I recently completed my three week visitor period – part of the membership process – at East Wind. I absolutely loved it and want to share what it was like to be there. If you are curious as to what made me interested in community living, I’ve outlined my reasons in this post.
Perhaps what made the largest impression on me was how intentional this “intentional community” is. For a lot of people commune has a bit of a negative connotation to it and so Intentional Community is the current PC and umbrella term that covers any “planned residential community designed from the start to have a high degree of social cohesion and teamwork. The members of an intentional community typically hold a common social, political, religious, or spiritual vision and often follow an alternative lifestyle.” (Wikipedia) Before visiting East Wind I understood this in principle but seeing it in action really impressed me.
The very first thing I did upon arriving there was be directed to find Autumn, one of East Wind’s Membership team, who gave Para (another visitor) and I our introductory Orientation to the community. The point of this “Oreo” was to introduce us to East Wind culture. We were told how the norms there differ from the outside world (commonly referred to as Babylon by most East Winders). Some examples are lack of a nudity taboo and zero tolerance for violence. However this would be far from the last time I would hear the word “norm”. Almost anytime I would learn how something was done at East Wind I would be informed of the relevant norm. For example, the big meals are prepared and served at Rock Bottom (RB), and it is also a popular hang out spot, so there are often people around and thus it houses one of the few phones outside of the offices at the top of the property. Whenever someone from the outside world would call looking for someone the receptionist would transfer them to the RB phone which would of course ring. From observation I gathered most people found picking up the phone to be annoying and often times it would go unanswered for a good bit, even with a number of people around (perhaps an example of the Bystander Effect?). One member expressed frustration with this one time and informed me that the norm is whomever is closest to the phone should answer it. Despite this norm not always being followed, I was impressed that through agreement at some point in the past the community had intentionally decided how to handle the minor problem of no one wanting to pick up the phone. Though this is just one small example, life at East Wind is shaped by countless similar norms and many possible sources of contention are rendered harmless by past agreement on what constitutes best practice for the community.
On a bigger scale the very foundation of East Wind is intentional as set forth in its Charter, Legislation, Bylaws, and Policies (Legispol). These are intentional agreements made by the community at large that determine how things work at East Wind (you can check out their webpage on Government for more info). In sum total the norms and bylaws do a incredible job of manifesting a culture and lifestyle that matches the stated intent of a nonviolent, egalitarian, income-sharing community. This results in a general sense of freedom and mutual respect that I found to be simply wonderful. The sensation of chains being lifted from one’s spirit was so real it was almost physical – there was definitely a lightness of being there.
Another aspect of East Wind in which my anticipation was exceeded by the reality thereof was the impact of everything being held in common. Members have personal property which they keep in their rooms, but everything else in community is open for anyone to make use of. As an income-sharing community the profits of East Wind’s businesses go towards the benefit of the community in common, and over the years East Wind has accumulated some cool stuff. There are canoes – both for the creek on the property and also separate ones to take on float trips, a fitness room, a music studio, hammocks hanging all over, and many other facilities open to all. Each of the members is a part “owner” in the whole of community and this generates a spirit of cooperation rather than the competition that is endemic in Babylon. I was really impressed with how open everyone was with everything there, while I was a visitor I was treated as if I had just as much right to community resources as anyone else. I felt like I had received this great gift, the fruit of the work of all those who had come before me, and was inspired to add to it, to leave it greater than I had found it.
Likewise the fact that the fruit of each member’s labor directly benefits the community as a whole – and thus also that member – inculcates mutual appreciation of each other. Because no one is forced to do anything, all labor done is therefore a gift to the community in whole. Work has a distinctly different subjective feel to it in East Wind. One of the biggest difference is the complete lack of coercion. Other than the small amount (3-8 hours depending on the week) required at the Nut Butters factory and 2 hours of kitchen clean-up, East Wind gives members total freedom in how they do their 35 hours of labor benefiting the community each week. Each member is free to do what they want, when they want. Is the sun getting too hot and you don’t feel like digging up potatoes anymore? Then just stop and maybe go chill at the creek and cool off. Each member is their own boss, and yet everything still manages to get done. There are an immense number of different activities going on at East Wind at any given moment, and yet it all works out somehow.
In addition to labor hardly feeling like work, there is so much more leisure time at East Wind than out in the “real world”. Because everything that needs to be done gets taken care of through the labor system, other than your personal laundry there are no “chores” (and you don’t even have to do that if you live out of the shared closet of Commie Clothes like some members do). The time you are not laboring is completely free, and it is wonderful. As mentioned to me by a member, East Wind is a fantastic place to practice. This free time is often spent in play and socializing.
While I truly only caught a glimpse of it, I really appreciated another benefit of living in community that I witnessed: There are no strangers there. Even if two members might not be super close, everyone knows everyone else’s story. And everyone seems to accept each other, even if they don’t necessarily agree with everything they think or do.
There are also a multitude of incredibly talented people at East Wind. Musicians, gardeners, herbalists, ranchers, artists, construction contractors – the list goes on. Should one be so inclined there is a plethora of knowledge to be had for the asking. Everyone was really open and happy to share what they know and I look forward to the vast learning opportunities waiting for me there.
This is just a guess, but I have a feeling that a lot of the magic I have tried to convey above arises out of the egalitarian nature of East Wind. Each member has the same amount of “power” -each member has one equal vote- as any other member, and there is no tolerance for violence. Short of an egregious offense, once a person becomes a Full Member it is almost impossible to force them to leave. Since every member is on equal footing there is no one to tell you what to do and consensus is built through agreement and consent rather than intimidation and command.
It was also just wonderful to be “on the farm”. The property is gorgeous – over 1000 acres in the hills of the Ozarks – and has a “creek” (Missourian for river) run through the bottom of the property. Everything was a short walk away on foot paths through the trees. Nature comes right up to most of the buildings on the property and it’s really nice to be so much closer to it than I’ve been in any other living situation. At East Wind the air is fresh and the stars are many and bright. They have many beautiful gardens and the grounds in general are well maintained.
East Wind is also a real human community, like any other in some ways. As great as it is, it is not Utopia. People were quick to point out that East Wind is definitely still reliant on the outside world and needs the money generated by the Nut Butters business. Like in any community there are disagreements and “drama” between members. Having 1000 acres of land comes at the cost of being a bit of a drive from any decent sized town. Being close to nature meant being close to mosquitoes, chiggers, and seed ticks on my visit and being itchy most of the time. A downside of everything being held in common is that people sometimes take community property for granted and perhaps not give it the care they might if it were their own. I was told that over the winter cabin fever definitely sets in a little bit.
However even with these downsides, I found East Wind to be absolutely amazing and can’t wait to go back. Evidently a number of people feel the same because I’m currently on a waiting list to get a room there – which could take about a year perhaps. I plan on visiting from time to time until I get a spot “on the system” and can move there for good.