A shared living space dedicated to a model of supportive coaching acquired from the Academy for Coaching Excellence…
In the pit of my stomach I feel a cocktail of emotions: excitement, anxiety, uncertainty about a new beginning. Today is the day. I am officially starting my intentional community project. I had already done day visits with a few communities in Oregon and Tennessee, however I now had an intent. For the next two months I would be spending every day in communities throughout Northern California and sharing my experiences with the world in the hopes of normalizing alternative styles of life, stifling judgements, and in that way bringing humanity a little bit closer together.
I walked up the sidewalk to the large Victorian home I would be spending my next three days in. Large staircases led up to the front door from either direction. The door was massive with an elegant lion-faced knocker on the front. I felt like I was approaching a palace. This palace is called The Hearth; also known in the Oakland community as the Coaching House.
I was greeted by a kind smile and the delightful aroma of roasting veggies. Jeremy would be my informal interviewee for the evening. His energy was very welcoming and I was pleased at how willing he was to share stories about his personal experiences with community living.
He is the leader of the community here however he made a point to express that his goal is to lift the others in the house to a point that the Coaching House could continue on even if he were no longer around (or hit by a bus to as he playfully puts it). Everyone is involved in decision making and has the ability to propose ideas. He and I chatted over a delicious dinner of quinoa, veggies, and his delicious homemade garlic cashew sauce.
I learned that this was not his first time living in an intentional community. He started his experience with a shared living space in college. He enjoyed living closely with others but felt there wasn’t enough of a community aspect there, which led him to later living in one of the first communes to organize in the states. This was the Ananda community in Grass Valley. (Check out my previous article on my experience with their sister community in Hillsboro, Oregon!) Ananda is a very spiritual community that believes your environment strongly influences your willpower to devote yourself to your spirituality. Therefore, members immerse themselves in a blissful practice of yoga, meditation, and kirtan. Leaving in a blissful high, he was well inspired to start something new.
Fast forward to a kitchen full of friends making breakfast before heading to work. They were a team working on a side project to merge with the Academy for Coaching Excellence. This academy is working towards a world where everyone is supported and no one is left behind. The coaching model taught involves supporting others in their passions and struggles, encouraging communication, and strategically helping others to find answers to their questions within themselves.
“Wouldn’t it be great if we could do this every morning? Just get together with all of our best friends, make yummy food, and geek out about coaching!?”
And the idea was born. One thing about being a group of coaches is that any idea that is presented is going to come to fruition as that is their job- to encourage you to chase your dreams! They soon had an agreement written up and signed by ten members of the group to commit to creating a house of coaches. They began having meetings to figure out where they were going to live, what their vision of the house was going to be, and how they were going to pull this off. That is when the first lesson in creating a successful community arose for Jeremy.
The group was working on setting the vision statement with the help of the book Creating a Life Together by Diana Leafe Christian. Jeremy proposed that they make it a requirement for those living in the house to make the coaching model a way of life and integrate the philosophy into everything they do- their work, home life, relationships, and in their everyday interactions with the world. Some would make coaching their career whereas others would find ways to integrate it into their work. As they went around the group most of the members said that this aligned with what their hopes were for the home. However three friends were simply looking for a community and did not want this integral value to be placed at the center of it all. Many members changed their vote as they did not want to leave these friends out. Jeremy accepted that his vision was not going to come to fruition.
A chat with his personal coach, Zo, put him in one of the hardest situations he had faced so far in his life. His coach encouraged him to write down a list of seven people that would be in alignment with his original vision for the house, including those who had changed their votes out of fear of harming a relationship with a close friend. And so he risked it all to pursue his dream. He connected with each individual one on one to see what their true feelings were about the future of the home and soon realized that Zo was right; most of them were truly aligned with his original vision. As hard as it was, they confronted the three friends. It was tough to do but it worked out in the end and they are all still close friends. This taught them the valuable lesson that a shared value and goal is crucial to the success of an intentional living community. The house immediately rewrote their vision and expectation of the community to be sure they were very clear on the intent of the home to new recruits.
Vision is clearly important in the creation of an intentional living environment. But more is needed to maintain a successful community in the long term. Over time they have put systems in place to keep everything operating smoothly. They created a chore chart, downloaded an app to help them split their finances, and adopted another app to keep a running list of needed household items and groceries that they could all access from their own phones and laptops. They also created a decision making process which they call alignment. This system differs from the typical consensus based model used in communities as it doesn’t allow for the option of a standby. When standbys are allowed, the group can move forward even when some members are not in alignment with the decision. The alignment model has members either state they are willing or not willing and does not move forward until all are willing. Therefore this opens up communication about possible concerns and alternative ideas.
These are just a few of the many systems in place in the house, and they are always adjusting systems and adding new ones as needed. (For example I witnessed the need of a new system with a new addition to the home- an adorable fluffy Shih Tzu named Mateo with the cutest over bite you’ve ever seen!) And their hard work truly paid off. They had Diana Leafe Christian over for dinner one night and she told them that they were the smoothest operating community she had ever visited- the highest compliment an intentional living community can receive as she has visited all of the infamous groups throughout the country and has a wealth of experience on the matter.
The ongoing support and encouragement in the house works as a launch pad for those who come through the Hearth. Individuals are taught to be able to express what it is that they need from others and their environment. People are pushed to follow their passion and are given all the emotional support needed to find what it is they are meant to be doing and chase after it. The house works as an accelerator for human excellence and it is amazing to see the results that come out of it. However there is one drawback to this that they have encountered. The members are leaving to chase their dreams.
They are leaving to pursue great things that will greatly benefit their lives and the world. However it has been so successful many members have plans to move on to pursue the next step in their lives. They are currently working hard to recruit new members to join their home. This reality has also led Jeremy to consider the creation of a Coaching House 2 in the future: an intergenerational community where the vision is based around a long term living situation incorporating coaching as a way of life.
So you know all the logistics of the community and feel like you pretty well understand them, right? This is how I felt as I went to bed the first night as well. And in a sense it was true. My second day was mostly spent alone. I spent many hours simply admiring the home. There was a room with dark wooden floors and walls and a fireplace in the center of the wall on the far side of the room. The room enveloped you in warmth and invited you into the home. The tapestries and art work hung through the Hearth reminded me of my old dwelling back in Chicago. The living room boasts large floor to ceiling windows revealing a beautiful patio area adorned with flowers, succulents, stones, and seating. One bedroom had a small sanctuary area with wooden tables made of smoothed driftwood and topped with crystals and plants with instruments leaning on its sides. My favorite room of all had a carpeted foie area that stepped up to a bedroom that reminded me of a castle. It had tall chapel inspired ceilings adorned with decorative wallpaper that brought about feelings of divinity and spirituality. I couldn’t help but feel a comforting rush of excitement as I spun around taking it all in.
I also spent a good amount of time writing in the living room in hopes of getting the chance to interact with more members of the community or capture some great moment. However, the house is pretty quiet; the members are very active in the community and so don’t really spend much time at home, or together at all really it seems. I was starting to feel that maybe this was more of a general friendship/roommate situation. And just as I was losing hope and planning to call it a night I got a glimpse into the community that gave me more than I could have asked for.
The community was gathered in the kitchen, some making dinner and some making tea. I watch the members share a warm embrace as they giggle and share how much they’ve missed each other’s presence during the passing holiday. Tresne had just found received an acceptance email for an interview to a very prestigious New York medical school. They turned on music and began to celebrate. I sat back sipping an herbal tea while watching them dance, hug, give each other massages, and rejoice in their community member’s new opening path in life. Rachel coached Tresne on how she knew her fellow house member could beat the 1/10 odds and get accepted due to an energy and personality that the others could not beat. The love was radiating in the room.
From an outside point of view it may look like more of a roommate situation with like-minded individuals working towards a common goal. However from where I sit on the inside it is clear this is a stronger bond then a roommate, or even a friendship. It is clear that even being upon a time of great transition the house still lives in great harmony with each other. They have grown to truly be a loving, supportive family. A full functioning and successful community working to lift the world to a place where all human interaction can be this positive and genuine. It is a really beautiful thing to witness and I will be forever grateful to have been a part of it.
Beyond this, I was granted the chance to really get to know some of the people living in the Hearth… and they are all genuinely beautiful and courageous individuals. There is the inspiring leader who stubbornly and carefully chased his passion to create this cohousing community. There is Rachel who opened up to me about her dream to expand on her teaching career by traveling to Japan to study the profound effects of environment and support in the learning process that is being integrated into their systems in a really provocative way. Tresne is about to take a journey to work in Mexico City and then begin an even longer journey studying to be a doctor.
Jeremy C. passionately spoke to me about how he up and quit his job to pursue his passion of supporting diversity and inclusion in schools, the work place, and society at large via coaching and multiple art forms. He is currently in the process of creating his own webpage to support this dream. Johana works at a youth shelter and joyously told me of a case where an undocumented student who had been kicked out of his house for his relationship preferences was helped to become legal, stay in school, and find housing and healthcare. Anastasia told me how she is following her heart back home to Seattle where her family is. She kindly spoke to me about how it would be hard to leave such a fulfilling life here in Oakland however she knew this is where her heart belonged and so is deciding to listen and follow that urge. She hopes to work in environmental justice on a community level there. Her eyes light up at the thought of being able to bring a contribution back to her hometown.
And of course there is Kellyn who shares with me about her journey into the Coaching House which began with an invitation to a Friendsgiving meal on her birthday where she decided to remain in silence throughout the entire visit. This caused the community to interact with her on a physical level, a much stronger form of expression than oral communication in many ways. The night ended in a big cuddle pile and her writing on their white board “I want to live here one day!” And long behold here she sits on the couch with me reminiscing in her good times here and expressing how much she has grown due to the fact that she has been given the opportunity to learn to express what it is that she needs from others and her environment.
This is truly a very special group of humans, and dog, who are doing great things for themselves, each other, and the betterment of humanity and the world at large. I know that leaving here I will take the lessons I have learned through their teachings with me in everything I do. It was bittersweet to leave, but I left with excitement to enter yet another amazing community just two days later.