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December 2005

 

Building community:
the Vérité experience

- From an interview by Alan

Vérité was founded in 1985. It is an experiment, among other things, in transformation through community. Today, it has ten residents and has developed into an integral learning campus which hosts Auroville workshops as well as students and researchers from abroad. Auroville Today asked three of its core members to talk about the challenges faced and lessons learned over the past 20 years.

Dhanya, Bhavana and Aurelio


Auroville Today: What do you understand by the term ‘community'?

Bhavana: I see community happening on different levels. There is the material level, where it is ecological to live in community because it's a better use of resources. On the emotional level, it's a social unit of a manageable size which provides the possibility for healthy social interaction. On the mental level it's a tool of sadhana, for learning how to live in close community can be very helpful in moving you out of the prison of your mind and ego into another consciousness.

Aurelio: I think the function of community is to bring us from the individual level to the next level of consciousness. Ultimately, the urge to live in community is a preparation for global consciousness. Community can be an amazing tool of spiritual progress because it brings up all the different realities and unknown parts of yourself and you have to deal with them. I believe that in this yoga we have not yet fully utilised the collective, community aspect for this yoga is not for personal salvation but for transformation on a larger, global scale.

Dhanya: As I went through my own development, my sense of community changed drastically. In my early days, what I identified with was the Auroville community in distinction from the old world. When Vérité started, there was an impulse to create a small-scale intentional community. To understand what this means we have to look at the transformations that take place through being part of such a small community within the larger community of Auroville.

 

How has Vérité changed over the years?

Dhanya: I need to emphasise that our views are necessarily partial – you would get other perspectives if you spoke to other members of Vérité. I think a community, like an individual, goes through different stages of growth. Initially, in Vérité there was the unity that came from a group of people having a shared intention to create a new impulse in Auroville in terms of living in community. That first phase was like falling in love, it was the pre-individualized stage of community where everybody emphasises the good, the positive, and the shadow side is avoided.

Then, just as in a relationship, you have to ground the ideal, you have to find out how to live together on a daily basis. But as soon as we began to work on practical issues, the underlying contrasts between us began to rise to the surface, and we discovered that we had very different assumptions and expectations about community. In other words, we were coming not only for the community ideal but for the fulfilment of all kinds of personal unconscious needs, like being loved unconditionally. The result was all kinds of stuff got projected on one another and at times it was very painful and messy.

This is a stage you can't by-pass. However, we didn't know how to hold the group together to move through it and the result was after 4-5 years most of the community left. Slowly new people came in. It was a nice group, but if there is not a critical mass of people who have experienced and learned from a previous phase, then that phase may have to be repeated. This is what happened with us. I tried at the beginning to point out to the new group that we were recycling old issues, but then I decided it would be better for me to stay on the periphery and let the new group find its own identity.

Aurelio: I joined during that transitional period. The first thing that struck me was that I felt no particular resonance with the people I met in Vérité, but I felt a strong attraction to the field. So from the beginning it was as if I was looking for something beyond personal alignment, beyond living with people with the same vibes.

At the beginning of my Vérité experience, there was definitely this feeling of falling in love with community. There was a lot of sharing, reading and celebrating activities together. Guests would come with a particular skill and we'd immediately say, ‘Let's do a workshop'.

Bhavana: I joined around that time and it was wonderful. I got everything I needed here – just the right amount of relationship, of food, of discipline. For me it answered all that I'd wanted from Auroville, which was that sense of giving all and getting just what I needed. The mistake I made, however, was to assume that Vérité was primarily the field – that whoever moved here would automatically manifest that particular field – so I wasn't concerned with entry policy. However, at a certain time there were so many people here who were unhappy that it created a lot of difficulties.

Aurelio: A few years ago we embarked on much stronger material development and that churned up a lot of things. Suddenly we had new responsibilities because we were building facilities which we had to take care of. It was grounding the community, but strong differences were also coming up between us. We needed to sustain ourselves with the income from more guest facilities and programmes, but some of the members disagreed with this direction: they felt Vérité was becoming too ‘busy' and asking too much time from them. So, while on a material level all the buildings were coming up, on a psychological level the community almost fell apart: it was like Vérité's second breakdown.

Dhanya: I think that a lot of the shadow side of Vérité was put on those who left, but that all of us involved haven't consciously processed those issues yet; there has been little reconciliation, which has to happen if we are to move on. What I think was happening at that time was a lot of personal karma was being played out. We would meet to decide something about organization, but all the time there were interpersonal issues behind, and this takes a lot of energy out of what can be accomplished on a professional working level. So now we are choosing to concentrate upon ensuring, in a very practical way, that Vérité goes in a direction we all feel good about. If we are successful in this, we'll see how many of the interpersonal issues are still there or relevant.

Aurelio: For many years we struggled with this image of Vérité as an elitist place with lots of rules. Somehow, this locked us up. I think we've become less dogmatic, more realistic, and now we're defining ourselves more as a working group which is running a project. During the difficulties I think the sense of community almost got lost for me and now something needs to be newly defined. I think, actually, we're in transition, we're reaching for a higher octave of community which recognizes and embraces all the different individual approaches and realities.

One of my concerns is that over the past five years we haven't had new people joining us who are genuinely interested in the experience of community life. It's a bit of a crisis from my point of view.

Bhavana: Having looked after the Vérité guest programme, I have a different perspective. I know of some people who have definitely resonated with this place, and it wasn't Vérité but their life circumstances which didn't allow them to stay.

Dhanya: I think the reason why Vérité has somehow stagnated in terms of bringing new members on board is that we haven't learned to do something better. Over the past 5-6 years, a lot of people have come and tried to stay but I think there was an incapacity on our side to be adaptable, to say this person would like to work with us so how can we make it possible? I think people should be able to tap into Vérité in different ways, we could have multiple levels of community participation. We need to change our parameters.

 

You mean changing some of your basic community guidelines?

Dhanya: I think it's more a matter of changing what we identify with. In Vérité, we have sometimes been perceived as somehow separate from the rest of Auroville, and at times I think we did project a somewhat independent identity. But I want to make it very clear that Vérité would have fallen apart long ago if it wasn't for the larger field of Auroville. So I think we need to identify primarily with that now and not get stuck in the smaller thing of being a Véritéan. This is also part of development – identifying with larger and larger circles of complexity. My identifying with Vérité and with Auroville were milestones in my life, but in order to grow I had to widen my circles to include a larger world process. This has shifted my orientation towards sadhana and living in community. In the same way, I think Auroville is identifying much more now with the transformational processes that are taking place in the larger world.

Aurelio: In the early days we were talking about making Vérité into a campus. Now we are returning to this, to offering a service for student groups and researchers who want to learn about and contribute to Auroville. This is very rewarding because it is not a one-sided serving of guests; rather, it feels like we are co-creating something with the larger community. It's also symbolic that all the residents of Vérité are now very active in the larger Auroville community. It's as if we are finding the true spirit of community centered in the larger Auroville now.

But for me the question remains – now that we are ‘cooling' our interactions a little, now that we are going to a more managerial level, what happens to community as a tool in the sadhana? Because living in intense community, going through thick and thin together, is definitely an accelerated field of yoga.

Bhavana: I think we're in the midst of a transition. We're hoping to take a big step towards realizing our original intention – it's something we feel is coming. Come back in six months for an update!

Dhanya: I think that original intention included many things. We wanted to create an intentional community with an ecologically-sustainable infrastructure, a healing/counselling facility, and educational activities and programmes. And we wanted to maintain a spiritual awareness in our interactions. Over the years, different aspects have been emphasized while others have been ignored, or put on the back-burner. Now we're at the point where we're trying to bring all the different aspects together more consciously, more integrally, than before.

Bhavana: We've been so blessed with donations that now we have all the facilities, as well as all the years of individual and collective experience, to make it work.

Dhanya: Also, as Auroville progresses in its experiment, it allows us to grow in our smaller experiment.

Aurelio: Ultimately, I think the deep aspiration we all share, but which is almost too sensitive to talk about, is to live together in such a way that we create an environment for the psychic to come forward.


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