Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Common Ground

Last night I experienced one of those triumphs that may have looked inconsequential to someone else but that I enjoyed.

I facilitated the weekly community meeting of Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community.

For these meetings we previously had sat around a table. Back when our complex still was under construction, and we met in the board room of our marketing office in a shopping mall, we sat around a large table. There we didn't have any choice. That pretty much was the only configuration that was feasible in that space.

More recently, after the completion of construction, we switched our meetings to the communal dining hall in our Common House. Yet, although we had masses of space and almost unlimited options, we continued to sit around a table. Actually in this case there were three smaller tables that we placed in a row. But the effect was the same. It felt like one large table.

Now and then I had mentioned to the members of my community that I would like us to sit in an open circle without a table. But there had been resistance to that idea. It felt to me as if it was impossible to dislodge the table. It was almost as if it was carved in stone.

From November 5th through 8th, I participated in a meeting facilitation workshop at Roberts Creek Cohousing on the "Sunshine Coast" of British Columbia (BC). It was one of a series of quarterly workshops in which we are learning how to implement the consensus decision making model that intentional communities use. Representatives from eight intentional communities in Coastal BC -- six cohousing communities and two ecovillages -- attend these workshops. The participating communities take turns in hosting the workshops.

In comparing notes with members of other communities, I discovered that they'd all adopted open circles for their meetings. The last hold outs, besides ourselves, had been Cranberry Commons Cohousing. They had switched from a table to an open circle in the spring of 2009. Their representatives reported that the quality of their meetings had improved dramatically after they'd changed their format.

You may wonder why I'm going on about this. Why is seating such a big deal? Well, as it turns out, it is quite significant. You may not be aware of it, but a physical barrier in the midst of a group creates an emotional barrier. It affects the quality of your communication.

When I was at Roberts Creek, I sighed and said that Pacific Gardeners seemed unable to let go of our table. A member of Cranberry Commons suggested that I lead by example. She said that, if I stood while I facilitated meetings, that alone would shift the energy.

Oh yes, that's another part of this that I forgot to mention. In the other cohousing communities, they not only sit in an open circle, but their meeting facilitator stands throughout the meeting. A standing facilitator is much more equipped to engage with the group than a sitting one. A standing facilitator can jot notes on a flipchart or whiteboard to capture salient ideas. He or she can take a step or two towards a meeting participant who is talking for too long. Interestingly enough, that small movement can have the effect of "waking up" a person who is rambling and making him/her aware of what he/she is doing. If two people get into conflict, a standing facilitator can step between them and break their line of sight. A standing facilitator is better able to see the raised hands of people who want to speak. A standing facilitator gets tired of standing -- I mean physically tired -- and is motivated to keep a meeting to a reasonable length.

So, at our first community meeting following my return from Roberts Creek, I did just that. I was the facilitator, and I stood while everyone sat around a table. After that meeting, one of my community members emailed me, complimented me on the flow of the meeting, and said it had been an improvement over our usual meetings. This person did not make any reference to the fact that I had stood, but I suspect that that had contributed to the perceived improvement.

Then, when I facilitated our community meeting a week later (last night), I took a bold step and asked for an open circle. To my pleasant surprise, my fellow Pacific Gardeners agreed to give it a try.

At the end of the meeting we spent a few minutes evaluating what had gone well and what could have been improved.

Some meeting participants disliked the open circle. They were the people who liked to take notes, to have minutes of previous meetings readily to hand so that they could refer to them when questions arose, and so on.

Other participants liked the open circle. They said it felt to them as if everyone was more equal, they had a better view of everyone else, there were fewer opportunities for distracting side activities such as eating or drinking, and they found themselves remaining more alert.

I suggested a compromise. I asked if the people who liked to take notes would be willing to bring trays that they could put on their laps. I then floated out the idea of TV trays (small trays on legs that originally were designed for eating while one watched television). It transpired that one couple in our community had a large collection of TV trays. They agreed to lend them to us for our meetings.

So that was where we left it. Next week we will assemble in an open circle, but some folks will have TV trays in front of them.

When I went to bed last night, I had a warm, fuzzy feeling. The members of my community, who had been polarized on this issue, had found common ground.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Canada's Most Wanted

I bet you think the woman in this photo looks sweet and harmless.

But appearances can be deceptive. Sharon Fulton, spotted here at Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community's ribbon-cutting ceremony on September 22nd, keeps a stash of weapons in her apartment. Her arsenal goes by the innocent sounding label of "kitchen." In that innocuous looking laboratory, she produces a steady stream of lethal concoctions.

Her latest attempt to do us in was the apple walnut cake and caramel sauce that she served at our potluck supper on Monday night. It was to die for -- literally and figuratively.

After my first rapturous mouthful of it, I regained my composure sufficiently to say, "Sharon, you will be the death of us." Without batting an eyelid, she smiled and said, "Don't worry. I know how to do CPR."

Friday, October 23, 2009

Look, Mommy, no hands!

Today we held a farewell lunch for Suzanne, our Office Administrator of nearly six years.

She was our Rock of Gibraltar during the planning and construction phases of Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community. Now that the construction phase is drawing to a close and we're actually living in our strata (condominium) apartment building, we owners will be handling the administrative aspects of our strata corporation ourselves. I'm sure that on Monday morning we'll feel as if our training wheels have been stolen. Eek!

Originally we were going to hold Suzanne's farewell lunch at a restaurant. But then Suzanne paid us what I thought was a delightful compliment by suggesting that we might consider having a potluck lunch in our dining hall. She said that she had enjoyed the impromptu suppers to which we had invited her. They had demonstrated to her that our dining hall and our cooking were a pleasant combination.

Prior to this our potluck meals miraculously had worked out all right, notwithstanding the fact that we almost never had communicated in advance about who would bring what. Today was the hilarious exception. Three of us showed up with cakes!

I remarked to Suzanne that, as she could see, we still were tweaking our systems. She, of course, has been witness to our tweaking in other arenas for a long time. She smiled and said she imagined the tweaking would continue indefinitely.

Whether or not members of cohousing communities are familiar with the concept of wabi sabi, they live it. We all took the three cakes in stride, and focused on the intention of the occasion. As I relished the delicious meal, in the company of kindred spirits, looking through our glass doors towards the autumn colours in the woods, I felt a warm glow.

May the awareness of wabi sabi ever remain with me. May it not desert me when I walk into our office on Monday morning. :-)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Honest Conversation

I love naming elephants in living rooms. We did that at Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community last night when we discussed our generational focus. By that I mean the age group(s) that we want to attract.

All along we have said that we wanted to be a multi-generational community. We wanted a mix of young, middle aged and old people, and we wanted a variety of family constellations.

So far, however, we have attracted people in their forties, fifties, sixties and seventies. Our two youngest members are 39. Our community has no young children so far. Some of us owners have grown children who are living independently and others of us are childless.

The reason we had this discussion was that one of our owners, Yonas Jongkind, pointed out the discrepancy between our marketing message and the reality he has experienced when he has visited our community.

Yonas and his young family live at WindSong, a cohousing community in one of the outer suburbs of Vancouver. His mother, Mia Jongkind, is one of our residents, and he has invested some money in her apartment. As the co-owner of one of our units, he has voting rights in our community.

For most of his tenure as a shareholder in our real estate development company, Yonas has been what we have referred to as a "distant owner," and has taken a mostly hands-off approach. Now that we are completing the final touches of construction and marketing our remaining units, he has become more actively involved with us. His MBA, his four years in a viable cohousing community, and his action-oriented personality are very useful to us.

At last night's meeting, Yonas shared with us what it was like to live at WindSong. He said there were heaps of kids under six, and it was a noisy place. Right next door to the dining hall, there was an equally large play room for children. That led to a fenced, outdoor playground. About a third of the community's annual budget for upgrades was spent on play equipment for children. Because parents placed a high priority on their young children's safety and also because they were just so busy being parents, WindSong had fewer of the adult-oriented activities that are common in some other cohousing communities.

We then went around the circle and shared our hopes and dreams about children. Most of us had assumed all along that Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community would include children. Indeed, the multi-generational focus was one of the features we liked. None of us wanted to live in a senior citizens' residence. Most of us longed for the life and energy that children bring with them.

On the other hand, when we considered the reality of our property, we realized that some elements of it were not all that user-friendly for children. The room that we had designated as a children's playroom was much smaller than the one at WindSong, and it was not adjacent to our dining hall. Our three-bedroom-and-den units have two storeys. The bedrooms are laid out in such a way that parents would have to sleep on one floor while children slept on another. Alternatively, parents could share one floor with one child, but another child would need to sleep on a different floor. One of the bedrooms on the lower level of each three-bedroom-and-den unit has french doors that open out to our parking lot. This would be great for a resident who ran a home-based business and who might have clients visiting him or her, but it would be less comforting to the parent of a young child. Our unfenced pond represents a drowning hazard for young children. We also do not have an outdoor playground.

Yonas said that, if we really wanted to attract families with young children, there were some proactive steps that we could take right now. We could be assertive in finding families with young children to rent a couple of our three-bedroom-and-den units. This would serve as a draw for young parents, as they would see that there already were children living here. There were three rooms near our dining hall whose walls could be dismantled to create one large play room. Finally, we could build an outdoor playground just outside of our dining hall.

When push came to shove, we discovered that we were not so committed to young children that we were willing to go out of our way to attract them. We realized that our warm, fuzzy visions of children really centred on older children, say six and up. We liked the idea of doing crafts with children, having them cook and garden alongside us, and so on.

We decided that, at this time, we would do nothing to adapt our property to young children. We would welcome them if they came to us, but we wouldn't bend ourselves out of shape to draw them to us. There were a couple of families with children in the eight- to ten-year-old bracket who seemed very interested in our community, and we would be delighted if they bought in.

If a crop of young children arises at Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community in future, it will be feasible to retrofit the building for them at that time. That will be a decision for the owners of the day.

I am very, very glad that we faced the discontinuity between our marketing message and the reality on the ground. For me one of the benefits of an intentional community is that its members are conscious and authentic. I am so grateful that Yonas named the phenomenon he had observed.

Even if you have no desire to live in a cohousing community, you might want to consider how you could raise the bar and make your family more of an intentional community. Would you benefit from opening some closet doors and acknowledging skeletons that are lurking there?

By the way, near the end of our meeting, Yonas's five-year-old son, Julian, walked into the dining hall and said, "Daddy, Ouma says it's eight thirty, and we all have to go to bed." We chuckled, because it illustrated the very point Yonas had been making about life with young kids.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Symbiosis in plant and human communities

With her permission, I am quoting a message that my friend, Sharon Fulton, posted on Facebook.

One of the most unique features of tree communities is their relationship with underground fungi called—mycorrhiza (micro-rye-zee). These fungi live on or near the roots of the plants and they extend beyond the plants roots to collect water and nutrients for the plants that live in the community. They form connections underground from tree to tree and to other plants in the community, thereby interconnection most of the plants of the plant community.

If one area of the forest has excess nutrition or moisture the fungi will balance the forest and share the nutrients. The connection of many plants underground with these fungi is called a ‘mycorrhizal grid’ and because plants can use this grid to share water and nutrients. Parent trees living in sunshine actually feed their young by means of this underground web of connection.

I learned this from Starhawk last night and I have been thinking about how some people in our communities act like mycorrhiza, being the connection by which nutrients and information are passed between individual members who can't quite touch each other.

Nature has so much to teach us. Amazing!

You may not be surprised to learn that Sharon herself is one of the "connecting" people to whom she refers. Although she had a fulltime job as a nurse, she coordinated the volunteers for the Emergency Weather Shelter at the First Unitarian Fellowship of Nanaimo during the unusually heavy snows of last winter. She herself also worked several volunteer shifts, assisting homeless people at the Emergency Weather Shelter. When I was waiting for my fridge and stove to be delivered to my apartment at Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community, she spontaneously offered to share her fridge and stove with me. The list goes on.

One of the neat things about living at Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community is that Sharon's generous spirit is the rule rather than the exception. I have found my fellow Pacific Gardeners to be supportive and nurturing, within both our immediate group and our wider community.

Although my fellow cohos already were great contributors before we moved into Pacific Gardens, the physical layout of our community enhances the pre-existing spirit of collaboration and cooperation. Thus Kathryn Hazel's piano has made its way to our music room, and the furniture from the large house that Mia Jongkind left behind has made its way into our communal dining hall, guest bedrooms, exercise room and balconies. A delicious communal supper has been conjured up on each owner's moving day. Helpers have appeared out of the woodwork to unload moving vans.

If I went on in this vein, I'd need to write a book. Perhaps I'll do just that. Ah, but if it's about cohousing, it would be fun to do it collaboratively, wouldn't it? Be warned, Pacific Gardeners. This is bound to involve the formation of another committee at some point. :-)

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Tomorrow -- the second Monday in October -- will be Canadian Thanksgiving.

As I reflect on the meaning of the holiday, I realize that I am thankful for SOOOOOOOO much. I live in a warm and supportive community, I have wonderful friends both inside and outside of this community, I live in a vibrant little city with more cultural and intellectual offerings than I can handle, and I am surrounded by natural beauty.

This is our first major holiday celebration since we've moved into Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community. As I look around our delightful building, I have to pinch myself to check that we really are here now. When we gather for our communal Thanksgiving Dinner tomorrow night, it will be a very special moment.

But for me there are some poignant aspects of this holiday too. I am far away from my adult sons, who will celebrate with their dad in Calgary.

I also am far away from my South African family members who are rallying around my oldest sister following the death of her husband a few days ago. He was a lovely man, and everyone who was close to him will miss him terribly.

For me this underscores what I shared in yesterday's post about wabi sabi. It is a life skill to be able to trust the beauty in imperfection. My brother-in-law's death also reminds me to appreciate every moment while I still have moments to appreciate. I am glad for him that he did that.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Wabi Sabi

Recently I derived deep satisfaction from Wabi Sabi Simple, a gem of a book that my friend, Richard Powell, wrote. Wabi sabi is an ancient Japanese concept that has some features in common with the Voluntary Simplicity and Slow Food movements in the West. In the Introduction, Richard states, "[Wabi sabi] nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect."

Back in August I had what I now recognize as a wabi sabi day. My friend, Eileen, introduced me to Newcastle Island, a five- or ten-minute ferry ride from Nanaimo.

When we disembarked from the ferry, I initially felt slightly disappointed. I had hoped to get some good photos looking back towards Nanaimo. However, it was an overcast day, and the couple of pictures I took looked nothing like as pretty as they would have done if the sun had been shining.

Still, although I had not yet read Wabi Sabi Simple, I intuitively knew that the sky was doing me a favour. I returned my camera to my backpack and decided to focus my attention on Eileen's and my conversation and on the things we saw as we walked the perimeter of the island. What an enchanting day that turned out to be.

I have realized that a cohousing community is a wabi sabi creation too. To use the analogy of food, creating a cohousing community is like baking bread according to the super slow recipe in Richard's book. The experience is rich and textured and nurturing in a way that the drive through window of a fast food outlet can never match.

One of life's traps is that I can become overcomitted to worthy activities. My trip to Africa in June and July gave me distance from Nanaimo and therefore increased objectivity. I realized that, in my enthusiasm to embrace the smorgasbord of experiences available in Nanaimo, I had taken on too much. The causes, organizations, courses and cultural opportunities all were great. It's just that there were too many of them. I resolved to divest myself of some of them when I returned. The Excellence series of seminars has been helping me to discern which elements of my life resonate most deeply with who I am and that I therefore want to continue. At this point, cohousing is a high priority for me.

Richard's book itself is a keeper. When I donate several of my favourite books to Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community's library, Wabi Sabi Simple will be one of the special treasures that will stay behind on my own bookshelf.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

ET, call home

Just checking in briefly to say I'm still alive and well and living in Nanaimo.

We at Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community had our official opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony on September 22nd. It was a joyful celebration that many friends and supporters shared with us. I took photos, and have been looking forward to posting them here.

However, the day after the ribbon-cutting ceremony, I temporarily moved to the home of a friend who had just been released from hospital following surgery. Except for a break last weekend, when another friend of hers took over from me, I have been caring for my "patient." At first her need for my assistance was fairly intense, but as she has been healing her independence has been increasing, bit by bit. I will be returning to my own home tomorrow evening, October 2nd.

My "patient" is a beautiful person, and I have delighted in this opportunity to get to know her more deeply. I also have enjoyed observing the community of friends who coalesced around her following her surgery. There has been a steady stream of people, besides me, who have arrived, bearing gifts of comfort and joy.

I imagine it's evident from this blog that I love Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community to bits. But community exists in many guises, and it's a treat to experience the broad spectrum in which it shows up.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Lifelong learning

Mia, who is one of my fellow Pacific Gardeners, told me that she was uncomfortable with the slogan that appears on quite a bit of our promotional material. It states that cohousing is a place where neighbours become friends.

Recently Mia discussed this with her son, Yonas, who has lived in a cohousing community for a few years. Coincidentally, I was billeted with Yonas, his wife, Julia, and their three young children when I participated in a workshop at WindSong in late July.

Yonas agreed with Mia that the slogan was too simplistic. He said that his fellow cohos were not exactly his friends. Rather, they challenged him, stretched him, and inspired him to try things that, if he'd been left to his own devices, he would not have tried.

He went on to say that his fellow cohos belonged to a category that was somewhere along the continuum that had family members at one end and friends at the other end.

The cohousing model falls under the umbrella of intentional communities. I think "intentional community" probably is a perfect label for the phenomenon. It's a closely knit community, but it's one to which people belong by choice.

In the case of the family into which you are born, you have little option but to belong to it. Certainly that is so when you're a young child.

As I've stated on this blog before, most cohousing communities are secular and have no religious affiliations. However, it has been observed that there are a disproportionate number of Unitarian Universalists (UUs) in cohousing communities.

There is a noticeable overlap between the demographic compositions of the two groups. One of the characteristics that is common to both of them is a love of learning.

From my experience of cohousing so far, it is a way of life that calls on you to be flexible and open minded. I agree with Yonas that my fellow cohos are not merely friends. Because they have a habit of raising the bar for me, I think of them as spiritual companions.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

If you go down to the woods today

To say that I'm enjoying living at Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community is something of an understatement.

One of the things I love about this complex is its situation in a wooded area that nonethless is just a couple of kilometres from downtown Nanaimo, the harbour, and Vancouver Island University.

The landscaping is starting to come together. The property gradually is losing that torn and scarred appearance that construction gave it. It's starting to look more serene.

This is the view from my patio, looking left across the Common House patio, towards the woods that lead down to the Chase River.

Below is the view to which I wake up every morning. I love opening my eyes and looking out across the Gobi Desert - as fellow Pacific Gardener, Kathryn, calls it -- towards the trees and the little glimpse of Mount Benson.

Of course that is facilitated by the absence of drapes on the west side of my apartment. But, hey, I love that view so much, I may leave the drapes open even when I get them.

The Gobi Desert's days also are numbered. Tomorrow that area is going to be seeded with a ground cover called fall rye. Later on, we will plant vegetable gardens there. Organic vegetable gardens, naturally.

Below is the pond in the northeast corner of our property. It is home to an indigenous species of tree frog that, at certain times of the year, treats us to a chorus that I find divine. It also is home to mallard ducks and any number of other wild things.

I recently had a hilarious experience in connection with this pond. A visitor looked at it, wrinkled his nose, and said, "But it's so ... so ... so ... ummm ... wild." I smiled and said, "Yes, it is."

Below is a view of Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community from Seventh Street. It is the scene that greets me when I return home from downtown.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Things are moving apace

Lots is happening at Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community. Buyers are moving into their apartments. Landscaping is being done. The place is looking spiffy.

Our potluck suppers at 6:00 pm on Thursdays are turning out to be great fun. Friends, neighbours and strangers drop by, sit around, and chat. Some of the people whom I've met have been fascinating. The reality of this community is exceeding my hopes.

Every now and then I remember that I've been wanting to take photos, so that I can record our pioneer days. But then I get so involved that I totally forget to lug a camera.

That's all I have to say for now. Stay well.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Another day, another blog

If you follow My Cohousing Adventure to any extent, you'll be aware that my posts on this blog are eclectic. Yes, I do have quite a bit to say here about my experience of cohousing, but I discuss other stuff too.

Well, for some time I had been feeling as if a blog that nominally was about cohousing was an inadequate container for some of my ramblings. I don't mean the tangents that you've witnessed so far. Rather, I mean the topics that I would have liked to have discussed, but about which I remained silent.

To give myself what felt like a more appropriate space for those musings, I have created another blog called My Phase 2 Adventure.

That blog is about my personal philosophy. Because I view things holistically, I see the physical, intellectual, emotional, social, psychological, environmental, economic and spiritual elements of life as being integrated. From my point of view, therefore, My Phase 2 Adventure defies classification. But I suppose there are some people who would see it as being about some sort of metaphysical exploration or perhaps my personal brand of spirituality.

If you visit my other blog and there is anything there that resonates with you, it may be the catalyst that sets you off on a journey of exploration of the Phase 2 concepts. If your Expanded Self does not want you to go down that path, your eyes will glaze over, and you'll say, "Whatever."

Please let me emphasize that the personal philosophy of one person, Judy Roberts, is independent of the cohousing movement. People who live in cohousing communities are Atheists, Humanists, Christians, Buddhists, Pagans, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and on and on. Although there are a few cohousing communities that have been founded by religious groups, the majority of cohousing communities are secular.

My cohousing community, Pacific Gardens, has no religious affiliation.

Anyway, I'll see you over at my other blog if you feel so moved.

Friday, September 4, 2009

OCCUPANCY !!!!!!!!!!!!!

Today -- Friday, September 4th, 2009 -- inspectors from the City of Nanaimo deemed Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community to be safe, and issued us with an occupancy permit. This means that those of us who have bought apartments here are allowed to move into them.

I feel as I imagine a NASA announcer does when he says, "We have lift off."

My first (temporary) piece of furniture is an air mattress that I borrowed from a friend.

Here is my living / dining room, looking towards my kitchen.

It's a treat to start with a clean slate. I look forward to bringing this space to life. But of course there is a lot more to Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community than my apartment. Over the last few days, a number of trees and shrubs have been planted in our grounds. Our property is starting to look like Pacific Gardens in fact as well as in name.

We continue to have many social events and interactions that are fun and stretching, making this a garden in which not only plants but also people grow.

I love it!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sacrificing boredom

In order to live free and happily, you must sacrifice boredom. It is not always an easy sacrifice.

Richard Bach, author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull

A few days ago I realised how much my life had changed when one of my Facebook friends remarked that she was bored and did not know what to do. Her comment stopped me in my tracks. It dawned on me that, way back in the mists of time, BC (Before Cohousing), I too had experienced boredom. But, when I reflected on the last year, I could think of only two occasions on which I had been bored.

One was the morning on which I woke up with my seafront condo shrouded in a thick fog, and felt as if I was in a sensory deprivation chamber. However, I shifted the lens through which I viewed the fog, and came to appreciate the magic of it. I shared that experience in my blog post entitled Embracing FOG.

The other occasion was the day on which I wore ear plugs to get a hint of what it was like to be hard of hearing. That felt very trying to me. But I think it's fair to say that, during The Experiment, I came by the sense of boredom honestly, so to speak.

When I saw my Facebook friend's comment, I found myself wondering why, except for two unusual instances, I did not recall having been bored during the last year.

I suspect that boredom is related to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

I do not believe that we feel bored when our physiological needs are threatened. When that happens, we experience panic, pain, or some other heightened form of discomfort. I was in a vehicle accident at the age of seven. Boredom is not the word that springs to mind when I remember my body being assaulted by glass, metal and hard ground as I hurtled through the windshield (in the days before seat belts).

I suspect that I experience boredom when my subtler, higher level needs are thwarted for reasons that feel invalid to me. When I make what might be called a sacrifice for a goal that is important to me, I do not feel as if I am suffering. During my trip to South Africa in June and July, I spent the better part of a day at Cape Town Airport. My original, morning flight to East London was cancelled, and I was re-booked on a later flight. Then that later flight also was cancelled, and I was re-booked on a third flight. If you can believe it, my third flight was cancelled, and I was re-booked on a fourth flight. However, the third flight subsequently was re-instated, and that was the flight on which I flew to East London in the late afternoon.

Spending a day at Cape Town Airport was not something I would have chosen to do if I'd had many other options. However, since I wanted to reach my mother and brothers in East London, I bit the bullet and settled into a chair at Cape Town Airport. I read Bill Bryson's hilarious book called Down Under. From time to time, I took breaks from reading, and watched the people in the airport. People watching was an interesting exercise. I learned a lot about the demographic changes that had taken place in the fourteen years since I'd last been in South Africa. In any event, my desire for connection with my family members in East London made it feel worthwhile to tolerate what otherwise might have been a boring day at Cape Town Airport.

But, at other periods of my life, when an emerging new value has clashed with an old value that has started to feel obsolete, living up to the outdated value has felt boring. An example is laundry. It'll give you a clue to my age when I share with you that there was a time, admittedly decades ago, when it mattered to me that my laundry came out whiter than white. Back then, the effort felt worthwhile. But I gradually realised that I didn't care. Once that transition had taken place, any extra effort expended on laundry felt boring.

When I look back, I feel that boredom has been my Higher Self's way of telling me that there is an agreement that needs to be renegotiated. On the one hand, I have experienced fear, because I have perceived that a change in my behaviour might alienate someone whose good opinion I have needed for security. If my laundry no longer was whiter than white, the people who valued whiter than white laundry might expel me from the whiter than white laundry club. On the other hand, if I have wanted to progress to other values that have come to mean more to me, I have had to risk criticism from the whiter than white laundry club.

Of course I'm using laundry as a somewhat tongue-in-cheek example. Some of the taboos that I have broken on my journey to self-actualisation have been more serious than changes in my laundry practices.

When I turned my back on my old life in Calgary, it felt risky. No, actually, that's not true. It didn't just feel risky. It felt terrifying. I can identify with the Richard Bach quotation. It wasn't easy to sacrifice the boredom that at least seemed to have security attached to it.

But what happened when I took the plunge, bought into Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community, and moved to Nanaimo? I have participated in shaping our community, learned a great deal about real estate development and communication, grown in confidence, made new friends, and accessed beauty through singing, dance, theatre, walking, hiking and photography.

The alignment between the external expression of my life and my inner values is demonstrated, I think, by the fact that boredom now is almost unknown to me.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A year later

The cohousing ride in the Earth Amusement Park has been rather ... ummm ... interesting in the last while.

There are times at which I look around me and bask in the conviviality of the company, the beauty and user-friendliness of our building, and so on.

But there are other moments at which I turn a corner, and I'm assailed with a piece of unwelcome news -- a construction delay or worse.

On a couple of occasions recently, I have felt the strain. But, for the most part, I have been pleasantly surprised by the generally calm approach I've managed to maintain. When I recall the Judy of a couple of years ago, I remember a person who would have been stressed out by developments like these. I believe the serenity that I feel much of the time is evidence of my growth, for which I'm grateful.

A year after buying into a cohousing community -- when the honeymoon definitely is over -- I still love cohousing. I appreciate many aspects of it -- the philosophy that underpins it, my fellow Pacific Gardeners, the sense of community, the land on which we have built our project, the design of our building, and my own apartment.

When I reflect on it, the past year has fulfilled my expectations in some ways but in many ways has been very different from the way I thought it would be. In some respects it has been far more challenging than I was prepared for it to be. Yet, paradoxically, it also has been far richer than I imagined it would be.

I find there is a lot of truth in my kids' expression, "It's all good."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Another community

This has been a year in which I have jumped back and forth amongst the different worlds that I have inhabited during my lifetime. Another leap took place this past weekend, when I caught the ferry to Vancouver to participate in the a reunion of seven women who had attended the same Johannesburg high school and who now live across North America.

The reunion was a remarkable event. Except for Pauline, who had lived in Vancouver during the period that I'd lived in Calgary, I had lost touch with these women for nearly forty years! Yet, when we saw each other again, after recently reconnecting on Facebook, the decades just melted away.

I noticed some common threads during this reunion as well as the meetings I had with former classmates during my June / July 2009 trip to South Africa.

We were raised in a time and place in which our parents sealed over the cracks and did not share with us children what was really going on. In our milieu, the parent who actively encouraged his/her daughter to think of a career was rare. The general trends of the era were exacerbated by the fact that we attended a school run by Catholic nuns. The insulation from a fast changing world was all the greater amongst those of us who, like me, attended the school as boarders rather than day scholars.

Yet all of us have developed into resilient women who have met adversity head on. Most of us have worked very hard to grapple with our demons and to become more conscious. Many of us have done therapy. A persistent theme is that our relationships with our children are more authentic than the relationships our parents had with us.

Regardless of the fact that we were launched into the world as "good Catholics," only four out of 25 of us still are married to our first husbands. We felt this demonstrated that our husbands and we had high standards and would not settle for marriages that were less than meaningful.

Those of us who have left Southern Africa have the additional commonality of the emigrant experience.

Although our political and religious views varied considerably, I detected a sense of goodwill amongst us. We had a "live and let live" attitude. There also was a groundswell of support towards women who were facing challenges. Towards the end of the weekend, one woman spoke for all of us when she said she had experienced a safe space in which she had felt free to share.

I am grateful for the many communities to which I simultaneously belong. In their different ways, they support me in creating a life that feels rich, purposeful, loving and fun.

Here is one of those communities -- the seven women from the Parktown Convent class of 1969 who now live in North America:

We are, from left to right, Colleen (Vancouver), Jane (Atlanta), Anne (St Louis), Felicity (Seattle), Vanessa (Los Angeles), Pauline (Vancouver) and Judy (Nanaimo).

The photo was taken at Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver, where I was about to catch the ferry back to Vancouver Island, and just before the others also returned to their respective homes.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Chase River Cathedral

It's Sunday, so naturally I went to church today. Here are some photos I took while I was there.

This is the view one sees as one walks down the riverbank from Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community towards the meadow that runs parallel to the Chase River.

This was the spot in which Aboriginal elders built an Inipi (sweatlodge) on Earth Day 2000, and held a ceremony to bless this land.

This is Chad and Susana's tree. That's what I call it because two of our members, Chad Henderson and Susana Michaelis, were married at its base. They chose this unusual tree, with three trunks, as a symbol for their marriage. The left trunk represented one of them, the right trunk represented the other of them, and the central trunk represented their relationship. Our nextdoor neighbour, Ian Gartshore, who has been a good friend to our project, performed Chad and Susana's wedding ceremony.

This is the path that leads through the forest floor from the Pacific Gardens portion of the riverbank towards Ian's portion.

It was this view -- this specific view -- that sold me on Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community when I came to Nanaimo on a reconnaissance trip in August 2008.

I thought that I wanted to join a cohousing community so that I could learn how to create peace in my life. My hope was that, if I could "do" peace myself, it would have a helpful ripple effect on the rest of the world. A year on, I feel that I am indeed on the path of which I dreamed back then. There also are numerous other benefits -- a supportive social network, friendships, sustainability, a smaller environmental footprint, just plain fun, and on and on.

But, if I'm to be honest, I have to admit that, at the instant that I made the decision to buy in, none of that mattered. It was a moment of pure selfishness. I saw the moss-covered tree leaning out across the stream, my heart leapt, and that was it.

I think of it as my tree. I since have discovered that several of my friends consider it to be their tree too. In fact, it has been quite amusing to sit by the stream with one or more people, each of whom thinks it's his or her tree. But that's okay. Sharing my tree with others does nothing to detract from my enjoyment of it. If anything, soaking in the view with someone else who appreciates it only amplifies my pleasure.

At the risk of boring you, here is my tree from a slightly different angle.

Well, I was being a bit tongue-in-cheek when I mentioned church and then proceeded to share photos of the Chase River. But only a bit. In reality, I feel restored every time I go down to the stream. It's something I do pretty regularly. I don't hang around waiting for Sunday.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Patio Potluck

This afternoon we had a potluck lunch in the Common House of Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community. As you can see from the photos, our Common House still is under construction. Consider these the before pictures. In a couple of months, I'll show you the after versions.

The above photo looks westwards from the communal dining room, across the patio, to the future garden beyond.

Looking across the communal dining room towards the patio.

Looking northwards from the patio.

This is a public holiday long weekend in British Columbia. Several of our members as well as friends of our community were out of town, so our patio potluck was an enjoyable but small gathering. I'm not one to talk, as I recently was away for eight weeks, but I would have loved to have had my missing friends with me in what is about to become my home. With that said, I know we'll be hosting many, many more of these kinds of events in future. We still have lots of fun ahead of us.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


At the moment I am homeless. Not homeless in the sense that I don't have a place to sleep. But homeless in the sense that I don't have an official residential address.

That has been the case since I vacated my rental house at the end of May. However, I was able to push that fact onto the back burner while I was galavanting overseas for all of June and most of July. Now, as I sit on my bed at the Painted Turtle Guesthouse, with my laptop balanced on my lap -- I guess that's why we call them laptops -- the reality has sunk in.

Before I left for my trip abroad, I made an offer to purchase my apartment at Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community, and Pacific Gardens accepted my offer. (As I am a shareholder in the development company that is building our apartment complex, I am -- effectively -- both the vendor and the purchaser.) Back then the assumption was that construction would be completed during my absence, and I would take official possession of my apartment upon my return to Nanaimo near the end of July.

Now I've come back to Nanaimo, and it turns out that construction is not finished. It's close, but it's not quite there. The big thing, from a legal point of view, is that we don't have an occupancy permit. As I understand it, the City of Nanaimo will be inspecting the building later this week. The inspector will look at things like the sprinklers that belong to the fire suppression system. If the inspector is satisfied, we will get an occupancy permit. When that happens, purchasers officially will be allowed to take possession of their apartments.

Being involved during the construction phase of this project has been a lot messier than I had dreamed it would be. Along the way there have been surprises, delays, panics, you name it. From an emotional point of view, it has been a roller coaster ride.

But, through it all, the sense of camaraderie amongst us cohos has been tremendous too. We've all pitched in, volunteered for the project, and supported each other as individuals. Even after the shocks I've sustained, the reality of belonging to a cohousing community has exceeded my hopes and expectations.

Sitting here on my bed at the Painted Turtle Guesthouse with my laptop perched on my lap, a profound realization has sunk in. I am a Pacific Gardener, and that is tied into much more than a physical address.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Good Enough

At one point during this past weekend's consensus decision making workshop, one of the participants expressed concern about some deficiency or other. Our workshop leader pointed out our time limitations and said that, under the circumstances, things were good enough.

The concept of "good enough" was one of my take-aways from the workshop. It was a term I had heard before, but this time I got it at a new level.

The single incident that illustrated it to me most powerfully was our attempt to assist a blind man who participated in the meetings of our host community. A volunteer from our group sat next to him and reported to him what was happening. The idea was to help him as much as possible to access the information that was available to everyone else from non-verbal sources.

In chatting with the volunteer afterwards, the blind man expressed appreciation for her assistance. He described to her how isolated he felt and how, even with her help, there still had been some pieces of the meeting that had been missing for him.

When I heard the volunteer's feedback, I felt sad. Although I hadn't consciously put it into words, there must have been some part of my mind that had been in denial. It was as if I had been under the illusion that, if I just learned the correct protocol for interacting with a blind person, I effectively could give him eyes.

According to this world view, there was a magic wand that could meet every challenge. If I had just found the one perfect book on parenting and had read it from cover to cover, my kids would have had happy childhoods. If I could just get my hands on a book called Cohousing For Dummies, I could ensure a blissful future for my fellow cohos and me at Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community.

This weekend the realization sank in that I was not perfect and that the magic wand that would make me so did not exist.

Oddly enough, I felt relieved.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


Woke up at 5.00 a.m. today. Another half hour later. Woo hoo!

Doing these quarterly consensus decision making workshops is awe inspiring.

During each workshop the residents of the host community share with us a couple of their conflicts. They are issues on which they have tried, but so far failed, to reach agreement. We trainee meeting facilitators then attempt to assist them in clearing the blocks.

Both the participation in, and the facilitation of, the process are peak experiences. When people who had been in conflict reconcile, there rarely is a dry eye in the room.

Presenting the trainee meeting facilitators with a real life challenge with which the host community is grappling is far superior to presenting the trainees with a hypothetical exercise on which to work. The difference is huge.

In an emotionally charged scenario, it is particularly useful to introduce an exercise that encourages each meeting participant to share from the heart, to access their feelings, and to take responsibility for their contribution to the situation. Alternative meeting formats that employ elements of movement or art or storytelling or drama are amongst the skills that we are learning.

Elliott Willis and Judy Roberts during the lunch break at WindSong Cohousing Community yesterday. Elliott lives in Nanaimo, as I do, and she is a member of O.U.R. Ecovillage in Shawnigan Lake.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


Yup, I woke up early again this morning. This time it was 4.30 a.m., so that was a half hour improvement over yesterday. But the good thing about my jet lag is that, although I have a full day ahead of me, I still get a chance to blog.

Along with some residents of eight intentional communities in Coastal British Columbia, I am participating in a consensus decision making workshop.

On this occasion the host community is WindSong Cohousing Community in Langley. This is the first time that I have seen the community that provided the inspiration for the design of my own community, Pacific Gardens in Nanaimo.

Here is the glass-covered pedestrian street that inspired the founders of Pacific Gardens. We too have an atrium. I thought it was an awesome design for the rainy winters of the Pacific Northwest. Ironically, I am experiencing it as a terrific design even during the glorious summer weather that we're having right now. WindSong has lots of young children, and it provides them with a wonderfully safe environment.

Here is another part of the atrium.

Some apartments and townhouses at WindSong obviously are home to kids .......

....... while others have a more sedate, adult look about them.

Here are the vegetables gardens .......

.......and next to them are one of a couple of different playgrounds.

During meal breaks, we workshop participants are able to spread out amongst WindSong's gardens.

These are my charming hosts, Marcus and Julian. When I return home, I will take with me instructions to give their Ouma Mia big hugs on their behalf.

Friday, July 24, 2009


Since yesterday afternoon, I have been back in the cohousing world. I am participating in another workshop on consensus decision making. This time it is being hosted by WindSong, a delightful cohousing community in Langley, BC.

I am billeted with Yonas and Julia Jongkind and their three cute little kids. They are the son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren of Mia Jongkind, one of my co-owners in Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community in Nanaimo.

This morning I woke up at 4.00 a.m. No doubt it's the result of jet lag. Luckily I am sleeping on a separate floor from the rest of the family. I'm in Yonas and Julia's study, which houses a computer that they kindly invited me to use. So I started organising my vacation photos. I will add more as and when I get time.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Home sweet home

Well, I'm back. It is difficult to summarise an overseas trip that lasted over seven weeks. However, these photos may give you some idea.

Southern Africa was a kaleidoscope of cultures. These buskers at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town were every bit as good as Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

The reunion to celebrate my mother's 80th birthday was heaps of fun. Here is our clan at Mbuluzi Game Reserve in Swaziland. My mother is in the centre of the photo, wearing a green sweater.

It was magical to walk through the bush and see wildlife like this.

Yet I also witnessed grinding poverty. People who live in a village like this one in Swaziland have a very tough life.

This roadside fruit seller in Swaziland told me her name was Anne. She said that, of the six children with her, three were orphans whom she had taken under her wing. My guess is that the children's parents were victims of the AIDS pandemic.

One of the downsides of South Africa is that it has a horrendous crime rate. The friends with whom I stayed in Johannesburg had a high wall around their property, topped by this electric fence. In addition to that, they and half a dozen of their neighbours had clubbed together to pay for a security guard outside their house, twenty four hours a day. They told me they felt like prisoners.

After Johannesburg, it was a relief to get to safe, environmentally-friendly Switzerland. This photo was taken in Berne.

There is no good reason to include this photo of Gruyeres, other than to show off. I liked the way the mist-shrouded castle came out.

Here I am this morning, at the home of friends in Burnaby, a suburb of Vancouver. Although my overseas trip was amazing, it is great to be back home in Canada. I am one very happy camper.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Four-leaf clovers, guardian angels, and their ilk

So far my overseas trip has been going extraordinarily well.

When I consider that I left the planning very late and that I shortened the UK portion of my trip by two days in order to squeeze in The Wall prior to my departure, it feels almost miraculous that it has been going as smoothly as it has.

If I am to see everyone I hope to see here, my UK itinerary contains no room for error. I have been incredibly fortunate that everything has lined up in my favour. In fact things have not merely worked out as well as could have been expected. So far they have exceeded my hopes.

My British rellies and friends have been amused by my assertion that I have horseshoes up my ass. But, if you had witnessed how obstacle after obstacle had evaported, I believe you would agree.

Although I had been reluctant to leave Nanaimo at a critical time in the life of Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community, I am very much enjoying my reunions with family members and friends in the UK. For the first time, I've also seen something of the UK beyond London. I've been to Wales and Devon.

I am enjoying the UK's gorgeous and charming old buildings but, in contrast to my previous visits to Europe, seeing all this history has not left me with a sense of deprivation. I do not feel as if Canada is deficient because it lacks this kind of architecture. I just feel as if Canada is different from Europe. Different. Neither inferior nor superior.

On the train between Wales and Devon, a woman asked me where I came from. I said I lived on Vancouver Island in Canada. She asked me what it was like there. I said I loved it. She said she was psychic, and she could tell that I was very happy. She said it was a burden being psychic. She said that, in light of the amount of unhappiness she detected on any given day, it was a pleasure to meet someone who was as happy as I was.

The woman may or may not have been psychic. I won't bother speculating about that. But, as my niece subsequently said, you didn't need to be psychic to know how I felt when I talked about Vancouver Island.

Monday, June 1, 2009

My Wall

This past weekend I completed a three and a half day workshop called The Wall. The objective of the workshop was to identify my driving needs and life purpose.

For me it was a profound experience. Prior to this, I had undertaken other activities that had been designed to help me understand who I was and what made me tick. I had gone into therapy, done other workshops, hired a life coach, read self-help books, kept a journal, and meditated. Along the way, I had found out magnificent and terrible things about my family of origin and about myself.

During this latest workshop, I peeled away another layer of the onion, and went deeper than I had gone on previous occasions. I realised that, almost my whole life, I had operated from the premise that, if I revealed that I was clever and capable, my father would kill me. It started out as a belief about my father, but later transformed into a belief about all men and, I would go so far as to say, a belief about the world in general.

If previous experience is anything to go by, my mother and my parents' friends would think I was stark raving mad if they heard this assertion. I once shared a much less significant revelation with them, and they reacted very negatively. "How could you say such a thing about your father? He was such a wonderful person."

Yes, I know what an awesome person he was. According to some people's values, he did great things for society. He also loved his family and gave us some happy times. When I was a young kid, he used to have "circus hour" after dinner every night. He would get down on the living room floor and do acrobatic tricks with us kids. Alternatively, he would take us outside, lie down on the lawn, look up at the sky, and point out the constellations to us. We lived on a farm without light pollution, so we had the luxury of a dark sky. He used to take us hiking, camping, boating and fishing. He adored the ocean. Whenever I'm at the seaside or at a lake, I am aware of his presence. I can feel the delight that he would experience in a scene like that.

So, yes, I do know that he was a terrific person and that he loved me. And, yes, I also know that he would have wanted to kill me if I had not dumbed myself down and protected his fragile ego.

I now have a better understanding of the terror that I experienced when I separated from my husband, bought into Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community, and moved from Calgary to Nanaimo. It wasn't just the uncertainty of leaving family and friends behind, moving to an unfamiliar place, and getting involved in a somewhat experimental venture.

Yes, to be sure, it was all of that. But it also was the fact that, like Bluebeard's wife, I was unlocking the door to the forbidden room and, if I was caught, I would die.

During my first couple of months in Nanaimo, when I was experiencing both exhilaration and panic, I watched a movie called The Void. It was about Joe Simpson's terrifying mountaineering ordeal in the Peruvian Andes. Simpson's courage and perseverance were a great inspiration to me as I stared into the abyss and broke into a cold sweat.

Tomorrow I will be leaving Nanaimo for eight weeks. Amongst other things, I will be participating in a family reunion in Swaziland to celebrate my mother's 80th birthday. Things have been crazy busy, and this was an insane time at which to take out three and a half days in order to participate in a workshop. Yet, as I was going into it, Kari, one of my fellow Pacific Gardeners who was a graduate of the workshop, said that it would be invaluable for me to do it prior to my meeting with my family. Having come out the other end, I wholeheartedly agree with her. I feel way more grounded and ready to see them.

I also am leaving in the happy knowledge that Pacific Gardens is even more closely aligned with my driving needs and my life purpose than I had dreamed. It's as if someone had taken my driving needs and life purpose and used them as a template to create a model. They then gave that model a name. It's called cohousing.

I am so glad that I scaled the symbolic wall that isolated me from a life affirming community and that I now belong.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


On June 2nd, I'm going to be leaving for an eight-week trip. The motivation for the journey is to participate in a family reunion to celebrate my mother's 80th birthday in Swaziland.

Between now and then, I'm going to be participating in a workshop called The Wall, vacating the house I've been renting, and storing my stuff in a kind friend's basement.

Construction of Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community will be completed during my absence, and several of my fellow owners will be moving in while I'm away. I feel sad that I will miss a momentous phase in the life of my cohousing community.

However, my mother's 80th birthday -- with one of my brothers travelling to the reunion from Australia and my travelling to it from Canada -- also is an important milestone.

Fortunately, Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community still will be here when I get back home to Nanaimo. I am excited about moving into my apartment upon my return. Our building looks more attractive every time I see it. When the cranes and delivery trucks are gone and our landscape plan has been implemented, our property will look beautiful.

One of the things that I love about our community is our name. The founders were environmentalists, and the garden element was important to them. To me there are different kinds of gardens. Whether or not the founders consciously articulated this, I believe they would agree with me. There will be the botanical gardens as well as the spiritual gardens that will be embodied in the interior and community lives of the people who will enliven the structure.

I look forward to being reunited with my community on July 27th.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Rights of Indigenous Peoples

I am ashamed that Canada is only one of three countries in the world that have refused to endorse the United Nations' Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The other two recalcitrant countries are the United States and New Zealand.

When the UN initially adopted the Declaration in September 2007, Australia voted against it. However, even Australia now has agreed to it.

My excellent Member of Parliament, Jean Crowder, will be holding an informal meeting here in Nanaimo tomorrow. It happens, by coincidence, that she is the Federal NDP critic for Aboriginal Affairs. I am going to attend the meeting and tell her what I think. I'm sure she'll agree with me, so in that sense I'll be preaching to the choir. Still, I feel an urge to do something.

Hmmm ....... I wonder if I could convince Jean Crowder that she is too good for the NDP and that it would make sense for her to switch her allegiance to the Green Party. :-)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

10 Steps to Peace

I like this excerpt from the website of The Center for Nonviolent Communication.

10 Things We Can Do to Contribute to Internal, Interpersonal, and Organizational Peace

  1. Spend some time each day quietly reflecting on how we would like to relate to ourselves and others.

  2. Remember that all human beings have the same needs.

  3. Check our intention to see if we are as interested in others getting their needs met as our own.

  4. When asking someone to do something, check first to see if we are making a request or a demand.

  5. Instead of saying what we DON'T want someone to do, say what we DO want the person to do.

  6. Instead of saying what we want someone to BE, say what action we'd like the person to take that we hope will help the person be that way.

  7. Before agreeing or disagreeing with anyone's opinions, try to tune in to what the person is feeling and needing.

  8. Instead of saying "No," say what need of ours prevents us from saying "Yes."

  9. If we are feeling upset, think about what need of ours is not being met, and what we could do to meet it, instead of thinking about what's wrong with others or ourselves.

  10. Instead of praising someone who did something we like, express our gratitude by telling the person what need of ours that action met.

At this moment, the most challenging advice on the list, for me, is Number Three. Of course I subscribe to that value ....... in theory. But talk is cheap. Whether or not I walk my talk is the test.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Vargas Adventure

I promised to tell you about my camping trip to Vargas Island over the Victoria Day long weekend. It was enchanting.

What I liked best about it was the solitude. The first time we saw anyone besides the members of our own travel party was around noon on the day of our departure, just as we were packing up to return home. The scenery was gorgeous, as was the sound of the waves when I fell asleep on the beach.

Although the sky was overcast most of the time that we were there, the rain was confined to short overnight showers. The weather was dry during daylight hours, and that made the logistics of camping and hiking easier.

The company was congenial too.

We left home on Saturday morning, May 16th, 2009, and returned on Sunday evening, May 18th, 2009.

In the picture above, we have just disembarked from the boat that ferried us from Tofino to the near shore of Vargas Island. We are about to hike across the island to Ahous Bay on the far shore. From left to right: Sarah, Sue, Lynne, Michael and Ian.

Above are our tents on the beach at Ahous Bay, on the west coast of Vargas Island. My trip was made possible by the generosity, cooperation and collaboration of friends. Charles and Lynne gave me a ride from Nanaimo to Tofino and back again. My fellow Pacific Gardeners, Chad and Susana, lent me a tent and a backpack. Ian lent me a sleeping bag and a foam camping mattress, as well as sharing his camp stove with me.

Above our party is setting out for a Sunday morning hike. Left to right: Sarah, Sue, Charles, Ian, Peter, Lynne and Michael. The piece of foam that Peter and Michael are carrying was salvaged from the beach. The idea is to use it as a raft with which to cross a lagoon further up the island. Sarah and Michael, in particular, displayed great creativity in finding uses for found objects.

I liked the patterns that waves had made in the sand.

Sunset from Ahous Bay.

In the series of peak moments I have experienced since I moved to Nanaimo, a period during which one superlative has overtaken another, Vargas Island is right up there with the best.

If you would like to see more photos, I have posted some on this website.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Off to Vargas Island

I am off to visit Vargas Island with friends for the Victoria Day long weekend. We will drive to Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island, catch a boat to Vargas Island, hike across the island, and camp on the far shore. I'm expecting it to be fun. When I get back home to Nanaimo, I'll let you know how it went.

Friday, May 15, 2009


Yesterday we hosted a visitor from out of town. We had lunch with her and took her on a tour of our Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community construction site.

She told us how she had spent a considerable amount of time defining what she wanted. Once she'd gotten clear about that, she had no idea where she would find it or if it even existed. Then, during an Internet search, she stumbled on the concept of cohousing. In amazement she realized that was it.

I found it fun to speak with her. I got the impression that she started out feeling a little sceptical, as if this might be too good to be true. She asked us question after question. No matter what she asked, it turned out that we not only had addressed the issue, but also had done so in a way that aligned with her values.

I watched her almost pinching herself to check that she was awake. I am very familiar with that sensation. In fact that's how I feel right now.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Response to the responses

There have been some thoughtful comments on my previous blog post in which I confessed to being a so called Controller.


One of the questions Krista asked was whether or not I had observed any inconsistency between the Pursuit of Excellence (TPOE) and Nonviolent Communication (NVC). So far, I have observed only very minor contradictions between the two. They have been differences of style rather than substance. In fact, I believe that TPOE and NVC complement each other. They, in turn, tie in nicely with two other concepts I have been studying, namely, consensus decision making and conflict resolution.


I agree with MidnightCafe's observation that "Controller" is an unfortunate label and that something about "leadership" would sound more constructive. I like the way in which Krista used the language of Nonviolent Communication to reframe the labels in terms of needs.


I want to add to the information about myself that I provided yesterday. I am not a pure Controller, what the Pursuit of Excellence folk call a Controlling Controller. When I completed the communication Styles questionnaire, I recognized myself in each of the four quadrants to some extent.

This was confirmed yesterday, during a chat with one of my fellow Pacific Gardeners who also had done the Pursuit of Excellence. He said that he saw me as being close to the middle of the graph, where the four types intersected. However, our Pursuit of Excellence instructor encouraged us to identify our strongest quadrant, even if it represented only a mild preference.

The exercise in TPOE revealed that I had a secondary communication style that moderated my primary one. My secondary personality type is what they called the Supporter. That is the sympathetic person who loves to help others, who will go to the ends of the Earth to save a relationship, and who avoids conflict. The Supporter's downfall is that he or she finds it difficult to say, "No." Hence, his or her needs often go unmet. That was the person whom I used to like to think I was.

So, in TPOE language, I am a Supporting Controller.


My fellow Pacific Gardener with whom I discussed this told me that he was a Controlling Analyzer. The Analyzer is a person who loves to study facts and data. He or she does not like to look foolish. He or she also dislikes being rushed. At the extreme end of the spectrum this person can suffer from analysis paralysis.

He told me that, since he had become aware of the personality types, he had made a deliberate attempt to stretch himself. For example, it does not come easily to him to be spontaneous (like a Promoter). He also may overlook other people's suffering (which a Supporter automatically would notice). So, from time to time, he reminds himself to be sensitive to other people's circumstances, and he also reminds himself to have fun.


On Monday night I experienced an extraordinary example of someone stepping outside of his comfort zone. The weekly meeting of Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community's shareholders was challenging. There was one point, in particular, in which I had a meltdown. As had been the case the last time this had happened, I felt deeply ashamed of myself, and apologized to everyone.

About twenty minutes after I got home, the phone rang. It was one of my fellow Pacific Gardeners. He is not a Controlling Analyzer, like our other co-owner whom I mentioned above. Rather, this person is a pure Analyzer, an Analyzing Analyzer. He examines numbers in spreadsheets and the wording of legal documents in excrutiating detail. He expresses his emotions relatively rarely.

He said, "Hi, Judy. After what happened at the meeting, I just wanted to check how you were feeling now." To say that I was surprised doesn't even begin to tell you how I felt. This question, coming from our resident Analyzing Analyzer, was nothing short of astonishing. I also felt deeply touched that he had reached out to me. I knew that he too was a graduate of the Pursuit of Excellence. I was in awe of the positive effect that his efforts at personal growth had had on him.


Being aware of the weaknesses of my personality type helps me to identify areas in which it would be wise to ask for assistance. For example, I made a snap decision to buy into Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community. Last August, I travelled to Nanaimo, a place to which I had never been before. I looked around the city, met the folks who were involved with Pacific Gardens, and did a tour of the construction site. Three days later I signed on the dotted line.

When I look back on that, I shake my head. It's true that I'm glad I moved here. I love my life in Nanaimo. Although we go through wobbly patches, I also love my involvement with Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community. But it was a huge decision with significant, long term implications. If I was faced with such an enormous decision in future, I would force myself to spend more time in Analyzing mode. I also would solicit the opinions of a couple of Analyzers who had no vested interest in the outcome.


Awareness of personality types helps me in my dealings with other people. A while ago, a man -- whom I now recognize as a Promoting Promoter -- let down a volunteer organization to which I belong. He said he would do something for us, and he didn't. As is typical of a Promoter, he is full of brilliant ideas. But his strength lies in starting things, not in finishing them. Now I will take into consideration the fact that he is weak when it comes to focus and closure. Instead of being disappointed in him, I will be realistic about the gifts that he can and cannot contribute to our group.

In saying that this man is a Promoting Promoter, I don't want to suggest that he has been sentenced to that pigeonhole for life. Maybe his self-awareness will increase, and maybe he will expand into the other quadrants in due course. But, at this point, he is not a close friend. Other than wishing him goodwill in a general way, I don't care what he does with his life. The only information that feels useful to me right now is an awareness of his personality type insofar as it affects the volunteer organization to which I belong.

Being aware of personality types also helps me to package information when I'm making proposals. I now understand that an Analyzer, for example, will want lots of information and will want time to process it before making a decision. I will allow the time and space for him/her to do that, rather than expecting him/her to get back to me right away.


There are other personality classification systems. Two that I have studied in the past are the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the Enneagram. In the MBTI, there are sixteen types, while in the Enneagram there are nine.

I don't think it matters which system I use. I think they all offer the benefit of awareness that some people view the world as I do and some people view it differently.

Owing to my previous studies, I already knew that when I went into the Pursuit of Excellence. The big Aha for me during TPOE was that the Supporter was only my secondary personality type, while the Controller / Leader / Decision Maker was my primary one.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

My secret is out

At the Pursuit of Excellence seminar this past weekend, we did a module that helped each of us to identify our communication style (which is akin to personality type). My results shocked me. They claimed that I was a Controller. As the name suggests, it's at the dominant end of the spectrum.

A Controller!!! To me that term spans the water front, all the way from control freak to megalomaniac dictator. Yikes!!! That's not who I am! I am a nurturing, supportive person, right?

I guess my denial stemmed from the fact that I had witnessed the misuse of power. When power had been employed destructively, people whom I loved and I myself had suffered -- either because we lacked the skills to assert ourselves or because we simply had been too little to defend ourselves. Consequently I regarded power as evil.

Our Pursuit of Excellence instructor said that it was important to fulfill our driving needs and to acknowledge our personality types. She said that, if our needs went unmet and/or our personalities went unrecognized, they would leak out in destructive ways. Often they were the source of addictions and other self-defeating behaviours.

Conversely, if we fulfilled our driving needs and recognized our personality types, we could harness their energy constructively. In that case, they were gifts.

Today I told a friend about this additional Blinding Flash of the Obvious (BFO). She was someone who had been telling me for months that I had leadership qualities, but I had discounted her opinion. When I shared my BFO, she said, "Hallelujah!"

My friend went on to say that she thought that my continuing education was instrumental in my gaining this insight. She said that, because I had witnessed abuse and because I lacked confidence in my ability to exercise leadership for the benefit of all, my subconscious mind had protected me from the knowledge that I had leadership qualities. But my workshops have been building my capacity. She referred to the seminars I had taken -- conflict resolution, consensus decision making, and the Pursuit of Excellencer. In her opinion, my subconscious mind must have assessed my growing skill set, concluded that I would be able to handle power, and then let me see that I had it. I thought that was an interesting insight on her part.

In any event, now that I've recovered from the shock, I feel liberated.