Moving Into Conscious Relationship
Five Tips for Communal Living
I would like to dive into a topic that has been a major theme of experience and reflection for me during the last few years. While I hardly consider myself an expert (still learning just as much as I always have) on communal living, I feel drawn to share a few observations that have come into focus in that time.
For a little over two years I lived at a community house we called Eden’s Cove. Eden’s Cove has been called home by many, visited by countless, and supported by what we called community. Those who lived in the home were gifted practice with balancing work, friendship, intimate, roommate, and financial relationships all at once. It gave rise to a personal expansion of the word Family.
Since the physical dissolution of Eden’s Cove, I have been hosted as a guest at several abodes – each entirely unique and each full of incredible lessons. These opportunities have widened my perspective and enabled me to see a common thread emerging: we have forgotten how to live with each other.
Of course this is still only one perspective, one story. If I am being totally honest, I find myself questioning the need to even qualify what I am sharing – “Why do I feel my words require ‘credentials’ in order to be accepted? It appears people only consider what is shared if I have a title or alphabet after my name… Can we not assess truth through its own merits?” Old and new stories jockeying for position…
Living in Community
I realize the statement that we have “forgotten how to live with each other” is full of various interpretations. A word that can encompass this idea is community. If I asked what community means, I would receive as many different definitions as there are people. One aspect of my understanding of community is what I have come to call conscious relationship.
Conscious relationship, as I use the term, is the recognition that we all have value to give, in every interaction we have with others. This is not always a verbal contribution and can be as simple as directing attention. Maturing into this type of interpersonal awareness requires the courage to be humble, the vulnerability to be open, the self-love to reflect, and the self-acceptance to heal. The one-on-one growth potential in conscious relationship is only amplified in a larger community.
While I often dream of what possibilities lay dormant in the forgotten realm of community, what I know are the experiences, often oh-so brief, that have touched at the core of something true within me. How do we approach our interactions with each other so that all parties walk away truer to themselves? Can we move from simply “getting along” or tolerating others into a co-creative celebration of conscious relationship?
Five Tips for Communal Living
I. Weekly “Tribal Councils”
Creating a safe space for ongoing group communication and open sharing is essential for a supportive environment. At Eden’s Cove, we gathered for a weekly home circle that we called a “Tribal Council”. These would start with each individual giving their weather report: a deeper exploration into their current experience of life. This was to share more than simply “everything’s good”. What are you excited about? What are you working through? What dreams are you exploring? There was never pressure to share anything in particular (or at all), and it gave the opportunity to express our inner environment without having input from others (a talking feather would get passed around to symbolically encourage this). With an open heart, open ears, and open mind, we would be ready to dive into the fun stuff.
The tribal councils provide an opportunity to coordinate sharing of the space, communicate expectations, express imbalances and personal triggers, and share our personal needs and gifts. Since they are only once a week, consider a house ‘communication book’ to write down items that need to be discussed at the upcoming tribal council.
II. Sharing Food
Personally, I feel that the sharing of food is foundational to creating a healthy home. This was a topic that arose at many tribal councils. I am grateful for the opportunity to have shared completely in the purchasing, cooking, and eating of all the food at Eden’s Cove. It took courage to let go of the differences in eating habits and to split the food purchases evenly. This encouraged healthy eating, minimal purchased meals, cooking practice, and many home meals together. Often, we had each roommate pick a meal during the week that they wanted to prepare for the whole house.
While the full sharing of food might be a large step for some, and if your home prefers to keep food separate, I would encourage experimenting with at least one communal meal at home per week. You can rotate whoever prepares the meal or all cook together (even better in my experience).
III. Beautifying the Space
Cleaning brings up many conflicts that required diplomacy and compassion to resolve. Clear expectations are essential – my idea of clean is likely different from yours. How can we reach a healthy balance? If you feel like you are cleaning more, or so-and-so isn’t doing their share, do you communicate that? Does it seem like everyone else continues to leave dirty dishes in the sink?
Ideally these imbalances are expressed immediately in order to find a mutual resolution and clear any tensions. However, our default reaction can often be to bottle it up and not say anything. The tribal councils creates a container for this expression and healing. Notice when you feel triggered by a mess, take responsibility for your emotional state, and compassionately share that with the others. A technique for this type of potentially confrontational communication is outlined in the next section. Remember that we are all learning to clean up after ourselves; our society isn’t set up to teach us that very well.
With many visitors to Eden’s Cove, and the offering of intimate healing sessions, we desired to keep the home as clean as possible. Coordinating this required using a communication board that listed the chores that needed doing, who was to do them, and what the expectations were for the beautification. We also played with posting little reminders in key areas, such as “is the space cleaner than when you found it?”.
IV. Crucial Conversations
You walk into the kitchen to make some breakfast and find it a total disaster from your roommate cooking the night before. You cleaned the bathroom the last few times and can’t recall ever seeing your roommate cleaning it. Your roommate hogs the television every night. The person in the room above you blasts music loud while you try to sleep. You have asked your friend multiple times to rinse their dishes better. Whatever the trigger is for you, they all require a “crucial conversation” to express to someone else. Often these expressions are associated with conflict, however to engage in them openly we need to first move past the idea that conflict is a bad thing. Conflict, when approached in a particular way, can be extremely constructive.
When feelings of anger or frustration arise in response to a trigger and we choose to “bottle it up”, we progress along the path from silence to violence. Eventually, the emotion springs forth and we lash out verbally, with insults or shouting, or physically, against an object or person. Moving into a crucial conversation with the individual helps to diffuse and heal this trigger before it results in destructive conflict. It means taking responsibility for your state while communicating how this particular behaviour made you feel.
These situational triggers can move through a few stages, each stage indicating what the source of conflict is, depending on how many times it has happened. The acronym of CPR is useful to illustrate this idea.
– C – Circumstance – this is when the trigger has happened once and the discussion is best approached with a focus on what happened, specific to the incident.
– P – Pattern – this is when the circumstance is repeated a second or third time and the discussion around the circumstance did not resolve the conflict. It is now necessary to bring the repeating pattern to light.
– R – Relationship – discussing the pattern has not helped and the behaviour has continued. This means that there is something foundational to the relationship that needs to be healed. It is not about the dishes or music or pattern.
In order to constructively approach a crucial conversation, it is important to avoid accusations. You might be mistaken that someone has never cleaned the bathroom and this comment could start the resolution off on the wrong foot.
Begin with the facts. “I noticed that you missed a tribal council”. “I have seen you leaving dishes in the sink”. If the incident is at the “C” level – this is likely all you need to talk about – a simple reminder or clarification on expectations.
If it has moved into a pattern or relationship conflict level, it is now useful to share how the facts make you feel. This is sharing your truth with compassionate understanding and entering into conscious relationship. After your expression, ask them how they feel or what they think about what you have shared. Maybe they have had a lot on their mind with a recent job transition or argument with a friend. This creates space for healing from both parties.
It was uncanny how immediate and noticeable the effects were of a missed tribal council at Eden’s Cove. If there was unresolved tension we would have fruit flies, the house would be a mess, and people would not come over. Once the build up had been released and conflict dispelled, the environment responded positively in turn. And the resolution of conflict brings me to the final communal living tip: hugs!
It might come as a surprise to those who were in our community of huggers that the people we often hugged the least were the ones we lived with. Somehow it became too easy to let simple friendship supports, like hugs, slide and be forgotten. Tribal councils always ended with a hug. They help us to feel connected, loved, and supported while meeting a deeply human need of touch. Hugging makes a healthy home!
As we all practice and learn this new interpersonal ethic, or conscious relationship, we are remembering how to live in a community of individuals where we are all supported and empowered to thrive. I have found that compassion, honesty, respect, and humility are powerful allies for transformation and growth. Opening to a more intimate knowing within the container of community helps us to become aware of our underlying connection and shared desire for health and happiness. We are all in this together; let’s explore where together can take us!