Letters From Light Morning is an account of the early stages of a small, intentional community in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. It consists of passages from letters which were written to people who had inquired about the purposes of the community and about what had been learned since moving there.
These verbal sketches tell of the many transitions that were being made at that time: transitions from nuclear family to the complexities of consensus and cooperation; from the comfort and conveniences of modern living to wintering in tents, drawing water by hand, and chopping wood for heat; and from the excitement of the initial vision to the gradual realization of the long-term commitment needed to manifest that vision.
From ice storms, bobcats, and smoking wood stoves to whip-poor-wills and the return of spring, these letters offer glimpses into a way of life to which an increasing number of people are being drawn.
As to our community–who we are and what we’re about–we’re as yet too young to know that in full. We’ve been on the land less than a year and are small in number. Yet we share a vision of the needs of these times and are trying to respond as creatively as we can, given the limitations we each place upon ourselves.
We came together several years ago, focusing upon the information being channeled through one of us, with an attempt to share this information through the writing of Season of Changes. We have since been learning a great deal about some of the various aspects of the response called for in the book–self-sufficiency, common purpose, the communal lifestyle, nature’s gentle wisdom, sharing within a greater network of nearby communities, and more. It has been a rich year, sometimes difficult, always vital, and we feel that perhaps we are beginning to glimpse an understanding of what it is we came here to do.
* * *
Yes, we have a community; or rather, the seeds of a community sprouting. We bought the land in the beginning of 1974, and four of us moved up here almost immediately to get things started, the rest to follow in their time. Now, after almost a year, we have learned a lot; yet we feel as though we have barely begun. We are still a long way from the full expression of our ideals and from the image that a phrase like “spiritual community” brings to mind. We have been shown that, as with a seed, our community has its own rate of growth, not to be hurried, but by Grace.
Meanwhile we are learning much about self-sufficiency. Our first year, it seems, the emphasis was on gardening, preserving, and foraging, ways to simplify and meet our food needs. Our attention is turning now toward shelters–how to build small, heatable structures out of available materials. At present we are living in tents and are discovering things we thought we needed but don’t (heat, for example, as we were accustomed to it), and likewise things we didn’t know were essential and now find are (like an openness to the stars at night, a closer relationship with the weather, the sounds of the forest). I’m sure that with some experimentation, we can learn to build quick, simple, warm and dry, indigenous, open shelters, and that these “homes” will be useful tools in the coming times of transition.
There’s more, of course, like learning to live together in community, which entails a sacrifice, albeit willing, of a fair amount of personal freedom. The nourishment of the common vision (which is for us what a leader or guru might be in another situation), the mutual inspiration and giving one to another, the overcoming of one’s own negativities and the forgiving of another’s–these are part of the challenge and opportunity of the communal lifestyle. I can sense that in community is the practical, living promise of global harmony. The grade school, so to speak.
* * *
I can feel your enthusiasm for community and for a more natural lifestyle. I realize now, after having toyed with the idea for a long time and then finally becoming involved in creating one, that it’s hard to know, except vaguely, what you want ’til you get out there. Yet perhaps you could share some of your thoughts with us. What makes you want to give up what you’ve got, for example, to go off somewhere and work hard and try to learn to love a bunch of people who aren’t always in a good mood, and then it rains on all your almost dry laundry?
It’s a good life, but it’s too hard to do unless there’s a reason to do it. One’s purpose, we’ve found, is the bond that keeps it all together and growing. So that’s the first step, to try to figure out what you’re getting into this for. After that things will fall into place. The people come, the means, the land, and suddenly you’re doing it.
Sometimes we here get to thinking that this community was put forth long ago and we four, five, seven, whatever, were incidental to it. It needed somebody and we happened to fit. If we get off the track, it’ll get somebody else. So it’s just the willingness to be used that gets it going.
* * *
This year was mainly a concentration on supplying food needs. Now that the garden’s done, and the food’s in the new root cellar, attention has begun to shift to shelter. We have an old, small barn-like structure that serves as a heatable kitchen, gathering place, library, and meditation loft, but it is obvious that as more people come here, other needs must be met. The “temple,” for one, and the library, and a comfortable place for visitors…
* * *
We have no jobs, for many reasons, including that the community (especially now) needs every hand it can get. Also, having all worked, we know how difficult it is to maintain a job and still devote one’s energies toward inner centering and growth. We appreciate that when we began this venture, we had among us enough capital to buy our land outright, thus no mortgage payments to meet. We also receive some income from the sale of our book, from donations, and a bit here and there for something we’ve done for somebody, but mostly we have very little money to use. Our response is to learn to do without. We’ve been learning the difference between wants and needs, and that indeed, our needs are always met.
* * *
We have no animals (except bees) and hope to avoid needing them as they add to the work load considerably. We don’t eat meat and have moved pretty much away from dairy products. Our aim is to simplify; it’s the only way that we can keep to the balance in our days. Mornings for study, dream work, and meditation; afternoons for working; evenings for sharing together.
* * *
Don’t let the “hardships” deter you from living a sane life. The ones that come to people’s minds–the physical ones, like chopping wood for the stove, or doing laundry, or walking a mile to the mailbox–those are not hardships. I love chopping wood; Marlene doesn’t. Marlene loves canning; I’d rather chop. Ronald loves gardening; Robert loves building.
So we all help Ronald mulch the beans one day and help Robert build a wall the next and somebody cooks supper. Community, combined energy, complementary skills and inclinations. It’s a beautiful way to get a lot done and have energy left over. What folks don’t realize about walking a mile to the mailbox is that our lifestyle gives us that time to spend walking, with energy to appreciate the beauty, the silence, the rhythm of the walk.
The hardships, the real ones, are inner and have to be met anyway. It doesn’t matter where you are. It’s just a bit easier out here. Nature offers constant support, inspiration, and (once one learns to read her ways) much true guidance and wisdom. The simpler lifestyle serves to focus one’s attention where the matter is, thus speeding things up a bit.
And community is like a hall of mirrors, always pointing out where growth is needed. Not an easy way, because there is no easy way. But good, helpful, healthy. The particulars are not important–animals/no animals, electricity/no electricity. Some do it one way; others another. What counts is the commitment to growth.
* * *
A week of Christmas cookies, cards from friends, caroling for some of the old-timers down the road, and tonight the New Year’s Eve party at Travianna, another of the communes near us. We’ll all have to prepare by napping, as we’ve taken on the early-to-bed habit that country living seems to invoke.
Meanwhile it’s 32 degrees and raining. Robert’s out clearing a trail on the west ridge. Ron and Marlene are in the kitchen by the fire, pouring over the seed catalogs, preparing the order. And I sit in my tent, wrapped in a blanket, raindrops on the roof, with an occasional optimistic bird chirping. There is much peace here.
This piece of land came to us out of the blue. Or out of Mother Earth News, actually. It was in the summer of ’73, just as we were getting more involved with the writing of Season of Changes, that we started to think about looking for land But the readings said, “Cool it; land will come; concentrate on the book.” Hard advice for seven excited people to follow!
But we heeded it, and made plans to go land hunting the following spring. In November, however, an obscure ad in Mother Earth News caught our eye–“An old farm outside Roanoke, Virginia. 150 acres. Remote, but accessible.” We pooled our money, purchased the land, and moved up here last March. We could never have consciously found anything more suited to our particular needs and purposes. Just one of those things.
* * *
The acreage is 130 in woods and about 20 cleared, of which we make use of about 5. The rest sits, waiting for our purpose here to become more clear to us. Meanwhile there are trails and several tiny streams and a lot of exploring to do. The beauty of it is humbling.
* * *
We will grow, but slowly. The readings talked of a small nucleus of permanent residents and a large number of people passing through, staying for varying lengths of time in order to get a taste of communal living and to pick up skills, ideas, and inspiration for their own such endeavors. That concept feels right to us. Meanwhile, the four of us are as caretakers here, getting things started.
* * *
The size of the small nucleus is nebulous. Twelve? Twenty? We don’t know. We hold a faith that those whose particular dharmas are to work through this project will indeed be drawn here. There are many ways. Some will find themselves suited to this one; most will find their full expression in other forms. Each person, we believe, has the innate wisdom to be able, after a span of several months of living here, to know if Light Morning is where he is to commit his energy. We know that it is neither under our control nor should it be rushed.
* * *
There is much to be learned about becoming self-sufficient, while at the same time holding an ideal of a balanced day–mornings of study and meditation and exploration; afternoons working; evenings sharing together. This can only be realized by simplifying one’s needs, as we are attempting to do. To some, our lifestyle looks rugged. They see only the things that we live without, and do not see how richly we are rewarded in terms of the peace and rhythm and order in our lives.
* * *
Our faith must constantly be reborn within each of us, our vision renewed. It is inspirational to be reminded of the scope of the greater work of which our endeavor is but a minute part. That it is a planetary movement.
* * *
As to how to go about finding or creating the particular community or situation that offers you what you seek, that is a complex question. There are many communities springing up all over the country, each one a bit different from the next. The trick seems to be to sort out what you want, in as much detail as possible–questions like diet; electricity vs. no electricity; self-sufficiency as a goal or not; whether you want a teacher or guru; a western, Christian expression or a more Eastern approach, or neither; drugs or no drugs; whether or not you want animals. And then to find or build what you envision. Many of these questions seem insignificant until you explore the implications. Common agreement is essential.
* * *
There are many ways, good ways, and what we’ve done here is to create one way so that people can come and try it on for size and thus get a better feel for what it is they want and don’t want.
* * *
A misty day, after becoming spoiled by the warmth and clarity of a mid-winter heat wave. Several 60 degree days. Too hot for sweaters. Lovely for sunbaths, and for sitting around philosophizing on the symbology of the sun.
* * *
I don’t use the word “meditation” to apply to my times of peace, for the word seems to scare the peace away. An avalanche of things I’ve read and heard about meditation comes pouring down upon me and I stiffen. The mind is strange.
So for me there are times of contemplation, where I have a problem and listen for an answer or suggestion or a clearer understanding to be given. Then there are times of centering myself, regaining equilibrium after some negativity has played within me. (“Who are you,” I ask myself. “What do you want to be?”) And times when I stretch myself to hold on to some particular joy or beauty. To stay alive to it. To answer it, so to speak.
There are times, too, of keeping my attention steady, clearly and deliberately, perhaps while walking or doing dishes. Not letting the mind go rambling within its encasement. And always I am rewarded by some heretofore hidden loveliness. Perhaps the colors of sunlight refracted through dancing bubbles of Liquid Ivory. It’s all around us in the everyday–beauty, truth, spirit–but we are asleep to it, we miss it, we’re too busy within our own shells.
* * *
It’s so simple here that I think you might be amused at all the notions of hardship and ruggedness that most people have in mind when imagining our days. But I speak from a year of adjustment to it, so I may not see it objectively either. It’s probably something that takes getting used to (first a desire to get used to it) and then seems easy. I remember once telling my mother that I’d never learn to read, it was just too hard and complicated. I was four then.
* * *
Our community, as we ourselves are, is dual in nature. While on the one hand we are a seed of what will grow into an expression of spirit and goodness, on the other we are four people living in tents, on an old farm with rundown sheds and barns, and no way to make more than a handful of guests at a time comfortable, unless they be quite used to primitive living. Should it rain at lunchtime, for instance, making our usual “dining room” (a circle of logs out under an old apple tree) unusable, all must find space within a 12′ x 12′ kitchen/office/library. The logistics become interesting with greater numbers.
Some day this will be different. But for now we are reluctant to encourage everybody to come all at once. We very much want to share this experience with as many as we can, and we certainly need all the assistance we can get from those who come, both with inspiration and ideas, and with actual physical help–getting things planted or built or harvested. Yet we know that if we rush it, we will miss the mark.