I read recently that most hunter/gatherer peoples spent an average of about four hours/day working on the essentials of life—gathering food, erecting or maintaining shelters, making clothing, etc.—and the rest of their day playing or otherwise enjoying themselves! When did we jump off that boat and start swimming upstream? Some of the principle reasons they enjoyed this kind of freedom are they cooperated and owned very little in the way of individual possessions. Somewhere along the line, we drifted into our own places, started gathering stuff about us, buying vehicles so we can even travel in our own space and working at least 8 hours/day (double that of hunter/gatherers!) to keep ahead of our debts! In the process, we have isolated ourselves in our homes, glued ourselves to TVs and other electronic devices where our only “communities” are nothing more than images and/or words…and now sounds on a screen! I joked with a friend recently saying that while it is nice to see and hear loved ones on our computer screens, it is an experience similar to that of visiting a strip club….you can look, but you can’t touch!…which seems a bit like self torture to me!
We have gained a few things…like more privacy maybe…from our move away from community, but if you consider it even briefly, it becomes clear we have lost much more than we have gained. In short, we have burdened ourselves with debt, buried ourselves in stuff, and in our quest for more and more, have separated ourselves not just from each other, but from everything around us! For a great example of this process, you might read, Ancient Futures; Lessons from Ladakh for a Globalizing World by Helena Norberg Hodge (see also the documentary film “The Economics of Happiness”). I recently spent three months living at an ashram and despite the fairly rigorous schedule and restrictions typical of a religious retreat, I had an amazing time and realized that I thrive in a close-knit community environment. I suspect many, if not all of us would respond well to increases in our sense of community. Churches and other organizations fill some of our needs in this area, but getting together a few times a week is not the same experience as living close and working together toward common goals, sharing resources and even meals at times and enjoying harvests and other special events as a community. Babies attended without touch and affection will fade away and die. Despite the image of the “rugged individualist” we often try to project, we humans are social creatures…we need contact, we need a community in which to blossom.
The interesting thing about many of the “problems” we get ourselves wrapped up in and stress over is that as we are killing ourselves worrying about possible solutions, they are quietly solving themselves! I am ecstatic to see the growing number of CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture…small local membership farms) and inner city community gardens around the country, the popularity of programs like WOOFing (volunteering and learning at organic farms around the world), the increasing interest in permaculture and the move toward small, self-sustaining communities of which there are now over 1,000 in North America (see www.ic.org). Large numbers of people are realizing that most of the problems we’re facing today are directly related to the sense of separateness that has developed along with our quest for “independence” and emphasis on personal gain. More and more are discovering (or re-discovering!) the great satisfaction and joy that comes not just from producing and consuming wholesome food and developing sustainable ways of living, but also from working together and serving something bigger than themselves…and being part of a community. I just read a slogan for a city’s community garden program that states “Gardens build community!” It is hard to imagine a more powerful tool for positive growth than people working together with their hands in the dirt, raising wholesome food for all to enjoy!
I’m not suggesting that we can all meet our needs and those of our families working just 4 hours a day, but the “work” we do doesn’t need to feel like work. We can’t all “go back to the farm” or become hunter/gatherers again, but there are some very helpful steps we can all take in that direction and for those inclined to step away from the consumer-driven life, there are some great options available. Initial steps could be as simple as learning how to sprout and growing live foods on your windowsill or counter. Success with this might lead to container or tower gardening or small hydroponic systems, or backyard or rooftop gardening if you have the room. Involve everyone you can, share the knowledge you gain, form a community garden or your own intentional community; join an existing community that is growing its own food. Properly-designed gardens take less water, require fewer chemicals (or better yet, NO chemicals) and much less of our attention and energy to maintain than lawns and can also shave a lot off our grocery (and health care) costs! There is no reason for anyone anywhere to go hungry! What are we waiting for? Just garden! Find your community! Find yourself!