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December 2005


Learning from other communities

- Priya Sundaravalli

Ambre, an Aurovilian from the early days, speaks out on the decline of community spirit and the urgent need for community building


There are few moments when we come together as a community – some celebrations or the times of tragedy when we lose someone. But is this all? Is Auroville truly a community? Is it a conscious community?

“We never talk about it,” says Ambre, one of the early Aurovilians, but she feels that the community spirit in today's Auroville is at its lowest.

“I remember when very close friends of mine left Auroville. They were people who had been here a long, long time, and they left with a lot of sadness. It was a terrible thing for them. But Auroville as a community has never tackled such issues. When people are here 10, 20 or even 30 years and they are leaving, the community should really ask what does that mean, and what could have been done to support them, or enter into some kind of communication with them.”

Ambre (far left) with visitors from Tamera (Portugal) and Zegg (Germany)
For several years, Ambre has been researching how communities function. She has visited several communities in Europe, including Damanhur in Italy , Tamera in Portugal , Findhorn in England , and several in Germany – Oekodorf, Zegg, 7Linden, etc. “I like to communicate with other groups and get inspiration and be challenged from them,” she says. She confesses that she does not get enough of that here in Auroville.

What interests Ambre is community spirit, and how it gets created. “None of these communities are as old as we are, nor as big. Auroville is the biggest intentional community in the world, though I hear that the Vissarion community in Siberia has crossed the 2000 mark. Auroville is also the most diverse and spread apart, a quality that may be challenging to community-building. But almost all these others express community spirit more strongly than we do.”

The secret Ambre feels, is that they all have structures for sharing. “Times for sharing are given much importance. Perhaps this is what we need to learn here.” But would that be possible in Auroville? Ambre believes it is. While acknowledging that our preoccupation with work or the great physical distances may be reasons that separate us in Auroville, she feels that we still need to come together. “Not as working groups, but as sharing circles, from a human point of view – where we can talk about where we are with our inner difficulties and get listened to. Because I believe most people here are working within, and doing inner work. And even in such situations, the collective can be a useful mirror to reflect how we are received and get supported.

“Some of us do that in our little communities. We have that in the greenbelt, for example. Perhaps as we grow bigger and bigger, these small communities will create ripple effects and extend over all Auroville.”

She also observes that each of these European communities has a special focus. One of her favourites, Tamera in Portugal , which she visits frequently, works consciously on gender issues. “Men-women issues, relationship issues, the love theme, which is one of the biggest issues in our life, not to confuse it with romantic love – but we never talk about these things here.” Several of Temera's residents also came to experience Auroville. “They, too, are searching for spiritual insight and new ways in their lives. Spirituality is becoming stronger and stronger everywhere in the West. People look upon Auroville as a possibility, and some even decide to come back as newcomers.”

The newcomer process is another area that Ambre sees has great potential to build community. “A lot of our newcomers are leaving. Why? What I hear is that newcomers feel very much isolated, unsupported, not really getting much direction or feeling Auroville is unwelcoming. If they cannot feel community spirit, or if they don't enter into it, then it is no surprise that many choose to leave.”

Ambre sees a simple remedy to the issue. “We should learn from what the communities outside do – learning to share from the beginning by working together with people in groups. I am sure we could eliminate the entry process – getting together, sharing and studying, providing feedback and mirroring, and giving people the learning experience of community and building community. If we could work together towards creating a situation of trust, transparency and support, newcomers would eventually stay longer because they have found some kind of support here. This is what people are longing.

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