“Applying awareness in daily life”
Lilleoru – The Valley of Flowers Ecovillage was the location of the GEN Europe 2018 Conference under the theme “Wisdom of Conscious Communities” which was held here in July where we had nice and warm to hot summer weather. I will create a separate blog post on my impressions from the GEN conference shortly.
However, because I spent a couple of weeks in Lilleoru, for the GEN conference followed by a week-long GEN training of trainers I got a good impression of the community, which I would like to share here.
Lilleoru is located some 25 kilometers south of Tallin, the capital city of Estonia, and is the same distance from the coast of the Baltic Sea. It and is surrounded by forests, pastures and fields on flat plains typical for most of Estonia (as part of the Eastern European Plains) which are intermingled with creeks, small lakes and bogs. Estonia, outside its few cities and towns is sparsely populated (30 people/sq km on average) and with a total population of 1.3 million people but a land area comparable to that of the Netherlands or Denmark. One of the Baltic nations (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), Estonia gained its independence 100 years ago (1918), now part of the EU and Euro Zone, with a long turbulent history of occupation and/or dependence from Nordic countries, Germany and Russia as well the Soviet Union after WWII until 1991. But culturally closely related to Finland (which is a stonethrow away, or 2.5 hours by ferry to Helsinki from Tallin), with a closely related language of similar origin (finno-ugric language group, to which amongst others Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian fall into).
Estonia lies geologically just south of the Baltic Shield, an area of mostly very old crystalline rocks, but comprises palaeozoic limestones, marls, dolomites and sandstones at depth (with some interesting karst springs not far from Lilleoru). However, the recent geology and dominating landscapes were formed during and shortly after the ice ages during which thick inland ice masses covered the country, depositing sediments (tills) and landforms from glaciers (moraines, osers, eskers etc) and sediments in streams and into lakes transported from further north in Scandinavia. The retreat of the ice shield resulted in the gradual lifting of the land above sea level (due to the removal of the weight of the ice sheets) and regression of the Baltic Sea. Young soils formed since after the retreat of the glaciers starting approximately 12,000 years ago, including large areas of peaty soils where the water table is at or near the surface.
Estonia is situated climatically in the temperate zone. It is characterised by rather warm summers (influenced by the European-Russian Plains) and moderately mild winters (influenced by the Baltic Sea). The climate is generally humid with annual precipitation of up to 700 mm/year, most of it falling between April and October.
Naturally, the landscape is dominated by mixed cool climate forests, mostly of pines, spruce, birch and aspen and widespread bogs, fens, mires, marshes and wetlands as well as grasslands in areas which were clearfelled and mowed and pastured. Nearly half of the country is still forested, grasslands cover some 20% of the land and peatlands close to 30%.
The ideas for creating a community, now the ecovillage of Lilleoru, goes back into the years of Soviet rule in the country, which lasted until 1991. Alternative (to what was state sanctioned) ideas and lifestyles were prohibited, but were still developed and followed in secret and underground by some, particularly in the capital city Tallin. In those days, one of the initial founders (Ingvar Villido) was learning extensively about development of consciousness and spirituality. And after the fall of the communist regime and independence and opening up of the country, openly offered courses on development of consciouness for interested people. This was becoming very popular with Estonians and lots of retreats were offered in Tallin and elsewhere. But no retreat center existed at that time. In the early 1990s, Ingvar had the intention to build a family home on land of an old farm, which was left vacant during Soviet times and was partly reclaimed by forest. He was given part of the farm land by an old woman who owned it but could not use it herself and had not successors.
The story of Lilleoru starts with holding summer camps and retreats on the land in the early 1990s for people interested in development of their consciousness and spirituality, but only using temporary shelters at that time. Due to increased popularity Ingvar decided to build a retreat centre, the “School of Practical Awareness” (teaching the Art of Conscious Change and a practice called Kriya Yoga) with the help and materials and labour provided by volunteers. This was the first retreat and guest house at the site, where up to 100 people resided at a time during retreats in what could be considered an average size house, including all necessary facilities (kitchens, cellar, sauna, storage, sleeping quarters, ablution blocks etc). In those early years more land was provided to Ingvar (in total 30 hectares, with forest and pastures) and only through many donations, volunteer work and dedication (e.g. much of the land had to be cleared of regrowing forest first), more and more infrastructure slowly grew, like an apartment block, a sawmill, workshops, permaculture garden (1 ha) glass houses etc.), swimming ponds, sweat lodges, …. The land and gardens have the potential for much more food production then is done at the moment, because of lack of gardeners and/or farmers amongst residents. Hence, because the ecovillage is a learning center there are often many guests (who live in the retreat center) to cater for (up to 100) at a time. Therefore, the ecovillage does not at the moment achieve food self-sufficiency, but buys in products from surrounding (mostly organic) farms in the region (e.g. Yoghurt and candles from nearby Camp Hill Farm) and also allows bulk buying for village residents.
Since the mid 2000s a process of design and planning houses for people who wanted to study and stay commenced, and they immersed themselves in a process of co-design and co-development of an ecovillage and embarking on a learning journey for the community. More and more private homes (owned by individuals/families) were built over the last ten years or so on small standard size blocks in an area called the Earth Sky Village and currently contains 12 single home, 6 semi-detached cottages and 3 small cottages (plus the pre-existing 10 room apartment building with shared facilities) housing 60 residents (including 13 children) altogether (ranging between 2 and 10 people per home). Due to restrictive planning rules no more permanent houses can be built on the land (it needs 2 ha of land per dwelling) at the moment. Hence some plans for other ecovillages nearby exist already or are in progress to create something like a network of intentional communities. The houses are buildt in very individual styles and designs and of many different materials, but mostly with natural materials (lots of timber which is very abundant in the country, strawbales and others and sustainability features (e.g. geothermal heating), showing a very careful planning and design process.
The community also has a range of shared spaces, like the new multifuntional learning center (still in expansion phase), four community houses, offices, accommodation, temples, dhunis (fire ceremony ground), native American tipi, various greenhouses, sheds, workshop, sawmill, summer cottages, shop, and a number of composting toilets.
The aim of Lilleoru is that of a training centre and intentional community, designed and built with an aim to support the conscious and holistic development of a human being.
The governance and decision-making system of the ecovillage is that the land is owned by an NGO with currently 135 members, many of them do not live in the community, but are related and connected to it and do support it in various different ways. Day to-day decisions are made in topical management teams (e.g. gardens, visitors) by the people involved and responsible for these areas. A management circle exists which deals with important, legal, financial and economic as well as operational decisions. More substantial, or overarching decisions are made by the full circle of all members meeting 3 to 4 times a year. At the side of this, quasi sociocratic structure, sits an advisory panel, of some experienced village members, who provide support and advice if and when required. There is no pre-defined decision-making process used, but is described that decisions are made collaboratively and with high levels of good will. This is because most residents are practitioners of Kriya Yoga with high levels of personal awareness and consiousness, personal management skills, interpersonal training and conflict resolution skills – something I see as a core foundation of a functional community to create the interpersonal relations and trust and ability of each and every member to maintain them (and of course NVC is core to it in any case).
Lilleoru sees itself as a community of learning and development of consciousness. Therefore, in the last five years a new main building to become a new Learning School and Education and Work Space was under construction, out of mostly volunteer work and crowdfunding and help from many people interested in alternative ways of living, Hence, an interesting experiential build (half complete) with interesting elements of very large timber beam construction combined with strawbales, ground source heat pump, onsite waste water treatment system, water supply from own well, solar hot water, etc) and much more to come to house the future retreat, learning and immersion center.
Some, but not all residents of Lilleoru are involved in operating the school and learning center and its learning offerings, supplementary income is also generated through creating herbal teas (which are also used in the village and school) from forest and meadow herbs collected in the areas surrounding the village and the flower of life (see below). Some people gain their income from work outside the village as well.
One of the gems or the heart of Lilleoru is the Flower of Life park – a large area (1 ha) of stone wall structures in the shape of a flower (when seem from above) – based on the ancient pattern of creation, beautifully landscaped with flower and herb beds and trees, with sacred spaces from various spiritual traditions from around the world, open to all people for all times. The park symbolizes the unity of human essence – universal wisdom and harmony that belongs to us all. It is beyond a particular religion or spirituality belonging to all of humanity. A sacred space for meditation and contemplation and source of energy and for finding clarity and a geometric representation of the creative processes of life, the original language of the universe.
What holds Lilleoru together is the spiritual aspect of the Art of Conscious Change and what flows from it as personal awareness and development and interpersonal and other spiritual as well as practical skills, essentially a spiritually oriented community with other aspects of the ecovillage development dimensions used and implemented similar found in other communities.
During my visit in Lilleoru I found it a very pleasant environment, calming even amidst the turbulence of a large conference and training program, aside from the astonishing well organised and managed place and impressed by the openness and helpfulness of people being there what appeared them being present 24 hours a day. It is an open and welcoming place, for visitors, volunteers and interested people wanting to know of either one or all aspects of life in the Valley of Flowers, or follow their spiritual development or live in an intentional community and ecovillage. Certainly an interesting place for spiritual seekers but anyone else interested in a well-functioning community in this neck of the woods, well worth a visit if you come to Estonia one day (by itself a nice and pleasant country to visit – except if there are too many Cruise Ships in Tallin ;-).
New Book featuring Lilleoru Ecovillage: “Ecovillages around the World; 20 Regenerative Designs for Sustainable Communities”
The Flower of Life Parkt