Me and my house mates: Bruce, Tara and Willie
In my last
blog, I wrote about making pleasure a life priority. Pleasurable living — and
living at my full potential — is what group living is all about for me, so
that’s what I’m choosing to write about this month. And since it touches on the
theme of inspired family, too, I figure I’m covering September’s theme as well!
Cohabitation has to be the most rewarding and challenging thing I’ve ever done.
Living with (or in close proximity) to a varied group of others has been a wonderful source of fun, adventure, comfort and satisfaction for me. Sharing meals, household projects, relationship issues, raising children, or whatever anyone and everyone is up to, has been nourishing and gratifying to my mind, body and spirit.
Living with others also pushes me to make the choice of reacting or responding to my fellow housemates. To have my life be the most gratifying, I must behave with maturity and responsibility.
When I first considered living with others, it was born out of my sheer enthusiasm for company. I wanted to share my whole life with my friends and family. I was not satisfied with occasional get-togethers. I wanted to relate on a daily basis with those I loved.
In the early ’70s, there was a trend among the baby boomers to bring back group living (which was the way people had lived for most of human history) through hippy communes, a number of which quickly sprang up throughout the country — and many of which disappeared just as quickly.
I experimented with a group of friends, who basically crashed at my house one night, and never left. We were young, inexperienced, and it all fell apart within four months.
In the late ’90s, after raising kids, starting a career and traveling the world, I found myself wondering about group living once again. I decided to move into a pre-existing, intentional group-living community for a while to learn some of what they knew about successful and pleasurable living throughout their 40 years of living together. I then applied my new awareness and skills to my own household of friends and family.
When I tell folks about how inspiring group living has been for me, most of them respond with questions like these:
- How does everyone in the group get along with each other?
- How do you make decisions about chores, finances and other responsibilities?
- How do you get your desires and needs met without being squelched by the majority?
- How do you get quiet and solitude?
And then I usually hear them mumble something under their breath about how they would never be able to live in a group. The skills of living well with others are simply not something most of us have ever been taught.
There is no question that the dynamics of pleasurable group living requires practice and sensitivity.
I boil it down to four main ingredients (which I’ve oversimplified here, and which I’ll probably write more about in future blogs):
- Practicing good communication and lots of it;
- Knowing there is no way to win when your friends or loved ones are losing — that any decision that affects the group is strictly a win-win or lose-lose situation;
- Continually reminding ourselves and each other that caring about one another is valued above all else; and
- Last but not least, everyone practicing charity as a way of reminding ourselves how good our lives are
When these things are considered top priority by all involved, group living can fulfill our desire for connection, relating with others regularly and knowing we are a vital part of something bigger than ourselves.
Can you imagine a situation in which your opinion, desires and needs are considered so completely that compromise, for you or anyone in the group, would be unacceptable?
Can you imagine the only way the whole group could be happy would be if each person were getting everything they wanted? Can you imagine everyone being in total agreement before any newly proposed idea goes into action?
This is possible. I would not have believed it if I had not witnessed it and practiced it.
I believe humans are wired for community living. As noted, history shows us we are tribal/herding creatures at heart. And there is certainly more to human life than mere existence. A group can handle many of our deepest needs. Sharing our creative energy calls us to action we may never practice while living alone.
Living in a group — with people ranging in age, taste and desire — creates a rich pool of resources far beyond what we might create on our own.
Our 21st century lifestyles have led us far from the extended family households in prewar times. With today’s changing social, economic and demographic conditions, blended and extended family households are becoming far more common again. Out of economic need, we are rediscovering the social, psychological and emotional value of group living.
Remember, a group is two or more people, so even if you aren’t living in a group situation now, at some point you probably will be. And even if you don’t, keep in mind that in any group situation (from work to neighborhood communities), we can practice paying attention to each other, communicating more and valuing each other’s happiness.
In my mind, there’s no better way to bring out the best potential in each of us.