Gathering on Communes
Twin texts reflecting on a summer gathering in Sweden
|Inhabit||Feb 16, 2020|
Text by Corncob / Photos by Corncob & Ronan
My Experience of the Spirit of the Commune
This year I took part in organizing a small gathering of twenty people in the forests of Southern Sweden, in an old schoolhouse owned by a group of thirty comrades who mostly live in Copenhagen.
After being in the Middle East throughout almost all of my twenties, I moved back to the Nordic region last year. For as long as I can remember, from my teens onward, I have been struggling with the culture I belong to. I was very silent when I was younger and, looking back, I think it was a soulful culture-clash of desiring to live in another way than what was presented. The silence was my mysterious way, already back then, of pledging allegiance to another kind of living.
My struggle was so intense and connected to the surroundings of my youth that I had to get out for many years in order to experience other ways of living and reflect on what was not working for me back home. For almost a decade my culture has been a great disappointment, breaking my heart continuously. As I have wandered the warm deserts of another region of the world, I have felt deep longings for the cold landscapes back home. I have struggled with feeling abandoned and unwillingly uprooted by the place I belong to.
Today my wandering seems to have come to an end as I enter another phase of life, celebrating my thirtieth birthday, shifting my center of gravity to another focus. Through the past years, certain events have served as pivot points for that shift, giving hope and courage to return to the culture that otherwise has caused me so much distress. I return in order to take up a fight, which has become as follows.
In the spring of 2017, I got invited by my brother to join a week of skill-sharing with comrades from around Europe in an old monastery in France. As a group, we presented a workshop on “free shopping” with lots of practical tips and tricks on all kinds of levels. It was my first experience of sharing a tool that for years I had just been practicing on my own. Here I both created new bonds with a group of friends with surprisingly similar trajectories and I found that I could be a good teacher when formalizing all the shit I have done. That was the beginning for me, by then I had lost my heart to each and everyone in that group of friends. For the first time, I had visions of a life worth fighting for. Since then I have wanted to make a life rich in intention happen for all of us.
That same year, the fifth anniversary of the old schoolhouse in Southern Sweden was celebrated. Some of us from the group were present, generating a lot of joy and somehow giving an answer to how life could be shared and lived among all our comrades. It struck me how much fun I had, how secure I felt in taking risks and how I made magical things happen while singing karaoke or calling people's attention during meals.
Then last year, I was returning to Copenhagen after finishing my studies in Jerusalem/Al-Quds where I have lived for many years. I understood that people had been planning a gathering in the old schoolhouse. My intuition told me I had to go, so I invited myself to join.
My experience the previous year was that through structures that stem from our ethics, we can create a stable environment that honestly challenges the otherwise depressing environments many of us spend too much time in, numb and in disguise. So again this year I experienced a similar excitement at practicing tools that make me more resilient as well as getting a glimpse into a way of life that suits me extremely well. This year, while folding laundry with a new friend in the days after everyone had left, I tried to put into words what it is. What I so enjoy is the balance between living and working and teaching each other to become stronger/softer/more precise/more sensitive/more wild. When I think of the ways I was brought up believing I could structure my life, work, and studies, they always pulled me away from those I truly love and benefit from spending time with. At the gathering that conflict is not present. I get to be with people I see myself connected to for decades to come, all the while we work, discuss, and practice skills that I'm then drawn to teach strangers about in turn.
As I am writing this, I am at the suburban country house where we grew up, just outside of Copenhagen. In between writing I go for walks with a dog I am dog-sitting while its owner is out travelling for the week. I know the dog very well. I share a flat with her and her owner. I see her everyday in the city and observe how she behaves uneasily, without appetite. Today she found a dead bird and wildly rubbed herself on the carcass with such pleasure. Every morning and evening, after our walks in the nearby forest, she munches the food she otherwise had lost her appetite for. She starts to leave my side and let others pet and care for her. I see the lifting of her spirit as similar to what I feel at the gathering.
This year I felt especially challenged by the organization of the gathering, as I would wish for it to be both an educational week for anyone as well as a time for me to create deeper bonds with those I already share or wish to share a life with. To me, the gathering is both the anticipation of an actual shared life in the making as well as a place of learning with comrades who have their own lives elsewhere. That particular mix of real and setting an example for others is one of the ingredients that makes the gathering so powerful in my experience.
All year long I have had strong anxieties that the previous gathering was just an experiment we would not dare to live out. This year my anxieties are still present, however much more subtle. This year reaffirmed my belief that what we do – and by doing it continuously – will lead to a good life in common. In many ways as a teen I struggled to find an example of a life worth living. Having gathered for two years now, my experience is that I have found an opening to a playground of places and people that gives me visions of a future where I see myself bringing children to life, all the while I'll keep fighting against large-scale injustices. I envision a hybrid life of the mundane and the adventurous, regional as well as international travels that support comrades elsewhere. The gathering creates a module for a life with complex commitments and an environment where I'm challenged by others. It's that challenge that makes me grow out of the impasse I'm otherwise so accustomed to.
To you that I share stories with, to you that I might write new ones with: we found a path. If we continue to walk it, I sense we'll overcome our fears of darkness, invite it in and let it reveal what the light otherwise blinds us from. I have the genuine belief that if we stay together, we'll grow in numbers and generate enough fire to burn shit down.
Organizational Tools for Gathering
I will share some of the tools we applied while gathering in Southern Sweden. People arrived from very different places, with very different emotional baggage and relationships to the place where we were meeting. In order to create an environment where it's possible to take on responsibilities and inhabit the space as one's own, some framing is necessary in our experience.
Day of Arrival
This year we fucked this one up and had to learn from experience the importance of setting an arrival time and giving a welcome tour in daylight, so that everyone recognizes and settles into the space before dark. The evening of the arrival day includes a communal dinner followed by an opening session. We had discussions about what the evening session should include – for sure, sharing intention and spirit, and the possibility for everyone to reflect on why and with what baggage they arrived and how they wish to participate/contribute during the gathering. Share some of the structures described underneath – maybe not going into too many details, in order to not exhaust the arrival and let everyone arrive emotionally first and foremost. Dividing into affinity groups and having the structural information printed out on an info board can take the pressure off of having to present everything in the assembly. Go to bed at a time that makes it possible to rise the next morning and follow the daily rhythm.
We went for a rhythm where we strived to wake up together at 8am, involving different creative breakfast wakings (soft whispers, bells, and gentle knocks on the doors). We then engaged in a morning of physical activity by either doing Muay Thai, one-on-one bodywork sessions, runs to the lake, walks in the forest, sessions of dancing, or sparking joy through a construction task on the house (this year, organizing the woodshop).
Short Daily Assembly
After eating lunch at 12pm, we gathered for a short daily assembly where commissions and small affinity groups report back on satisfactory experiences and/or desires for improvements from the previous day. The commissions we have been using are Programming, Food & Logistics, Housekeeping, Facilitation, Comfort Squad, and Documentation. Each take on an area of responsibility and are in charge of distributing relevant information to the rest of the group. At this gathering, each commission consisted of approximately two to four people, depending on the workload. The affinity groups have two tasks during the gathering. One: every evening have a check-in using the têkmil self-critique tool from the Kurdish revolution and present a summary of it to the daily assembly. Two: together cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner on rotation following "Our Cookbook," a collection of recipes two of us made in order to feed 25 people delicious food for a week. (If you want "Our Cookbook" for another gathering, just write to the email below).
We have mostly had discussions, talks, or reportbacks during the afternoon between 2pm and 5pm. This year we talked about digital security, mental health, the reproductive family, and heard reportbacks from events one of us co-organised in the US as well as from a thesis written in and about Rojava. We would like more practical skill-sharing workshops to become part of the equation as well. Suggestions have been foraging, fermentation, and/or basic craft skills.
After having dinner at 6pm, we met for 8pm sessions talking from the heart, with candlelight and chocolate. We asked questions like: How do we sustain a group? What does it take for our movements to get to a point of collective formulation? What are we going towards after this gathering? Where will we be in 1 year, 3 years, 5 years? Or just having a night of fun, with performances or watching a documentary.
One could also think of the days at the gathering as intentionally creating a rhythm in correlation with body, mind, and spirit.
Want to get closer? Reach out to email@example.com.