To Happen Everywhere it Must Happen Somewhere
Costa Rica is pulling me in. For many years I was seeking a place to live where I could feel at home. It wasn’t so much a matter of climate but of finding a place where I am both fully nourished and fully received. Eight years ago, Stella and I moved to Asheville, North Carolina, hoping that it would be such a place. It could have been, but being fully received is more than finding people you resonate with. Lands and waters have their own spirits. Sometimes you arrive somewhere and every road is blocked, nothing comes easily, you meet the right people at the wrong time, or the wrong people at the right time, end up in the wrong house, and there’s a hole in the bottom of your ice cream cone. But sometimes you arrive somewhere and every door opens for you. That’s how it has been for us in our month-long visit to La Ecovilla (LEV) in Costa Rica.
I’ve made more friends and experienced stronger community in three weeks here than I have in five years in Rhode Island. Yes, I have dear friends there, but mostly I feel like a misfit, an alien, scantily received. We are scattered. Isolation is in the air we breathe, the physical layout, the stifling atmosphere of what is normal. Here, in contrast, I am experiencing a social abundance such as I’ve only glimpsed before.
During our first visit here we were introduced to a new ecovillage nearby called Ecovilla San Mateo. It is in the early stages of construction. Flying by the seat of our pants—ahem, I mean, guided by our intuition—we have taken the bold step of putting a deposit on a lot. We never decided to “move to Costa Rica.” We still haven’t decided that. But one thing after another draws us inexorably closer. We make an unexpected friend. And another. Then Cary has a great day playing outdoors with other kids. We meet a kind organic farmer. People turn up for Stella to heal. Everywhere there are people around, children roam the outdoors, there is community, there are drum circles and dances and celebrations. Life is not so enclosed in boxes, as it is most places in the USA.
The new ecovillage project is one of several in the area, for example the equally exciting Alegria, founded by LEV co-founder Stephen Brooks. Together with dozens more new ecovillages in Costa Rica, they are part of an emerging community of communities. They have a deep though sometimes fraught resonance with the host land of Costa Rica, famous for its exemplary conservation policies and for abolishing its army in 1948.
Ecovilla San Mateo is at once both conservative and audacious. It is conservative in that it doesn’t espouse any radical social, religious, or political ideals. For the most part people will live in single-family or perhaps multi-generational homes. It’s not a commune. But it is also audacious, first and foremost for its scale: 280 home lots grouped into six villages, with a school, integrative healing center, yoga shalas, coworking space, restaurants, amphitheater, community gardens, retreat center, arts village, athletic fields, and other community infrastructure, next to a clean river with 20 kilometers of hiking trails.
I would not be attracted to the place if it were just another green-themed suburban development. The founders are aware of aspects of human social development, consciousness, and technology beyond the overtly ecological. What draws me to the project is a sense of possibility. The question of what kind of community it will be is not a settled question and has no objective answer. It could be anything or many things. What may be born within the infrastructure the founding team is creating depends on those who come.
So, I am letting my readers know about it in hopes of attracting people who generally share my vision and values. (Click here to learn more. A few months in, half the lots are still available.) The more of like mind who join, the more influence we will have. We can make of it something extraordinary. It isn’t up to the founders to do that. Their role is to create a container for it to happen.
I won’t pretend the community will be or can be perfect, or that it will uncompromisingly strive toward every ideal I’ve ever upheld, or solve every social issue on earth (or even any social issue). However, whether in terms of childrearing, education, health, relationships, land tending, governance, or the sacred arts and sciences, there is an openness here to exploration. That is my impression from my conversations with people on the founding team. They are intelligent and curious, confident yet humble, and open to the input I’ve shared from my perspective.
While the price of buying and building on a lot is less than most places in the United States, and although the project supports an orphanage and will have some form of subsidized housing, I am well aware that this model of ecovillage is inaccessible to most of the world’s population at the present time. It is inaccessible because of the way the current system maldistributes resources. In a just world, everyone could live this well. Today few people do, few even of the wealthy. Earlier this year I visited a friend in his high-end gated community in the US. Each house was around 6000 square feet (600 square meters). That seems like a lot, but it is actually quite a small space in which to confine life. The house I’m in now is a fifth that size, but our living space is much bigger because it includes the whole community. Life spills out of the houses. I don’t need a room to do yoga, because there is a yoga shala two minutes’ walk away. I don’t need exercise equipment, because people from the community volunteer to lead exercise classes. (I went to one this morning, led by a 23-year-old neighbor. Ouch.) We don’t need room for the kids to play in the house, because they have the outdoors. In my friend’s neighborhood, the outdoors was empty of children. No one riding bikes or playing tag or soccer or hide-and-seek or street hockey. Surveying the mansions, I saw poverty. With momentary X-ray vision, I could see through the mansion walls. I saw depression, I saw teenagers addicted to porn. I saw domestic violence. I saw misery. I saw them trying so hard to make it work. Whereas (financially) poor people can reasonably believe that more money will bring them happiness, these mansion-dwellers have already driven down that road, with its signposts saying “Paradise” giving the distance in dollars not miles, only to find that the road was a circle and the sign was a lie. That is why I think many of them would be happier “downsizing” to La Ecovilla, except it wouldn’t really be downsizing, they would be upsizing everything good in life, sourcing from the public realm key life functions that they now enclose in the private, or do without entirely.
Imagine the resources that would be freed up if all the world’s affluent released their mansions and jets and yachts so that they could live an actual good life. For them, consuming less would be an upgrade. And their upgrade would allow the world’s destitute an upgrade as well. We could have paradise for all on this earth if we converted the extravagant and futile consumption of the affluent into genuine buen vivir. Well, it would be a good start, anyway.
Guilting people into consuming less doesn’t work very well. Usually it results in trivial gestures, like switching brands or sharing a post online or buying a Tesla and charging it with solar panels. Guilt motivates whatever can assuage the conscience, which usually doesn’t take a lot. Much more effective is to showcase what life can be outside of the paradise-turned-hell of private consumption.
So yes, under current global conditions, not everyone can move to an ecovillage or transform their place into one. But an ecovillage by its mere example reveals a different future, a different road to well-being. The more beautiful it is, the more alive, and the more enspirited, the brighter it shines as a counter-example to the false promise of private consumption. It generates a morphic field. That is why I say, to happen everywhere it must first happen somewhere.
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Much more important is to shift the world’s economy away from war. There will be neither ecological healing nor prosperity for all without peace. I will write on this soon.
Hey everyone, I brought the concerns raised in these comments to Marcelo, the main co-founder of the project. Here is the recording of the webinar in which he addresses some of them (see below). https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/7YtYG89tUK8OYY61-3InAjfs_ANs1hqKFV6my6bVfYn7Pcbtyh-7xvuIroZ8uVKQ.EfmtfCMgRKxMBeM3He invited me to be on a webinar with him on Thursday, where he will take some time to address them. He says it is much more locally integrated and practical in its social and environmental commitments than people assume. But I will raise the questions in the webinar. It will be on Thursday, 1pm EST. I will post the link when I get it. Obviously, I won't be able to raise ALL of the concerns posted here, and I want to give him the space to espouse his vision and not just answer criticism, but he is willing to engage and I think these questions are important. OK Here is the link https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_sDpyWntPTIao3DlOnlWlew?utm_campaign=Lauching%20Campaign&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=245833077&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-_QZ1V8TEYDuxWXV0dXuwQDZU97V9YhC8R07_pTpQ2Q2jnF_N1l7yqsDOhv8F93l0yiJB78VbBCmi3W6XKR8rAsHZFokg&utm_content=245833077&utm_source=hs_email
Hi Charles and Stella. Not sure if you’ll see this comment or if I’m too late to the party. I rarely comment and this one feels important. I want you to know that I really resonate with your description of things falling into place and the idea of flying by the seat of your pants being relatively the same as following your intuition. I moved to Maine, more or less on a whim, from an increasingly suburban area of Georgia almost 2 1/2 years ago and had the exact same experience you’ve described about going to Costa Rica. I like to joke that I moved here because I took a wrong turn on my way home from a trip to North Carolina, but that’s pretty much the truth. I left home for a 5 day trip to Asheville and ended up visiting Maine for a month, and had already began letting the decision to move permeate into me about 2 weeks in. Everything just lined up. The land feels so right. There is so much life here. The connections I made were so alive. With people and with other beings. And there were unexpected turns. In fact, most of the plans I made for my first year here completely fell apart. And more beautiful things came to fruition in their wake. I do not regret any of it, even when it had been painful and scary and unclear, I knew in my heart I am supposed to be here. Words cannot describe, I simply have a knowing. Thank you for sharing your most recent aliveness with us. I suspect that things will continue not to be exactly as we think they will turn out, for your family and mine. And that’s okay. I hope you can hold on to the important and beautiful aspects of this leg of your journey. Blessings and peace upon you and your community. Whatever form that takes.