Changing the World
A Vision of a Circleway Village
10. The Clan: Heart of the Village
In 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.”