IntroductionWhat are we going to do? Nobody likes the world as it is: violence, drugs, alienation, oppression, poverty, hunger, injustice, corruption, broken families and communities, pollution, environmental degradation – I could go on, but, you know.So what are we going to do?A lot of people say, “Nothing. It’s hopeless. The ordinary person is powerless. So I’m just looking out for me and mine. Get what I can, live as well as I can, and don’t worry too much about what happens to the rest of the world.”Then there are the activists. The ones that take on one or more pieces of what’s wrong and try to affect change by opposition, demonstrations, marches, civil disobedience, confrontation for peace, the environment, civil and economic justice. Sometimes it’s effective and things shift a little, and there’s a comradeship of solidarity that feels good.Others prefer to work within the system. By infiltrating and spreading human values in government, business, education, medicine, and so on, making friendly connections, one can make small changes where one lives and works.These changes all seem so small and scattered in the vast complex of what’s wrong. But very few people still think that revolution would fix anything. Two centuries of revolutionary responses have not helped, and sometimes made things worse.The fact is no one could construct a theory that would work for every person in every society now and into the future. I don’t have the answer to the world’s problems. But we do. There’s a saying, “None of us is as smart as all of us.” Broad studies of human societies show us that they are most human, most considerate and beneficial to all, when they are egalitarian, when deliberation and decision-making are distributed most equally. When power becomes concentrated in an individual or a special group oppression and injustice appear and grow.As Lord Acton observed, power corrupts, and only the true equality of small groups, where there is time and care for each person to be heard, can protect our communities from that corruption. From the beginning civilized societies were corrupt, for instance, by the exclusion of the female half of the population, power resting only in the male, further narrowed to the warrior and the wealthy. The system of what is called checks and balances has failed to address this unequal distribution of power to the wealthy.True democracy does not exist in any of the nations of the world, because of size and the influence of wealth. But it has existed in those tribal societies where each person has an equal voice, where communities are small enough for people to know and hear each one.Is it possible for a planet of more than six billion people to have economic, political, cultural and spiritual organization based on units small enough to secure such a true democracy, maintaining equality and the common values of each community, yet cooperating in larger projects and organization for a greater good globally?As a tribal person who has experienced living in a variety of tribal communities and who has studied the evolution of human society, I have come to the conclusion that it is possible for humanity to achieve a society that is truly egalitarian and enhances the creativity, contentment, closeness and love of every member. I see indications of that in all the work I have done with circles and communities for the past forty years.What follows is my own personal conception and vision of how that might be achieved. I offer it as part of our common search to make our lives, the lives of the coming generations, and that of the Earth and our fellow creature species, better, healthier, safer and happier.I have chosen to present this vision in a compact version, as a visit to a village of the future. It is a see I hope may find fertile ground in our heart and mind to grow into your own vision, to share and deep us moving forward together.I intend to begin to nurture this seed with others as soon as we may find a spot to begin our first Circle Way Village. It will not develop just like this vision, because it will be the product of all the different people who build it. But I believe the basic human principles behind it are ones to which most will find agreement.1. The Seed of the VisionThis visit was made in the year 2012, and obviously much had been accomplished in the village by then. The vision of that visit was recorded and published in 2005, before even land had been located and acquired for the village. After the first public reading of the vision in August, the author visited Damanhur, a village of about 1,000 people in the foothills of the Italian Alps. This community, with much the same intention as the Circle Way movement, had its own economy with its own money, 80 businesses, a shopping center, organic farm, elementary school, a spiritual university, and has created a renowned temple to the spirit of humankind actually inside the mountain. Their vision began in 1975 and the land was acquired and building begun two years later. Their achievements include many elements of our vision here and may be viewed on the Internet at www.damanhur.org.The Circle Way Village vision had been germinating and gestating for ten years in our international camps exploring the Circle Way before this version of the vision was written. The author is satisfied, after creating, living in, and studying many communities for close to forty years, that this vision is eminently practical and feasible. Due to the nature of the Circle Way that encompasses and encourages the total range of creativity and intelligence of all its participants, there will no doubt emerge many variations in the manifestation of Circle Way Villages.That is all to the good. Because our goal is not just to make better lives for ourselves and our families, but to create a society which works for everyone. A society that does not just give lip service to freedom, equality and friendly, supportive relationships among all human beings, but actually brings us closer to each other and allows our universal human qualities of creativity, playfulness, and caring to flourish.2. Entering a New WorldWe pull into the parking lot just as a bus from the train station in town is unloading a score of visitors to the Village, as it is known here. They come from all over the globe – an international mix. Some are obviously tourists, couples and families, bearing mobile-phone cameras and camcorders. Some are students working on theses about community, especially the phenomenon of global Circle Way Villages proliferating everywhere, societal change, ecology Some are wanderers, looking for a place to call home, or just adding another experience of the world’s variety, and some are members of other Circle Way Villages with a particular skill to offer, or learn. There is also a small group come to study how the Village functions in order to set up a new Circle Way Village of their own.Other people are parking their cars, - commuters who live in the Village and work at their shops in town, where are sold organic farm products and handcrafts of the villagers. These head for the rows of bicycles that stand free for the use of all and head off down the narrow road to the Village which lies just out of sight below the hill.We join the other visitors on a large rubber-tired horse cart like an immense surrey with open sides and a fringed roof. The driver makes sure all are secure, and then urges the pair of sturdy horses to follow after the bicyclists. When we have cleared the crest of the hill and begun to descend, the noises and smells of the highway behind us disappear, and we are suddenly in a world of quiet breezes whispering across the meadows, of insect humming, birdsong, and wildflowers smiled upon by a kindly sun from a clear sky above.A woman from the Village is with us to welcome visitors and be our guide. Interest in these communities has spread so that now the thousands of visitors a year provide a dependable additional business. We ask her how far it is to the Village.“Not so far. When we top that next hill you will see it below us. The fields around us here are part of the farm, but these are in their fallow cycle this year. If you look over there you can see a flock of our sheep.”“Are they for food or wool?” a man asks.“Wool. The animals we have are also villagers, and we love them as part of our family. We don’t eat our animals, we take good care of them and see that they have good lives, as we do.”“Are you all vegetarians?”“Not all. Most of us are, but there are also some carnivores. There were many councils about that in the beginning, with very committed people on both sides of the issue. No one wanted an autocracy – we work with consensus. Everyone agreed that the treatment of animals by the meat industries is an abomination, so we found an agreement that carnivores may hunt and fish for their own use, with reverence and gratitude to the creatures who answer our prayers. Those people feel good in following the ways of our ancestors in harmony with the cycle of life. Of course we vegetarians think we have evolved further, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously and we joke about it a lot with each other.“But you do use animal products – like wool.”“We discuss that a lot and try to use our best thinking together. Many of our animals have been domesticated for ten thousand years. They would not know how to survive in the wild any longer. So we take them as co-villagers and care for them as we care for each other. But each of us does something to support the whole family, so we have sheep and goats and others giving wool and milk. Some people eat no dairy products but they don’t object as long as we are so thoughtful and caring of the animals’ total welfare. We also have hens giving eggs for instance, and horses pull wagons and plows and sleighs, also dogs for herding and cats for vermin control.”“You don’t use farm machinery?”“Yes, we do, but it is generally very simple and old-fashioned. Basically, we don’t like internal combustion and fossil fuels. Too noisy and smelly. We love our clean air and the soft sounds of wind and songbirds. Naturally we are completely organic and use no poisonous chemicals, only our own natural compost. And it feels so good to walk beside our horses, plowing, planting, and harvesting together.”“Look, there it is!”We turn our attention ahead again and see below us a thick tall hedge running across the meadow and beyond it the rooftops of a cluster of buildings above which a bell tower rises. As we come nearer we discern in the hedge an elaborately carved wooden gate above which stand out the words: WELCOME HOME3. A Trip DowntownOnce through the gate the extent of the little town becomes apparent. There are quite a few buildings just ahead which are clearly not residences but businesses, shops, studios, offices, and on the right are barns and other farm buildings with wide fields extending beyond. On the left and a bit behind the central town area one can make our many smaller houses, evidently homes. Beyond all a tree line rises indicating extensive woodlands. Just before us there is a large building where we stop. This is the hostel hotel where we shall stay and where the welcome office is that will be our connection to the Village.After our luggage is disinterred, the horses and carts are brought away toward the barns. A variety of sleeping accommodations are available: very tiny private rooms, each with a single bed and window, larger family rooms to which cots may be added, or a dormitory where a measure of privacy may be attained by hospital curtains if desired. There are no private baths. The simplicity and lack of luxury allow very inexpensive rates, set not for profit but to be a service. Meals in the large dining hall are also remarkably reasonable, as well as fresh and organic. Lunch has been prepared tastefully by people who evidently enjoy culinary creativity. We are reminded of one of the signs we read upon entering:
DO WHAT YOU LOVE, AND LOVE WHAT YOU DOAfter lunch a new guide arrives to give our group an overall tour of the Village. We are told that if one place or aspect is of special interest to any of us, the guide will find someone to spend more time with that person to learn about that.Beyond the hotel there is a paved street leading past a number of buildings. At first, on our right, there is an old-fashioned general store selling a little of everything that a home might want – fresh produce, groceries, kitchen utensils, and various tools and appliances. The next building is a museum which we will be sure to visit later.Further along the street on both sides and around the circular common are a number of workshops, fronted by small shops selling the crafts and other products made within. There is a clothing store in front of the weavers and tailors house, a bicycle store fronting the shop that makes and repairs them. There is a blacksmith and a glass blower with shops of their wares. A bookstore stands in front of the publishing and printing shop that produces a weekly newspaper, books, pamphlets, and prints of artwork. Other crafts such as basket making, ceramics, wood carving, wooden toys and furniture all have workshops and stores of their own.One building has been given over to electronic design, construction and repair. Here there a number of people designing hardware, building computers, stereos, television sets, mobile phones, cameras and camcorders, others working on programming, software, creating films and videos depicting the many aspects, issues, and stories of Village life. All of these products are available to the public in the attached shop.Also facing the common is a café and restaurant, with outside tables in the rear amid a flower garden and in front facing the common.This common has paths like spokes of a wheel lined with flowerbeds all leading to the center where there rises an open bandstand. From this a quintet consisting of a piano, an accordion, a clarinet, drums and double bass, issues a relaxed stream of music of a style all their own, borrowed and blended from many sources. A knowledgeable listener might discern elements of jazz and European classical traditions, of klezmer and Sephardic Jewish strains, gypsy derivations from eastern Europe and Spain, Greek, Turkish, Caucasian mixed with colorations from North Africa and the Middle East. Changing rhythms asserted direction and flow of sound, rhythms that danced out of South America, sub-Saharan Africa, India and the Orient.A number of people are sitting on the grass or listening from benches along the paths, and a few are dancing.“Where is this music from?” one of our group asks.“These are some of our musicians, villagers who have played together for a long time. The music, as you can hear, is from all over the world. Many people visit us from many cultures. Those who play or sing sit in with our musicians and they learn from each other. Now that we have Circle Way Villages in many other countries these changes are becoming more frequent. It seems that while each village is creating its own culture, we are also beginning to create a new global culture.”4. A New CultureBeyond the common at the end stands a very large building with two long wings extending on either side. This we are told is the Village Cultural Center. As we enter the front door of the central section we find it to be a huge oval dome, similar to the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. Like that building the acoustics here are remarkable. A pin dropping at one end can be clearly heard throughout. Rows of seats holding several thousand people rise around a center space for speakers, choirs, theater-in-the-round, or even circus acts.“This was designed to contain the entire Village population of around a thousand,” the guide says. “Here people come for weekly socials with singing and dancing, and also to discuss and make decisions about the Village. The tiers of seats at the far end can be moved to turn towards a large platform stage beyond. Here there is often a performance of some kind on weekends, a play by the Village theater company, or a dance by the dance company, concerts of jazz, rock, classical, folk and world music by teachers and students of the Village music school, and occasionally by visiting artists. All events are free to the villagers and the outside public is requested to donate any free will gift.“Visiting players donate their performances and get free room and board and access to all facilities. Other artists may come for a retreat in order to work on some project, a book, a painting or sculpture, a music drama or whatever, and share their progress when they choose with other artists. Most Circle Way Villages have some specialty, and ours is our arts schools and programs. If you wanted to study some science, such as nuclear physics or astronomy, or creative writing perhaps, or say some branch of philosophy or technology, agriculture or gardening, or the environment, say, you could find a village that specializes in that. One of our youth has gone to a coastal village that teaches boat building. I guess if he likes it he’ll stay and do that for his vocation.”We are invited to inspect backstage and marvel at the design which can be adapted to theater of all periods, with an elaborate lighting, sound, and scenery technology, all produced in the Village. Later we will view an amphitheater where performances and gatherings are held in clement weather.The wings that extend out from the left of this theater house the music school, with rehearsal studios and classrooms, private practice rooms, and a small recital hall. There is also a listening room with comfortable chairs and some writing tables, where people are listening through headphones to whatever they have chosen from a vast library of recorded music.The wings on the right begin with a gallery of art by Village artists, with a room for visiting collections from other villages or galleries. Beyond are studios for painting, sketching, sculpture in stone, wood, metal and other constructs, and classrooms for the students, a print room and library of paintings which are free for loan to villagers.Between the theater and the music and the art wings are both outdoor and indoor play spaces for the children of attendees to events and classes. Surrounding the whole vast structure on the sides and behind are many gardens with walking paths, benches, arbors, gazebos, fish ponds and a little brook that runs through. These paths may be charmingly illuminated during dance nights or outdoor concerts in summer.5. Village FacilitiesPassing through the gardens to the right we are led around to a group of large buildings that stand behind the shops we passed coming in. The first is a water treatment plant that recycles wastewater from the Village, filtering it through tiers of earth and plant life, also purifying some through distillation, with ongoing experiments in new ways of treatment. Next to this building is the heating plant, which supplies heat to all the buildings in the Village, including the homes. One source of heat at present is wood chips supplies by sawmills and construction supply houses in the region as well as from the Village woodworking shops. Smoke from the burning is filtered and treated to reduce air pollution. The main source of heating is vegetable oil heated by the solar collectors, which can be seen on every roof. There are also various new experiments going on to produce heat from renewable sources.Next to this is a fitness center with indoor pool, sauna and steam rooms, basketball, handball, racquetball, squash and tennis courts, weight rooms, a four-lane bowling alley, and rooms for yoga, martial arts, and other physical training. Outside there is also a pool, plus volleyball, croquet, shuffleboard and bocce.Someone remarks about all the expense that all these facilities require.“In the beginning,” the guide replies, “one of the resistances people had to living in a rural community was that they would not have access to various things they want in their lives, and the founders felt that whatever anyone wanted that added to a good life could be available. We especially want to have physical fitness and having fun in the center of our lives, so this building and the sport fields and playgrounds are very important to us.”Moving on we discover a substantial library, with computers for research, and books, recordings and films for borrowing. Here also are rooms for meetings, such as literary, writing and discussion groups on many subjects. We are informed that on Friday evenings there is usually a movie at the main theater, the best films of many countries, or sometimes one created here in the Village, a joint project of all the arts groups.The last building of this group, the one closest to the Hostel Hotel again, is the Village museum. In this we see photographs and memorabilia and exhibits in many rooms, exhibits of the history of the universe, the evolution of life on earth.As we walk through the rooms the guide explains, “Here we can follow the stages of humankind from the early humanoids millions of years ago, through the emergence of, homo sapiens sapiens, our peaceful tribal ancestors and early civilizations to the rise of domination and violence that gripped the systems of human intercourse and conquered the tribal peoples, the struggle of people through the ages of civilization for freedom and equality, and finally the coming together of people in small groups to return to the peaceful tribal ways of human caring and cooperation. These new tribes assist each other in many networks around the world of which the Circle Way Villages are only one.“When the first Circle Way Village was begun, the planners understood that human beings are fundamentally tribal. That is, that they are the most human when they are living closely with other human beings, sharing their thoughts and feelings, their hopes and fears and desires, and cooperating for the highest welfare of all. They understood that their forebears had lived good lives tribally for millennia before their circles were conquered and broken. A few hundred million people still lived in or were connected to their tribal heritage. Most of the billions of people on earth had long lost all connection to any tribe, or they were a mix of many cultures with perhaps some sentimental attachment to one or another. They had really no idea what living in a cooperative and intimate circle of people would be like. But they knew it would only be in such small circles that they could have true equality, true democracy, and have a chance to make a better society. It would be up to them now to create totally new tribes. That meant learning what was best and essential about old tribal ways and adapting them to the modern world.”“What did they think were essential in those old ways?”“Respect, equality, closeness, and cooperation.”“They must have been very brave to just step out of society and, well, make a whole new one.”“I’m not sure they thought of themselves as especially brave, though it must have been sdfary for many of them. But they felt the soul-killing force of the systems that ruled the world and simply could not live under them any longer. They recognized that all oppression has an economic basis, and that to be free meant to be self-sufficient, to step away from the dominant economy. They understood that by producing and consuming as a part of that economy they were contributing to their own oppression. And they saw many examples around them of how communities may become self-sufficient simply by cooperating, pooling their energies and resources, and sharing with each other.One room shows the early evolution and migration of peoples across the earth, one room deals with the changes from peaceful, cooperative, egalitarian cultures to the cultures of violence and oppression which succeeded in a ten thousand year era to conquer the whole world. Other rooms show the return of peaceful, cooperative, egalitarian communities, their early struggles to survive the dominant culture of violence and isolation which continues still in the outside world. In another room the history of religious and utopian communities is displayed together with the writings of social philosophers and spiritual leaders. Finally one room is devoted to networks such as ecovillages and co-housing and the story of the development of Circle Way Villages. Here we are greeted by another quotation:“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.”– Martin Luther King, Jr.6. The HomesIt has been a full morning – a lot to take in – but now it is time to relax, have a buffet lunch at the hotel and talk with each other about what we have seen. We have a lot of questions, but our guide proposes that we wait, feeling that we will learn much by only seeing the whole, and that our questions will be better informed after we have viewed the entire scope of the Village.After lunch there is free time, for a siesta or socializing or walks in the fields we came through on the way or any of the places we visited. We are asked not to go yet to places we have not been with our guide.A new guide shows up in a couple of hours and our tour continues. We go back behind the last buildings we visited and are shown the fire station, the snow plows and a building for construction, repair and general maintenance, the barns, stables and other farm buildings, beyond which extend the fields where we can see potatoes, corn, wheat, and soy growing. Standing high beyond them are three wind turbines slowly revolving, and we are told they produce more than enough electricity for the whole Village.Above the farm buildings are maple sugaring and cider pressing houses and the orchards of apple, pear, peach, cherry, walnut, pecan and a few other nut trees. We cross back through the flower gardens behind the culture center and see many different styles, including an English garden, a French garden, a Japanese garden, a Chinese garden, a rose garden, a tulip garden, a rock garden, and a great labyrinth maze of thick hedges nearly three meters tall.Beyond the flower gardens are the vegetable gardens. Again many styles of cultivation are on display in rows and various geometric forms. Many greenhouses too. Of course all growing in the Village is organic, our guide tells us. Only natural methods of pest control and fertilizing are employed. No pesticides or chemical additives anywhere.The gardens are quite extensive, enough to supply the homes and restaurants and schools of the village with vegetables and berries. Next to the gardens are also buildings for canning and preserving produce.After the gardens we can see many residential houses, the homes of the villagers. It’s hard to tell how many there are because they spread over several meadows and hills and disappear up in the woods. Some are grouped around several ponds – or perhaps they are dammed up sections of one stream. The houses are varied and imaginative works of art, fashioned with loving and playful care clearly expressing the personalities of the occupants, who doubtless had a hand in the design – and probably the construction. The houses were of varying woods, stones, brick and other materials, with fanciful doors and windows, towers, turrets, cupolas, oddly angled wings, dormers, porches, balconies. Clear, opaque, and colored glass placed in surprising and joyous abandon. Some houses seemed a rethinking of older traditional designs, some seemed from a magical story land realm, and others had reference only to the designers’ wild and free imaginations. Many had solariums alive with greenery. And all displayed solar collectors and water heaters on their roofs.With our guide we were able to stroll one street that circled in and out of the near houses. The people in these residences were accustomed to a few small groups being led past them about this time every day, and some came to their doors or looked up from their flowerbeds to waive to us. Behind us were two more little tours, with German and Japanese speaking guides. Some of us held up our cameras, and the villagers smilingly and proudly posed for them in front of their houses, which made us feel welcome and a little connected.We noticed that some of the houses were very tiny, able to house only one or maybe two adults, and others were clearly larger than single-family homes. Our guide explained that some people prefer to live quite alone and simply, others live with one other person in a very close relationship, perhaps elderly or very new couples, or same-sex couples who may not choose to raise children. Some of the larger houses accommodate other types of relationships: several people living together as a family in open non-monogamous sexual arrangements, which might be hetero, homo, or bi-sexual in nature. There were also larger buildings for people who prefer apartment style living, sharing common social rooms and perhaps common kitchens and dining rooms as well. A few of the larger buildings were children houses where young people could choose to live together with friends of their age. These were provided with a family of adults who could assist in their need but the children would have their own circles and decide for themselves most of the conditions of their living. The adults would of course keep an eye on their health and safety and help out where children might get stuck in relating to each other – or to other adults. But we were surprised – maybe shocked is more accurate – to learn that the children also could decide for themselves if and when and whether they should seek out avenues of their own education, go to school or not, and we are looking forward to hearing more about the Village learning programs when we visit the schools later.We were also shown a community house – there are many of these – where people from the neighborhood gather to play or work together, to hold community dinners, to watch special films or programs together. We asked about television and were told that a few people have their own, but most do not, finding most programming insidious invaders and thieves of their precious time. Computer games there are not about violence and competition, but show much creativity in games about caring for people, the environment and animals, about music and stories – fantasies of adventure, love, and spiritual development.Now we enter a path leading into the woods that lie directly behind the Village. People in our group are abuzz with comments on the open acceptance and easy melding of various sexual lifestyles in a quaint little town that up to now had appeared fairly traditional. A lot of giggling and some quiet deep thinking are going on.7. The Life of the SpiritOur guide now begins to speak of the spiritual life of the Village as we stroll leisurely and take in the reverent beauty of the forest. The canopy is high above us, and sunlight pierces it only in narrow shafts that beam down through the dark to illuminate patches of greenery on the forest floor. The awe it inspires is that of a natural cathedral and suits the subject under discussion.“When the Circle Way Villages were being developed in theory,” she says, “there was a realization that historically intentional, consciously designed communities that last over time were all spiritually based. Monasteries, convents, ashrams, and all manner of religious communities endured not just during the life of the founders but for generations, even for centuries. The life of tribal peoples, which worked well until they were violently invaded and dispersed, was also centered around spiritual values and expressions shared in common by all the people.“When people began to seek a new tribal living with cooperation and closeness to each other as a common goal, it was a time in the world of little cooperation but great domination and competition. It was a time of little closeness among people, but instead one of isolation and great loneliness. It was a time of fragmentation, of many religions that vied and competed with each other, each proclaiming it had the true word of God, the true view of spiritual reality. It was also a time when many, an ever-growing number of people abandoned the religious teachings in which they were raised. It was a time when it was very difficult to get together any group of people who might hold to the same spiritual values.“But that was exactly what the founding mothers and fathers of the Circle Way movement knew was most essential. So as they gathered in their early conferences and camps to explore how to live together the Circle Way, they began to share their spiritual feelings, experiences, ideas, yearnings and expressions with each other in their circles. They observed what was arising among them as common understands and values, and they began to create new ceremonies, new songs, new dances, and new stories that grew from these feelings and values. What was felt to be universal and true in the old religions could be honored and incorporated, but the new expressions need not become fixed and might continually evolve and change. Even as human beings are continually evolving and changing, and more quickly now, as our consciousness expands into new and higher realms of understanding together with our growing knowledge of the universe.”And now we have come upon a great clearing in the woods, perhaps a hundred meters wide and several hundred long. In the center of the clearing there is a small lake, still and serene, silently holding together images of the surrounding trees and the sky above. We begin to traverse the path that encircles the lake and find, at little distances and hidden by shrubbery from each other, there stand shrines for all the living religions of the world. In silent reverence we stand before each and enter to contemplate its beauties and mysteries. We pass small chapels, churches, temples, mosques and shrines for Vedanta and Hinduism, Buddhism (Mahayana, Theravada and Zen), for Confucianism and Taoism (there is a small island with a meditation house and bridge to it as we see in old Chinese paintings), for Zoastrians, for Jewish, Christian (Roman, Orthodox and Protestant), Muslim, Sikh, Jain, and Bahai. At the far end is a large area without buildings and only a few sacred things by fire centers, stone circles, and sacred groves for those nature centered and animist ways of natural people, such as the Celts, the indigenous people of the Americas and the Pacific islands, the original people of Australia, the tribes of Asia and Africa, of northern Europe and the Arctic.In one hour we have traveled the spiritual paths of humankind and have taken into our thoughts our common history, one that has separated us, but one that also can bind us. Religion. The word means, “to bind together again”.
8. A Gathering PlaceOur guide tells us that a few groups use some of these shrines to conduct traditional services in the older religions, and that just about everyone will occasionally come to one or another or perhaps to each one, to meditate alone. But the next stop of our tour will be the place where, regardless of religious preference, most of the people will come together to express what spiritual feelings they may hold.We emerge from the other side of the forest to find the amphitheatre – a natural flat depression with a semicircular hill rising above it. There are some stands for lighting at the top of the hill to illuminate outdoor performances, but otherwise the setting is natural, and people sitting on the grass of the hill look out beyond the place below towards hills and meadows beyond. This is the center of most of the Village spiritual life. During storms or before snows are cleared the theater of the cultural center is used. But people like to gather here as much as possible. Perhaps after taking that prayerful, meditative journey we just took through the history of human spiritual striving. Then to come here, under the clear skies, or the traveling clouds, under the stars or by sun or moonlight, at dawn or sunset, at one with the winds, the grass, the birds, the insects, the patient endurance of the trees, and the everlasting hills.Once a week, it might be at sunset on Saturday, or Sunday sunrise or afternoon, those who wish to celebrate together come here, some of the Village songs will be sung, and someone, a volunteer, elder or youth, man woman or couple. Might speak from their hearts for a little, words that reach out to bind souls and inspire minds. There is a women’s choir and a men’s choir and a children’s choir that may further move the people, and, we are told, most often a piano and some rhythm instruments are rolled out, the tempos raised, and all may conclude with the spirit moving into everyone for ecstatic and joyful dance.“Are there any, well, not commandments or dogma exactly, but any spiritual principles everyone agrees to?”“Not exactly. Not in the form of a creed or a scripture everyone subscribes to – but – yes. I suppose we all are really grateful to be alive, pretty much in awe of the whole of existence, the universe, the earth. I think we all agree that human beings are good and when we do bad things that is not our nature but a result of some hurts we have received. We would probably all agree that love is basic to our nature and is the greatest gift we have, but that curiosity and the ability to learn, playfulness and having fun, and creativity, making things that are beautiful or useful, are also all basic to our nature. These are some of what we like to celebrate together.”It is a beautiful and hopeful scene that we conjure here in our fantasy, imagining two or three hundred people, including elders, teenagers and toddlers, rocking out across the hill before us, leaping and twirling in wild abandon, drawing from each other and the music the wondrous energies of life, creativity, love and pure joy.9. Some Saturday Night Fun and TalksAgain we are given some free time on our own, an informed choice, as we add a new dimension from this walk to our understanding of the culture of this Circle Way Village. We wander back through the melon patches – cantaloupe, honeydew, casaba, watermelon – past the berry patches – raspberry, strawberry, currant, lingon, blueberry and blackberry – and we are allowed to sample whatever is ripe as we pass. We see in the distance, beyond the fields of tall pines, a large field with both horses and cows grazing freely in separate herds, and on the hill beyond the sheep and goats.As we turn back towards the Village and our hotel, some of us remark upon the distinctive bell tower rising beside a building we have not yet been shown. As we approach we can see it is a carillon with many bells visible in the tall openings at the top. We laugh as suddenly, magically it seems, the bells begin to peal forth in a lively baroque melody – Bach perhaps. We consult our watches, and it seems this outpouring of lovely sound across the fields must signal the retiring of the sun and the end of the day.After supper we participate in the evening program at the amphitheater. It is Saturday night, and what is offered is an exhibition of the creativity of the schools of performing arts. There is a one-act comedy about community life in the Village by a village playwright and performed by the students of the theater school. There is a short recital from the music students, a chamber piece for small orchestra with soprano and baritone solos, also by a Village composer, one of the teachers. After the intermission there is an extended new dance work featuring all the dance students performing in many styles and inspired by folk music from each of the world’s continents.Last on the program is the finale of one of the Village’s favorite musical comedies with the entire Circle Way chorus and orchestra in a joyous explosion of song and dance that infects the entire audience. People begin to leave their seats and dance in the aisles and onto the great stage. The spirit we are caught in verifies the scene we imagined here in the afternoon, and soon we are all up and leaping happily with the villagers.After the concert we return to the hostel where a small group of villagers joins us and we ask questions and learn more about the lives of the villagers, as well as of us visitors. One of our group, referring to our tour of the shrines in the afternoon, asks the residents about how the village relates to the native people’s religions.“One of our early founders was a Native American who followed his people’s traditional ways. He told us their way was not a religion, had no organization, no hierarchy, no scriptures, that it was a spiritual path, a way of life, each person guided by his relation to the spirit of all Creation. He was emphatic that people should not imitate other cultures although something might be learned from any of them. He thought people might draw on their own cultural heritage particularly, which of course might be a mixture of many, but that we all would be best to seek deeper into the heart and soul of Creation.”“And how do you do that?”“One of the worst effects of modern society has been to isolate us all, from each other and from the earth and the natural world. We could all feel that loss with a terrible sadness, which is why it felt so necessary to preserve our wilderness and the other species that we are destroying.We can know who we are only in relation to the rest of Creation, and when we separate ourselves we become lost and crazy. So we need to take more time to enter and learn our kinship with all life. On reaching puberty our children spend time alone in nature, and all through life most people will sometimes go apart by themselves to make deeper connections with the earth and our plant and animal relatives. Those are happy times that seem to fill a need in all of us.”“I notice a quotation you had from Martin Luther King, Jr., about unconditional love. Is that part of your belief system here?”“Well, of course, as you see, we have no system, no overtly stated common beliefs. But I suspect everyone here would agree with Dr. King about unconditional love. Some feel our principal goal in life beyond survival is to be happy and bring happiness to others. Some feel it is to learn. Some believe it is to evolve into a higher spiritual consciousness. As a teacher, I have found that my students learn more and better when they are happy. Bringing happiness to others is a form of love. To love is to be happy with. And it is love that incites our highest ecstatic awareness and guides our evolution.“It seems to us not a belief, but a fact, that human beings are all born good. We only have to visit our birthing center and regard a newborn infant to be struck by how innocent and sweet that little one is, enlisting our tenderest feelings. We can watch them as they grow, all with their excitement at being alive, their curiosity about everything. How quickly they learn, their unceasing sense of fun and playfulness. That’s just how good we all are. Our negative traits don’t show up until we are treated in negative ways. So of course we do our best here to treat our children in a supportive and positive manner,”“Even when they act out negative feelings and are destructive?”“Especially then. Of course, we will interrupt any mistreatment they engage in, but we do it without anger or blame, try to understand their feelings and give them a harmless outlet for them. We know they are hurting and it doesn’t help to add more hurt. We know they don’t like feeling the way they are feeling. This is true for all of us, at any age. When a child or an adult is behaving in an unloving or destructive way, we know that’s not who they really are. We see they are trapped in some kind of distress, and it doesn’t help for us to add to that distress.”“So what do you do?”“We listen to them. Help them express their feelings until they can get beyond them to their best thinking, coming from the true human place inside. We try to do that with lightness and humor, and to let them know how we care about them”A few of the villagers ask about our impressions of their little town, and we can tell that listening is something they do very well here. It makes us feel we are interesting and cared about – one of the things will take away with us from this visit. Then we retire and fall asleep instantly and soundly.10. The Clan: Heart of the VillageIn the morning we are wakened by guides, who immediately ask us to share any dreams we recall. This is a practice of most of the families and of the children’s house, inspired by the tradition of a Malay tribe. As was their custom, we are each assured that or dreams were excellent and very important, pointing to the positive teaching that may be found in each dream.Then, also following the Village custom, we are gathered before breakfast in a circular summerhouse (a platform with a roof on posts, no walls, and benches around that we can move to be as close as our circle is small. We are our own clan for the weekend, and we are instructed to pass a talking stick and give respectful attention to each one that holds the stick during the next hour. There are six of us, so we decide that a time-keeper will inform us after nine minutes so we can finish our thoughts within ten minutes and everyone will have equal time. Our only instructions are to speak honestly and from the heart, with the assurance that what we say will not be repeated outside of this circle, and not to interrupt or comment as a listener other than to show by our expressions our understanding and appreciation of each other’s feelings.Later our guide tells us that clans like ours were meeting then and meet every morning in this way. The clans, we are told, are the very heart of the village, the soul of the Circle Way.“We start the day,” she says, “by reviewing the highlights, discoveries and successes of the previous day, clearing our feelings and exploring new thoughts. This idea of clans was hit upon in the early days of the movement. In the old tribal days you were born into a clan which you kept for life, but in our first experimenting the clans were temporary until we actually came to commit ourselves to the land and to each other. We found in the camps that five to ten people were enough for all to be able to be heard in a brief time. So as our clans grew we always separated into the smaller groups for the talking circles. Questions about this?”“Are you always in the same clan?”“Yes, basically. In theory we are always free to change to another clan if we wish. But we don’t. Once we get to know the people in our clan a bond begins to grow that is as strong as family and no one wants to leave. As in the old days, the clan is part of your identity, like your family, your tribe or your nation. That seemed to work well for our ancestors, and now we find it very wonderful for ourselves.“Our development from the early conferences and workshops included a stage of camps where we could experience a new form of tribal living for a week or more, Since the camps might have three to five hundred people the clans assumed an essential role. People were assigned clans randomly at the beginning of camp. Even though people did not know each other and might be wary at first, the morning clan circle brought them so close to each other they often felt their group to be ordained by some divine intelligence or design beyond our ken. Often these clans would want to meet after camp during the year, and some moved onto farms together and built houses together, and many decided to re-unite the clan at every camp.“So when we began to build the first Circle Way Village we had a few ready-made clans, and we devised systems for creating new clans and assigning people to them. We asked people to agree to stay with their clan for at least three months before thinking about changing. But no one wants to change after a few weeks of getting close to the others.“There is a closeness, a bond, that forms as people begin to abandon their protective masks and armor and get glimpses of the innocent, loving, joyful children that is our unchanging essence. This bond with others is often the strongest, dearest and most hopeful relationship that people have ever known. Hopeful because through them we can see our own essence clearly, through them we can know how completely loveable we are, and we can freely give the great love inside us, we can work on and free ourselves from old patterns that block our energies and distort our perception of reality, we can release the power of our creativity and just generally have more fun in all the moments of our lives.”“That sounds too easy. Too good to be true. Aren’t you painting too rosy a picture?”“Maybe. If you think that’s all there is to it. It’s not a magic circle where we are instantly transformed. There’s work involved, and time demanded. But we have inherited some pretty good tools for helping ourselves and each other out of places where we have been stuck, helping us to move onward and upward together. And the process, while it’s not instant and may take a while, longer than we expect and wish, is really not painful. As we move along together intimately in each other’s lives, we are delighted in and celebrate our progress.”“How can we learn more about your process?”“Well, it’s too much to convey adequately in the short time you are here now. You could come back for the summer camp we hold here for two weeks and learn a lot – have a lot of fun too. And there’s a lot been written – we’ll give you a list of publications, most of them available at the bookstore here. You could also decide to stay longer, get involved in one of our classes and in a clan for three months. Or you could find a teacher in the area where you live. Or take a course through the Internet.”“I’m interested in how it works for you, this concept of closeness among people that seems central here.”“Okay – but first, what do you think of that concept?”“Well, I have thought it would be good to be in a community that cooperated and helped each other. But my experience of people is that most of them are just out for themselves. I wouldn’t want to be so close all the time to people. I like my space.”“Everyone does. But we all have different ideas bout how much space and how long or often we want to be alone. As in any village the people here find the style that suits them. Only here someone will check with you if you aren’t at clan meeting, just to be sure you are okay and don’t need some help.“Well that’s nice. Sometimes I do wish I had more friends, but frankly I don’t find very many people I like or trust.”“I understand. But that is the effect of a system that isolates people and makes them compete to survive. Some of our founders had the experience of older rural and tribal village communities in which everyone knew everything about everyone from birth and they all worked and played together. They decided that when people live closely and are not threatened but support each other, they are naturally relaxed, friendly, playful and humorous. We are only trying to allow the natural closeness of human beings, and we are finding that it does indeed work for us. We don’t fall in love with each other at first sight, but we remember how good we all started out as babies, and that the patterns we don’t like in ourselves and others were shaped by a system that needed to control us, so we take the time to listen respectfully, to know each other. The more we know the more we understand, and when we understand anyone we start to love him or her. We can’t help it. It’s human.”“Our system claims to be the most advanced and intelligent system ever devised.”“So intelligent that six percent of the world’s population own most of the world’s resources and live in affluence while ninety-four percent live in poverty, are malnourished, ill-housed and without adequate medical care. So intelligent it destroys its own environment, polluting its air and water, eroding its soil, and changing dangerously for the first time the delicate balance between the earth and the sun. So intelligent that people experience more and more stress, more isolation, less sense of contentment and well-being, less love, more violence, less joy, more anxiety.”“The Circle Way is derived from the social systems of equality and interdependence that developed and were utilized and improved upon over more than two million years for human evolution. All our ancestors at one time lived in such a system of mutual care and cooperation peacefully and contentedly until the system was wrested from them by force and violence. The change from cooperation and caring to domination and exploitation began slowly in certain areas of the world around ten thousand years ago, before the invention of writing and written history.“The old tribal circles cared for each member from birth to death and provided the closeness necessary for the nurturing of human caring and love. It seems that during the revolutionary shift to agriculture in some of the most fertile areas the populations began to grow and move away from the old small circles and clans of the tribal villages. Closeness and caring fell victims of that shift. Without a tribe to care for them and to care for, people had to rely only on themselves. Individualism was born, and with it insecurity, loneliness, and fear. Fear engenders selfishness, dishonesty, greed, exploitation and violence – the hallmarks of the developing civilization which grew to conquer the world and all its peaceful tribal peoples and hold itself in place with that fear and violence for ten thousand years.“You know the histories, all war and conquest, slavery, oppression and exploitation of the poor majority by the rich and powerful minority who hired and controlled the warriors. There were rebellions against the domination from Spartacus to the barons at Runnymede to the American, French, Russian, Chinese and all the other revolutions that succeeded only in changing the masters not the systems of inequality and domination.“Until, in the nineteenth and more especially the last half of the twentieth centuries a few people began not to fight the system but to leave it. New communities came into being, intentional communities with a stated purpose and philosophy. Since they had no experience of tribal living most of them dissolved in confusion, yet with each experiment something was learned.“People studied the history of social systems and communities, and people with tribal experience began to come forth, and new spiritual longing for inclusion, closeness, cooperation and love was growing. Seminars and workshops and conferences were held to explore community. People began to organize summer camps to experiment with tribal living, living in a circle, and creating a culture to suit their own needs.“The camps, which we continue to hold in the summer at many Circle Way Villages like this one, give everyone the experience of closeness in clans, the building of a new culture and a new social system based on our common trial heritage, interrupted for millennia. At the end of every camp people could only express their reluctance to return to life under the old system, the rat race and the stress, and their longing for the next summer’s camp. It wasn’t long before some of them got bold enough to acquire land for a new village that functioned as the camps in the Circle Way.”“How did it begin?”“There were many weekend gatherings for quite a while, as the circles had many things to sort out. First, a clear written mission statement of their intent, how they wished to live and relate to each other, to other people and institutions, and to their children and the coming generations, to other creatures and to the earth. Meanwhile the search for land and the raising of money for the project continued. It was hard, they say, because it was all new, they had no guide for what they were doing. But it must have been exciting too, the idea of really constructing their own world, and probably that sustained and kept them going.”“Was it difficult when they finally got land and moved there?”“Of course it was strenuous because they were camping out and building everything from scratch. But they said it was a great joy because what they had to do was simple and clear. They had already made plans and designs for all the basic needs, for housing and food and fuel and medicine, and they only had to go to work and begin building the dream.”“How did it work financially?”“Some people had lucrative professions in the mainstream economy and kept working there for a few years to help finance the project. Some were able to get donations from interested individuals and funding from organizations, and as the project got more publicity and attracted attention many more sent donations and contributed materials and time. After the first stage of construction they were able to build up cottage industries, including farm produce, handcraft and manufactured products and professional services.“Come, let me show you.”11. The Village EconomyThe guide leads us now to the large building standing beside the hotel. The room listings in the foyer indicate that it is full of offices. A few are for the management of the Village, a sort of town hall, and the others are home offices of many various businesses. We get to peek in to a few and say hello to the folks hard at work there. One person who speaks to us there is in charge of the Circle Way Network Center, where communication is made with the hundreds of other Circle Way Villages around the world. Arrangements are being made for visitors coming from other villages and for villagers here to visit other villages, exchanging work and skills, or to teach or to learn. There is also an active trading network, especially within the local bioregion, but also with distant villages across the planet for items of their specialties.Here also on the ground floor are the offices that manage the programs, the schools, the public relations and outreach of the Village, the post office, and the Village Bank. The outreach includes participation in global Circle Way programs for peace in troubled areas, for environmental and medical catastrophic emergency relief. We learn there is a team from the Village helping rebuild a town in Iran after a disastrous earthquake.“It is heartening to see your concern for the welfare of other suffering people in the world.”“Of course. That concern is human and shared to some extent by everyone in the world. But that concern is blunted by the anxiety inherent in their economic system.”“So you have worked out a system that provides absolute security for everyone? Would you call that socialism??”“Are you really interested in a theoretical discussion now?” There are a few enthusiastic assents and many nods, so the guide goes on.“Okay, we can take a few minutes for that. Those that aren’t interested feel free to look around, peek into offices, ask questions.“Socialism. Well, I wouldn’t use that label because it is associated with governments which used power to enforce programs by fear. As long as the economy is an instrument of big government and big business, of nation states and international corporations, it is going to be controlled by wealth, by the rich and powerful, whether they call it capitalism or socialism, democracy, republicanism or whatever. All that wealth is devoted to preserving the status quo, indoctrinating people through the media, isolating people and ensuring their conformity, devoted to the military, police and prison systems that maintain the hegemony of the state and industry. To support this system people work at exhausting, stressful jobs and often more than one job so they may buy, buy, buy more and more and bury the beauty of earth in junk and pollution.“It is an immoral culture, without soul or heart, which places profit and material things above all other values. Most of the world struggles to survive every day in a prison of poverty while being exploited by the very few beneficiaries of the system.“These few say they want to help the rest of the world to freedom, democracy, and material wealth. They have been brain-washed into thinking, despite all evidence to the contrary, that they are truly free and equal, that they have true democracy, and that material things will make them happy and satisfy their souls’ longing. In that affluent part of the world people are taking a day’s rest now from work and livers that they want to forget by watching stories and games of other people’s making on television and computer screens. If they are not doing that they are engaged in schemes of theft and corruption, sedating themselves with alcohol and other drugs, or exploding from their frustrations in rage and violence.“Gandhi believed that if his people could simplify their lives to the absolute essentials materially they could make what they needed themselves and lead spiritually satisfying lives rejecting Great Britain and all the values of that system. He believed that the point of all labor was to benefit the laborer, not government or financiers. He believed that by cooperation people could take care of each other and make and share all they needed. It was a great idea, but the people had already become too infected by the material values of the industrial world. They wanted to reject Great Britain but become like the British themselves.“That economic system is dependent on growth. To survive it must grow. It must build more and more and lay waste the earth, it must make people make more so that they can buy more. It’s like a cancer. It wants population growth too, to make more workers and more consumers, and that is a major threat now. The only values it promulgates are the values of personal vanity, envy and greed.“The answer to the immorality and spiritual vacuity of the system had to arise from within the system itself, but inspired by the experiences of past cultures that achieved a balance of peacefulness, health and happiness, and a connection to the rest of nature, beauty and spiritual satisfaction.“Our objective here is for the people, as Gandhi wished, to take back the power from the state and industry and make and do everything for ourselves.”“You don’t have it all covered yet? What about national defense? What about interstate highways, global transportation? What about criminal justice? ““The need for much of those will begin to disappear the more people organize in self-sufficient communities, and others can be handled by networking among communities. The principle is that the human mind can create whatever it wants. And if the guidelines for that creativity is to enhance closeness, trust and love, equality and freedom and fun, then that’s the kind of world we will make. ““So how does your economy function?”“We’ll visit the bank now and you can get some idea. As you note our financial system, internally and in networking with other villages, keep in mind Gandhi’s ideals of simplicity, cooperation, and sharing, and the notion of human closeness and a human scale to all human activity.”The visit to the Village Bank gives us the chance to learn more about the economy and ownership in the Village. All the land and buildings are owned in common by the Village Corporation, which is owned by all the villagers. The buildings are built with Village money and labor, but as we have seen the owners of residences were the primary consultants on their design. The profits from all business as well as employment outside the Village all go to the Village Fund. Villagers can request money for certain outside purchases, but the basic needs of shelter, food, clothing, fuel, medicine, household supplies, including electronics such as audio-visual, computer and telephone equipment, as well as musical instruments, are generally produced and provided free by the Village businesses. These could be said to be individually owned, but the” owners” think of themselves more as caretakers of these material things.Vehicles are held in common, and anyone needing one for any purpose need only request it, as well as money for fuel, and perhaps food and lodging if it’s a long trip. Vacation travel should be requested well in advance, but they can be of any duration or frequency.Immediately we visitors ask if these policies do not lead to a great deal of abuse by some individuals.“Your question is understandable,” our guide says with a smile, “coming from your culture of individualism, of competition, scarcity, and your association of happiness with material things. That is why people don’t get plugged into the system here as full citizens for one year after they arrive. By that time the closeness in the clans and in the Village has changed the person from an individualist looking out for himself to a tribal member looking out for everyone.People don’t want a lot of gadgets and toys when they have each other, when there’s so much fun to be had playing with your friends and creating new wonders. And no one wants to stay very long away from their clan and their tribe. Adults here will sympathize with you because they can remember how it was before they had each other. But the children think it’s weird that folks out there want to sit around sunk in television or computer games, or pay tons of money to listen to some superstar when they can make their own music. They don’t want to get zonked on alcohol or drugs when they could get completely and hysterically high just singing and dancing and playing together.”“What about this travel policy?”“Well, some folks like to stay home because they are so creatively engaged here, others like to take little trips to see something different or visit relatives, but right away miss the closeness and love and so hustle back. And a few folks just love to travel. Want to see the whole world. Luckily we have grown to the extent there are our villages on every continent, and we can arrange trips and visits very cheaply, especially with the renewable energy vehicles we have developed. Some of these frequent travelers get involved with our project in other villages or outreach programs. And some do a lot of public relations, lectures and conferences, and plant seeds around the world for new Circle Way Villages. Perhaps help some get started.”“And so this complete sharing of income and property works for everyone?”“Once you get it that there is really no scarcity, nothing that you really want you can’t get, you certainly don’t mind sharing it all. Everyone remembers what it was like to have plenty of things and always want more. And when you got more, however much, there was little joy. Too much stress, not enough fun. Too much isolation and loneliness, not enough closeness, understanding and appreciation. Too high a price to pay for stuff you find you don’t really need or care about.“In the beginning some of the villages used the work-credit system, similar to Twin Oaks and Walden Two. Maybe a few still use them – they work okay. But we got impatient with that – too much like commercialism keeping us from complete equality and closeness. We wanted to try something more radical. Do away with money. That works at Rainbow Gatherings. Just trust our human goodness and sharing that we would never be without. And we’d have more fun. So – we did, and we do.”“But you do deal with money. You have a bank.”“Oh yes, we haven’t converted the world yet, so we must survive in the dominant culture and pay our bills there. Our bank uses the funds for all our expenses, of course, and a saving fund for medical and other emergencies, but also for our outreach, our emergency relief programs, loans and assistance to start-up villages and other developing communities. And sometimes to invest in other efforts to humanize society. But we should move on and try to see the rest of the Village this morning because this afternoon there is a concert we have been looking forward to. If you have more questions about our economy or anything else, we’ll have a wrap-up tonight for all the tours with some of our key people from all sectors.”Next door we look in on the tiny hospital house with its emergency clinic, a few rooms with beds, an intensive care unit and rehabilitation section. There is also a small laboratory, which produces some of their most used medicines.“The way the pharmaceutical and medical industries overcharge in their culture of greed is scandalous, cruel and immoral,” our guide states, “We need to begin to take control of our healing again. You have seen our fitness center, which also provides nutritional aid and alternatives like acupuncture and meditation.”The little hospital has a nurse and EMT with ambulance on hand and a Village doctor on call. They are also able to assist with emergencies in the surrounding areas when needed. Some of us make favorable comments about the humanitarian outreach of this small village.“It has been important in the founding of our villages that the public does not see them as in opposition to the dominant society, but as a pioneering experiment that is in the best interest of all people. So we always make special efforts to connect with our neighbors, as well as with social, business, and governmental groups. Our fire department and medical aid units are always on call for the surrounding communities, and we work with relief organizations such as the Red Cross, and other charities. We don’t want to alienate the main stream, we want to coax it to come our way.”“Do you think it will?”“Well, you’re here, aren’t you?”
12. Education, Punishment, and PlayEverywhere we have gone so far we have found small playgrounds with children laughing and running together, and always some adults joining in and following the children’s lead. Now we pass another larger playground with a number of different games going on among children of varying ages from perhaps five to eleven or twelve years old. Again a number of adults are on hand; mainly it seems to make judgments in disputes.One boy just got hurt and begins to cry. Without any call from an adult the other children immediately stop the game and run to him. They inspect his hurt and see that it needs no further medical attention, but all circle around to give sympathetic attention to the boy and actually encourage him to cry more and louder. Some put their arms around him and put their heads against his.Then someone hands him a towel to wipe the tears and snot from his face, and he makes some remark we can’t hear, but it must be funny because he laughs. Then they all laugh, tousle his hair and hug him and all run back to resume the game.Someone remarks about how different the play is in this playground from the ones he remembers from his boyhood. If he had cried, he says, he would have been called a baby or a sissy and would have been taunted and laughed at and totally humiliated, so he learned to clench his jaw and swallow his hurt to keep his pride. He said it was wonderful to watch these children really caring for each other, the older ones helping the younger to learn and encouraging them. He wondered how they learned that.“Actually it was more a matter of them not learning the isolating and hurtful ways of the dominant culture. We human beings are naturally loving and caring, as long as we have never been threatened and we have no cause to fear. Our whole Circle Way culture can best be understood by seeing how we raise and educate our children. Each child is so highly prized she never has to lose the complete appreciation, confidence, and joy she has in herself from birth.“They all get lots of special time from many adults and have no need to seek attention. Rather they learn from an early age, both by the models of adults and older children and by natural inclination, to give attention and loving care to others in need.“They also learn that is a good thing to spontaneously express their feelings, to laugh, to shout, to cry, for instance, as long as that expression does not attack or hurt another. They learn by example and instruction that when they feel insulted, frustrated or injured by another, not to confront him with their anger and hurt, but to seek another person and vent all their feelings safely and fully. Then they are able to connect with the injurer and discover more understanding and a mutual agreement how to avoid such happenings and have closer relations in the future. They learn that the expression of feelings is healing and must be respected and encouraged.”“But are your children never restrained or punished?”“Restrained, yes, surely; punished, never. Of course there are limits that must be understood. They are necessary for safety, for health, to avoid the mistreatment of exploitation of others, of all beings, of the natural environment. Certain limits must be imposed from birth to protect the infant, but we baby-proof the environment as much as possible by putting some things beyond the reach of crawlers and toddlers to give them as much scope to explore and experiment as we can and avoid the imposition of “no-no” as much as possible.“We have completely rejected the philosophy of punishment as inefficient and harmful to society as well as the individual. We notice it has been the source of most of our social ills. The first time a child is punished two fearful new feelings are installed. First, that there is such a thing as an enemy, someone who will do us harm, and second, that there might be something very wrong with us. It is no longer a safe and reliable world. We learn to fear our fellow human beings.”“But isn’t that a good idea? You can’t just trust everyone. People are scary sometimes, and they will do you harm. And don’t we know our parents love us and punish us because they love us?”“There are people in the outside world that are scary that’s true. But not in the Village. Our children will learn humankind’s horrible history eventually, as they will learn that every human baby is born good and caring and fun loving and creative. But because that society out there does not protect their babies nor treat their children with the respect and care we do, many of them get a little crazy and hurt themselves or others.“It’s true most parents love their children and believe that punishment is a way of helping them to be better, and most children understand that. But children don’t buy into the nonsense that punishment is good for them. Did you, when you were a child? You have to get pretty brainwashed and hurt to accept that. The fact is that both children and animals learn and can be trained faster, easier, and more thoroughly using appreciation, praise and encouragement.”“You must have children that were born and raised in that society before they came here. I imagine that could present a problem – how do you handle children who act up to get attention, who are angry and destructive and want to hurt others?”“Well, there’s a lot to learn about children, more than we can get into today. We do have courses here and at the other villages, for parents and teachers and other allies to young people, and there’s a lot of good literature on that too in our bookstore, some we published ourselves. What I can say is that we never allow anyone to mistreat anyone or destroy things people need. We stay very close to all our children and step in to help them when there’s a need. We will restrain a child lovingly but forcefully, hold him or her in our arms, and let the child use up all that destructive energy screaming, fighting to get loose, shouting hate-filled curses, crying, all the while we stay calm and understanding and caring, until, when those feelings have been discharged and the child is exhausted, we can further assure the child that we really do understand and care about him and maybe even get him to talk about the problem and his feelings. We let him know that, just as we won’t let him hurt anyone, we will never let anyone hurt him.“We will do this in a sincerely friendly way, lightly, and maybe with some humor and certainly playfulness. We will be sure to stay close, to give him special time to do things he likes. And we will try to see to it that other children understand his struggle and accept and help him. The acceptance of one’s peers is the most powerful motivator in tribal society, another good reason we need to stay very close to each other.”The building on the other side of the playground is the school, with classrooms and workrooms for all ages. The very youngest, what we might call the pre-school and kindergarteners have a little fantasy house of their own, looking like a mixture of fairy tales from many lands. There are no classes today, Sunday. Some of the rooms have no furniture, only cushions or mattresses.“From what we heard today, you folks don’t hold to compulsory education. The kids don’t have to go to school?”“That’s right. Education is something that goes on all the time, because children are born curious and love to learn. But then they get sent off to school to get learning stuffed down their throats until they learn to hate it. Human beings are intelligent and have lively minds before school begins its deadening processes and makes them stupid.“Children here are never forced to go to school, but most of them want to and look forward to it every day.”“That must be some school! Not like the one I went to!”“Well, you see, it’s their school. They get to decide what to learn, what we will do there, and we get to figure out what resources we need to provide. We work it out together, as with everything in the Village. We have teachers who are excited to help them and transmit that excitement in learning to them. They want to show the children the wonders in Creation, to provoke their thinking. There were models for this, Summerhill in England, Sudbury Valley in Massachusetts, for instance. And we keep experimenting, working to improve on it, with the help of the students. The main thing is to have fun, to have school be a place where we play a lot and laugh a lot and it’s safe for children to express their thinking and their feelings.“Children want to come because that’s where the other children are and where the action is. In the outside world school is boring: lectures, homework, tests, grades. Here school is never boring. It’s when you are not in school when your friends are and you are trying to figure out what to do all alone that you might get bored and decide to go where the fun is.”“But how can you avoid big classrooms and regimentation? Do you have so many teachers?”“We have as many teachers as there are people – everyone is potentially a teacher. Of course we don’t all do it in the school, but many of us do put in a few hours now and then to show the children a skill, tell stories, talk about life, take a group on a trip somewhere, organize a group project, or just play with them. And most of the young people are self-starters. They are very resourceful and they set themselves their own projects, maybe get others to join a group project of their own. If there’s a teacher available and interested, great, but if not they will figure it out on their own – maybe check in with an adult advisor now and then.“You understand that most of what society calls school is only warehousing, keeping young people off the streets while people go to work. Here parents like to bring their children to their work, just as our ancestors used to. You know, a person could, not having set foot in a classroom for eleven years, easily learn in less than a year all it would take to pass examinations and get a high school diploma.“But what is important for a human being to learn? How to do things, how to create, that’s easy to teach, but the most valuable thing to learn is how to value yourself and take care of yourself, how to be excited about living and learning, how to enjoy the company of people, how to love. Isn’t that right? Our teachers really love young people, love interacting with their developing minds. We want education to be about more than becoming productive economically. That is only a small part of a successful life. We want our education to teach how to have a good life. About love and relationship, about what brings lasting joy, making deeper connections with everything, with ourselves, each other, plants, animals, earth, the cosmos. Divining and directing the course of our evolution.“In our school you can not only learn all the traditional academic subjects, but also take courses in relationships, in conflict resolution, in working for world peace, in social and economic justice, in the care of animals, plants, and the environment.”“And technology?”“Oh yes! There’s plenty of interest for that. But our young people are very concerned about how technology is used. They think about whether what they work on will really benefit the world. Weaponry does not interest them. There are other villages that really specialize in technology, and many other studies – oh, medicine and health, for instance. This village as you have perhaps heard is known for its music and fine and performing arts schools. The concert this afternoon is a string quartet of teachers playing some especially wonderful classics of the European tradition.”“I’m still interested in your theory about punishment. What happens when someone transgresses here, does something really wrong?”“We have good models for effective addressing of such situations among many tribal peoples. They had no written law and took each transgression as a unique occurrence to be addressed by a circle, a council of elders or chiefs or advisors. The only law they had was that written in the human heart. Lao Tse said, ‘Where there is no law there will be no criminals’.”“Western society will never buy that. The rule of law is fundamental to the maintenance of justice and equality.”“Justice and equality. Yes, those are the words it uses. But that is only in comparison to past totalitarian and feudal systems. The legal system still is immoderately unjust and unequal. The prisons are filled with poor people and minorities that cannot afford the expensive legal teams that keep the rich out of jail. It’s not a search for truth, it’s a competition, an adversarial system whereby each department of law and enforcement is under pressure to win, to show results, and each individual officer and attorney in those departments is under pressure to win, fixating on conviction too often at the expense of the truth and justice.“Four hundred years ago there were no criminals on the North American Continent, no criminal lifestyle. And so no police, no jails, no courts, no lawyers. Where there is much love and closeness and sharing and no fear, there is no motivation for wrongdoing.“People would really rather have fun and not hurt each other. But mistakes can still be made, and then the one who has committed the fault must come to a council where all the facts should be brought out and everyone’s feelings and best thinking heard. A solution is sought for restitution and healing to anyone injured, as well as how to bring the wrong-doer back into harmony and closeness with the tribe and himself.”“That sounds absolutely idealistic and unrealistic to me.”“And yet it did work for human beings for tens of thousands of years. I think you would be very surprised to see how well it works. As I mentioned before, the strongest motivator for people living intimately with others is the appreciation and good opinion of their peers. You probably have an idea of the power of shame, perhaps have felt that at some time, and perhaps can imagine the power of the healing of shame, of that terrible isolation, and the power of acceptance and love.“Just imagine if everyone in the world were an accepted member of some circle, if everyone were known and cherished for who they are. No outsiders. That would be the healing of crime and anti-social behavior, as it was in earlier tribal societies. In bad neighborhoods children join gangs in order to find that acceptance – only the gangs themselves are outsiders, unaccepted by society, and so act in the ruthless ways they have been taught by the culture. All the lone killers and rapists are outsiders, unknown to people, even their nearest kin and neighbors. So when you become a villager here you are home, you are family. If you get in trouble your family will stand by you and help you through.”“Do you take in ex-prisoners, then?”“Yes. Everyone goes through the same process to become a member.”“And that works out?” No problems?”“No more with them than with anyone.”“Sure, only the poor go to jail, so how do you know who’s a criminal, and who you can trust??”“Because we put such importance on closeness we get to know each other deeply and thoroughly very soon. Some of our villagers who had been in prison are our strongest advocates. America used to have the highest prison population in the world. Some of our founders made circles in the prisons and helped to start Circle Way Villages especially for and directed by ex-prisoners and their families. That has already begun to make a big difference in recidivism, in reducing prison populations and converting prisons to factories and hospitals, and in reducing crime rates.”Behind the school buildings are fields devoted to sports of many kinds. We are told that traveling to other Circle Way Villages one can find many kinds of sports in different areas of the world, in the mountains, by the sea, on islands, in the tropics. Human beings have figured out how to play everywhere. Mountain climbing, ocean sailing, rafting, canoeing, hiking, golf, skiing, whatever you want some village probably has it.In competitive sports, as in everything, the emphasis in the Village is on friendship, mutual respect, and having fun together. People strive not to be better than others but to be better than they used to be. They are as pleased with each other’s progress as they are with their own.Shouts and laughter are heard from a game of soccer, or association football, in progress between teams made up of men and women, boys and girls. On a basketball court a game is running with more than five on a side, appearing to have all the young people on one side and all middle-aged folks on the other, with much substitution. They are all laughing, and it’s hard to tell who is winning – or perhaps that’s not important, as every time a basket is scored by either side they all shout, “Tie score!”Young adults are vigorously applying themselves to a fierce volleyball match, and the tennis courts are full with people waiting for their scheduled time. Many elderly folks are enjoying relaxed games of croquet, bocce and shuffleboard.We notice everywhere there are small round summerhouses, some with open sides that can be closed in winter, others with permanent walls and open windows. Asked about these, our guide tells us these are meeting places for the small circles of the various clans that hold talking circles every morning before breakfast. The larger circles of each whole clan have large rooms where they gather, usually once a week, so everyone stays in close touch. Other clan meetings may be called to address issues of the Village, or of individuals, to sing together or otherwise celebrate, to have play days with the young people, schedule work, especially child care, but also cooking, gardening and so on. Each clan is also responsible for devising and organizing one ceremony or celebration for the whole Village every year. There are a number of feasts and festivals throughout the year that villagers plan and prepare with imagination and to which many visitors come.The afternoon concert takes place in a grassy area behind the music school surrounded by the French, English and Rose Gardens, where our senses absorb the aromas of blossoms, the graceful beauty of butterflies, hummingbirds, the softness of sun and light breeze, and the sounds of birds and insects together with those of Haydn, Schubert and Brahms lovingly addressed by the quartet.Back at the hotel in late afternoon we have reluctantly packed and are waiting for the wagon that will transport us back to the town and our buses and trains for home.“It’s a lot to encompass in two days,” one of us tells the new guide, there to answer any last questions. “You people do a fine job showing us so much and helping us understand how it works. It’s certainly impressive. Such a complete world, quite different, but full and rich in creativity everywhere.”“It’s an eye-opener for me,” another says, “You have achieved so much here. Something to think about.”“This is certainly nice,” another of our group says, “But part of your vision here is to be a model for the world of peaceful, cooperative living. You are only a thousand here, and there are, what – another thousand villages like it around the world? ““Some are larger now, but none larger than 3,000.”“So maybe they could amount to three million or so in a while.”“We have more visitors all the time, and more villages keep sprouting up.”“Say more villages might grow the number to six million eventually. But there are ten billion people in the world today – and growing.”“Our idea is that when people notice how happy, how relaxed and safe we are here, and how much fun we have, creating instead of just consuming, they will want to give up the stress of the rat race and join us. With all the villages in every part of the world having more and more visitors, we figure the growth will be exponential at some point in the future and transform all of society’s notions. But we need to be growing slowly in order to learn and make it right. A lot of society’s problems have come from moving too fast and not seeing where we were going.”“So the Circle Way Villages grew quite slowly?”“Naturally it didn’t happen overnight. We started from nothing but a dream and figured it out as we went along. Building homes, planting and harvesting, creating businesses for everything we need little by little. Slow growth – but that’s the easy part. Human beings are builders. It was the excitement of creating our own world as we want it that carried us over the lean years. By sharing everything and inviting people to come and help we got by and it just kept getting better and better. Because we kept to the circle, stayed close to each other, kept on listening and caring and helping each other.”“What makes the biggest difference for you in your quality of life here?”“Cooperation instead of competition. You have no idea what a difference it is to live in a completely cooperative society. It makes us closer, provides security and whatever we truly want and need. Living simply we create a life style that is sustainable and healthy. Plus we all believe it is important to encourage and appreciate and support each other so that everyone feels valued and cared about. ““One more question. What is your greatest joy living here – you personally?”“The children. My house looks out on one of our little playgrounds. I love watching them playing while I have breakfast every day. Running and squealing and laughing, so full of energy and fun. A reminder to me of what we are really like, all of us, before older people start acting out their distress on us, getting all weird, cold, hard, angry, shutting us down, not listening to us, scaring us, frustrating us, manipulating us with threats and bribes until we learn to act and think like them. Here, we are committed to keeping from passing as much as we can of the distress our parents passed on to us.“You know, whenever your energy gets a bit frayed, whenever you may feel a bit low, discouraged, wondering if it’s worth it, all you need to do is go hang out at the playground. Watch the little ones and restore your faith in the human race. Then join them, let them teach you to let go of your seriousness and just play. You will get your hope refill. And then you’ll be able to lose yourself in creativity and find your purpose again. We need the children to remind us who we are.”Climbing onto the wagon we could hear the shouts and laughter from the playgrounds and the sport fields. We are all quiet. Thinking perhaps about when we might come back or visit another Circle Way Village, perhaps even join one and change our lives. Change the world. A whole society of fun and play and creativity, of closeness, friendliness and love.As we pass under the gate and look back one more time we notice another sign with a quote from Manitonquat who long ago had a vision of a Circle Way Village:
TOGETHER THERE IS NOTHING WE CANNOT DO
AfterwordHope. We all want hope. When I talk to school children and college students, I am struck by how happy they are to get a feeling of hope from such an old guy. They really want to hope. But the fact is a lot of people feel powerless, have a sense of hopelessness. But I am assuming that you, like everyone else, want to have hope.And most of what I see people working at to try and make a difference do not seem to be effective, or are effective in only a very small area. I don’t want to delude myself into thinking that my efforts will achieve wondrous results.But am I really powerless? Are you, are we? When I think about it I can see I have more power than I realize when I am alone. We all have more power than we realize. My power comes from you. Along it is a real struggle, but I am not alone. We are not alone. We have each other.Probably you have heard that quotation from Margaret Mead – it’s worth repeating and remembering: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, dedicated citizens can change the world, indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”My power is a function of my connecting with you. When I open my heart and mind to you, you also feel your power in the places where we feel and think alike.I want to tell you that we are not alone. Wherever I go people come to me to say they have read my books or my newsletter or heard me speak, and they have to tell me they agree. Usually that they are relieved to find someone else thinks as they do. I get letters every week from all over the world. People call me on the phone from India, Singapore, New Zealand, Japan. One man read my book in Japanese and got on a plane to fly here to New Hampshire to talk to me – even though he didn’t speak English!We have a history already. Although the spread of civilization conquered most of the old tribes and tried to eliminate them, most have survived in some form and many began to revive their ancient heritage in the last century. The tribal desire to live together in small communities is evident in the religious communities that continue their missions of service to common ideals, and in new communities that continue to appear and spread. Many communes from the 1960s still exist quietly and communicate through various networks. The co-housing movement has spread from Denmark through most of the western world, and the Global Ecovillage Network continues to grow. My oldest son, Tokeem, was born thirty years ago (1976) in a tent in a hippie commune, The Farm, which continues to thrive and give outreach service to others in need. My wife, Ellika Lindén, has kept a home since 1979 in Christiania, a free haven of 900 people within the city of Copenhagen, from which we base the summer outreach for our camps in Europe. Since 1992 I have been closely connected with the ZEGG community in Germany and since their founding also with their sister community Tamera in Portugal, with a network of people who are dedicated workers for peace and non-violence, for the environment, and allies to young people and indigenous people throughout the world. You will be able to read about all these communities and networks when I complete the book I am currently working on, to be called Have You Lost Your Tribe?Meanwhile you can read about the older ways of my people in my book Return to Creation, about how to make circles and their care in my booklet The Circle Way, and about how we bring circles into the prisons in another booklet Ending Violent Crime. And you can read other articles in the Talking Stick Newsletter.Currently there are people, inspired by the Circle Way International Camps in Europe, who are searching for land in various countries where we might be able to pioneer our first Circle Way Village. You can follow that progress and connect with them through the website. And of course we are eager for your thoughts, your feelings, your encouragement, your companionship, and your energy in any way you would like to share with us. Because, of course, we are all us.We need to get closer. You and I – all of us. We need to take back control of our lives, our society, our earth. We need to communicate and open our hearts and minds to each other. We need places on the earth where we can get closer to each other, to our families, our children, to be safe, to relax and slow down and get away from stress, to live simply without harm to others or to the earth, to play, have fun, create, get close to the natural world,. Without having to join any religious or political movement, follow any particular tradition or creed, but allow and respect and appreciate all the diverse ways that others engage in. It is such a beautiful world we have been given, we are endowed with such fantastic capabilities, and ever baby born is a miracle, a delight, a shining star of hope for the future.Folks, we need to start getting it together. Now. Come together, Talk with each other. Connect with me while I’m here. I’m 76 years old now, and I want to see your children ushered into a glorious new world of possibilities before I move on.You know what I always say:TOGETHER, THERE IS NOTHING WE CANNOT DO.