Community Immersion Program – Julia St.Clair

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In the mornings we came together for ‘attunement’, taking the hands of the people next to us, pausing to breathe for a moment, and grounding oneself in the present. At first ‘attunement’ may seem like a strange or silly concept – possibly straight out of someone’s idea of a hippie cult. But beginning each day and each meal with a moment to connect to others and to the present time and place is a part of living more intentionally and reflectively. It seems simple, but I saw it as an alternative way of living. For 30 days, this is how I began each day.

The Sirius Community is a non-profit educational organization and intentional community that focuses on sustainable living and connecting to the natural environment. Sirius is considered an ‘ecovillage’, meaning that the community is centered around sustainable building methods, food production, and energy generation in order to live in a balanced relationship with nature and reduce their ecological footprint. I stayed at Sirius for the course of a month and participated in their ‘Community Immersion Program’, where participants are thrown right into life in the ecovillage. I learned through participatory projects in the community, focusing on alternative ways of living by gaining hands-on experience cooking, building, and gardening. The goal of the program is for participants to gain a deeper understanding of the self, learn about ecologically sound ways of living, and to become a better steward of the earth. Sirius stresses an alternative way of existence that is not centered around consumption or production, but rather about finding purpose and community through a connection to the land. 

At Sirius they take a systems-thinking approach to projects and problem solving, trying to better understanding networks and feedbacks. This was how we approached all our lessons and projects in permaculture design, natural building, and regenerative agriculture. 

I learned to use new tools, like a scythe to clear fields using only the energy from my body, and a solar pathfinder, to understand how the sun’s positioning through the seasons might impact the site of a built structure. I learned to reuse old materials: in one lesson we learned to weave baskets from discarded drip-tape, a material used for irrigation in large-scale agriculture. I learned to work with patience and intention, like the day when we were tediously sorting worms from compost in the vermicomposting system. I learned how to rethink waste systems during our lessons on composting toilets, and I felt rewarded each time we brought in kale, currants, or peas from a harvest. I reflected on the ways we can create a system that is not just sustaining, but that is regenerative.

As a community, Sirius is not a perfect system. While many things happen within the community, it is not self-sufficient and is still reliant on the ‘outside world’. The community relies on external sources for economic input; many members do not work within the community, and Sirius relies on guests, conference programs, and events for a fair portion of its income. The community also relies on outside sources for food. A significant portion is grown on site, but it is not enough to support all community members and guests year round. 

In thinking about how we can confront so many of the crises of today’s world, community is so important. What was most significant to me during my time at Sirius were my experiences with the other members of the community who came from an array of backgrounds and brought a diversity of perspectives. From these community members, I learned about baking bread, shiatsu massage, and life during military deployment. A lot of my moments of learning came from just listening and being open with others. Being entrenched in such a close-knit community revealed to me the importance of finding solutions collectively: movements require participation and inspiration; change requires collaboration. 

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