Core lessons in community building from Tamera

Tamera. Photo Credit Ian MacKenzie, 2015

This July I visited the Tamera community in Portugal for their weeklong introduction course, and ended up staying a month, working in their solar village kitchen and joining their political summer “Thinking School” to discuss how to spread their message of creating a peaceful world and the practical lessons they’ve learned on that quest. I left truly inspired, with a ton of new knowledge and understanding. I have a lot to share, but since I initially decided to visit with the primary goal of learning how they’ve built a successful, sustainable, and growing community over forty years, I’ll start there. The high level summary of what I learned is:

Start with a big vision for the world that brings the right people together. Then focus on deep trust building through constant authentic contact between community members, as well as a commitment to truth, transparency, and working through the difficult emotional stuff both internally and in the full view and support of the community. Through it all have patience with yourself and others because building community is hard work that takes time, practice and lots of trial and error.

The Slightly Deeper Analysis

Tamera’s Institute for Global Peacework. Photo Credit Ian MacKenzie, 2016

One of the primary reasons Tamera has been able to build, grow, and sustain such a large, strong community over the last forty years is the big political vision at its root: creating a peaceful world. They work towards this in a number of ways, but first and foremost they are “[creating] the model for a future society that is free from hatred, lies, violence and fear.” Having this vision as the core reason for existence means that every member knows that everyone else is there for the same reason, and the community can always fall back on it to resolve disagreement: which choice leads us closer to creating peace in ourselves, our community and in the world?

With this vision in mind, the main commitments the community members make to each other, and also their ethical guidelines, are: Truth, Mutual Support, and Responsible Participation. I would add “respect”, for each other and the earth, as another good word to describe these commitments. Really the goal in all of them is trust building. Tamera works because everyone there trusts each other, and when they fall out of trust they bring it up and work it out. Creating this trust requires transparency and truth-telling. Every important need or deep desire is communicated with the group. Every action is considered in the context of community first, and most everything that happens is processed and reflected on by the community. It is truly an incredible way to live that is so different from the western, individualistic, me-first mindset that is instilled in us by our neoliberal, capitalist culture.

A group circle at Tamera. Photo credit Ian MacKenzie, 2016

This shift to transparency and communitarianism is hard. You have to commit to working through shame, and the other intense emotions and self-defenses that inevitably come up in relationships, especially around desire, rejection, self-worth, jealousy, love, etc. But the rewards for doing this work are huge: you get your needs met, because you have a wide and deep community of people you can truly trust to have your interests in mind and be there for you when you need it. In particular it helps satisfy your most important, deep needs, for connection, intimacy, love, and safety.

One other concept that is core to how they do this trust building is the idea of “contact”. Contact means having authentic and meaningful connection with each other whenever possible. It means that you attempt in all interpersonal interactions to show up, respect the other, make eye contact, really listen, and stay present. It can also refer to more intimate connection like touch, partner dance, or sexual contact. Having regular and consistent contact with the people around you creates understanding, empathy, appreciation, love, and in the end trust.

Contact. Photo credit Ian MacKenzie, 2016

Beyond contact and transparency, the other two ways they build trust and keep the community functioning are mutual support and responsible participation, which are fairly self explanatory. It is refreshing to see how hard everyone works at Tamera every day. They know that for the project to succeed they have to do the work, and they inspire and lift each other up constantly through their support of each other and their daily participation in what needs to happen to keep the community going. In practice this means everyone is working at a “job” maybe 5–10 hours a day, 5 or 6 days a week. This could be in the kitchen, garden, grounds, cafe, reception, marketing, education or some other task that is contributing to the functioning of the community and/or its mission (which go hand in hand at Tamera). On top of this job (which can change over time) they also commit to an hour or more of group work most days of the week, as well as an all community plenary on Saturday. The group work happens in smaller subsets of the community where members share what’s going on, support each other, work through disagreements, etc. They have a special process called forum to facilitate much of this work, and it is a powerful tool.

This may sounds like a lot, but it’s much better than the crazy grind most people have while working jobs that don’t inspire them. At Tamera you get to see and feel the fruits of your labor every day and know that everyone around you is also working hard towards the same goals, so the work is usually nourishing to the soul. Also the group time offers a way to release tension, express built up emotion, and be further nourished by the community. And of course when needed they take time off, to travel or just relax.

In their many years of peace research, another core lesson learned by Tamera is that “there can not be peace in the world as long as there is war in love.” This has lead to their deep investigation of and daily practices around how to be in relationship, and how sex, love and partnership are best integrated in ourselves and our communities in healthy ways. This area of research is probably the most radical and challenging to mainstream society, which on the one hand is strange, because love, sex and partnership are topics that every single person on the planet thinks about constantly, but is also understandable because of the intensity of emotion these topics bring up in us. Their answer to the problems we see in these areas is “free love”, but that is such a loaded phrase and I much prefer their alternative description: “love free from fear.” Practicing this is something I am starting to explore more deeply myself and I feel how powerful it is. I can also clearly see how much more advanced most residents at Tamera are in this arena. I will definitely be sharing more about this in future writings, especially after I attend Tamera’s global love school at Esalen Institute this September to dive more into these topics.

Tamera’s symbol for Terra Nova represents the healing in love, sex and partnership within community. Photo credit Ian MacKenzie, 2015

Finally, I was so inspired by the patience exhibited at Tamera. The founding community members have been experimenting with these ideas and living together for going on forty years. Tamera itself was founded in Portugal twenty years ago. For the first ten years they had only one water tap and were essentially living in a desert. Eventually they learned water retention techniques and now have an abundance of water. Everything they do is considered research and is carefully planned, executed, and then reflected upon to see how well it worked and what they could do better next time. They are all so deeply commitment to the vision that the hard work, and the times of struggle are just seen as part of the process, and so worth it for what is gained. Now, they live in a beautiful, bountiful, fertile land, full of lakes surrounded by fruit trees and gardens, with 170 adults plus 30 kids living a mostly joyful, harmonious, loving, peaceful existence. The young adults that have grown up in Tamera are incredibly mature and confident carriers of their mission. They have created The Grace Foundation to help build the global peace movement, and collaborate with numerous other communities around the world. These are powerful proofs of all these principles being put into practice. Certainly there are limitations, shadows and always new challenges at Tamera, but they are just seen as the next areas to research and develop, not reasons to run away or calcify. They are committed to their vision, to each other, to trusting in love, stepping out of fear, and to creating peace in every aspect of human existence. Now it’s time to take some of what they’ve learned and build more like minded communities across the globe. Let’s show the whole world what’s possible!


Some questions I am left with when I think about creating (or joining) a community myself:

  • What should our vision be? Is Tamera’s the right one to adopt? Is there a different way to articulate it that I think would better encompass the path to a more beautiful world, or resonate with my San Francisco Bay Area tribe? Are my friends ready to take on a political path as part of daily life?
  • Is the work on love, sex and partnership absolutely necessary as an essential piece of building community? Is free love (love free from fear) the answer for every community?
  • There is a deeply spiritual aspect to Tamera’s foundation based on the interconnectedness of everything, and best described in the book “The Sacred Matrix”. While I resonate which much of their belief system, I didn’t include it here because to me it doesn’t seem like a necessary part of any/all successful community building. But am I wrong here? Does a strong community also need some kind of shared spiritual understanding?
  • Another area I didn’t dive into is the importance of elders in the community, especially for holding the communal wisdom. How do I build/find a multigenerational community that has elders on board from the beginning? Ideally including my family?
  • How could I build a community that is more inclusive and not for a privileged few? And/or how to spread these ideas to disenfranchised communities around the world?
  • How can we create similarly strong communities in urban environments, which are more directly connected to the mainstream world?