Growing up with the Friends and Lovers Community

The dining hall at S&J Ranch, where we gathered twice a year
Real talk between friends (and lovers)
Some ridiculousness
Sitting in circle
We liked to get weird
  1. Community is wonderful! Regular contact with a consistent group of people over years, especially people committed to going deep with each other, has so many benefits. Including: The safety and security of having many friends to turn to for support, more opportunities to truly let go and play and be your authentic self with people you trust, and ritual and tradition to help you feel grounded in a crazy world.
  2. Community is especially important for children. Growing up I was able to see so many different models of how to be an adult, instead of the myopic view most kids have of of how you are supposed to act when grown and in relationship, based solely on their parents and maybe the parents of a few friends. I also had, and continue to have, many elders I can turn to for help or advice.
  3. There is a definite advantage to growing a community slowly over time, with only people that you know will fit into the culture. This ensures that the culture is maintained, and limits the potential for significant conflict. It also allows everyone to know everyone else which helps maintain the feeling of a trusted, shared container where you can be authentic and vulnerable. On the other hand we did end up with a bit of a mono-culture. In particular racial diversity is almost non-existent. This limits some of what a community can learn and do.
  4. Community building can be relatively easy. Living together is a large, challenging project, but creating close-knit community over time can be done in different ways. The Friends and Lovers model would be fairly easy to replicate and I see many similar tribes forming or already formed around the Bay Area, often starting as Burning Man camps and then developing into long lasting, family like communities. For example look at False Profit and their Priceless festival which feels like an expanded family reunion every July 4th weekend, or the Rhythm Society, which works very similarly to F&L.
  5. However, living together in community is even more powerful. I do believe that the F&L model cannot reach the same level of depth and impact that an intentional living community can. For example, living together makes co-parenting and elder care much more feasible which I think is hugely valuable. Also it can be much more sustainable, as many resources can be shared. Furthermore, a community that spends most of it’s time together can do larger scale research and development projects on things like permaculture, green building, decision making structures and conflict resolution techniques.
  6. Place is important. Even though F&L didn’t all live together on one piece of land we certainly couldn’t have maintained the community year after year without all being in close proximity. Almost all members lived in Western Massachusetts and many of us lived in a kind of neighborhood on a dirt road in Shutesbury, MA which we called Hearthstone Village. I could walk up the road and see all my best friends who were also part of F&L. The community would not have formed and continued without this closeness. Equally important was that every Spring and Fall gathering always happened at S&J Ranch, and this place became a home away from home. We had such a connection to the land and every area of the camp evoked wonderful memories. We also knew the people and the layout there so well that it became supremely easy to run the weekends. F&L would not have succeeded nearly as well without the deep connection to this place.
  7. Ritual is important. Having the gatherings on the same weekends every year meant it was something we could depend on and plan around years in advance. Similarly, keeping a similar schedule and “program” at every gathering meant we didn’t need to worry too much about practical details and could just be there fully present with each other. Also, the attention paid to creating meaningful rituals at each of the gatherings and the development of long running traditions over the years contributed to a much deeper experience, on both spiritual and community building levels.
  8. Sustaining community in the long term is hard. It takes constant maintenance, adaptability, commitment, patience… You can never take it for granted. F&L has done better than most, and is making a comeback, but even with such a close knit extended family it became too hard for a while.
  9. It is particularly hard to sustain community across generations. Most young people need to leave the nest for at least a few years, and they may not come back. Communities often need to work to bring in new young people, and not depend on the next generation to stick around. I do think that one sign of a really strong community is when the young people do eventually come back, however if they just stuck around the whole time I’d worry that the community was too insular and raising overly protected children without a connection to the rest of the world.
Aaron and myself in another episode of Branch Talk at this year’s F&L variety show

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Entrepreneur & technologist, passionate about creating the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible. http://tibetsprague.com

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Tibet Sprague

Tibet Sprague

Entrepreneur & technologist, passionate about creating the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible. http://tibetsprague.com

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