Imagine entering a spacious room with comfy sofas and colorful walls, with warm lights creating a cozy atmosphere. People are sitting in a circle on a red round carpet. In the middle, there are flowers and candles nicely arranged, and a circle of little items – rocks, wood pieces and leaves – around it. As you take a seat, you meet the soft smiles and gentle gazes of the other humans, who seem just as open and curious as you are. You don’t even know their names yet, but soon they will become your tribe.
Ena, the facilitator, starts reading a poem. It is called The invitation.
“It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing. It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive. I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it. I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, remember the limitations of being human…”
This was our start at the 5th edition of “Youth on earth – yes we (c)are”. A Youth Exchange, which took place between 23rd of August and 4th of September at the ZEGG Ecovillage in Germany. The training, financed by the Erasmus+ framework, aims to provide time and space to ask yourself fundamental questions such as: What do I truly long for? How and why do we humans seek for connection? What is the authentic me, when I can explore freely my strengths and boundaries? What do we miss out by being detached from the Earth, and how can we rebuild closeness with nature?
This space is the place
The ZEGG ecovillage – Center for Experimental Cultural Design – where this Erasmus+ project takes place, is just the perfect setting for detoxing and unveiling our natural desires. Born from a group of 40 people willing to break social norms and experimenting with free love and communitarian living in the late ‘60s, today ZEGG has institutionalized itself as a (nearly) self-sustaining little village where over 100 people live, work and share the endeavor of trying to build a different model of society. Just one hour outside of Berlin, this oasis of wooden houses, common spaces and vegetable gardens hosted us for 13 days providing a safe space where we could emancipate ourselves from the conditioning of mainstream culture and the overwhelming rhythm of the capitalistic system. We also had the pleasure to share time with members of the community as well as to contribute to community work. We learnt a lot about sustainable and regenerative ways of living by helping and working in the garden and in the kitchen, as well as taking care of the common spaces.
Time is perceived differently when you spend time in a community. It both expands and flies by. While we could be very often tired, we would seldom feel bored or anxious. We were always grounded in the present, detoxing from digital stress, enjoying the flow. We could also appreciate more our relation with food, by coming back to a simpler diet based on the vegetables and fruits we would help to harvest and cook, and also by exploring the sensual potential of eating as humans originally did, with our bare hands (thanks Andrea for the inspiration!).
In addition to time with the ZEGG community, everyday we would have activities with our group, composed of young people coming from all over Europe. Each day was dedicated to exploring a specific topic, such as self-awareness, communication and relations, connection with nature or queer theory. As days passed, we dived into more sensitive topics, which we seldom address in society – such as love, relationships, money, identity. The overall journey was built to connect increasingly deeper with each other, while endowing us with the tools to take care of ourselves. We asked questions about topics that are not usually addressed in our current culture, as they require dedicated time and genuine curiosity to be talked about. We didn’t find definitive answers, but rather meaningful insights and spiritual nourishment to continue exploring with renewed energy.
Inclusivity through twofold care: for myself and for the other
We started talking about our minds and bodies: we learnt about the nervous system and our automatic responses, exploring how mind and body are intertwined. If we conceptualize emotions as signals that our body sends us, we can become able to respect ourselves more and set healthy boundaries. This led us to the topic of consent, and we practiced how to say no as much as how to be at ease receiving a no. This activity already contributed to creating a safe space, where we could rely on shared understandings (social norms) of mutual acceptance and respect. We learnt that authentic care, to be there for the other, also involves respecting our own needs. Since then, we would welcome with gratitude when the other was setting their boundaries, as we could see it also meant taking care of the relationship.
We worked a lot on how to be there for each other with genuine presence. We practiced deep listening and we often gave each other mirrors. An exercise we did was about stopping the speaker when we felt we needed a moment to interiorize what was being said. This simple gesture, far from being rude, made the listener and the speaker closer and more connected, as both would trust that they would interact with honesty and respect for their own boundaries.
If you imagine relationships as flows of connection, you can visualize them as rivers, with rocks and stones getting in the way of the flow. Usually it is difficult to identify what lies underneath the surface and blocks the water: maybe once I said “Hi” and you didn’t greet me back, or maybe you remind me of someone I previously knew, or maybe something else entirely. Yet, there might be stones holding me back from connecting more freely with you. By naming and expressing these stones, directly yet carefully, we can clear the waters and unblock the flow. We practiced this, with a “withhold sharing” exercise, a very powerful tool which allowed us to see each other better, to build trust, to practice non-violent communication, and eventually to foster more authentic connections. We discovered that we cannot give love without receiving it back.
Exploring authenticity and deep reconnection
As we walked in our common space, we knew some inner work was awaiting us. Through an exercise called “Core-Ring Model”, one day we walked through the rings that form our personality: the image of ourselves we cling on to conform, the strategies we developed to bear the expectations of the dehumanizing system we usually live in. As soon as we unveiled what is concealed underneath the surface, we met the emotions we were trying to suppress, the feelings we were trying to avoid. And as we allowed ourselves to descend deeper into our inner self, we found a core transcending the boundaries of the self, an essence expanding and melting beyond the ego.
As time passed, we felt more and more comfortable to open up and show ourselves. By sharing and holding space, in one-to-one settings as well as in a circle or a Forum, we cultivated more and more intimacy. The Forum, in particular, was a life-changing experience for (at least) some of us. In Forum, one can bring their personal process as an exemplar of something that transcends their personal history and reconnects with a universal human topic. In Forum, one can explore and share what is alive in them with the support of a circle of humans holding the space with willingfull presence. A facilitator guides participants through the unfolding of what is there and needs to come to light, in a powerful group experience that is impossible to reduce to words.
The forest surrounding the ZEGG ecovillage also was part of our tribe. Ascending from the self to something deeper and higher, we moved beyond the boundaries of human relations to reconnect with nature as well. Through a nature walk and blind exploration, we experienced the power of just being with the natural world, grounding our senses in the smells and textures of trees, muss and foliage, in the chants of birds and the humidity of the soil. We came together as pieces of nature and society who are connected through one only breath. We redefined love, expanding what is possible in care and connection with natural beings – as natural beings, too.
All life comes from the sea
As the day of departure was approaching, a nuance of nostalgia started accompanying us. How can you leave a place that feels like home, a group that feels like a tribe? The time we spent together was so intense: rich with meaningful connections, enlightening insights, and dances, and laughters, and tears. We showed our most vulnerable wounds and felt welcomed with unconditional acceptance. We discovered ourselves interconnected as ecosystems and savored the immense power of love. How can we now return to our usual life? “What do we want to bring home?”, we asked each other during one of the last sessions. Each of us had their own beautiful answer, which will accompany us as a warm light as we travel back home through Europe. But one intuition will accompany us all: the awareness that connection is essential to human life. Living a meaningful life is possible, if we just dare to be authentic. Let’s spread the word, let’s help each other. Whisper to the souls: Breath. Ground yourself, feed your roots. Nourish your flame. Keep your heart open. Reconnect. Hold space for others and for yourself. Feel the love, and share it.
Now take a deep breath, and read slowly, as Loki put the essence of this whole experience in more beautiful words.
In a world where hearts ache to understand, The pain of empathy is like shifting sands.
We carry the burdens of others’ despair, Their hopes and sorrows, heavy to bear.
In the depths of their darkness, we often reside, Feeling their struggles, on this emotional tide.
Empathy’s weight, a relentless chain, A relentless storm, a never-ending rain.
But in the midst of this empathetic strife, We yearn for a taste of a different life.
A realm where love flows, unchained and free, In the dance of passion, where we long to be.
Free love, they call it, an anthem of hearts, Where judgment departs, and affection imparts.
In this boundless ocean, our spirits take flight, Unshackled by boundaries, we bask in the light.
In free love’s embrace, we find our release, A symphony of desire, a timeless peace.
No walls to confine, no judgment to bind, Just love unbridled, our souls intertwined.