Interviewsand Articles


A Conversation with John Wolfstone: Tamera and Beyond

by Richard Whittaker, Jul 12, 2017



I met John Wolfstone and his partner in filmmaking, Ian MacKenzie, at the home of Loren Cole. But before introducing John, let me give some background about Loren. He’d been recommended as someone who could prepare tax returns for the modest non-profit my wife and I had founded. I’d been told he was trustworthy and reasonable in his prices. Why not drive up and meet him, my friend, Meredith Sabini, suggested. She, too, was looking for a new tax person.
     His home, on the outskirts of Sonoma, stood alone several hundred feet up a dirt road in the middle of agricultural fields. I hadn’t bothered to Google Cole. I didn’t know anything about Inquiring Systems Inc., his own non-profit. Had I checked, I’d have discovered that it's charitable purpose was "improving the human condition by providing ethical and sustainable ecosystem management services, training and technical assistance required to obtain long term economic viability, self-sufficiency and sustainability for the projects, people, and communities and for the ecosystems with which we are involved. ISI focuses on translating good intentions into practical, effective and worthwhile outcomes."
     I knew nothing about all this. In the first few minutes of chatting, however, that began to change. When I remarked about his home, he answered, “I built it myself. The whole thing cost $100,000.” For a house in the wine country just north of San Francisco, that’s amazing in itself. And then Cole said, “It’s the first fully ecosystemological home ever built.”
     Apparently I’d stumbled into territory off the beaten track. Was I dealing with a nutcase? No, I soon decided. But the conversation led so quickly into unexpected waters, I found myself in a quandary. My friend and I were there to talk tax prep—the cost and how it would work. We had maybe an hour to explore this and make a decision. On the other hand, I sensed the presence of something far more interesting. So I plunged ahead with more questions. Before Meredith and I left that afternoon, having signed on as tax clients, I'd learned that Cole had a role in the founding of Earth Day as well as a role in founding UC Berkeley’s Environmental Studies Department. I’d resolved to come back to learn more. Certainly, I'd ask Loren for an interview.
     As it happened, though, a couple of years passed without a follow through. Then one day I got an email Cole had sent to all his clients. In short, he’d seen a doctor because of nagging pain and advanced cancer was discovered. The doctor gave him three to five months to live. All of his clients were invited to a celebration at his home to say goodbye.
     My dismay at this shock was mixed with self-recrimination for my lack of earlier action. But perhaps there was still time to uncover more of what I'd sensed as an extraordinary story.

On June 17th at about 2pm, I stood at the front door of Loren’s home. During the entire drive north, I’d been trying to imagine this gathering unlike any I’d been to before. I was sure many interesting people would be there. At the door, a young man introduced himself, John Wolfstone. And who was I and how did I know Loren? he wanted to know.
     It wasn’t what I was expecting. In response to my own questions, he explained, “We’re making a film about Loren.”
     “Ah, yes.” It all made sense. And I was grateful someone else was also going to capture some of this mysterious figure’s story. And since there was a green light for a lot of direct questions, it wasn’t long before I had a sense about Wolfstone and MacKenzei. The two young filmmakers had a nose for content that might give others hope.
     At the gathering, Loren and I set a date for an interview. I’m happy to report the interview took place just a few weeks before Cole died. And while I was al the gathering, I asked John and Ian if they would be open to an interview. Yes, but MacKenzie would be traveling.

John Wolfstone:  I grew up in Colorado and I’ve lived here in Calfornia now for nearly a decade. The sense of possibility that California represented came from reading books about the 1960s—like The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe, and reading about Timothy Leary, the Beats, Jack Kerouac, Alan Watts, and these people. I got the sense that magic, and the miraculous, could exist just around the corner. I feel like every young person I've met who is on a path of social change and trying to take responsibility for this moment in time is carrying the medicine of the 60s—like somehow it came through the music or the art.  When I learned the 60s was a time of cultural awakening I wondered if California still held that possibility. I just didn’t feel the potential where I was living.

Richard Whittaker:   Where were you in Colorado?

John:   Fort Collins, which is an amazing place. They actually modeled downtown Disneyland after our downtown. I mean it’s progressive; it’s kind of like Pleasantville, but it doesn’t have that social, innovative edge. So I came out to California. It’s kind of been this spiral towards the Bay Area and, in some ways, chasing the miraculous. I think what’s different now—and this is where I feel my generation is standing on the shoulders of the giants of your generation—is that there’s the pressure of crisis, of ecological, social, and political crises.
     It’s different now from how it was back in the 60s. It isn’t just, “The establishment is so messed up.” Since I came of age in high school, there’s been a real sense like, “Whoa. My life is in danger!”—like the ecosystems we survive on are in danger. The whole system is in a crisis and that somehow blocks out other issues. I know that not all people have awakened to this reality, but that became the driving force in my life.
     In school, and in media, this was presented without much of, “And this is what we’re going to do about it.” Instead it was, “This is just getting worse and worse and worse. And now onto the next thing.”
     It’s like, “Whoa, wait! You just presented me with the imminent collapse of Western Civilization and our biosphere. What do you mean? There’s no “getting on.”
     It’s an evolutionary pull that’s become the directive of my life— and pretty much of all the people I work with, collaborate with and hang out with.
     But I feel there’s an unbroken lineage from the 60s to today— something about that shift of paradigms that was awakened in the 60s. How can we live in harmony with the earth, with creation, with life—a worldview based on interconnection and relationship instead of one where humans see themselves as separate from creation? All the efforts towards controlling, especially in the last one hundred years, have caused so much chaos—because we cannot control. We don’t have that power; we’re not God. Rather, we’re in a relationship.
     Realizing that relationship is fundamental is what so many other young people are trying to base their work on. There’s a common phrase people use now, “decolonization.” Essentially, it speaks to the very manner in which we operate. We have to be in integrity with how we do our work in the world, and with the goals we have. What it means is that we can’t be crusading, thinking our idea is going to save the world. Even this idea of being a savior is a very colonized idea, built on separation.
     There’s this relationship we need to come back to, back into a certain consciousness of the interrelationship we have with all life, and mostly with ourselves. Really, it’s starting from the inner, but remembering that there’s connection with others in the outer. Can we base our actions from that place of relationship? This is framing what I'm doing as a huge picture, but it seems connected to what you’re talking about.

RW:  I think it’s connected, yes. How many people of your age today do you think are going to totally get what you’re saying?

John:  I think almost all the people I personally know and associate with, “get this.” And that’s part of the problem. One difficulty we have now is these social spheres—like the people on my Facebook newsfeed. These spheres creates a sense that “this is the whole world.” And when Trump was elected, it was like, “Wake up! There’s a whole other part of this nation that’s not at all on this wavelength.”        
RW:  It’s a huge wake-up. I've met several people your age, who would resonate very much with what you’re saying, who feel a lot of pressure, who feel that we’re in big trouble and that we’re all connected. I know you travel a bit, and I’m wondering how widespread do think this feeling is among people of your age?

John:   In the Bay Area here in California, I think it’s the predominant worldview among young people.  I noticed ten years ago at age 20, that all my friends were in this paradigm. We felt connected with the lineage of the Beats of the 60s and felt we were moving forward towards a new possibility of life. And yet, as we’ve gotten older—because there’s such an overarching system at play—we’ve become more entrenched in the capitalistic system that’s based on separation. More and more of my friends have become distracted and disenchanted. They want to get married and have a family, and they need to pay bills. All of the sudden, they’re following patterns of the system they don’t believe in. It’s like a morphic field that Rupert Sheldrake talks about. There’s gravity to the capitalistic system.
     But the point is that the work I'm doing, and that of most of the people I work with, is becoming less issue-based and more structurally-based—because it doesn’t matter if we can solve organic agriculture, or have electric cars. The problems are really at the level of structures, both inside the human being and how it’s mirrored outside, especially in society. In the absence of new structures that create a new basis for society, or culture, it’s inevitable that the existing institutional framework of Western society exerts a certain gravity; it just pulls people into a separation frame of mind.
     For us, the question is how do we create structures that really support a new vision of life? A new culture? A culture based on the root paradigm of interconnection? That’s really the work I think is upon us now and it’s what so many other young people are really trying to look at and do. It’s a much bigger and messier thing than I think has been done before. Because everything we interface with is in the old system and all of it is compromised. It’s hard to do healing work, or new-paradigm-work, entrenched in the old system. The integrity of it only goes so far, because I'm complicit in systems of war and violence, and just general asleepness, at almost every single level.
     So, there’s a pull towards how do we create the foundations for a new civilization? That has a lot to do with community. It has a lot to do with understanding how to create a culture based on truth—and one, where on a small scale, people can learn to work together so well that they can depend on each other in the immediate environment and not on the larger system. At the same time, keeping the larger system, the whole Earth, in mind.
     People have tried starting these isolated farm communities, back-to-land things, and in the absence of a connection to a whole-earth consciousness, and not understanding that their small-scale actions are actually political actions, it doesn’t work. They’re missing the inter-relational level that’s fundamental in who we are.
     It’s the consciousness of the personal being political, that how I live my life, and the basis of how I live, is a political opportunity. It’s a political responsibility, actually.
     My activism is changing the root of how I live. I'm less likely to go out there and block the highway. To me, those actions don’t solve much. They take a lot of energy. It feels good, you know, the emotional feeling of we’re all together.
     But the basis of how I live is my political opportunity. Can I work with other human beings to understand how together, we can step out of the system? Because I cannot do it alone. I need to do it with others, to create a community, a network of resiliency. I think that’s the way that together, we can change this world. It’s not going to happen with me starting some enterprise myself. It’s really a collective endeavor.

RW:  Generally speaking, when people try to figure out how to make things better, they focus on the problems “out there.” They don’t think of themselves as being a part of the problem. I wonder if you’d reflect on the importance of the change that has to be inside of one’s own self?

John:   I think that it’s somewhat represented in the statement “the personal is the political.” But it’s also the spiritual. The harmful outer structures of our society are just mirroring inner human structures. So, as I want to step out of our societal structures with other people, that’s only going to be possible if we’re doing work to change—to heal and awaken new human inner structures.
     If you have a revolution, but without inner work, you’re just going to end up creating the same political systems and ideology, maybe with a different face, a different mask. Unless there’s actually a real shift, a real healing and awakening in the inner human being, nothing will be different.
     I think we’re at a time when not many people are attracted to being a monk, isolated from the world and trying to awaken for 20 years. The level of crisis, and the level of the call from the world, is that there needs to be work done now. How can we awaken? For me, it’s centered around doing it with other people, finding groups that can intentionally work together to awaken, or spiritually come to truth, to heal the trauma of thousands of years of separation. That work needs to be done together. The outer structures being built will need to support inner human work; that’s at the core.
     The documentary film I'm currently doing now, Healing of Love, is about this eco-village in Portugal, Tamera. The reason I was drawn to that place as a young person is that I’ve been looking for the most basic level of, what can I do? What can be done? Is there a possibility to shift this planet?

RW:  And how old are you?

John:   I'm 30.

This eco-village, essentially, is the only place in the world I've found that has this pivot point of putting inner human work at the center of their community. That inner human work is what builds trust amongst other people. It’s what allows them to create these profound outer structures of peace, new technologies and new ways of working with water and food. But it all comes from an inner spiritual position and relationship to life that comes through healing. That can happen when a group of people really commit to speaking truth, and to creating spaces where truth can be mirrored.

RW:  Could you give me a brief overview of Tamera?  When was it founded? How long has it been around? That sort of thing.

John:  Okay. It’s a German/international project, currently in Portugal. It started in Germany in the 60s. I understand it as a direct response to German society dealing with the immense awakening of their conscience from the Holocaust. Think of coming to age in Germany, facing the fact of the genocide of six million people, that blood on the hands of your parents. It’s an immense psychological reality to carry and one result was a strong leftist movement, in the 60s. During that time, at the height of the student-movement in 1968, a psychotherapist, Dieter Duhm, wrote Fear in Capitalism that became a best-seller in Germany. His premise was that the Left, in spite of their idealistic ideas, was ending up creating the same social structures as the people they were trying to uproot from power. He saw the same drama, the same traumas and lies and jealousies, even to the point where one of his friends was poisoned. That really woke him up. He saw it wasn’t going to be a change of ideology that would shift and prevent another Holocaust from happening.
     So, he started intensely researching. He met with a few other Germans who were thinking this way and, essentially, they began a social experiment in the early 70s. It grew and grew. It was based on the question of how to work with people to form community and inner human work, like psychotherapeutic work in a group, to heal the latent layers of trauma and fascism that exist within all of us, in order to be able to create a culture of peace.
     They found out, once they all started living in the same place, all these issues around money, love, power, sex—they all came to the surface. They decided that if they couldn’t deal with these issues, they wouldn’t be capable of doing anything else.

RW:  No doubt this is something fundamental you’re describing. It seems like these forces—money, greed, power, sex and all the self-interested tendencies we have—tend toward the downfall of these communities that start out so idealistically. But this man was conscious of these problems, it seems like. Maybe we could say it’s the problem of how to deal with the shadow aspects.   
John:  Exactly. This group, out of necessity, created social technologies to deal with the shadow aspect. These were built from tools of theater and psychotherapy with a goal of a healthy system of transparent communication with built in feedback loops. It’s an effective social technology for shadow work.  It’s hard to see one’s own shadow, but other people can help show you your shadow. The problem is that in a nuclear family, for instance, or even a partnership where two people try to show each other their shadows, it’s too small of a container, and the “showing” is like wounding and becomes more of a war. 
     But in a bigger group, with the right tools and orientation, enough trust and safety can develop to really do this shadow-work. For Tamera, trust is the key ingredient. It’s the soil in which all other human awakening work can grow, where they can create these feedback loops and exercises and experiments, do research and communicate to show each other their shadows and together awaken. And there’s an understanding that your problem and your shadow isn’t unique to you; it’s actually part of more universal human psychological structures..
     I've been at Tamera and have seen them doing this work. People get up and speak transparently about their issues, things that normally, in our culture, you only share with your therapist or your wife under the covers late at night. These things are shared publicly. It’s this wonderful thing. By revealing myself publicly, and seeing others do the same, one can realize, “I can relate to all of these issues, and everyone else can relate to mine. We’re not so unique in these things.” Which is often the fear. And by working through these issues transparently in a group, people gain insight.
     Actually, they gain insight more readily, because of a certain energy of the group field and through the feedback loops. Then when that insight is a public matter, it’s activated in all the other people. So, awakening and healing happen in fast forward, because you create a culture based on insight.
     It’s profound being in this culture where people are really supported to gain insight. And it isn’t this guru thing like, “We have a guru who’s our spiritual anchor.” Each person is responsible and looking out for their own awakening and all the others, too. In that system there’s this intricate web of spiritual-psychological support and safety holding you, and helping you rise up. As a group, the people at Tamera are the most self-developed people I've ever met in my life.

RW:  Wow.      

John:  When you have a group of awakened people, their power to collaborate and create outward political change and action, because of their trust, is immense. At Tamera, when they put 200 people behind an issue, and they’re not getting caught in these dramas, it’s amazing what they can do. They’re creating a profound impact on this planet.
     So, long story short, Tamera evolved from the 60s, and eventually moved to Portugal for a variety of reasons. Now it’s a 200-person, permanent, land-based village and an education center. Thousands of people come through the year and learn, and they’ve become a world leader in many areas of regenerating human culture.
     They’ve also done profound work with water and healing the desert. They see themselves somewhat as the Silicon Valley of building trust and community healing on this planet. That’s what really has drawn us to them.
     So, the film we’re doing focuses on that social work of Tamera—and specifically, around the issue of love and sexuality, because it’s such a core issue for human beings. How actually healing that issue at a core level in a community creates a basis of trust. So, our film is looking at how Tamera works with the issues of love and sexuality, and how this could have immense social and political ramifications for us here in the West and really, anywhere on the planet.

RW:  A typical response to that might be, “Oh, it sounds like free love. I bet I can get a lot of sex there.” So, how does Tamera deal with an idea that this is really around a self-serving kind of desire. I imagine you’ve thought about that.

John:  I've thought about this immensely—and in relation to my own journey, being a male who awakened at age 13 to his own sexual power, without any real cultural guidance. At that age, all of a sudden, lust kicks in and becomes this fascination, partly because of how much it’s not allowed. There are no mentors or teachers or outlets to really be in a safe way with it.
     It’s interesting then, to really look at how much sexual energy and sexual power run this planet—in a very shadowy way. Look at the multi-billion-dollar porn industry, which is totally behind closed doors with its lack of ethics and integrity, and it’s dehumanization. And there’s the recent downfall of leading male figures in media and government, who were wrongly using sexual power in abusive ways for years
     It’s interesting how this issue is approached at Tamera. I’ve been there four different times now and, first and foremost, Tamera is not a place that moralizes. People there are not going to be saying, “You’re wrong, or you shouldn’t do this.” They really believe that cultural shift doesn’t come through guilt or shame or blame. It comes with people awakening to their own sense of ethics and morality.
     So sure, going to Tamera that first time was like, “I can be free. I can speak truth to this woman and that woman. I can really, for the first time, feel safe to acknowledge that sexuality is part of my humanness.”
     And then, after a while, a few things kicked in. It’s all about the system of feedback loops. If I'm just going there and trying to have sex with like 20 different women, one, it’s chaotic, and inevitably—given that even Tamera is not yet a fully healed culture—there’s drama. And the people in a community committed to speaking truth, are going to mirror me. “Hey. Is this really serving you?” They’ll give you honest feedback. They’re going to keep mirroring you. “Is it bringing you to your center or not? Is it helping you awaken or not?”
     The interesting thing is, being human, we’re so wired for social inclusion. And any feedback that something we’re doing is potentially excluding us socially, a subsequent inner feedback loops kicks in. That’s another level of how I think true social ethics develop. I think being fully allowed, you also start to come to a place where lust isn’t the most attractive thing. I think lust is only so attractive in our culture, like drugs or other things, because it’s not allowed. The suppression creates an out-of-proportion fascination with it, but once that lid is lifted, I think people move through a cycle of, “Oh, this is so great,” and then they realize, “Well, lust isn’t everything.”
     Being a human is a spiritual, heartfelt, full-body experience on many different levels and I don’t know many people who are fulfilled through just lust for that long. So, I think through allowance, we can get in touch with deeper levels of our longings; deeper truths come out; different insights come in. Then the questions become, “Wow. How can I really develop intimacy? Or how can I use this energy towards healing?” Or, “How can I experience this profound thing at a much different level and in a permanent way?” And “How does opening my heart to this woman relate to opening my heart to what’s happening in Syria? Or happening in the black community in Oakland?”
     Essentially, in this community of people committed to depth, all of this opening spirals back into higher and more refined levels of what actual human longing is. In my understanding, people are really longing for spiritual awakening and union. So, these openings don’t just stay at the level of lust, but that is a level that needs to be allowed in order for people to fully transcend that because that’s part of the package. I guess that’s what I'm saying.
     If we could really liberate all the suppressed sexual energy on this planet, and focus it, which would take lots of healing and trust, we could change the world.

RW:  That’s an interesting idea. This community has been around 30 or 40 years. So, are there are elders who know something about this path to awakening and who help others?

John:  I think the way this community works is through intergenerational mentoring and wisdom passing. And the love and sexuality issues are held at the highest level by a council of elder women, which is a profound thing. I mean, this is a strong, clear, focused group of humans, the elder women. They really hold these issues with care. They’re tracking every relationship in the community. They’re like the awesome group of grandmas you never had, and they’re trying to be on your side, helping you awaken to your highest level of love.

RW:  Wow.  

John:  There are constantly people with experience and wisdom, giving. They come together as a community and hear talks from each other. A wise person in the community will give a speech on a Sunday morning. They have a common study of being human, of peace work and awakening, and coming back to an open heart. There’s German word they use, geist, which translates as “spiritual-mental.” It’s like elevated thinking, or thinking on a spiritual plane. So, on a common geistig framework, there’s mentoring happening at every level.
     And that’s work I'm involved with here in California, mentoring, I mentor a group of 12- and 13-year-old boys who are in this rite-of-passage moment from childhood to adolescence. I have mentors in my life who are 10, 20, 30 years older. For me, the core of a new culture is creating a fluid connection of mentorship among the generations.

RW:  That’s beautiful.

John:  It’s definitely a core of what happens there.

RW:  Tell me about this group of kids. In what capacity have you become a mentor to them?

John:  It’s a program run by a non-profit. Actually many of these organizations exist, and people involved in this kind of rites-of-passage work have been often drawn to the work of Tamera. So it’s an interesting cultural link. This non-profit does two-year rites of passage programs for 12 and 13-year-old girls and boys. For two years I meet with the same group of boys, about eight of them. It’s really nature based. We do a lot of work in the woods, building a campfire and just gaining confidence, knowing one’s self, and knowing one’s self as part of nature.
     It’s different from school. I'm not this authority figure. I'm an older man trying to help them awaken to their potential, and their responsibility, during this time when their sexuality is awakening and their spirituality is being awakened. There are so many things that happen in puberty. I'm trying to be a model, a guide and support, to these boys. We build towards an actual rite of passage ceremony, where the boys or the girls stay with an all-night fire by themselves, marking this moment of initiation into adolescence.
     We train for that. We counsel, and there’s a spiritual component of self-reflection, and group reflection, and leadership that’s trying to reawaken cultural elements of mentoring that have been so lost.  
RW:  It sounds like a wonderful thing you’re doing, and much needed. What’s the name of this non-profit?

John:  It’s an earth-based Jewish organization, Wilderness Torah, which is another interesting thread, because I’d say it’s another part of the cultural trend I see happening, especially in North America—an awakening to ancestry. I'm involved in a lot of Jewish-based work, more at a level of reconnecting to a cultural heritage that my ancestors carried for thousands of years. It’s based on knowing how to be connected to the Earth. It’s coming from more of an indigenous consciousness kind of place, and awakening to the indigenous consciousness of my ancestors. This organization, based in Berkeley, is becoming a national leader of this earth-based Judaism.

RW:  That's encouraging to hear.

John:  It’s really a profound thing. And there are other organizations in the Bay Area doing similar work. But I feel there’s a need, especially for people who look like you and me, white-skinned, to acknowledge that we have ancestors. We come from somewhere. But there’s this sense of homelessness and orphanhood. It’s part of why we can so easily colonize and destroy, and be insensitive to so many other cultures.
     I'm not going to move to Israel. But there still is a connection in me coming from somewhere, a certain specific land on this planet—many, actually— and a certain healing that has happened awakening to this history, versus before, where I just felt totally isolated and alone. Before, I thought I had no ancestry.

RW:  That’s so interesting. There’s almost no thought given to ancestry for maybe most of us in the US. The individual rules. And there seems to be an extremely low level of understanding of what that means. It’s mostly, I can do whatever the hell I want to do, and get out of my way.
     There’s no thought that I might owe something to somebody for all I have. People have worked, they’ve suffered, they’ve paid—and I just take it all for granted. So, what you’re speaking of is in that direction.

John:  I think what I'm speaking to is a direct antidote for the really sad entitlement that a disconnected young generation feels. It’s sad because one of our deepest human needs is belonging. It’s not that I place all of my belonging on my ancestry, but now there’s an immense sense of belonging to an ancestral path, and with that comes a sense of obligation. A common way we talk about doing work is for the next seven generations. That’s a Native American idea. But I find I can only have that sense of consciousness if I'm also looking seven generations back, and feeling held and supported, and grateful.
     It’s really about gratitude. It’s every day, waking up and thinking all my ancestors made choices with me in mind. So that consciousness does bring me more into the obligation of creating a world that can be inheritable by the next generations. Part of the whole problem is that we’ve been living in a culture so modernized and blind to history or the future, that we’re doing things that are destroying the planet and not leaving any room for a next generation.

RW:  Well, part of the problem, I'm sure you would agree, is this endless promise of immediate gratification through the purchase of things. And of course, that’s completely disconnected from anything of the sort you’re describing.

John:  And it isn’t just disconnected at an ethical level of not allowing us to see the consequences of how it might affect others, but it’s also just that in our own lives—most people are not actually happy in this instant-gratification culture. We’re all just addicted and subject to marketing influences coming at us like a fire hydrant.                  
     People aren’t happy because there are deeper human longings that take more time to develop, and more effort to achieve. That’s where the real sense of peace can start to come from—from touching a longing and a possibility of being human at a much subtler and deeper level. And part of the mentoring work is to help people see that the work of seven generations, or work for the greater good, is directly connected with my personal happiness and my personal awakening.
     The path that’s going to serve the most is going to make me the happiest in the long run. It helps if I truly see the insanity of the cycle of instant gratification, and then the next thing, and the next thing, and how actually not happy I am.
     A big part of the awakening is coming back to having a community of people. At some level, I think all people really want to belong with other people. In a small-scale way, it’s having friends and neighbors, and feeling held and supported. In the absence of that, it’s really easy to feel lonely, and then reach out for the next thing to buy or do or achieve in order to feel full—but not in a lasting way.
     The people at Tamera in Portugal live what we might feel are “simple” lives because the economics of the place are so profound. About 7,000 euros a year per person covers the total cost of living, which is almost inconceivable. If you think about what it costs to live for a year in the US. And if you’re eating mildly healthy foods, even living in a small place, just a basic living costs five to ten times that much money.

RW:  A book that came out several years ago, Getting By On $100,000 a Year. It seemed like a joke, but certainly here in the Bay Area it’s not much of a stretch.

John:  And that is the joke, because the consequences of needing to support people at $100,000 a year, that immense amount of resources, is pushing us to the ecological collapse we’re seeing all around us. So how to live and learn again to work together? We were never meant to be alone and isolated. We evolved to be in relationship with the environment in a way where we use much fewer resources. So learning again how to work together as human beings, learning how to create structures of community, it’s kind of the pivot point from which I feel the entire culture can change structurally and survive as a community of people versus being isolated individuals in a mass society. 
     I want to be working on that acupuncture point that’s going to help change everything else. That’s why I've been working on this film about the Tamera eco-village Peace project. What they’re doing is actually a project for global peace. They’re trying to be a model for communities around the world, a blueprint for how community can work and can be applied anywhere.
     Interestingly enough, having been involved in rites of passage work and wilderness work, and the work of awakening—these are the types of people who have been drawn to Tamera. And since my going to Tamera four times in the past two-and-a-half years, a group has formed and then there’s a network of hundreds, who have been touched by this work, and who are all starting to dream together, learn together and meet together to discuss, “How can we do something similar here? How can we create what Tamera calls a ‘healing biotope?’”

RW:  This little group, are they in Tamera or is this an outside group?         
John:  This is a group of twenty people in the Bay Area who are connected to the influence by the model of Tamera.  And they’re asking, “How could we do something like that here?”

RW:  And they’re friends of yours?

John:  They’re friends because of our shared vision.  That’s the other thing. What Tamera has found out, the thing that holds a community together—and actually the thing that also holds a love couple together—is a common vision.
     These people became my friends, precisely because we have a common vision of global peace work through grounded political action in the root of how we live, by forming actual community here on the ground that’s not disconnected from thinking about the social issues in Oakland, for instance—and the social issues in Syria. We’re taking these information loops into how we live, but really trying not to live in an isolated house, but together on land, in relationship with each other in a way where we’re building trust and creating structures of peace that we can then model.
     The whole idea is that we do it as a model. So, everything that we’re doing is for a greater sense of social amplification, not just so I can have a good life. This is in service to a greater whole. For me, that’s the most exciting part of this journey. How we can we become a living model community of people as a political response to our times, and then help other people to do that? We’re not saying that everybody has to move out of their house to do that, but there are ways we can also create that fabric of community here, in the hills of Oakland or in the downtown, or in San Francisco.
     The building intentional community has been happening since the 1860s—actually since the dawn of humans being humans. And that’s the point. We have a very strong neural-cultural pathway for this; it’s really our genetic heritage. It’s actually somehow an easy proposition, because people are really longing for it. The human heart, once it fully gets back into a community field, comes alive. I mean, people repeatedly speak of how their highest experience of being human was as part of a group. It’s usually like a sports team or at school, which are reduced examples we find of being a community in modern times.    
RW:  Well, that speaks for the gangs, too. Being part of a gang gives these young people something they’re missing.

John:  Yeah, a total sense of that.

RW:   But in order for a community to survive in a healthy ethos, it has to be able to deal with the divisive forces that are always present in any group. Once I was talking with a woman connected with a Vipassana group and I asked her if the group had a physical place where they met. They didn’t. She said, “It’s so hard for a community to contain the personal issues that arise. We haven’t reached that point yet.”
     What you’re saying about Tamera is interesting because the people in this community in Portugal seem to be quite aware of the problem.

John:  I’d say the problem you’re speaking to is the beginning of the question that the people I'm meeting with organize around. It’s the question that in some ways, drives my life, because that question is the question of global crisis, essentially, and whether humans will be able to do anything about it.
     We all originally lived in tribes or in communities. Then, through long periods of colonization, there was the immense trauma of being a people in a place, to being people who no longer belonged to a place. So, in order to walk down the road back to being a people in a place, we have to walk through the collective historical trauma of humanity— and we have no tools to deal with it.
     The reason I'm putting my life force into this work now, in connection with Tamera, is in an effort to do something similar here in the US.  We have the blessing of being anchored by a community of people who are actually doing it. Tamera has become our anchor, and their elders our mentors. They’re really holding us in the process. We have a blueprint of how to do it.
     I don’t think a Vipassana community of people will ever work. I don’t think a vegan community of people will ever work, because communities cannot be founded around a single issue.  A community is about life, and life is a holistic enterprise. One of the core principles, or ethics, at Tamera—and what they call a healing biotope—is that there has to be a holistic model that includes everything.
     You can get people to come to live in a meditation community for a year or two while they’re into meditating, but that’s not the full human picture. You need to be touching and addressing every facet of human life. With young people, especially, you need to be giving them a mode of relating with every single part of being human. And we have models and tools for that, and how to work with this trauma. To me, this is the best shot we have of really creating communities of people that work, that create peace and work through the divisiveness.

RW:  Why do you think it’s so difficult? Things start out with a great idea and before very long, they’re going somewhere else. People and well-meaning groups fail and fail again.

John:  I think it has to do with the intention and how it started. The first thing is that many communities fail to place an existential sense of purpose or meaning at the root of what they’re doing as people. They fail to have a common vision high enough, and that common vision is also the thing that keeps people together through really hard times. Even with the right tools and having the mentorship, you’re still going to be facing this shit storm of human trauma and in those moments, can you fall back on a really high vision?
     I think the same is true for companies that actually work. They have a really clearly articulated mission or vision that cofounders, employees and customers fall back on in hard times. So I think that’s one level.
     Being held by anchoring mentors, having the right tools—with all of that, there really can be an integration of the issues of the love and sex part, and that creates a dynamic that is interesting. It doesn’t become boring. There’s a real vitality working within the community of people. 
RW:  All right.  So where in the community is this vision being held? I mean, we know that structures get established, and over time they tend to get rigid. So this vision has to be held in living individuals. It can’t live, I would propose, just as a list of principles. What are your thoughts about that?

John:  Well, the preamble to this question, for me, is how do you come to the vision? Say that you and I want to go out and start a community. We’re pretty smart guys; we’d be a cool team—an old guy and a young guy, both really forward thinking, smart. But our vision needs to become the community’s vision.
     I meet with this group of people, as I mentioned before, who are some of the most intelligent leader-type people I know. And no single one of us can be like, “This is the vision.” It has to emerge. There’s this process of emergence that in science is being studied, or understood, as a natural process of the universe. There has to be an emergence of a vision.
     In the community there has to be a core group of leaders—that’s probably the best word, core group—between 5 and 20 people who are committed to living and carrying this vision. I don’t think it could be carried by one person. Tamera has a carrier council. It isn’t that these people have more power, or they’re better, they’re simply the people who have committed by doing the inner human work the most. How you get to be a part of that group is by being a more awakened person. It’s not a popularity contest, nor a power thing. It’s who do people actually trust the most?
     And they really have a system of transparency. Power is conferred by somebody actually having achieved an inner state, where people really trust them. They are the people who most know how to de-identify from emotional reactions and judgments—from their ego, essentially. These are the people who have de-identified with their ego and have come to the most clarity of being spiritually aligned, and consciously awakened human beings. When a group of those people commit to holding a vision, that’s how a vision can really ripen, and be opened up, and extended out.
     Essentially the group I'm meeting with here in the Bay Area, are people who are investigating, listening, to how we become a core group of people. And there probably are people we haven’t met yet, who are going to be part of that group.
     The more you’re entrenched in “the old system,” the harder it is to take a risk to be part of something new. We’re in this gap between structures, or as friend and author Charles Eisenstein puts it, “The space between stories.” So, if the security in the old system is like having a pension, we don’t have the new system of security yet because the real security would be a community of people. At Tamera, no one needs health insurance, no one needs home insurance, no one needs etc. … The people are the security. But being here in the States, we don’t have that yet. It’s really hard.
     We pretty much have to risk that we’re going to make it happen, that we’re not going to fail. Right now, I’m giving up having a career. I'm hoping there’s a way I can bridge build. I still have to have money in my life. It’s a big question. But I’m definitely cutting some threads to certain aspects of the old culture. And we’re in a unique moment in the next 10, 20, 30 years. What does it mean to be building a bridge from a society that’s completely disconnected to a network of communities of people who are the core nodes of building a new culture? This is how I understand it happening.
     And this vision requires an understanding of how it’s going to affect global change. If there was a network of connected communities of people doing this inner human work and talking with each other, keeping the whole in mind, a certain force of culture could be created that hopefully, could eventually invite in, and tip the scales, and help awaken the rest of mass society. Or at least, there might be enough traction to shift the larger scale patterns that are destroying life to patterns that could be regenerating life.
     That’s maybe a 200-year vision. Maybe it has to be much sooner. But that’s the biggest expanse of vision that comes from this root of what’s happening now. And that again comes from its root in the social movements of  the 1960s, which of course has other deeper roots before that. It comes from the life’s work of many, many people, for a long time.

RW:  One of the things coming up as I'm listening to you, is the dichotomy between questions and answers. I'm struck by the quality and depth of what you’re seeing. It seems to me that an important part of the wisdom that’s called for is being able to hold that ground of not knowing, and I think this relates to the spiritual and the essential importance of how help is needed from another level.

John:  I mean, you’re really getting to the core. What’s at the center of this movement, and I think my work in the world, is immensely hard. I've been trained to be a colonized human being seeking answers, and trained in some ways, out of deep insecurity, to proselytize my point of view. 
     At the center of whatever we’re doing is the mystery, is the unknown, and is hopefully, a humbleness that’s exemplified in the quote, “Not by my power alone.”
     So, it’s a sense of soft power, or receptive power that’s at the core of really being in integrity with a decolonized way. This is a spirit-led, or a consciousness-led, endeavor. I've worked really hard to listen to a vision from spirit, and so have other people. At the center is the question, and the not knowing and the, “It depends”… And there’s no arrival.
     We never could arrive at the answer, or the place. There will always be more healing work to do, and more listening. Part of what’s so attractive about Tamera is they’re always listening. For them, it’s one giant research project, which means they’re always listening for information in the system to come. I feel that’s true of us in this group. In some way, one of our directives, our questions, is how do we get so much trust among us that we’re no longer listening for individual vision or insight, or a revelation, but become collectively one ear, listening for revelation?
     They say at Tamera, look at the Judeo-Christian history. It’s been a series of individual prophets. And they say that time of individual prophecy and revelation is over. We’re in a moment of collective prophecy, collective revelation. To use a very Bay Area term, in order to “download” the next wave of information coming from beyond, it takes a group of people.
     It’s really this inquiry how, as a group of people, can something really emerge from us— always keeping listening as the most important thing.
     Tamera has a spiritual center and ceremonies that guide their community. The rites-of-passage work I’m doing with people here is a very spiritual endeavor. I've been praying both in my Jewish lineage and in my own personal, earth-based way, and also in Native American led ceremony, for a long time. As a Western colonized-human being, I’m asking how do I connect, how do we reconnect, with Spirit at our core?
     This is where we really need these feedback loops, because I'm going to fall asleep and think I have the answer, and then stop questioning and become blind. I need other people to help me stay open. And somehow, that becomes the spiritual work. This is then the real work of our times—helping each other evolve our consciousness into a state of being a vessel, more than an answer.     


About the Author

Richard Whittaker is the founding editor of works & conversations and West Coast editor of Parabola magazine.   


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