For the last month, my partner and I have been happily living on the side of a beautiful mountain in a remote part of northern Portugal. The reason for this change of address has been to try out community living for the first time, with a relatively new community venture called Merkaba Community. I’ve been intrigued by the communal living model for some time now – it strikes me that we humans are social creatures at heart and we need to be part of a community, yet how many of us actually feel that we are a valued part of a community?
‘Home’ for the past month – we couldn’t get the van all the way up the dirt track, so ended up living in a little layby around 500 m from the community, with glorious views all round!
During the month, we received delicious, home-cooked vegan meals every day in return for three to four hours of work per day. Dan, one of the founders, asked me on the first day what I wanted to do, as he likes people to be happy in their work. I thought for a moment and couldn’t think what my gifts were. Yes, I could teach yoga and give reiki and massage treatments, but how else could I be more practically useful? How best could I serve the community? I was stumped and, feeling a strange sense of uselessness, I mumbled that I didn’t mind, that I would do whatever was most useful to the community.
So, the first week I was put on gardening duty and mostly weeded the edges of the paths that led up to the main geodesic dome at the centre of the site. It was hard work in the hot sun, but also incredibly therapeutic and rewarding. I began to look forward to my hours in the sunshine, enjoying getting dusty and grubby with my hands in the soil, communing with the plants and insects, and feeling satisfaction as the paths began to gradually look more well-kept and tidy.
In the meantime, I had overheard people at the community talking about ‘the heart’ a few times, as if it was a location within the site, and hadn’t know what they meant. One day I looked up from my work and saw for the first time that the paths I had been tending form the shape of a large heart at their centre – I was uncovering the heart! When we had first arrived, the vegetation was dense and overhanging, so the shape had been obscured. But now there were newly revealed stone edges lining the paths, and the crisp outline of a heart was clearly visible.
The heart is revealed!
I had a sudden feeling of joy, and almost laughed as I realised that, as I’d been unveiling the heart at the centre of the site, I’d also been peeling back the layers of my own heart. All through this time of being intent on my weeding each afternoon, of feeling the calm pleasure of a job well done as I put my tools away at the end of the day, of immersing myself in the minutiae of the natural world at soil level and of stolidly plodding on with my task, bit by bit, I had almost not noticed that I was becoming happier and happier by the day. I felt lighter, more confident, joyful, playful and increasingly full of gratitude and loving feelings.
I reflected upon why this was, and realised it was due to many factors – a simple, wholesome life of healthy, vegan eating, daily yoga, good, honest work with the soil, lots of sunshine and stimulating, inspiring company for starters. But, above all, I sensed it was because I had felt useful. I enjoyed serving the community in this small way, and the unveiling of the heart was like a symbol that service doesn’t need to be grand or flashy to be valuable and important and to give you a sense of deep satisfaction. You often hear people say that giving to others is the best way to find happiness, and this experience of working for the community has really brought that home to me.
After my first week of weeding, with newfound confidence I went on to help in as many ways as I could for the rest of the month. I enjoyed learning about vegan cooking and by the end of the month was sometimes single-handedly mass catering using ingredients I had barely heard of a few weeks earlier! I had so much energy, and just wanted to serve, serve, serve. And I don’t think I’ve ever felt so joyful and happy and carefree for such a prolonged period before, so I am sure the two are very much linked!
Sometimes it takes an experience such as this to bring home the true meaning of a phrase. I realised I was practising ‘karma yoga’, the yoga of service – something I had never felt truly connected to before. Now I felt on a deep level how giving is also receiving. I gained so much happiness and clarity through serving others. In the last week, my partner and I created a giant ‘om’ sign within the centre of the heart, made out of locally found quartz stones. It was our parting gift to this wonderful community, and personally it felt very apt, given the peace I had found here, within its heart.
Happily ‘working the land’ as the giant om project gets underway… 🙂
I have learnt so many things this month, but most of all I have learnt that happiness truly does come from helping others. Community living has been the key to opening this door in my heart and I don’t want the door to close again!
So, what can you give to someone else today? It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture – it could just be a heartfelt smile, or perhaps you could even weed someone’s patio… 😉
Another weed, another smile… 🙂
And if you would like to try out community living somewhere beautiful with lovely people, then why not get yourself to Merkaba Community and see what it can do for you – I highly recommend it… 🙂