In South-America at a hippie community volunteer placement
5:45 am – somewhere in the far distant, the rattling of pots and pans starts arising. Hushed footsteps, some silent whisper. I pull my sleeping bag over my ears and toss over to the other side. One more hour to forget about the present world.
6:45 am – the faint melody of a Mac de Marco song is reaching into the depths of my light sleep. The volume is increasing. I sigh and get up, facing the cold air waiting for me outside my fortress of blankets and a sleeping bag. It’s almost winter, and the old barn with milk cartons’ isolating’ the cracks between the wooden planks are only doing the bare minimum of a job.
It’s still dark outside. I pull out my phone and light my way downstairs. Dozens of headlamps bobbing around are awaiting me. I stand in line to scoop some oatmeal and fruit into my bowl and sit down by the tables. The lack of light makes for a cozy atmosphere. I can hear people talking but am only able to see the traces of their faces. Slowly with the continuous breakfast chatter, the sun brings these faces into light. By the time breakfast is finished, the room is bathed in light, and you can clearly make out everyone you’ve been talking to for the past 30 minutes.
‘Morning circle!‘. The familiar call from downstairs. With neither excitement nor apprehension, we make our way to the very bottom of the barn. One facilitator is awaiting us. They are taking turns in guiding us through our morning activity. Grumpily joining, most of us will be glad they had by the end of it.
The music is playing. Our task is to get moving. Intuition is the key. We shadow others. We lead others. There is some giggling. Others seem entirely lost in their movements while still paying attention to not bumping into another. Eyes are crossed. Smiles are exchanged. We’re coming together as a group.
Eventually, we stop and stand in a circle. Announcements are called. Most of us are working in the woods, as usual. Some luckier ones managed to do an artistic ‘chore’ or are off and ‘only’ need to take care of the cooking.
Last but not least: love notes. The cheesiest names of them all. However, it is more of a way to voice appreciation to individuals in the group without saying that personally. Think about how often you would turn to a person and say, ‘I love how the energy you radiate. You make me feel comfortable and heard.’ or ‘When we hang out, I can feel the wisdom pouring out of you. Thank you for sharing it with me’. Thoughts that find their way into the world, reaching people who are nourished by them. Gratitude for the presence of each and every one. Some open statements are called out, directly straight at a particular person. ‘I liked how you guided last night’s activity. We felt well-supported. Thank you’. There are some hugs, as well as appreciative nods and smiles.
‘Let’s get going, everyone.’ We break into different groups, slip into our’ work boots,’ search for gloves, and whatever else we need. I am back on my regular shift, stacking pieces of wood onto a truck only to unload it at a different place and stack it in a beautiful stack again. This work is just as tedious as it is team-building. Creating a ‘human chain,’ tossing pieces of wood from one person to the next until they make it into a truck eventually established a rhythm that puts you into a state of flow with which you’re able to work through this for a few hours. Not being a mentally challenging task, we use our capacity to talk about life and its meaning. ‘What is the meaning of doing a task like this’ would be scratching the surface of our conversation topics. It helps time to pass.
Finally, we’re done with work and return to the barn. Like hungry wolves we’re attacking the food prepared by two of our group. As our home does not have electricity, we neither have a fridge nor an electric stove. Two people each are on lunch or dinner shift, taking about 4 hours to prep our meals. The food is vegan, made from vegetables and grains stored in our ‘bodega’, cooked on a wood stove.
People are exchanging conversations about their day. Some days I wish I’d have a computer’ job’, others I’m glad that I could be out in the fresh air, working together in a group.
In the afternoon, people group together to spend their time doing Acroyoga, going for a swim in the lake, practising the guitar, reading, blackberry hunting, or whatever else they can find to do that doesn’t require internet. Not having Wi-Fi sparks your creativity. I hardly miss it.
‘I’m going to do some laundry!’. Anyone needs their devices charged?’ Hands shoot up from all sides. Nobody wants to walk 20 minutes to plug their phone into a socket, and wait until it charges. (electricity and thus the laundry machine and sockets are found in a building 20-min away from our barn).
Luckily people try and help out each other as much as possible. They might even take your laundry down the hill and throw it in with yours.
Everyone else goes on with their day.
Someone asks if anyone wants to do some yoga. I grab a mat, and out we go into the grass.
Eventually, darkness hits, and the dinner bell rings. Hungry wolves are attacking the food as usual. People are talking about their day; others are finding some space for themselves. Having your own time is appreciated, and no one would see anything strange about it. Community is valued just as much, however. Everyone has a different balance between the two.
We clear our dishes and head to our evening activity. Wednesdays are sharing circle days. Many of us will join. We head over to the living room area and huddle together on the sofas and other ‘seatable’ objects. A solar ‘candle’ dimly lights up the room. Again, the dark swallows our exact faces. The anonymity yet proximity to the others feels soothing and protective.
The sharing begins. The first person picks up the ‘talking piece’. Shrouded in silence, they talk about what has been on their mind and what they wanted to let out. Nobody says a word. There is no need for comments or space for judgment. The aim is to free yourself, to put into words what has been hiding inside you. It can feel liberating. The mere presence of everyone gives you more support than any words could.
Hours later, the last words in the group subside. People start to disperse, but not before leaving some sign of encouragement to those who vulnerably shared their stories. Faint whispers in small groups linger here and there. I head to bed, back into the warmth of my sleeping bag. As I am lying there, light voices from downstairs reach my ears.
Somehow they don’t bother me, instead they give me the feeling of this ‘family’ that I have here. The open ears. The unspoken communication. The feeling of being a community.