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Welcome, the Harriet Tubman Healthy Living Conference - a 5-day experiment in community


HTHLC: UTOPIA? (Commentary on 2007 HTHLC Conference)

By Julius Ford & Conference Attendee, Dr. Enoch Page

A View of What Is

Our current beliefs are killing us. Our current behaviors are destroying our planet. Our economic system, based on scarcity with a tendency towards population control, is being challenged. Our justice system incarcerates too many, does little to deter crime, and is biased by class and race. Our social problems reflect our unwillingness to love, trust and share; in short, we so far have been unwilling to accept our interdependence. The pursuit of profit in all forms has removed most of us from producing our own food. The food industry does not always maintain the purest quality of food for our consumption. Our Government allocates most of our funds to war while preaching peace and democracy. Our willingness to assume personal responsibility for this crisis has been lacking, and now, time is short. The days of gradual change, the kind of change that occurs slowly and in imperceptible degrees, are done. Today, change comes fast. New Orleans, new technology, economic downturns, immigration; we are undergoing great transitions from the personal, to the professional; from the local to the Global experience change is constant, consistent, and fast.

The Opportunity

Crises are not all bad however. There is a message of goodness in crisis. Crisis exposes obsolete structures and negative habits. Crisis creates opportunities for something new and better. Crisis fosters change in new directions full of good potential. The challenge in crisis is to remain calm; and thriving requires that we keep our minds clear, relaxed, free and flexible and are able to adapt to unpredictable circumstances with great speed. During theses unpredictable times we must discipline our emotions and desires, and maintain control of our thoughts. Do this and we will make the most of crisis. Do this together, as a community, and we can build Utopia.

Putting Opportunity into Action

This theory that Utopia is possible within the chaos of crisis was put into practice this summer by 50 community members of the Pioneer Valley. Called The Harriet Tubman Healthy Living Conference, we came together to dare to live our vision of Utopia for three days. Accepting this dare was to undertake a thought experiment.

Utopia understood as Healthy Living posed a challenge. This challenge required us to anticipate and overcome the problems we might face in pursuing such a goal. How do we create a social environment that offers an antidote to the current state of the world that is not an escapist resort but a commitment to engagement with ourselves and with the world? Could we create a society that cuts across class, race, gender, able bodied and age lines? Could we create an environment where people feel welcome and safe, connected and interdependent, healthy and joyous? Could we create a place where everyone works together to supply ample provisions for the good of the whole? Could we generate an attitude where material wealth is not considered most important and the idea of private property is no longer seen as a barrier? Where the community priority is "safe space" and concepts of superiority no longer apply. A place where the community idea of crime, punishment and judgment require open dialog and the deconstruction of obstructive thought patterns that usually impede resolution. And finally, could we create a community where compassion, patience and understanding are reflected in the way we laugh and smile and cry and touch and pray….

The conference credo was freedom with responsibility. The personal challenge was to be vulnerable and open with community members allowing one's authentic self to show up. The group goal was to improve, to learn how to live in a more healthy way. Healthy for some participants meant focusing on food and nutrition while for others it meant being more caring and considerate to others. For all it meant working on one's ability to accept without judgment, maintain a safe environment, and live simple with understanding. Our itinerary was light. A few gardening sessions to reconnect with the Earth and food; martial arts and dance to enthuse the body; and there were contemplative practices like sitting, listening, meditating, dialog, silence, and time spent in nature, all to feed the mind along with poetry and song to fuel the spirit.

Our community meetings were mostly spontaneous circle gatherings in response to the anticipated conflicts that tend to occur among community members who had been denied knowledge of healthy living and the practice of Utopia. We were self-governed by a simple rule: A violation to one violates the space for all. We discovered that many of the beliefs, assumptions and behaviors that we brought from home needed to be challenged if we wanted to thrive harmoniously as a community even if just for a weekend. The work was thoroughly engaging but far from recreational. References to New Orleans, local racism in the Valley, War, immigration, and Global warming were made to remind us of the seriousness of our task.

Often we put forth effort to build community connection only in times of desperation and need, but this was a chance for us to practice what we know to be possible. How grateful am I to live with people who are working to foster community interconnection before the inevitable storm arrives. With great stamina, resolve, and compassion we worked through intensely sensitive issues. We learned how much attention, time, and patience is needed for communities to work consensually through conflict. We crossed generation gaps and class lines. We talked color and gender politics, white privilege and climate change, failing economies and how to make life in the context of a warring empire. We asked if public safety also required an inner sense of safety that only each of us could design and that only healthy living in community could cultivate. Two and three hour sessions, together, sitting listening, deconstructing, mourning, rebuilding, letting go, for each of us it was a true exercise of self healing and self mastery.
All participants were transformed. We experienced a new truth, a new possibility that life can be different, healthier than what mainstream society presents. We learned that within all the chaos and crisis of our current condition there lies an alternative path of existence that is available for all to enjoy. And it is not that difficult to reach but each of us must take the first steps toward Utopia; we must face the realities of the present age and know that it is within our power to change them.

Our ability to change our core beliefs, the reasoning behind our current behavior, is our greatest challenge as we move through the Global crises we face. It is time for us to understand responsibly that we are co-creating this reality. Our thoughts, our beliefs, our actions, our limited understanding of one another are indistinguishable reflections of what we all experience on this planet. We can change that. Paradise is available. Healthy living is available. And we found that it is closer than we normally might think. But as we know the change will come at the personal and local levels. The National and international levels will move into a higher vibration as we place our own momentum and power behind our belief in and preference for healthier ways of being. Change will come from within us. But for us to know healthier ways of being, we must practice them together and then we must spread the word. Observation and participation is the best way to teach the citizenry. No more intellectualization. No more waiting to be saved. The time has come for change; the time has come for Utopia; healthy living can be arranged.


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