For those disillusioned with the society in which we are embedded, there exists communities around the world that work hard to be self-sustainable and encourage increased respect for nature. Joanna Cho takes a deeper look into one of these communities, and assesses whether they are a reliable way of escaping the exploitation we are surrounded by.
New Zealand has, per capita, more intentional communities than any other country in the world, with an estimated 600 people living in these communities nationwide. Out of the 16 intentional communities in New Zealand, one is the Tui Spiritual and Educational Trust, a small society of 46 members tucked away in the rural stretch of Wainui Bay. 20 percent of the community is made up of children who are deeply imperative in the eyes of these adults, and they are either home schooled or sent to a local public school. Their primary intention is to live in harmony with the land, seeking wholeness through fulfilling relationships with themselves, their peers, and the planet. A set of objectives titled the TSET objectives serve as their guidelines and goals. While there is no specific religion, political stance or spiritual belief stitched into the community, individuals are encouraged to follow their own spiritual path, and the members have had long term explorations with the human potential. Decisions for the community are decided upon through a consensus, and there is no identified leader.
I love to learn how many people are conscious of the importance of a nature/man equilibrium and better yet, that they are walking the talk. There are two prominent pro and con arguments for the sheer existence of an intentional community. On the upside, they generally display a more cohesive system of teamwork and sharing, promoting more peace and less violence. This is favorable as the calmness in a person can be derived from their environment and leads to rational, more considerate actions. However, the total number of members in this community and others alike in New Zealand is quite low, and this can raise questions about the reality of encompassing a wider population into this kind of lifestyle. Is it really an achievable solution for the general public? Would the communities be able to operate in the same peaceful way if hundreds of people were crowded in a refined space? I interviewed a young man, George Edgar, who had experienced the Tui community while living there for a short time. He related some significant information about this society.
As for electricity, the main lines provide some of their energy, but they also rely on solar panels, with most of the residents using solar heated water. Using renewable, efficient, eco-friendly alternatives to other power systems is a typical and effective method for intentional communities. Most people own cars, however they cycle or walk whenever possible, and make use of their active transport network when venturing into the nearby towns Takaka or Nelson. A group transport system is wonderfully efficient and has room for social interactions, but the dependency on other people can hinder the movement of an individual. All the same, individual development appears to be engrained in a group progression. The land produces 21-50% of the food, and the tight knit community share meals 2-5 times a week. Each person’s diet is their own choice, but the residents here are primarily vegetarian and alcohol and tobacco are strictly prohibited. The banning of these substances can have very positive effects, as addictions and dependencies on other forms of heightened experiences are withdrawn. Having said that, there is a certain cut of pleasure we have become accustomed to and the elimination of pleasure enhancing drugs would be difficult to get used to.
The people residing here, away from the grilling machine sounds and unblinking lights of the city (yet with the ease of internet connections and telephones) have independent finances that support their stay. There is a joining fee and regular fees, therefore an income or bundle of ready money is necessary. Even in an environment that tries to snip off the strings that ties people to modern, capitalist society, there is money involved and only those who are fairly well-off to begin with can be a part of this new world. Adult members are expected to contribute with physical labour and development costs. 3.5 hours a week is the minimum time one is required to spend working in the garden, farm, orchard, with machinery or with the finances. An issue with this form of lifestyle is the distinct characters it attracts, excluding those who are perhaps more passionate about mathematics than music. Stereotypically a ‘hippy’ strain of people who are ardently attached to music and spiritual explorations are stamped as the faces of alternative living initiatives, and while I believe this is a false generalization, the activities listed here do represent this type of group. The problem this yields is the segregation of different types of people. Those who do not feel entirely spiritual but firmly believe in the environmental ethics held in an intentional community may feel discouraged to join such a community because it raises discomfort or insecurities.
The Tui community is such a beautiful idea that is made more beautiful by the real limbs that represent the achievement of bringing to life such environmentally ethical solutions. As with everything, there are arguments that can be raised, but only if one wants to raise them. What I mean by this is that we can weigh the pros and cons and we can debate whether this is the best option for everyone, but when there is no harm to others we can also choose to simply appreciate the innocent intentions behind the movement. It promotes a healthy lifestyle, encouraging self-sustainability and working together. The mindset required to accept the challenge (rewarding I’m sure but nonetheless a sure challenge) must be one of determination, commitment and a knowledge of something bigger. It’s a chase fueled by a drive for a deeper connection to self, others and nature, a clearer understanding, or it is simply a place for a person who cares for the environment to practice living the way they want.
By Joanna Cho
Photos by George Edgar
For more from Joanna Cho, you can check out her website Wallpaper Talk, or follow her on Twitter @wallpapertalk