Community Just Happens: A Dancing Rabbit Update

It was a snowy desert morning in New Mexico at the Ampersand Project. Photo by Nik.

It was a snowy desert morning in New Mexico at the Ampersand Project. Photo by Nik.

It’s a small world, and living in community can make it feel even smaller. Sometimes it’s like going to camp, sometimes it’s like going back home…sometimes it’s a place to gather bearings and go forth with a wider perspective on what it means to “live”.

Living in community may not actually give someone superpowers, but I’ve definitely developed a “spidey-sense” when it comes to other folks who live in a community of some sort. Nik here, and I just returned from a month-long excursion out west, and no matter where I went, I would inevitably meet someone who knew someone else connected to Dancing Rabbit or Sandhill or Red Earth.

When folks really “live” with their neighbors, smiles seem to come easier and eye-contact doesn’t feel so uncomfortable. It’s more than being polite, it’s needing other people. When one really needs their neighbors, community just happens. I’m not just talking about hippie-types! Ben summed it up a while back perfectly: “People need each other. I don’t need everybody, but I do need somebody.”

When visitors and new residents first come to Dancing Rabbit, there’s a bubbling excitement about “growing all my own food, building my own house, and finally being in control of all aspects of life!” The brain loves those ideas—feeling self-sufficient and being able to go it alone. The heart, on the other hand, wants to feel included and trust others. But what the heart wants isn’t all that easy… living with others takes a whole lot of work. It’s hard being open and empathetic and not become overwhelmed by drama sometimes…not to mention sharing a fridge with 5–10 others!

On my trip last month, I visited 6 other intentional communities, each with their own ideals, innovations, and challenges. The only one of those communities that wasn’t thriving was one where the members had stopped meeting together aside from a few times a year.

Communities must believe all the work is worth it though, and each one seemed to focus on a core belief of one sort or another that one person cannot achieve by their lonesome. Our neighbors to the south at the Possibility Alliance focus on social change through service, philanthropy, and through one’s own personal change; they truly hold Ghandi’s words, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Hummingbird in northern New Mexico focuses on a spiritual path and growing with others on their own spiritual paths. Or the central focus can be economic, like Eastwind in southern Missouri, where many find freedom in exchange for working, sustained by a profitable cottage industry.

Over the years Dancing Rabbit’s focus has crystallized on educational programs, from natural and green building to inner empathy to permaculture classes. The one community I visited that shared that focus, but did it in a different way, was the amazing Ampersand Project near Santa Fe.

The first thing I see arriving at the Ampersand homestead is cob walls and strawbale buildings; I felt at home as a Rabbit. Amanda & Andy, the two founders, are a horticulturist/permaculturist and a scientist/radio DJ/builder, and they take on 10–15 interns every summer to experiment, build, and learn to grow food in a desert.

At Dancing Rabbit we’ve been reaching beyond our borders, focusing on not just on-site education, research, and workshops, but also online classrooms, outreach events, and speaking tours. Experimenting with how humans can live together sustainably seems like it shouldn’t be an issue, but we love sharing and teaching what has worked, and what has not. The non-profit branch of the village is even in the midst of a PBS-type fundraiser, to help support the educational programs we want to offer to anyone in the world who wants answers about how this little ecovillage is making a big difference.

While visiting and talking to other communities, I tended to start seeing each of them on a spectrum, and I kept putting Dancing Rabbit in the middle of that spectrum. I’m not immune to that very human trait of always thinking that one is a true centrist! But Dancing Rabbit really is unique in the small world of communities: our car co-op, our ecological research, a thriving local currency, we have no joining fee (or giving up all worldly possessions), and for such a relatively “large” village we have excellent conflict resolution. And with that “large” population, we have such a wide spectrum of economics, values, and social rigor. We do seem to land in the middle in many ways, and that gives people a lot of wiggle room in what they can achieve.

Last week, the troop of Spiral Scouts here demonstrated so much of the outreach and community spirit by traveling to the Memphis Baptist Church and packing “Tiger Packs”, which were healthy weekend meals for lower-income kids from pre-K through high school. The kids also put in a special item, like friendship bracelets or drawings, to let the other kids know they are all part of the same community.

If anyone is interested in a community tour like I just went on, I cannot recommend a movie more than “Within Reach”. It is close to my heart, made by former member of Dancing Rabbit and currently Hummingbird resident, Amanda. It can be watched online at the Within Reach movie website. You can also find out more about intentional communities all over the world, by checking out the Fellowship for Intentional Community, and the Communities Directory they manage.

•                  •                 •

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. Find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us.

2 Responses