The train runs upwards, along a deep, beautiful river valley with fragmented rocks. It slowly turns around the mountain edges, frequently blowing the horn and sneaking through short tunnels. In between, suddenly stunning views into the mountain valleys and the river bed. Further up, the steep and wild river becomes a big green lake with little hamlets on top of spiky hills. North Katalunia is full of wild natural beauty.
We end out in a little railway station, Tremp. As soon as we see Ruth, we feel welcome to the Eroles Project. She is picking us up with her black van, “GB”-plate and a radiant smile, hugging us as if we are close friends.
And we feel immediately: we are!
A few minutes later we are on a small road, chatting and following some valleys upwards through a dry and meagre landscape. We turn into a sandy road, leading us through dry hills, and finally into a little, but very impressive village on top of a hill, with steep cliffs on the side. Eroles, 22 inhabitants. Plus 8 more through the Eroles project, now. The road between the houses is so small, that Ruth has to reverse the van – still we scratch the metal. Dry heat around us.
The house is big, maybe the biggest in town, with 3 floors, 6 guest rooms, a big living area, a space at the roof and a big yard that leads into a permaculture garden with little green vegetable islands along the sides. From the upper floor we have a stunning view on Eroles and the valley behind.
We arrive on Saturday, so we have 2 days without any “official” program to accommodate us and get to know the other people from the week before: Keith, Julia and Lara. In the evening, also Eli arrives. Beautiful people, talented, respectful and caring. The atmosphere is totally relaxed, but feels also deeply centered around a common vision that everybody seems to share. There is silence, and spaciousness in this group. Within hours we feel that time has disappeared and we are melting into the peace of the rural environment.
Our family-room is a former barn, emptied and cleaned for us by the group members before we arrived, with a massive double bed and a table. We are sleeping really well, and it is a quiet refuge for Leon.
On Sunday the group took a good amount of time to introduce themselves and what brought us to the Eroles project. It was very inspiring to hear the background of the people – some of them have their interests more on the exploration of community and activism, some have a strong professional background in arts and performance. After lunch we were preparing the next week with the ideas that everybody brought on the table – this could be either a request or an offer for a creative session.
Here are some of the ideas that we were experimenting with during the first week:
An early silent walk through the stunning and wild nature around the houses and little village. Then we took inspirations from this walk and with the help of Eli we made an improvised house exploration using different spaces within the house, that later developed into a welcome performance for the next member: this was Lindsey, who arrived at the middle of the week. There was an introduction talk into magic and rituals from Keith, Yoga, bodywork, improvised music sessions where we were singing in a circle, and a lot of time for everybody to do their own things.
The daily meditation at 8, group circles (“check-ins”), common meals with holding hands and giving a simple thank, and other little rituals were really good to re-connect the group during the day.
We both (Melody and Gabriel) originally met during a retreat in Austria, and together joined several more, also with Leon. In these experiences there were always some leaders that would facilitate and organize the overall structure. So one of our main questions was: how would it feel to be in a group without leaders, where everybody is creating the structure?
We were particularly interested in community building tools and experiences, because we are also part of another amazing project: the rent of a monastery near Girona to form an art community there for 2 months. (creative-art-community.org)
We had not much experience with community living, especially as a family and we found the open, including, relaxed and voluntary structure of our first week very inspiring and nourishing.
We are sitting on old chairs that break down sometimes. We watch the swallows, that have many nests under the porch roof where we often sit. Undisturbed by us, they fly in and out and feed their young.
We eat vegetarian food, salad and zucchini from the garden – even though me and Leon have a little Salami in the room to add some power in between. We ring the cymbal to indicate the start of meetings and sessions.
The necessities of the house seemed to be floating without effort. There were always people to water the plants, prepare the table, cook, clean, wash the dishes, without having to make tough plans. Even though, it turned out later that this total freedom was leading also to frustration of other members that had different expectations around cleanliness, food usage and share of tasks. In the second week, we were addressing these issues in a more systematic way.
Very useful and nourishing were the daily “check-ins” at 10:00, were everybody had between 3-5 minutes to share feelings, thoughts and experiences. The first daily session – facilitated by always different members of the group and following our self-made weekly schedule – followed at 11:00. Then lunch, a long siesta, and later in the afternoon or evening a second and sometimes even third session.
We felt the structure that Ruth, and in the second week also Maria were providing, was supporting very well a creative and loving environment.
The second week started with a farewell to Keith and Lara who left us, and from Sunday on with 3 new people: Robbie, Maria and Kasia. It was interesting to observe how their arrival was changing the energy of the group. The female, sensual, slow and caring energy became now much more structured and analytic. The tasks were assigned in a much clearer way. The sessions were enriched with considerations about our common political ground and decision making focused on consensus. And more outside oriented activities like a local Anti-Fracking camp in Victoria that the Eroles group would collectively visit, or the international COP conference in December 2015 became a topic.
Still the caring, open and respectful way of dealing with each other from the first week remained. There was a lot of love, playing, sharing and laughter throughout the day – and the space remained open for everybody to participate freely and go through deep personal processes at the same time. When people were missing out during the meals, we kept them a plate full of food. And when someone was in resistance or dealing with strong emotions, no intrusive questions were raised.
Gabriel was facilitating a creative “making” session of little objects, and together with Melody a common object with all the group. The common making led into a strong “flow”and resulted in an amazing sculpture, inspired by the theme of fracking. Melody also facilitated a somatic movement session based on BMC principles. Gabriel initiated crazy music improvisation sessions in a circle, were the group became a great a cappella band (“Steeve”). And the other day we were all impressed by a very rich introduction into performance-oriented tools from Kasia and Lindsey – that ended with an image theatre session exercise from Augusto Boal.
We learned from Maria also about the Spanish revolution in May 15th, where Thousands of people in several Spanish cities had created an alternative environment of political participation. They were introducing consensus-oriented decision making in groups and collectively building camps on public places. And Millions of people supported them on the streets in demonstrations against corruption and austerity, leading into the formation of a new political party.
Gabriel was very impressed by many of the members in the group, who were dedicating their life fully to activism towards environmental and social change, and their experience in reaching group consensus by taking themselves completely out, just asking questions and including the voice and heart of everybody. Instead of just “voting over” the rest of the group, there is always a search for a better idea, that would take comments and doubts of other group members into consideration, and refine itself, until a consensus is reached. This can become a long, frustrating and time consuming process – but the outcome is that everybody is naturally engaged with a deep feeling of belonging to the group, and the proposal will also be carried out by everybody.
Alcohol is allowed only on weekends, which is a big problem for an addicted like Gabriel. But when he expresses his need for a small beer at the end of day, the group is granting this wish. After 5 minutes discussion and hearing everybody it is clear: One beer, after dinner, and not in front of others who might get tempted. Another victory for consensus-oriented decisions.
Our original question, if we would enjoy living in a self-organizing community, had been clearly answered. Yes, we’d love to!
And today, on the first morning outside Eroles, we feel a little bit sad. But we just did our first family check-in.