Naka-Ima. This word has become an invocation of a way of being that has subtly and profoundly transformed our community here at Lost Valley. The mention of the word invokes honesty, a willingness to be seen, an intention to connect deeply; the ability, at any moment, to free ourselves of whatever we are stuck in; the awareness that being free, clear and connected is simply a choice that we can make at any time, regardless of circumstances.
Most of the people in our community would probably have agreed that these ways of being were possible before we took a workshop called Naka-Ima, back in November, 1996. At least I did. But I held them more as ideals than practical and achievable realities that I could apply to my day-to-day life. Real life, it seemed, required restraint. I couldn't really tell my deepest truths, let myself be fully seen, or be free when everyone else seemed stuck. Far too risky. And besides, my defenses had gotten me through forty years in tolerably good shape. Why give them up for ideals?
The question of ideals is what led my wife, Karin, and me to take a leap of faith a little over five years ago; we left the security of the stable and comfortable lives we had worked hard to create in Seattle to move to Lost Valley Educational Center, a rural intentional community in Dexter, Oregon. Security and comfort, it turned out, had limited value, and only seemed to give us more time to ponder our fundamental dissatisfaction, so we decided to follow our ideals. The reality, however, had problems. We came to Lost Valley in a time of major transition. For the previous year things had been going well, and a tight bond had been created among the ten adult community members. Then abruptly, within the space of just a few weeks, six of them left, for a variety of compelling personal reasons unrelated to the community.
The four who remained were in a tough spot; with the conference season rapidly approaching they needed help, so they called out to the universe and we started showing up. Grateful, they opened their arms to us, accepting pretty much everyone who came. Within a couple of months, ten new people had joined the community. Those of us who were new had no way to grasp how devastating this turnover must have been to the four original members, who had lost most of their 'family' almost as abruptly as if there had been a natural disaster, only to have them replaced by strangers. As wonderful as we may have been, we were not yet family.
For the four, there was no time to grieve, as necessary as it was. Here, suddenly, were ten of us; fresh, enthusiastic, full of our own hopes and ideas, hurts and defenses, and relatively short on experience of what it takes to make this kind of community work. The community culture, delicately woven over the previous years, couldn't survive this onslaught and rapidly unraveled. From the disturbed ground grew misunderstandings, resentments, and conflict.
We have since observed that in human community, as in other natural systems, a certain amount of change is essential to keep the community healthy, vibrant, and evolving. Too much change, however, can disastrously upset the equilibrium, throwing the system into a level of chaos from which it may be difficult to recover.
Within a year, conflict had practically paralyzed us. In our weekly 'business' meetings, where we made decisions by consensus, almost every new idea or initiative, if not rejected outright, was subtly (or not so subtly) resisted or undermined, leading the proponents to eventually give up in frustration. Some people had become so uncomfortable with each other that they would go out of their way to avoid crossing paths, and in our well-being meetings, serious concerns were expressed about 'safety.' Resentments simmered but were rarely expressed directly, except in occasional explosions of anger. At times the tension was so thick we felt like we were choking on it.
Eventually the people who were most at odds with each other left the community, and life improved. But we were far from utopia. The experience of that year left us hurt, discouraged and cautious. While the sharpest thorns were gone, the tenacious roots of our bramble were still intact and unexamined. We retreated. For about a year we accepted no new members. We all focused our energies on our individual areas of interest, and tried to stay out of each other's way. We often went for months without having our 'weekly' well-being meetings.
Gradually the wounds began to heal, or at least to hurt less. But not without a price; by the summer of '96 nearly every one of us was frustrated, dissatisfied, and considering leaving. We all agreed that if we were going to survive as a community we needed major change, which meant we would have to face our difficult issues directly.
We decided to form a 'core group,' consisting of four of us who stepped forward with the willingness to meet daily to take the lead on moving the community in a positive new direction. When this group first met, it was clear to us that to accomplish anything we needed to be able to trust each other, so we spent the first two weeks of our meetings 'many hours each day' saying what we hadn't said to each other, clearing our hurts and resentments, and holding each other accountable for our patterns. Out of this work, a new energy and openness began infusing the community.
At around this same time, I serendipitously came into contact with an old friend, Deborah Riverbend, who I hadn't seen or spoken with in many years. Deborah, along with her partner Jaime Campbell, had for the last three years been teaching a series of workshops called Naka-Ima in Nelson, a small, progressive town in British Columbia, and creating exciting results in the community there. Deborah and Jaime had developed Naka-Ima (Japanese for 'here now'), as an evolution of work initially called 'Direct Centering,' and later, 'Naexus,' which was originated by Bayard Hora and offered on the east and west coasts throughout the 80s and early 90s. When I heard what Deborah and Jaime were doing, I invited them down to give their basic Naka-Ima workshop here at Lost Valley. It sounded like it could accelerate our movement in the new direction that we were forging.
Deborah and Jaime arrived about a week before the workshop. During that week they observed and pointed out to us many ways that we were holding back with each other, operating from our defenses, and out of relationship. They reflected back to us a clear picture of how far we still had to go. Hearing the truth was both liberating and intimidating, and we went into Naka-Ima that weekend with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation.
The workshop was simple and deep. We were to focus on three basic things: recognizing and letting go of our attachments, being deeply honest with ourselves and each other, and choosing in each moment to act from our vision rather than from our 'damage.' Aside from a brief explanation of these concepts, the weekend contained almost no content or information, but consisted almost entirely of interaction, in various formats. In the mornings, we each had the opportunity to stand on a small platform in front of the room to share about ourselves and let ourselves be seen. During this time we were gently coached to notice and express whatever feelings, sensations, and ideas were coming up for us, and when we had a negative feeling, such as fear, anxiety, anger, guilt, discomfort, or pain, to find the attachment that was underlying the feeling. Once we identified and articulated the attachment (e.g., wanting control, wanting approval, wanting love...), we were asked to let go of it. We quickly discovered that letting go is a physical, visceral experience that can't be faked. When a person let go, their posture straightened, their body opened, their tension evaporated, and they became luminous; everyone in the room could experience the release. We also discovered that when we let go we were thrust into the present, where our history, our patterns, and our limiting ideas no longer had a hold on us. In that moment we were free; all choices and ways of being were available. We learned that letting go is a choice made moment by moment, not an intellectual process, and that we always have the ability to let go, no matter how intense or adverse the circumstances. We saw how much energy we expended protecting and suppressing ourselves, and how much energy was released when we revealed ourselves.
In the afternoons, seated in small groups, we encouraged each other to share the things we were afraid to reveal; our pain and fears, our vulnerability, our fragile hopes and dreams, our love and affection for each other, and our clarity, wisdom, and vision. We expressed, frankly and directly, what we saw about each other. We delved into our pasts to discover the roots of our attachments and destructive behavior patterns, and as attachments came up (which they did over and over again), we coached each other in letting go. We supported each other in moving into our emotions, surrendering and giving full expression to our anger, grief, pain, and joy. We kicked, we screamed, we laughed, we cried, coaxing each other, through each courageous act of honesty, into the present.
I remember my great relief at discovering that all my 'weaknesses' the ways that I protected and isolated myself, judged others, acted covertly, kept myself small 'my own dark and terrible secrets' were readily apparent to everyone, and always had been. But in hearing them reflected back to me, and owning up to them, their weight lifted. I could no longer use them to justify pushing love away and withholding my own love. I could be vulnerable and affectionate. I saw how, in a fundamental way, I was just like everyone else--that we all shared a common experience of humanity that transcended our differences.
By the end of the weekend, the obstacles we all had in the way of being clear, connected, compassionate, honest and powerful seemed to have dissolved, as if they never existed, leaving a room full of glowing, radiant, loving beings. While we knew that the 'glow' would come and go, and that our obstacles, defenses, wounds, and attachments would continue to play havoc with us, our relationship to them had changed. They no longer had the same power over us. We became transparent to each other, and had faith that no matter how much came up we could move through it together and get to the other side. Our community has since been in an ongoing and deepening process of transformation.
It has not always been a smooth and seamless process. We recognized soon after Naka-Ima that there were two divergent trends that had been developing in the community. Most of us wanted to move in the direction of a more cooperative and shared life together, but felt frustrated in this, as a few other members were desiring more independent lives, and had been phasing back on active participation in the community. As a small consensus group, it seemed that without a change nobody would be able to get what they really wanted. To those of us who held the cooperative vision, it seemed necessary to break with precedent and ask the others to leave, freeing the energy to move forward; we didn't feel we had enough of a foundation to tolerate that kind of diversity. This was the first in a series of courageous and risky choices that we would have to take to restore our integrity as a community.
With a clear direction to move in, we began discarding our limiting ideas of how we should be together and reinventing our relationships to reflect our desire for intimacy, connection, and cooperation. We took many big steps. To further cooperation, we dropped the jobs and roles that we had staked out for ourselves and created teams. We decided as a group that we would hold responsibility for each individual's welfare and developed a more shared economic system, valuing all work equally. The line between our well-being and business meetings began to blur, well-being could not be compartmentalized, but was an essential part of everything, and we began taking the time, no matter what we were doing, to stop and address issues, conflicts and hurts. We made space for each other to have our feelings, anytime. We also began learning and incorporating other tools, such as Re-evaluation Counseling and ritual, and we've kept going deeper with each other, ever more freely sharing our visions and struggles.
About a year after Naka-Ima, we invited Deborah and Jaime down to give their second level workshop, 'The Practice.' Subtitled 'a course in creating intimacy and community through the practice of honesty,' it gave us additional tools and experience to draw upon. We delved into areas that we had never explored together as a group, such as our relationships with our bodies, our self-expression, physical intimacy, death, and power, and probed more deeply into our pasts, finding and beginning to clear the sources of our patterns. We learned effective approaches for keeping our relationships clear through taking responsibility for our own judgments, emotions, and beliefs. We also danced wildly, laughed at ourselves and each other, and learned how to have outrageous fun together.
We've continued holding Naka-Ima workshops here at Lost Valley regularly, sharing what we've learned with others. It has become a natural expression of our community life, and a way to recharge and re-inspire ourselves; to give ourselves permission and time to dive fully into the intensity. Karin and I began teaching early last year, and at each workshop many of our community participate as assistant facilitators. Several community groups have come for Naka-Ima, usually facing challenges similar to or even greater than those we faced. They have all left with a renewed sense of hope and possibility, although the outcome has not always been as anticipated. In one case, several of the community members saw that it was their next step to move on from their community to pursue other visions, essentially dissolving the community.
Over these last few years of working with our own and other communities we've learned some important lessons. We've seen that on the surface our conflicts seem to be about ideologies, priorities, and values, all of which seem to come to a head around such charged issues as children, food, pets, and recently, Y2K. When we look a little deeper, we see that the 'charge' usually comes from fear, guilt, or resentment. When we look deeper still, we find core attachments: wanting approval, wanting control, wanting love, wanting to be seen. Underlying these core attachments are old hurts, often from the first years of our lives. When conflict arises now, we usually go straight for the deeper layers.
We've also learned that the little things in our relationships--the little hurts, the small resentments, the petty judgments we have about each other--have a subtle yet pervasive undermining effect that severely limits what is possible in our relationships. Even a small degree of mistrust can prevent us from really risking with each other--from revealing to each other our precious, vulnerable hearts. Uncleared, this can quickly spiral downward into deadness, disconnection, avoidance, deeper resentment, and conflict.
A tool that we use regularly at our well-being meetings to keep our relationships clear is called 'milling' and could be helpful for anyone in community. In milling, we all stand up and 'mill' around, until each person finds a partner. Each pair hold hands, look into each other's eyes, and whoever feels moved to speak first gets to talk. The other person listens, but does not respond. The instruction for the person speaking is to say whatever you need to say to bring you closer to your partner; to create more intimacy and connection. This may be something you've been holding on to (e.g., 'I felt hurt the other day when you...'), a resentment you've been carrying (e.g., 'I'm pissed that you ate the last brownie and didn't wash the pan'), a judgment about the other person, gratitude or appreciation that you haven't expressed, something you've been withholding or haven't wanted to reveal about yourself, or anything that comes up spontaneously in the moment that makes you feel more open-hearted and connected. It's important to emphasize that people talk about themselves, taking responsibility for their emotions, opinions, and judgments, and that the person listening doesn't answer, agree, or disagree, but just lets it in. This is not a discussion, but an opportunity to give or receive, depending on whether you're the speaker or listener. When the speaker is complete, the listener says 'thank you' and each moves on to find another person. It's fine to come back to the same person later, but only after being with at least one or two other people first. The interactions are generally brief, from 30 seconds to two or three minutes. We usually run this process anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes, or until everyone feels complete. No matter how disconnected, distracted or grumpy we may be when we begin, milling always pulls us rapidly into the present and melts our defenses. We can feel the energy in the room tangibly shift as we do this. Milling keeps the slate clean. And it doesn't need to be limited to structured occasions, like meetings. Milling is a way of life!
The biggest lesson we've learned over the last few years is that sustainable community must have at its foundation sustainable relationships; relationships that give us more than they take from us, that nourish, enliven, and inspire us, that are a continual source of energy, and support us in becoming fully ourselves. From this free flow of energy between hearts, synergy is created and we experience an infinite well from which to draw upon. When we all open our hearts to each other we transcend our limitations and enter into a different reality. Suddenly everything seems different. Anything seems possible. At Lost Valley we have committed to making our relationships with each other the most important thing we're doing together; to value our love and intimacy with each other over results and accomplishments, to be courageous and take risks with each other. We continually affirm our intention to deepen our connections, and we have become less tolerant of our separateness, isolation and disconnection.
This hasn't eliminated conflict from our community. Conflict seems natural and inevitable when a group of passionate people are sharing their lives together. But we no longer resist it, ignore it, or try to tiptoe around it. We embrace it. We've come to see conflict as an opportunity to identify our patterns of protection, to uncover and heal our old wounds and distress; as an essential step in our growth and liberation as individuals and as a community. We're willing to stop what we're doing at any time when the energy isn't freely flowing to address it, get to the root of it, and clear it. We've accepted that this is not an instant process, nor a tidy one; becoming whole is a lifetime endeavor, and lifelong patterns don't give up the ghost without a fight. Sometimes we fall back on our denial and avoidance for days or weeks until it gets unbearable. But eventually someone always musters up enough courage or annoyance to get up and shout 'enough!' And sometimes it gets messy. We stomp and scream, rant and rave, act out like children, let it all hang out. But it never gets boring!
Larry Kaplowitz lives with his family at Lost Valley Educational Center, in Dexter, OR, where he teaches Naka-Ima workshops, and serves as conference coordinator and associate editor/art director of Lost Valley's internationally distributed magazine, Talking Leaves. Larry is particularly interested in offering Naka-Ima to communities, organizations and groups of people who are deeply involved with each other. You can contact him at: Lost Valley Educational Center, 81868 Lost Valley Lane, Dexter, OR 97431; (541) 937-3351; firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about Lost Valley's programs, call or write for a catalog or check out their web site at www.lostvalley.org.