The ecovillage concept has been so attractive in the past 15 years, although I was unfamiliar with the term back then. I have visited a few ecovillages in Thailand and abroad and I have talked to a number of people living in them or wanted to create one. They have similar characteristics of being located in rural settings, entailing non-chemical agriculture or food production components, practicing and offering some kind of practical courses, having some elements of spirituality, and residents of different ages and backgrounds living together either permanently or temporarily. I wanted to create or live in a small co-farming community somewhere in the world. Forming a community with the right people to live with, who you can call family beyond blood connection, is not an easy task.
My plan to visit Europe this year corresponded with the European Ecovillage gathering dates. I had a great opportunity to get a ticket to attend the GEN European gathering in Germany through GENOA. As one of a few Asians representatives who were there amongst 800 other participants from around Europe and elsewhere. It was an exciting chance to meet folks who are actually living in an ecovillage and are like-minded.
On the day of arrival, an Israeli woman and I got a lift from a German non-binary person living in a campervan that was about four hours away from the venue. Our conversation during the road trip allowed us to get to know each other more. We shared our deep thoughts, including the topics of activism, trauma, healing, meditation, and life goals. We arrived at the Nature Community in Schoensee around 6 p.m. We parted at the main entrance where each of us went to the registration desk that corresponded to the accommodation type we booked. An introvert like me on a budget reserved a tent a month ago. I love camping and know I need my own space and privacy during the full energetic 4-day gathering.
During the registration, a woman searched for my name on her laptop and asked for proof of payment. What? Was that really the first thing they wanted to see? Don’t they have it on the database? I showed them the confirmation email anyway. The next thing I knew, no single tents were available for me! Really? My mood quickly changed from excitement to disappointment, confusion, and anger. How could this happen here in Germany? I was trying to calm myself down when the woman told me that the dinner (all organic and vegan!) was now being served and suggested that I eat first while they were trying to locate a place for me to sleep.
I dropped my backpack at a random spot with no idea where to put my head on that cold night. I tried to swallow my dinner and my own anger. Finally, the organizer put me in the only available option, a dormitory where I shared the space with other 30+ people. Excuse me, how will I have any privacy for the rest of the time? Participants who booked a hotel room had no problem getting their room. People who drove were prepared to sleep in their car or van. Locals who brought their own tent got their stuff sorted easily. I traveled all the way from another continent, booked a tent as a tiny private space, and had none. 🙁
The opening ceremony happened that night at 8 p.m. I came a bit late as I was sorting out the sleeping arrangement issue with a troubled mind. A lot of strangers of all ages with smiles and warmth gathered in the same space, coming together for similar causes and hopes and dreams at the Heart of Ecovillage (the stage). Impressive! My mood changed, again for the better. We paid silent gratitude to the North, east, south, west, sky, and earth. We made a group of random 7-8 people as our home group that we meet every afternoon after lunch for a good 45 minutes to share our days. I felt grateful to be able to stand there with the crowd, opening my heart to the experiences to come with zero expectations, despite the worries of having an emotional breakdown. I had a deep sleep in the dormitory the first night.
The first day’s theme was “Coming from Gratitude” starting with a speech from Vivian Dittmar which was so powerful and inspiring. She talked about the five dimensions of prosperity, and moving forward or doing things according to our inner calling, even though it is in the opposite direction to the mainstream. Aren’t we all doing it here? That is powerful to think about, isn’t it? That morning I also attended a workshop titled “Exploring and Integrating Radical Self-Love” led by Maja Takatomi. It was basically a guided meditation digging deep into our physical and mental selves. Near the end of the session, I found myself talking to my own younger self. “Trust the universe. Everything will be alright. Don’t be afraid of the future”. I told Maja how grateful I was to meet her.
The afternoon sharing with the home group helped me know a few members more deeply, and later we exchanged contacts. We shared our thoughts and feelings, in this space each day without being judged. I felt free to talk about whatever was in my head and heart both good and bad. People were surprised that I really liked the food there as the menus were almost the same every day. I told them I could taste the real flavors of the food and my digestion was working so perfectly. During the sharing, some paid full attention by listening deeply, while a few seemed not to be present from time to time.
It is strange to think what life brings us at different times with different energies we have for the moment. This time, I only felt a connection with a few people and we shared certain interests. With the large crowd out there, I did not even know how to start a conversation. People seemed to be occupied, self-indulgent, expressive or ran after something. I did not feel any deep connection to anyone else apart from those few in the home group. It was overwhelming.
Later the same afternoon, more than 20 ecovillages around Europe and elsewhere set up tables and displayed their posters and materials showing activities. So many tall people gathered around each table, which prevented me from seeing anything because everyone towered over me. I managed to squeeze in and talk to some ecovillage representatives. To my surprise, although they lived in the same village with approximately a hundred inhabitants, they did not know everyone who lived there. People seemed to be focusing on Europe and were not very interested in things happening outside their continent. On some level this is understandable as a European gathering, but also, disappointing.
After dinner, I joined the Cacao Ceremony out of curiosity to learn about how it would be different than the tea ceremony. I skipped the Ecstatic Dance Journey which was the later part of the session. I noticed that some could not wait to get into the ecstatic movement, while the majority were still sitting appreciating the sip of cacao drink while waiting for the shaman’s next direction. I felt there would be too much energy, so I left the room where more than a hundred people were about to start the escalation.
The Nature Community had a wellness center opening from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. daily, which I enjoyed very much, especially in the sauna area. I took a daily shower there instead of using open-air (cold only) showers located at different spots in the public areas throughout the main venue. I have to admit that, although I have had some experiences at naked saunas or nudist beaches in Europe, the mixed open-air showers without a changing room where people walked by and could definitely see your bare body parts, gave me a big culture shock.
The themes of the next 3 days were connected to Joanna Macy’s “Work that Reconnects” which are “Honoring our Pain for the World”, “Seeing with New Eyes”, and “Going Forth”. There were sharing circles, talks, panel discussions, dances, and performances on and around the stage according to each day’s theme. My mood swung a lot from the hopeful first day to the dull second day of embracing the pain. Then we got new hopes on the third day with a talk by Christian Felber about the Economy for the Common Goods, to the more concrete ideas and planning for the future that was discussed on the last day of the gathering.
There were more than 10 parallel workshops happening at the same time in the mornings and evenings. Many workshops had limited space or capacity. It is a shame that some could take only 20-30 people while the whole gathering represented 800+ of us. People talked about FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), but I am rather on the side of JOMO (Joy of Missing Out). On two evenings I took a long walk to the town, enjoying beautiful flowers in front of each house, the nearby forest, and the natural swimming pool. I needed my lone time away from the crowd. I needed those walks.
One workshop I attended, facilitated by Krisztina Barany, set up a continuing communication channel through a WhatsApp group. We talked about closing the gap between urban lifestyle and ecovillage values and practices. Many people see themselves in a bridging role, including myself, as they have been visiting and experiencing several ecovillages while still living in the city. We talked about how to connect the two opposites. We also discussed whether it is necessary to move out of the city when you can actually implement the ecovillage values and practices in the inner city itself, with the support of local authority bodies. When we see ourselves as change agents, more of us together can move big barriers. I expected we continue the discussion online.
From the first day and every day thereafter, I had reflections about what and how I wanted to do about my life. The gathering has helped me realize that I cannot actually live anywhere in the world. I prefer living in a familiar environment where I know how things work, where I know how plants and vegetables I eat grow, and where I know how people would react if I did something outside the social norm. I am no longer hesitant to contact friends who I want to live with and plan our future together. I aim for only 5-6 members who co-create the co-farming-living-learning space together. Living a meaningful life can be like a lucid dream. We have control of the decisions we make every moment, but not the outcome. I decided to love myself, pursue my dream, and benefit to others. The unique journey through this experiential gathering has unlocked my unclear path in a way I have never expected. I am thankful for the opportunity to be born as a human, made it this far, and surrounded by good friends. Special thank you goes to Jane Rasbash who encouraged me to attend the gathering, Thao Ngo (Kin) who facilitated the possibility of connecting with GENOA, and Wongsanit Ashram supported half of the registration fee.
Note that the inspiring Vivian does not live in an ecovillage anymore and is the founder of the non-profit Be the Change Foundation. Some ecovillagers do not produce enough food for themselves nor earn enough income to sustain their lives. They choose to live on monthly government support (which I am irritated with the idea of using other taxpayers’ money to live their dream). Lastly, more than half of the participants drove their fossil-fueled car or campervan from all over Europe to the event. Where is the take-give balance in life and who is it to judge, really?
About the Author
Wansiri Rongrongmuang (Topsi)
Topsi is an environmental activist and spiritual seeker, passionate about promoting inner peace and sustainability. As the coordinator for the Eco-Temple project of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists, she works to spread awareness about the environmental crisis and promote eco-friendly practices within her community. She believes that achieving inner peace and living in harmony with the environment are closely intertwined, and strives to live her life in a way that reflects this belief.