Saturday, May 2, 2009

Notes from NICA

Today I attended the Annual Meeting of the Northwest Intentional Communities Association, also known as NICA. It took place at Songaia, a beautiful co-housing community I visited for the first time in 2007, when I participated in their yearly Maypole festival. Two years ago, I marveled at the acres of gorgeous woods the community owned, and the way each family knew all the others. At one point during the celebration, a small child moved dangerously close to a dancer's kicking foot, and an adult not the child's parent scooped him up and carried him to safety. People at Songaia don't have to ask permission to lend a hand with each other's children, because an atmosphere of informal co-parenting is the cultural norm there. I also remember how good the food was that day -- always an important criterion for me when it comes to intentional communities -- and how I was less uncomfortable than I would have expected with Songaia's somewhat woo-woo ceremonies, which often include singing and communal appreciation of the planet's bounty.

I arrived toward the end of lunchtime, bringing two pounds of Whole Foods corn salad with me (non-gluten, non-dairy, non-animal), and I had a quick meal of nettle soup, potato salad, and quinoa tabouli before settling in for an icebreaker called Interplay. We did a number of fun movement exercises, including a "hand dance" in which two people move their hands in relation to each other, sometimes echoing and sometimes trying to complement the waves and dips and twirls. Then we listened to a panel of people who live in intentional communities -- mostly co-housing folks, as it happened -- talk about the emotional trials of their experience as ICers. (The theme of the meeting was "Intimate Journeys," which sounds like a brand of sex-instruction videos but actually referred to the highs and lows that living in community can bring.) The panel was followed by a "fishbowl" session wherein other meeting members could ask questions of the panelists in view of everyone; then we broke into small groups and had wonderful conversations about various aspects of IC, including how to resolve personality conflicts and how to live in community as a couple.

Finally, there were announcements from Songaia and other represented communities (I missed a chance to invite everyone to Shabbat dinner, sadly), and we did a "closing circle" that involved singing "America the Beautiful" (with revised, PC lyrics -- e.g., "humanhood" for "brotherhood") and listening to a lovely poem read by Nancy, one of the Songaians leading the event. At the very end, we took a brief tour of the community, which I remembered pretty well from my previous visit. All in all, a day well spent. I gleaned some good ideas about how to enhance the Kibbutz community, including a "Wall o' Wonder" (see the picture above) charting each resident-organizer's key achievements and experiences, and learned about other growing communities, like Maple Leaf's Mustard Seed House, a small Christian IC that I hope to visit soon.

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