Ananda’s mission always has been and always will be spiritual. Swami once said about communities, “I’m not interested in communities, except as a place where people can grow spiritually”. We certainly have never considered ourselves an ecovillage, which seemed to us to have a different focus: eco-sustainability. However, several years ago, when Kosha Joubert, executive director of the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) visited Ananda Assisi, she said to Kirtani and Anand, “You are an ecovillage, and the other ecovillages need more of what you are doing here”. We have since learned that ecovillages are not just about eco-sustainability, but also about people-sustainability, economic-sustainability and spiritual-sustainability. In these categories, it has to be said, we thrive!
On April 23rd this year, Ananda officially became a member of GEN Europe and is recognised as an ecovillage. As I write this, I realise that is a very significant date, and probably not a coincidence, as it is precisely a year after the Climate Change and Consciousness Conference at Findhorn in Scotland (20-26th April 2019), which Kirtani, Anand, and many others from Ananda all over the world attended. During the conference, a very significant conversation took place between Anand and Vandana Shiva, an environmental activist and key speaker at the conference. She said to Anand, repeating it four times to make sure he understood the importance of her words, “What you are doing at Ananda is the ONLY solution that there is to the problems we are seeing in the world today and you have to make the European Community understand why it is to their advantage to help the “back to the land” movement.” In fact, Yogananda said the same thing: that these “Colonies”, as he called them, will be the “only thing that will save humanity” and that they will “spread like wildfire”. Upon Kirtani and Ananda’s return from the CCC19, it was clear that we had a new mission to promote communities as a solution for climate change and broken models in just about every area of life. We called this movement “The Small Communities Solution”. It is also a common goal of GEN and we will be contacting them to see how we can work together with them.
During this last year, we have been looking at the aspect of eco-sustainability in our community. A pleasant discovery has been that, unintentionally, we are actually fairly sustainable already! For example, we realised that we are a group of 80 plus vegetarians and vegans, which lowers our collective and individual carbon footprint by 15%! We also eat most of our meals together, which we have since discovered uses two thirds LESS energy consumption than if we all ate separately! We also have much less car travel, as our homes, service, social and spiritual lives are all in the same place! And we share many of our resources, including cars, washing machines, equipment. So it really hit home that, without even trying, simple and cooperative community living really is sustainable. However, there’s always more one can do and learn…
Our first step, and priority, has been towards community farming…. and things are “flourishing” wonderfully! What was before a small team of only two or three people has now become an almost daily team of between 10 and 15 people. We now have 37 hens (soon to be more), 35 families of bees, 300 fruit trees, 300 olive trees, 4,000 m² of vegetable garden, vineyards, and 35 hectares of fields for crops: all active, alive, and being cared for with love and joy. The precise vision for the farming is still being formed, but it’s clear that we want it to be a place of beauty, and of harmony between us and nature; a place in which there is cooperation, friendship, and openness of heart; a place where we love and respect Nature, and listen and learn from Her, rather than imposing our own will; a place of spiritual farming, of meditation, of love for Divine Mother, where our spiritual teachings are practised and shared; a place of abundance and prosperity; a place of healing; a place of sharing where people can come to learn and experience community life; and a model for the world to learn from and a gift for future generations. All of these beautiful words came from a vision sharing we had just a few weeks ago. As you can see, this is going to be a very special place!
Our next steps will be to explore alternative energy, such as solar and wind energy, and other small and big ways we can be more sustainable, and more self-sufficient (complete self-sufficiency was never part of Swami’s vision).
Housing will be a big project. Although some individuals have built their own sustainable houses, the community as such does not have any houses on the property and most of the houses in which we live are rented. In 2016, as many of you know, we purchased the land behind the Temple of Light. This gives us the possibility to build six to eight small and simple ecological houses. Other possibilities for houses are being explored. A particular way we want to develop housing within the community is to have small clusters (groups) of simple houses, with larger common spaces for eating, meditating and having fun together.
All of these developments are with the purpose of sharing what we have with the world and helping others to do the same. In fact, several devotees who are inspired to start a spiritual community have already been in contact with us. With time, we hope to be able to create an Institute of Cooperative Spiritual Living, as suggested by Swami Kriyananda, in which we can formally share what we know and train others in all the skills necessary for building communities, including: working with people and human relationships (yes, people is the hardest part of building community!), supportive leadership, facilitation, self-development, spiritual counselling, decision making, sustainable farming, alternative energy… and so on.
We’ll update you as things progress. If you have any questions or input, please feel free to write to us.
Joy to you!