After a good couple of weeks of intense learning of a different kind in England at Schumacher College, and experiencing a beautiful but different kind of community there its time to pick up on my community exploration journey again and heading for Portugal.
Tamera ecovillage is located in southern Portugal in the region of Alentejo, some 20km inland from the Atlantic coast. The ecovillage owns 130 hectares of land in the rolling hills of the area with an intense Mediterranean climate of hot and dry summers (up to 40 degrees) and mild winters (with more or less rain which can vary between 300 and 1200 mm of precipitation). The region was traditionally farmed by small scale subsidence farmers, with some livestock (largely sheep and goats), cork harvesting, olives and small scale grain production. Over the last 50 to 60 years many farms in this area where combined into larger scale industrial farms with extensive use of fossil fuels, fertilizers and pesticides. Over the years the area was more and more depopulated as most younger people were moving into the cities due to lack of opportunities and progressive desertification and soil degradation of the area made even farming more and more difficult. This has also affected the land and soils of Tamera and one main focus of the ecovillage is the restoration of natural soil and water systems in order to support the regenerative development of the ecovillage and to support the needs of humans and ecosystems.
Tamera the Healing Biotope was founded in 1995 and two of the main founding members are Dieter Duhm and Sabine Lichtenfels, both still residing in Tamera. The founding thought was to develop a non-violent life model for cooperation between human beings, animals and nature. This is reflected in Tamera’s Vision:
The Healing Biotope I Tamera is a peace research project with the goal to create a model for a future society that is free from hatred, lies, violence and fear. Tamera should become an acupuncture point of peace, a greenhouse of trust, a prototype for an existence free of fear on this planet, a post-capitalist societal model and a place where the human and meta realm of life come together.
This is reflected in Tamera’s goals, which are implemented in Tamera and elsewhere through various research projects and outreach programs worldwide:
- Development of communities where human beings can rely on each other again.
- Ending the war between the genders and the healing of love.
- Creating a way of living together, in which the sexual attraction of one to another does not cause jealousy in a third; where no hatred or competition is aroused.
- Ethics of truth, mutual support and responsible participation.
- Cooperation with nature and living non-violently with animals and all fellow creatures, even with the smallest ones.
- Creating a material basis of life that is no longer connected with the destruction of nature, exploitation or the exhaustion of natural resources.
- Regional food autonomy and ecological subsistence.
- Water and landscape healing through the creation of Water Retention Landscapes.
- Stepping out of the oil-based economy through the development of autonomous energy systems.
- Healing by way of creating healing life circumstances.
- Re-embedment of man-made systems within the higher systems of creation.
Hence, the physical environment of Tamera was designed based on Permaculture Principles from the beginning initially with support from Max Lindegger (of Crystal Waters in Australia), and later by the Austrian Permaculture teacher Sepp Holzer, who designed and helped implement an integrated water landscape, consisting of a number of large ponds and lakes, combined with terraced areas and other water retention features (e.g. ditches and swales) to retain much of the precipitation on the land and regenerate a healthy water balance and soils also supporting more intensive agriculture to support the needs (or at least parts of) the village, initially with more intense human support (e.g. extensive compost and mulch applications).
The lakes and ponds as well as 2 to 3 terraces along each water retention structure were successively constructed since 2007, with as minimal earthworks as possible but with maximum impact on ecological water systems in mind. The steep slopes of terraces are used for fruit trees and bushes to stabilize the slopes and the flat areas used for vegetables and berries supported with drip irrigation systems, with very careful zoning of tree types according to their water needs, over time developing into Food Forests and Timber Forests and soil erosion has been minimised, soil and groundwater restoration achieved and a highly resilient and balanced water system (one of the focus and research areas of Tamera being shared with the world for creation of regenerative settlements).
At the geometric and heart center place of Tamera one finds a stone circle – a community artwork, modeled after the prehistoric stone circle, Almendres, near Evora. It serves the community for prayer, meditation and celebrations. Originating at the stone circle, a network of Pilgrims Paths and geomantic power places weave throughout the landscape. These are places of contemplation, silence and communication with nature.
With currently approximately 170 people living permanently in Tamera (including around 20 children) and thousands of visitors and volunteers coming to Tamera every year during the summer season, less than 20% of required food consumed in Tamera is produced on the land. However, Tamera’s aim is not food self-sufficiency, even though Tamera has the land area to achieve this, seeds (produced on the land), water systems and soils to be self-sufficient, the focus is not on food production (but other areas – see later), but Tamera helped develop a local and regional network of sustainable food producers (some are separate ecovillages and communities as well) to provide for most of food needs of Tamera and others. Tamera is 100% self-sufficient in its water needs, 80% in energy needs, and in food <20% (with 2/3 coming from Portugal and rest from elsewhere).
Another research focus of Tamera is research in sustainable energy and living systems, undertaken by a sub-community (i.e. Solar Village or Habitat 3) of around 30 residents, who put their research effort into appropriate technologies and techniques for urban water management, urban scale high intensity farming, solar and biogas systems and more, with internally more ambitious self-sufficiency targets then the wider Tamera community. For example the Solar Village uses an outdoor (covered but no walls) community kitchen, utilizing a commercial-scale solar oven and a biogas system (using all kitchen and green waste from the village), all designed and built by and within the community (i.e. appropriate technology like if you can put together a bike or fix a lawnmower you can build this type of technology), plus solar hot water and some solar PV, providing for integrated examples of alternative living to our current outdated fossil fuels based systems, but being really sustainable and not perpetuating the industrial complex with conventional “green” solutions. Ongoing research for example also goes into development of simple small-scale and safe “commercial” biodigester systems and further development of the Stirling engine linking it to solar energy harvesting, for eventual light industrial production and use based on P2P principles. Other projects are in aquaponics, sustainable architecture and buildings etc. One current limitation for Tamera is the inability to build additional houses for living, so that some residents need to live in temporary structures, due to current land use zoning restrictions. However, Tamera is currently working with the local council to achieve a rezoning of the land for the creation of an extended village.
The community structures and workings of the Tamera community, the Healing Biotope are centered around creating and maintain a community of TRUST, TRUTH and TRANSPARENCY to achieve peaceful living together and on a larger scale to create communities and societies to avoid violence and wars, seeing the issues arising in small-scale communities as a reflection of the issues facing the whole world. The basis is to change our personal and our communities stories and narratives from violence, separation, exploitation, destruction, selfishness to a regenerative culture of love, peace, cooperation, connection, care and restoration. These are of course very ambitious aims, and some may argue this is naive and unrealistic, but this is the core work of Tamera, working as individuals and as community internally and externally and on a personal level to create the ways and approaches as well as tools to achieve these goals. Tamera, like many other intentional communities is a very good example of an incubator and laboratory for a different way of being in the world, experimenting with the creation of a regenerative culture of creating and living community and for sustainable one planet living.
One of the (many) tools used in Tamera for both personal development and community building is the FORUM (initially developed in ZEGG Community in Germany and now used at a number of communities and evolved from its original form), a form of sharing circle, but much more, a guided and facilitated open space for deep honest sharing and reflecting on all issues which one personally or the community moves and occupies at the moment, with a mirror of impressions and perspectives provided as feedback from the community spoken with a loving heart, which can help each and everyone to gain more self-knowledge, self-acceptance, trust and empowerment by learning through community much of what one may not learn on our own – the wisdom of community (noting again that this is only one of many approaches to self-development, healing and community building used but I can only provide a glimpse here and not writing a dissertation of community processes in Tamera).
An interesting aspect of living in Tamera is about decision-making also on what we would in conventional society consider our personal and individual choices we make ourselves and alone (or in a nucleus family), for a wide range of issues. For example about having children and raising children is a collective decision, of course in deep and caring cooperation with the individuals (i.e. parents or caregivers) involved. This is because particularly raising children takes the support, energy and resources of the whole village, and this is particularly true for Tamera, where raising children is literally shared by all in many different ways in genuine and mutual support, and children for example have a number of adults, who they can consider as their “parents”, and issues of children’s development and wellbeing are discussed and decided upon collectively (by consensus of course). Children also live together in a childrens village, supervised by a group of adults and most are home schooled (together). The aim is to educate children so they can trust adults and find safety in adults and others by being nurtured in mind, body and spirit to trust and feel safety, hence the need to rebel against adults, due to double standards and untruths is greatly diminished. This of course needs the self-development and ability by the adults to be and live by the basic ethics, of speaking your truth, provide and stay with genuine mutual support and have genuine participation in community and the world.
As mentioned personal and interpersonal issues are dealt with in the FORUM (which is used in various groups and sub-communities). For more formal discussions on “objective” issues there are a number of Carrier Circles on specific topics (e.g. water, children,…) with around 20 members, which discuss topics in-depth until a more or less consensus is reached, when an issue can be passed to the Plenary, where community can provide input before a decision on an issue is made. Aside from that there are also Councils (e.g. Womans (or Social), Finance, Guests, etc) with 5 to 7 members, which deal with their assigned topics in great detail in order to come to a position on a topic. One of the impressions I got from all the systems and structures used in Tamera, is not only the overall complexity of the systems and processes but more so their great flexibility and constant evolution (organically), to account for individual circumstances and needs, community needs and the ever-changing composition and character of the community itself (including generational changes) – change is the only constant. This is also reflected in the fact that approximately 30% of “work” (on average) is put into community building, social relations, education. This does not say that there would not be issues and conflicts about exactly the issues Tamera is set out to create a new culture for, like money, power, sex, love, partnerships, etc, but there are strong systems in place to successfully work through them and transform the destructive into regenerative ways of being, through trust, truth and transparency.
Love without Fear or Free Love
We are all very used to open display of anger, hate, power and violence in any public space and also online and consider this as the normal way of how things are, a force of separation. Public display of love, compassion, affection, loving kindness are more often considered a personal and to some are only in the private realm, to some extent depending on cultural context. But it is love and all facets and ways of it and all different types of love we actually look for, which is and will be the way of eventually creating regenerative social and cultural systems which will be sustainable and the regaining of connection (to ourselves, between ourselves and nature). Tamera is part of a worldwide network of Love Schools (Terra Nova), with the aim of teaching and spreading the ways to reach love without fear. Through creation of safe spaces where we can share our fears, our love, our wants and desires, and all other feelings and emotions in relation to love and fear, openly and honestly, with ourselves and others, so we can find ways to express freely and start to heal and overcome the separation, jealousy, anxieties, clinging, separation, lack of commitment, loneliness, intimacy fears, lack of truthfulness and heal traumas and shadows in many layers of our existence and develop true empathy and compassion and loving kindness. This is not only for our personal and intimate relationships, from where its needs to start from, but also for all our relations with others and community, to be able to be more open, fearless and compassionate and an eventual per-requisite for a positive and regenerative systems and cultural transformation. Tamera is running a Love School to teach Love without Fear, which most recently has gone online as well. It is also notable that for the development of communities the related issues of power, money and love are often the make it or break it issues, which if unresolved will result likely result in failure of a community (and often is for intimate relationships).
Tamera also operates a research group as part of the International Global Peace Network (IGP – currently with approximately 15 people working full-time on it from Tamera). It is based on the strong outward and outreach vision and program of Tameara starting in the early days of the community, initially with extensive involvement in Peace work in Israel-Palestine. Because Tamera sees itself as a living laboratory of alternative and peaceful, cooperative existence of humans irrespective of cultural background, religion, sex, color or creed, living this in Tamera on a daily basis of what the issues are in a village are the issues of whole societies and nations. Developing ways and real world and tested approaches for systemic social change away from competition, fear, dominance, exploitation, displacement all for the benefit of a few, to a deeply connected existence with all life systems and to create a new culture without fear and a culture of love and non-violence. Practical peace work from Tamera not only includes work in Israel-Palestine but also at the frontline peace negotiations in Columbia (also under the concept of decolonisation), models of socially just and ecological living in the Favelas of Brasil, or in Permaculture Villages in Kenya and many other places worldwide and also a number of local, regional, national and international organisations and communities (i.e. Global Campus). Now IGP at Tamera is a reference point and resource of support and expertise in the creation of socially just and sustainable communities addressing underlying systemic core issues of our problems. Much of IGP work is through networking, conventional and social media work and collaboration and with an aim to combine and environmental activism with spirituality as a more holistic and sustainable approach to this important work, through inner and outer transformation of individuals, partnerships, communities and societies as a whole, based on the concept of Interbeing. IGP also provides information and resources on inner/outer change work, blueprints for community living, development of consciousness as well on income/finance of communities. The Terra Nova School and the Global Campus support this process of planetary network-building through mental, spiritual, human and ecological education.
Money, Finances and Economics
Tamera partially utilises income sharing and as a full member of Tamera (i.e. co-worker) all basic living expenses, including all living expenses, food, health care, schooling for kids, transport, etc. are covered for all, including up to Euro 200 per month of personal money per person. However, additional income (and every co-worker is required to work standard hours in and for Tamera in the chosen area of interest (which can change by agreement), is allowed from outside sources (work or other) for personal use if so desired and similarly personal wealth (e.g. from before joining Tamera) can be retained individually (but can also be transferred to Tamera if one wishes to). The internal economy of Tamera itself is gift based and without exchange of money.
Most income for Tamera currently comes from education and training programs (seminars and workshops, horse work) operated at the Tamera campus during the summer months. Income is distributed also to the various research projects run in and from Tamera (see above but also for example a dog rescue and shelter).
Legal ownership of the land is through two separate companies and hence no personal land ownership of individuals is possible.
Becoming a member of Tamera community (i.e. Co-worker)
Because of the complexity, high level of flexibility and continuous change of how Tamera community operates, becoming a resident member of Tamera is an involved process, through which anyone who wants to join the community has sufficient time and opportunity for self-development and to gain the trust and support of the community and truly learn the inner workings of the community and also find their fitting place. The membership process generally starts with a guest program through a workshop or on-site course, through which people gain a first basic insight and understanding of the community. This, if one is interested to join, will lead to an intense one month community access program, with intensive learning and exploration of the community in all facets. If one wants to continue the process a whole winter will need to be spent in Tamera, where one is involved deeply in the running and operation of the community (including attendance of the FORUM and other community events). Any decision for acceptance of a new member (i.e. a co-worker in training, where one is still undergoing intensive training and education as well as self development processes) is discussed and decided through the FORUM and it may take between 1 to 10 years before being accepted as full member, i.e. co-worker, but generally the process would take around 3 years. Needless to say that people do also leave Tamera, some temporarily to pursue other endeavours in the world, for personal or family reasons and on occasion eventually feeling that Tamera may not be (or maybe for some time) be the “right” path and environment. On very rare occasions the community may also ask members to temporarily leave the community to resolve personal issues which may significantly impact on the community, but always with ongoing support from the community. Hence, like all other communities Tamera is in constant change, renewal and development of its members, the land and the community and therefore making it an exciting and lively place to be.
At this point I should make a disclaimer that what I have written about Tamera is of course my view of what I have learned and does in no way attempt to cover all aspects of the community but tries to give a glimpse on some aspects to convey a basic feel for the community, but acknowledging Tamera’s diverse and wide-reaching work and complexity and richness and beauty of the place.
In summary Tamera and its people have not only created a beautiful, regenerative and energetically outward looking, truly, loving and peaceful community and are truly a lighthouse of hope, of a laboratory of experimentation of new forms of living and living together and sharing the knowledge and wisdom which needs to be spread far and wide. I would say you need to visit Tamera and immerse yourself into all its diversity and depth and experience fully with your body, emotions, mind and spirit and internalise the philosophy, messages and knowledge and hopefully it lights your internal fire to join this path of personal and cultural healing and regeneration.
P.S. One purpose of my visit of Tamera was also the attendance of the International Communal Studies Association Conference, which was held early July in Tamera, but will report on it in a later post. But an amazing summary of what it takes to create and make communities last for the long term can be found in my previous blog How do Intentional Communities Last & Thrive?
Dreaming Beyond Capitalism: A culture without fear (recent article by one of Tamera’s researchers – Martin Winiecki)