A Monastic Experience

Both Melody and me were quite keen after our little adventure in Eroles to find out what it means to really live in a creative community. Not only for 2 weeks, this time maybe for 2 years?


We had been writing preveously about the monastery in Pontós. When our friend Daniel was mentioning during our visit in Can Masdeu, that he knows of a monastery close to Girona which would be for rent, Gabriel got on fire. We were looking at pictures and both immediately full of enthusiasm to start something there. Daniel wanted us to connect to another group of people first, who had been previously interested into the monastery. So we connected with them on Facebook and demonstrated our interest. In this group Melody found some old contact impro friends like Mike Poltorak, Sonja Brühlmann, Jenny Moy and Gavin Rees. Even though there was interest, nobody really committed towards a project like we were envisioning. After a while, Daniel gave us the contact of the owner, but we were already too busy again with our little family life in Barcelona. So the project got stuck before it even began.

Only months later, during the return trip from England when Gabriel was passing by the area, he remembered the monastery. Following an inspiration, he texted the owner. And suddenly everything started: The landlady answered, Daniel helped us to connect (none of us spoke enough Spanish, Catalan or French to really communicate with her), and a week later, in late april, we saw the monastery for the first time.

Our both impression and feeling was: this is way too big for us. So we were just making a blog post with all the pictures and information we found out, and got ready to forget about it.

The only thing was: the next nights when Gabriel closed his eyes, he saw himself still walking through the grown-over yard and the dusty corridors of the monastery. There was something beautiful and weird about it, and soon enough we found out what.

When Mike, Sonja and Jenny saw the pictures on our blog, they fell in love with the place and especially Jenny suddenly started to move things forward. We met for a Skype talk, exchanged documents, discussed our visions and found ourselves on the road towards a one month community experiment. The original 3 months period that we had envisioned, seemed to be too much for the others. They were not seeing so much an artist residency then a contact impro festival, and a future dance center. So we decided to go for a one month rental contract.


The group of 9

Weeks passed by. We had a contract on Gabriel’s name and started to advertise for the event on a website and a Facebook page.

Then we found out that we would need a NIE (numero identification extranjeros) to be able to sign an insurance contract. There was not enough time anymore to apply for that. We were stuck. And then, something amazing happened: Daniel offered to sign the contracts on his name. We changed the names, and the landlady made an insurance contract for us.
Everything seemed fine for a while, but then the final shock: the owner refused to rent the place to us. We had reduced the number of months to one, wanted a neutral person to transfer the deposit, and were asking to change the name of the person in the contract. Too much for her. She just said “no” without further explanation, and we were falling into agony.
I say all, but not Sonja. This time she grapped the fallen flag of our community project and called the owner directly. She managed to regain the trust and aggreed for us on a 2 months contract. Plus 21% VAT, plus real estate tax, plus deposit, plus water and electricity bills. We finally managed to transfer a huge sum one day before the start of the contract on July 15th. Uff.

Daniel, Gabriel, Melody, Leon and Angel, a friend of us who just visited us in Barcelona, were the first people to arrive at the monastery on July 21st. Daniel had filled his car with a lot of stuff from himself and his community in Can Masdeu. We received plates, cuttlery, pots, burners, gas, gardening tools and a bicycle from our friends of the Barcelona community. A few days later, several of them came also to visit us and see the place. (Looking back I am grateful they didn’t squat the place).

Daniel signed the contract on this first day, when the owner Ana and Rafa handed us the keys. They went with us through the premises, explained a few things and then left.

Suddenly, the 4 of us were standing in the middle of a huge silent building, looking at each other.
“We’ve got a monastery!”, we were suddenly shouting out loud, grabbing our hands and dancing like crazy around.


We were strolling through the rooms and corridors, discovering new spaces and loads of stuff: pots, plates, cuttlery, tools, blankets, seats and tables, children toys for Leon. We felt like Alice in wonderland. Nearly none of the things we thought that we would need to buy, was necessary any more. The monastery, like a big mercyful mother, provided us with everything we needed.

The next days, all the other members of the core organizers team arrived: Gavin, Mike & Sonja, Jenny, and Laurence.

Soon we discovered that the organization of a big space takes a lot of time and energy, especially when there are no decision processes in place. From the beginning it was somehow unspokenly agreed that there was no leader, and decisions would be made in consent.
Surprisingly, looking back at all the time we spent there, we always sticked successfully to these principles.
None of our fears came true: no bad visitors that would spoil the events, nor leaders with bossy attitude showed up.
In contrary, the people that followed our invitation were unbelievable lovely and equipped with big hearts. Everybody paid what we were asking for, contributed with cooking and cleaning and gardening, and the number of complaints we could count on one hand.

IMAG1174 Jesus first disguise

Sonja and Jenny did an incredible job in organizing the “Intensive“, the first contact impro event in the beginning of August. At some point we had more then 40 visitors, and the number of overall visitors climbed to 72 after 2 weeks.
This event had the aim of connecting community and contact improvisation dance. The participants were splitting into groups with random themes, like “Trio”, “Non violent communication”, or the “Performance group” – and then holding the energy of the group by staying together 3 hours before lunch. The enthusiasm of the participants and the outcome was amazing: great dances, talks, bodywork sessions and performances.

We had been splitting our responsibilities as the organizers into several roles like finance, kitchen coordination, handyman, event organization, room organization and rota organization. The very british approach to organize cooking and cleaning ended up in a voluntary rota system with 11 spots and a daily humorous speech of Gavin, trying to convince people to sign up and fill the gaps. The rota, later in all his majesty removed to the office, shared his fate with the Barcelona cathedral “La Sagrada Familia”: gigantic dimensions, beautiful details until the top, though ever unfinished.

Nature_AngelAngel took the role of the handyman to save money on accommodation, and soon started to “constellate” every visitor. From family backgrounds over money issues, to dark monastery secrets – everything got unveiled by group constellations, magic gifts and demon feedings.
Angel was staying nearly until the end of the whole project and has been a huge help in restoring water pipes and unconscious belief systems.
Right after Ksenia he managed to rank Nr.2 on our floating stay/costs scala. We tried from the beginning to enable also participants with less money to stay, usually by giving them responsibilities like driving, kitchen coordination, event organizing, childcare or handyman.

Nirvan, Ksenia and Katelyn for instance were organizing our 2nd event, the Trio, in exchange for free stay and food. Sometimes the deals were not working out well for everybody, and several people got stressed out a lot by too much work or expectations. But overall I think we could manage a good balance between money and participation. A good first trial from our point of view…

Even we ourselves got quite absorbed by the monastic experience. Besides our jobs (me working for the Computerworld Austria, Melody mainly for Leon) we had also responsibilities in the monastery: cook, clean, finances, welcoming people and organize rooms and meetings. The days were flying, and Ksenia made a big point one day by saying: “the monastery is sucking you in”. We all felt that way. I could sit for ages on the bench outside of the kitchen, watching the yard. Sun in my face, wind moving the hammock and the leaves of the old trees, Leon shouting and sometimes crying, people smoking, drinking tea or simply passing by. Life was a beautiful mix of work and incredible peace. But not always ..

When you invite people to create a community, without having structure, roles or rules prepared, you start everything from scratch: how shall we organize ourselves? How shall we take decisions? Where do we want to go? Who are we?
And because the people in the monastery were always changing, coming and going with the events we created, these questions got raised again and again and again – an interesting, but sometimes exhausting experience.

Some people who came to the monastery had an extensive knowledge about consent based decision making, deep listening, non violent communication and other key areas of community building, and were sharing their knowledge in workshops with the people present.

After the events, it got sometimes very quiet. Just a few people stayed, and then slowly and naturally, by going from one extreme into the other, we found into a balance between flow and structure, meetings, creativity and free individual time. There were people who liked to make no plans at all, just went with the energy of the present moment. And there were others who wanted to know when exactly we would meet, or work, or shop, or dance.


A very interesting observation for myself was: when personal needs are expressed, people tend to respect them. When they are not expressed, people start to feel angry and isolated and hide themselves away from the group.
We all experienced phases like this – and everybody had phases of judgements about other people. The beautiful thing in a group of contact dancers is, that most of them are willing to get in touch with others, to confront themselves with different energies, and gradually start to dance with them.

For me (Gabriel) this was a challenge that I couldn’t manage well. Just 4 times in 3 months I was joining in the nearly daily contact jams. I am not a contact dancer even though I loved to try it. The feeling of being not good, not professional enough among these experienced dancers, was strong.

There were also other differences of livestyle that made the community life challenging: to drink alcohol, to watch football or a movie, to smoke, to eat meat or even eggs was suddenly a minority program. People tolerated it, but there was always a feeling of not belonging, not having recognized something important, not being ready or enough for the sacred circle. Anyway, I survived – and lost a lot of weight thanks to the vegan diet.

Very soon, we started to develop some rituals. The statue of Jesus in the yard for example, got dressed up during our first event with a straw hat and an umbrella, and later changed it’s outfit nearly daily: from a hitchhiker with rucksack to a masked terrorist to a fairy with a white robe.Every morning, we found our beloved friend in the yard with a new expression, a new surprise.

And before every meal, we were forming a circle with our hands, and performing some ever changing ritual: one after each other expressing a gesture or sound, or saying a word, singing a song, passing on a movement, or even holding the nipples of the neighbors. I was present in nearly all meal circles, and never we had just one ritual the same like one before. It was a naturally evolving trademark of the monastery dance tribe, a tribute to our god, the flow of life.

IMAG1306Soon members of the tribe were reporting that on festivals people started to talk about the monastery. Until the end, we had a constant flow of new novices coming in, around 130 people in total and more then 80 people in our mailing list. We were asking them to fill out a short form and answer questions about their community experience and what they want to share. Not only many professional dancers came, also a lot of teachers, community and dance festival organizers were attracted by our holy walls: Kabiro and Klaus, Thomas, Igor, Nellie, Jashana, Daniel, Tatyana, and many others.
We were lucky to have them sharing their heart and knowledge and contacts with us.

Noel Perkin's Site Specific Performance Lab, attracting 25 visitors from the village

Noel Perkin’s Site Specific Performance Lab, attracting 25 visitors from the village

Through the initiative of Sonja, and Julia’s translations of our posters into Catalan, we made 2 events for the local villagers happening.
A demonstration and workshop of contact impro on the sports field in the beginning, Noel’s site specific performance and Sven’s Megapixel show in the end.
We were also attending their festivities, especially public food happenings and a concert. Through the constant efforts of especially Sonja, Mike, Angel and Julia we had very good relations with several people in town. Angels like Lize, Barbara, Ernesto and Toni were lending us equipment, sharing their Wifi with us, opening the city storage for us and even intervening at the major’s office to get us support for our negotiations. We were feeling so much blessed.. thank you Pontós!

Against all original expectations, many people were suddenly ready to stay in the monastery. We prolonged the contract in the name of Daniel with a group of 11 for a third month.
Then, the negotiations with the owner about a stay during the winter started. While collecting quotes to repair windows and roofs, we found out that the chapel was in a dangerous condition. And this was the reason why we finally had to leave: the owners wanted to check the building and guarantee the safety. A noble move, but for our little group a shock: we had really fallen in love with each other and were ready to stay here even during the winter, ready to install insulation, stoves and repairing parts of the roof.

On October 16th, after 3 crazy days of mowing, cleaning, removing rubbish and pimping it up to a beautiful jewel, we found ourselves outside of our beloved monastery.

Leaving the monastery

It was a beautiful experience for us, but once more we are finding ourselves on a point of Zero that every true gypsy has to face, where past and future merge into a moment of being, without any plans.

One thought on “A Monastic Experience

  1. Sonja

    Gabriel, I soo loved reading this after all these years! It’s wonderwonderful to be reminded of the beginning of the monastery period! Thank you!!!!

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