? Go ask Alice Alexander. Go ask Laird Schaub. I think they’ll know — at least how to point the way.

Category: Past Events

Tags: Conference

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