Wednesday, January 28, 2009

School of Whole Living, Parts I and II

(based on meeting notes from Heart of Joy Folkschool development meeting, Jan. 22, 2009)

How far back, in this day and age, does one have to go in order to access real life? Back before The Change / Obama? Back before Internet? Back before credit cards? Back before TV? What about back before motorized vehicles? What would be the purpose of delving back that far, anyway? What's the why of it, and what good would it do us? Isn't it enough to have living history exhibits and fairs, and historical re-enacters? Why bother?

In developing the philosophy of the Heart Of Joy Folkschool, a group of us engaged in a lively discussion of cultural and human values and got to some of the whys and wherefores which answer the queries listed above. We realized, for instance, that it was a good thing, and very nice as well, to have gotten as far as presenting our Living History Folkshop last October. It was well-received, and we all felt great about the event. It was a fine beginning. From that beginning we could go several ways, one of which might be to keep having such a folkshop here once a year. Another way might be to develop a lecture and workshop series, sets of ongoing classes like fiddlin' or banjo pickin' or woodworking or quilting. Another way might be to organize events and fundraisers geared toward the purchase of land and a permanent facility. All these are possible and workable. What the folkschool developers need, though, in order to build what we know can be a fine institution (institution in the sense of a pattern or way of being, rather than some large brick building that stands forever), is depth.

Towards that end, we dug in. There were several present who have lived simple, grounded lifestyles and who have given great heart to sharing their principles with others. Margaret the weaver has a farm, grows the pasture that feeds the sheep which she shears, and whose wool she cleans and spins and weaves into cloth which she sews into clothing and sells. She's an artisan-craftsperson from the ground up. She lives a whole life. Bill lives on acreage next to Margaret's and the two of them had just finished a fencing project to keep the horses in, something the two different teams of professional fencers they'd hired previously had not accomplished. Bill and Margaret dug those postholes deep and set the posts in the right way. They could do this because they know the land and they know horses and they're willing to put in the kind of effort that people on time clocks and paychecks often will not do. Bill and his wife Phillipa have a historical theater company for which Bill built a horse-drawn theater wagon. Besides Bill and Margaret, there was Dan. Dan is a tinker and woodworker and musician, and one of the villagers who holds up the peace signs on the corner downtown every Saturday noon no matter what the weather. Everyone present at that meeting had some "from the ground up" simplicity REAL LIFE credentials, so we didn't hold back as we dug in to find the root, the essence, of what our folkschool can mean. The root on which everything else gets built.

We spoke of the Amish-style community barn raising as the paradigm for our events - that is, whole-community participation in making something by hand which will serve the good of the whole. We spoke of the folkschool as a skills and resource exchange, and a repository from which our presenters can do community outreach in teaching whole-living skills. We spoke of the human abilities, millions of years of evolution worth of abilities to make things by hand - and the deep unbreakable connection between making things which serve the whole and self esteem - and the need for our young people to be able to develop this kind of self esteem as they mature. No computer skill or sports award can give a young person, or anyone of any age, the sense of self-worth that contribution to the basic needs of the whole life of community can do.

We asked each other what would the motivation be for people so used to convenience living to want to dig in and work in a whole-life communal way such as the folkschool coud teach; and we came to understand that the community itself is a living being which desires good health. Financial health is secondary to the true health of community self-sufficiency, we agreed. Bill emphasized that the farther away we get from basic community life, the more unreal life gets. Politics are fine and dandy, he said, but the real thing is people living and working together in a whole, as a self-maintaining system.

From the evening's discussion we realized the one thing that will influence everything else we build: the human being can only be truly whole when the person is a functioning, contributing member of a community. Individuation and individuality are fine, as stages in human growth - but in the end, they are only stages. Wholeness comes from contribution. In that light, we could say that every class and every event we provide needs to have some kind of "from the ground up" presentation. We may not have our students growing the grass the sheep eat and so forth through the whole process of clothing-making - but we can provide one or two steps in the process and give the story of the whole process. We can give modern people the wherewithall to recreate the whole at any time: the story, the knowledge of the whole process.

(written in response to comments on Part I as published in
In the first article in this School of Whole Living series, I reported on the latest discussion and philosophy-development of the Heart of Joy Folkschool group here in the Village of Yellow Springs Ohio. The article has raised many intense questions from commenters who may see these ideas as regressive, or causing some lack of the flow of material abundance, or some taking-away of the privileges we have invented and acquired for ourselves in the recent past. Perhaps an underlying anxiety which has been stirred up is that of Americans who've become so used to the modern indoctrination about the supremacy of the individual, and of the rights of individuality, that the focus on the necessity of contributing to communal life, or real humanity, has been obscured or lost.

This folkschool is not, of course, about taking away all the privileges we've invented for ourselves. Rather, it's about taking the focus off the excitement of privilege-invention and acqisition and usership, and getting ourselves back to the center of our heart-studies here on earth:

~ How may I best serve my own inner growth and that of my clan/tribe/nation; my family/partner/neighbor/enemy/community?
~ How may my community best serve the inner growth of our culture / nation / the human race?
~ How may my human race best serve the inner growth of my world - the planet, solar system, galaxy, universe?

To take the focus off the excitement of constant new invention, and place the focus squarely in the heart and hands of useful workmanship which contributes to the well-being of community is a radical idea to many hustling-bustling Americans-a-go-go, of course. We do our best to believe we're real. We suffer, we endure, we strive, and so forth. All those modes are associated with getting real. One area in which Americans and many other privileged nations fall down, however is in the part of getting real which means getting close to the center by means of simplifying ourselves and participating in recreating the everyday basics of the ordinary harmony of life.

Heart-of-Joy Folkschool is aiming its intention in this direction: how do we present folk artisanship, fine craftsmanship, including apprenticeship opportunities and community-building events, in such a way that we avoid the shallow excitement focus and instead encourage deepening and centering, and the blossoming of truly centered community?