November 6, 2017
To me, living here at Windward means I get to create my right balance of social, urban, rural, and insular experiences. In addition to city life on occasion, I get quiet time in Nature and intimate involvement in a small community I care about and care for. Some think Windward is "too isolated" for them to comfortably live here, an idea I wanted to think on more. Here are some of my thoughts.
I recently heard someone remark that they didn't think they would do well living here at Windward because "it would be too isolating". Huh, I thought, I grew up in Portland, OR, a big busy city, but I wouldn't say life at Windward is particularly isolating. We are rather remote, but it only takes an hour or two to access a bustling urban social environment if desired. And we have several events from May through October where dozens to hundreds of people come visit us!
Where could this perception of isolation be coming from?
Apparently, the word isolated comes from the word insula, meaning island, and insulatus: made into an island. Coincidentally, the origins of Windward are closely related.
Windward's roots come from the time of the Vietnam War, when a group of strong-willed and big-hearted rebels were determined to create their own sovereign nation: a man-made island off the coast of the Dominican Republic. Their efforts were literally blown out of the water by a combination of jealousy and territorialism, and Walt, who is today Windward's sole remaining founder, headed west. He and his comrades formed a collective of hard-working dreamers in Las Vegas, and ten years later journeyed windward - into the wind - to the land we now call home.
Another definition I find of isolated is "single, exceptional." Well, in that sense, I'd have to agree. Windward is uncommon, and we are doing some things here that I don't think anyone else is doing. When it comes to technology, relationships, caring for our animals as well as each other; we do things rather different from the status quo, that's for sure. People who are called to live and build community here are unique, exceptional individuals.
I'd venture a guess that this unique-ness is part of why we are located in a rather remote area. All the better to avoid unwanted attention, like the kind the crew got 40 years ago while working toward their ill-fated island nation. But maybe that nation wasn't so ill-fated. After all, here we are now on the Plateau of Mt. Adams and I, for one, am grateful to have found a place where I can be myself and do meaningful work with amazing people while we manifest a loving new culture.
My life at Windward doesn't feel isolating. Sometimes I do need to contract and cocoon - that's how metamorphosis happens! It's hard to feel isolated "way out here" when I spend ample time with my community - individually and in group setting - and I also get to see friends and family whenever I go into Portland. Acting with agency means I choose when I isolate and when I connect.
As I reflect on why concern over feeling isolated here may arise, I ponder whether it is the fear of being isolated, or rather the fear of the intimacy of community life that is the larger concern.
When someone projects what their life is like in the city - perhaps not knowing their neighbors, passing people on the street without knowing or acknowledging them - onto life here, no wonder they would fear a feeling of isolation! Life is different in community. Yes, there are fewer people, but you know them better. Yes, you may not have easy access to as many events and social gatherings, but you learn to command your time and be intentional about how you use it, without so many distractions. And yes, it's more difficult to hide from your own emotions or personal relationship patterns - but learning how to be your best, full self feels much better than avoiding it!
Perhaps there's a timidity when faced with the power of personal agency and responsibility. It can be scary to find yourself in charge of how you want to live, moment to moment, day to day, year to year. I know how that feels! I wish it always felt empowering and exciting - like the world is my oyster! - but the truth is: the world is WAY bigger than an oyster. There are so many options, opportunities, possibilities! Deciding what to do with all of them can be crazy-making at times!
Volunteer mushroom spotted by Willow
near Windward's dining hall.
What I'm grateful for most in those moments, when the pressure of so many possibilities seems like just too much, is the quiet of the wild, inside and outside of myself, and the support, understanding, and love of those who love and care about me. I find quiet inside myself more often when I can also feel it outside of myself. I find peace and comfort in conversations with others in my community, including the trees, goats, and people. I often sense many of them have considered the questions I too face.
In my community.. Lindsay gives great advice that allows time and space for clarity to come. Andrew asks thoughtful questions that provoke thoughtful answers. Yosef is a good listener and helps me find a logical perspective. Opalyn is fun to play with when I need some lighthearted fun to let the wisdom come. Walt is loving and kind, regardless of whether I make any sense. I could go on...
I love my community! My chosen family :)
When I started writing this I thought that isolation was the opposite of intimacy, and that I would want to argue that Windward isn't actually isolated. However, I've found that we are in some ways isolated - and that it's not a bad thing! It's actually helpful in many ways. Our somewhat remote location grants us respite from the city's hustle and bustle, and allows for valuable spaciousness to connect deeply with ourselves, with Nature, and with each other.
Windward is isolated: exceptional and unique. And it's also intimate. I'm becoming more and more familiar with Windward's history, our ongoing work, and each individual who is part of our growing community, including myself. This sense of intimacy with an entity that is beyond ideas - as the Rumi quote goes - is in many ways complementary (not contradictory) to the concept of isolation. In order to grow closer to something or someone, it is often necessary to become more distant from others. We simply cannot be attentive to everything and everyone at all times, and certainly not with any significant depth. Such is the nature of focusing on what you care about. Gaining an intimate understanding of myself, Windward, and community has required distancing myself from distractions which are so pervasive and persistent in urban environments.
Walt often repeats a saying: "No matter which direction you face, you turn your back on half the world."
I feel privileged to choose this life and the isolation that comes with it. As much as the intimate community life deeply nourishes me, so does the space and time in isolation.
Chuck, Willow & Em
Photos taken by Willow.