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Reawakening the village heart and mind in the climate crisis with Brandy Gallagher 


Ecovillages are an innovative model of living that integrates the needs for affordable housing, livelihood and community into natural systems.  Intentional communities often begin with a powerful idealistic vision, but many fail when confronted with the realities of complex human relationships and power dynamics.  We evolved over thousands of years in intimate groups sharing resources, but now one third of us live alone. To successfully transition to a low carbon, sustainable future, we first need to rediscover the heart of the village and cultivate a cooperative culture.

In this episode of Awake In Relationship I speak with Brandy Gallagher, educator and executive director of OUR Ecovillage about the evolution of the ecovillage movement, permaculture design and deep adaptation.  We also discuss the realities of living in community including power dynamics and conflict, as well as the potential for finding a way of life filled with connection and belonging.

Show Notes

If you enjoyed this episode on ecovillages and intentional community have a listen to episode 012 Healing in community and circle dialogue with Ame-Lia Tamburrini


Episode Transcripts


intro  0:40  
Hello, my name is Silas Rose, and you’re tuned into Awake In Relationship. I don’t know about you but Ive been finding it really hard to tune into the daily news. There’s just so much trauma and upheaval happening in our world right now. Certainly we can’t ignore the reality of a major land war in Europe. And I laud the courage and resilience of the Ukrainian people in response to this senseless aggression. But there’s another news item that’s dropped in last couple days that maybe has been lost in the fog of war. And that’s the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that’s painted very kind of dire picture of the near future, with 3.5 billion people facing the worst effects of an unstable climate. It goes on to state that there’s only so much that technology can do to fix this problem, we’re going to have to adapt and then window for change is really closing fast. It feels timely to have this conversation on eco villages, and intentional community as one possible solution within reach. Eco villages tik a lot of boxes in terms of integrating our needs for affordable housing, livelihood ad community thatintegrates with our natural environment. I’m sure many listening are really on board with the idea of intentional community. And perhaps you already are living in community. But the reality is that many eco villages start with a really idealistic vision, but fail when confronted with the messy complexity of human relationships and power dynamics. As humans, we’re evolved in small intimate groups of maybe 150 people sharing resources as a matter of survival. I really believe that evolutionary memory is  deep in our brainstem somewhere, which is why it feels so horrible to feel isolated. We need each other more than ever, as a community. But as we’ve learned, after two years of COVID lockdowns, we also really love our freedom. To successfully transition to a low carbon future we’re going to have to rediscover what it means to live in a corporate culture, we need to reawaken our village, heart and mind. In this episode, when we called relationship I speak with an old friend, Brandy Gallagher, educator, Executive Director, and manifester extraordinare at One United Resource Ecovillage in Shawnigan Lake BC. In this conversation, we discuss the history of the Ecovillage movement, permaculture and deep adaptation. We also discuss the on the ground realities of living in community, including power struggles, conflict, and the possibilites of restoring a deep sense of family, connection and belonging. If you’re in the process of re engineering your life, towards something more sustainable and connected, this episodes for you
Silas Rose  3:49  
Brandy Gallagher welcome to Awake In Relationship.
Brandy Gallagher  3:53  
Thank you Silas. I’m really grateful to be able to have this conversation with you coming in from OUR Eco village this morning.
Silas Rose  4:02  
This is very much a retrospective for me personally. As you know, I lived up there in Shawnigan Lake circa I think it was right after Y2K, at that time, I certainly felt like the world was coming to an end and in looking back I kind of wish we had the problems we had then now. So it’s great to reconnect and lets start this conversation with talking about your motivation for heading into the sticks and finding this beautiful 25 acres in Shawnigan lake
Brandy Gallagher  4:40  
you know, Silas I do want to just tap into you being here because I feel like you had an instrumental part in crafting part of the vision of here. And you know all the conversations and the dialogue we had during that time it involves so many people. And I still have a drawing that you did all those years ago. It’s like a carrot. And you, you sort of mapped out the elements of the village, as people describe them. I think people talk now about this kind of recording as graphic storytelling. But you’re able to encapsulate and visualize what people were saying in a different way. And I think that is kind of the bridge to the motivation for what brought together OUR Eco village for all of us, are myself personally, I would say, being able to translate the story, and the narrative of human beings need at that time on the planet. So OUR Eco village actually started in the name, One United Resource. And that, interestingly came out of a visualization exercise. It was specifically a meditation, and journeying practice, was some medicine work that was being done in 1990, that name came forward. And we actually named our intentional community house in Victoria, OUR House not to be confused with other Our Place in Victoria. But we were over in View Royal, as much as it was to be in an urban setting for a number of us who came to Victoria because we were going to school, or had different reasons for being in more of an urban setting, having come from much more of a rural and wild space setting myself historically, that that brought together those of us who were kind of transplanted into the city in a way yet, we’re trying to deeply listen to what is needed in our culture, in society, in humanity, right now. And that really was the birthplace of OUR Eco village,
Silas Rose  7:17  
Your background is social work. So it’s an interesting kind of transition. What’s the link there for you,
Brandy Gallagher  7:24  
You know, I left home very young, and I grew up in the 60s, I grew up in a commune, and on reserve. With first peoples and hippies, it’s clearly not the path to mainstream cultural understanding. And, and I had a tough time integrating at all into mainstream culture, especially as a teenager, you can only bluff your way through for so long, which teenagers are very adept at, but I wasn’t. And so eventually, my sense of justice was so strong, that I, I really thought I was going to become a lawyer, I went to work for government, because I wanted to know the belly of the the ecosystem and understand how it worked. And my poor parents, they were like, Oh, we tried so hard. How did she decide to go to become a lawyer? You know, we thought we did better than their other families wanted their kids to become doctors and lawyers. And I had a different kind of familial circle. And so I really did set myself to being in the ecosystem of systems of regulatory processes and government and trying to understand how our society worked in what way? And what was that instead of being afraid of it, I wanted to go to the center of it. And oh, my goodness, Silas that really had to lead me to going back to therapeutic work after. So you know that that’s kind of a roundabout answer to. It really brought me full circle to understanding that we need to have a recovery program for the trauma and cultural disconnect of mainstream in Western culture. We’re so far removed from our own DNA as villagers in the sense of relationship and relatedness with all beings. I found it extremely painful at that time. I had a lot of losses in that 15 years of my life. And I wrote a outrageous statement to the School of Social Work thinking well, they will never take me after I state these things. And it actually was what had me go into the school social work which I must commend And you’ve X program because they were feminist First Nations structuralist, anti oppression, social work. And I don’t think anybody was really talking that language in the early 90s too much and and I really had an incredible journey there of setting out not to become a social worker. But really considering what does people care mean in the permaculture framework of Earth care, people care. And seeing that fair share was really all wound up in, in what people might call social work, but working for Planet place and processes that are current really became the work of the day.
Silas Rose  10:51  
There has been so much change over the last 20 years. And it is interesting that our lives, you know, seem to intersect in these kind of major cultural global flash points, as I mentioned, when we first really connected was around y2k, just before 911. Are you feeling more hopeful about the future or less at this point?
Brandy Gallagher  11:19  
Your question relates to something Steven Jenkinson talks about, who just dashes the word hope, on the rocks. I don’t know that I relate to the word hope after being in discourse with Steven. In fact, it’s not a helpful word for me, in the sense that it’s almost all imaginary. Um, and so maybe, if I switch that to, how am I with going into an  uncertain future, um, I would say that I just have this immense sense of privilege to be alive at this time, of unprecedented change in so many ways. You know, the world has experienced whatever is the nexus of pandemic culture before. And yet, I’m sure it was never like what’s going on now. So I’m in awe of the future, and even the present in the sense that, you know, that ego state of thinking, you know, what’s going on? I, I’m feel grateful that I don’t have to lean into that position anymore of, of trying to figure it out, or have that ego place of knowing what’s going on. Like, really, I, perhaps we all start in that place where we know, we don’t know, and we can just live in wonder, now I feel we have this opportunity to return there. It’s almost like a childlike state of kindness and care in the present.
Silas Rose  13:24  
 I know, in Eco village circles, permaculture circles, there’s a lot of talk about this notion of deep adaptation. It’s sort of acknowledging that we’ve kind of overshot in a big way. And at this point, we have to really just figure out how we’re going to survive and live good lives, given the current situation on the planet. What’s your understanding of deep adaptation?
Brandy Gallagher  13:53  
Um, that’s a really good question. Because as a permaculture teacher, and an eco village design teacher and a consultant and all the the landscape of the legal and regulatory work that I do and group process work. It’s very tangible. And I think my previous answers might sound slightly esoteric on some level. I do actually feel like that’s part of deep adaptation, we need to have our roots in the ground and our awareness in the unknown, and that is perhaps in my mind, the path forward to deep adaptation. This kind of rigid structuring of it has to be this way or it is so might be evolving now are we must evolve or perish that old statement. I believe that deep adaptation is really the process of us not trying to hold on to what once was, or a belief system that can’t be deconstructed in order to evolve into what is needed. And you know that that’s a big part, I do a lot of kind of emergency planning. And sometime you have to do that in rapid fire sequence, that house is on fire, boom, let’s go. That’s deep adaptation. Some people cannot adapt on that level, they go to reaction, they go to fight flight or freeze and cannot respond. So I like this idea that we’re learning how to get out of our reactive state into our response and to be able to interact, and in fact, co regulate in that space.
Silas Rose  15:59  
Then really gets to the heart of the community.  For those who not familiar with what an ecovillage is, can you give a brief description?
Brandy Gallagher  16:17  
Well, it really depends on who you’re talking to. And who is asking the question. On the website, you’ll be told that we are a 25 acre, regenerative living demonstration site in Education Center. We are an intersection of government, business and corporate, even haha, academia, and much the grassroots of community and the NGOs and so forth involved in the day to day of who is community. And we all will often say that those stakeholder groups all need to be present in order to create the impact that’s needed in in designing our lives towards regeneration. With that being said, the on the ground, we are a whole series of demonstrated precedent work so long ago, in the year 2000. Ish, we, the even with the visioning work with yourself, we began designing for the ecosystem of an eco village, what would want to be here, one of those activities, and then we ran into the interesting conversation of, oh, it’s not legal to live sustainably. You can’t be all those things on one piece of land, there’s something called land use zoning. And curiously, in those days, I think we were just so naive, and so enthusiastic, like ridiculously optimistic as what I pointed us outrageously optimistic, we actually asked to be part of the legal and regulatory work of land use zoning with our local government. And hats off to the cvrd, the Cowichan Valley Regional District because perhaps they were trying to say no a lot to us. And we turned around and said, you know, really no, is just an uneducated, yes. Let’s just learn how to do it. And let’s learn together. And our crazy level of enthusiasm. I think, had people kind of taken aback and, and we weren’t roadblocked as much as you might imagine, and like so many other places had run into and still do run into. So we achieved a land use zoning in 2002, which has become a park, protected space, a school so we’re an education center, and basically the entire 25 acres that’s not about classrooms, per se, the land is the classroom. We are a farm. We’re a non certified organic farm. And we are allowed to have a residential village of 10 homes on the 25 acres. We’re allowed unlimited businesses related to agriculture. We’re allowed one for profit business, and we’re allowed accommodation and food services as it relates to learners being here. And so we were at 10,000 learners a year pre pandemic.
Silas Rose  19:35  
Yeah, it’s an incredibly busy place every time I visit. There’s just so much going on.
Brandy Gallagher  19:42  
I would say that part of that is there’s 10s of 1000s of eco villages and intentional communities on the planet right now. We’re a large movement. OUR Ecovillage is part of the Ecovillages Canada which is part of the global ecovillage network of North America, which is part of the global ecovillage network on the planet. So we’re not in this alone. And you know, really, there’s nothing new happening here, even though it’s award winning, and it seems so innovative, folks are doing this all over the planet. And in fact, most of design work is really traditional knowledge from somewhere on the planet. And it’s been approved and or alive and well for time back from humanity. So this isn’t quite as I like to say, There’s nothing new here, it’s just that it’s all happening in one place. And that is how eco villages are coined, it’s a full featured human settlement. So you’re you’re wanting the ecological, the social, the environmental, the financial, or economic, and the worldview, all to weave itself into that rebuilding design.
Silas Rose  21:03  
So for anyone that’s interested in starting an ecovillage it is not like you need to  reinvent the wheel.
Brandy Gallagher  21:09  
Oh, goodness, no. And I really feel like there’s a lot of people doing that there’s this cultural propensity for, I’m going to do it my way. And there’s something to be said, for traditional knowledge and legacy and heritage, why would I reinvent the wheel? Why would anybody go down the track of trying to determine how to do the legal work of these situations? We had an eight year law project with legal and regulatory leadership to look at this across Canada. Why wouldn’t somebody lean into that, and it’s a curiosity these days, because there’s this rugged individualism in the Western culture, and particularly in North America, like I’m going to do better. And for sure, we need to lean into that. And there’s so much to learn from the history and the community are the network of everyone that’s been doing it before. It’s not like there’s a right way. It’s more that there’s so many lessons learned. And I think that running ahead or trying to go off on your own and do it is kind of the opposite of revillaging.
Silas Rose  22:26  
On the topic of leaning in, John Paul Sartre, the famous French playwright and philosopher, famously said, ‘hell is other people’. And I assume that many people listening to this podcast are probably, you know, are curious or interested in the idea of living in community. But you know, it’s hard work. In some situations. Sometimes it can feel like living in a in a pressure cooker, what is the edge that anyone new to this kind of way of life inevitably runs up against?
Brandy Gallagher  23:04  
That’s a curious way to ask the question, because a lot of people in the global movement that are real change agents talk about being edge walkers. And in permaculture design, we talk about the edges where the action is it’s kind of the intertidal zone of the robustness and the complexity of the ecosystem. Human Interaction and community building is very complex. And yet, like nature, I believe it runs by simple laws. You know, whether it’s the Four Agreements, or the principles of eco village design, whether it’s group dynamics, understanding, or, you know, the simple pole of gravity. There is an essence to relatedness and connection. That is, the authenticity I believe, of who we really are. Now, we also need to recognize that we were trained and socialized into being who were really not what let’s just call this culture right now. And that culture currently, for Western ways is based in colonization, capitalism, competition, like all the things that are the other see words that are not community and collective and cooperative. So, in essence, we need to probably go through a very large change or deep adaptation process to come to community. And I think that’s the tricky part because at certain times in our life, we often think we know the answer to things and or the way to do it, and maybe that’s The unlearning in Western culture, or the adaptation part is how do I surrender to, you know, the grand statement of we’re all one. That’s a That’s a beautiful meditation, and how do I live that? It’s super messy, and, and unkind at times, it’s, it’s a major rite of passage to, to live in community. And particularly, if it’s not just with human beings that there’s this placemaking that happens when we do this, if we don’t consider our house, a thing or an object, but our relatedness to place. I mean, there’s some people who are doing work right now, I think of the new tribe training that’s going on. And it’s curious that they talk about committing themselves to place for the rest of their lives. And at first, I thought, oh, you know, that’s weird. It’s almost what I’ve done. But I came to understand, you know, I might not live at our Eco village for the rest of my life. But my commitment is to the place for the rest of my life, I could be in Siberia, and I’m, I’m still a stand for community, and and this particular community, if I could help in some way. And perhaps I’m not that helpful in some ways. But having said all that, I feel like we get to recognize that this is deep cultural work. And we there has to be a willingness to completely change our lives in being crafted in community building, because we’re not just building the community, the community is crafting us as well. And you want that to be in the most healthy way.
Silas Rose  27:01  
That’s the pressure cooker element, community is about getting cooked or processed.
Brandy Gallagher  27:06  
Yeah, it’s, um, the heat gets turned up. Most certainly. And it’s painful to see myself and my projections in other people’s response, to see the culture I live in, in the cauldron of a group. It’s so painful, it’s heartbreaking. And, you know, for me, I realized, it is actually the opportunity to let our heartbreak 1000 times over, we come into community quite often with this romance, like, it’s all gonna be apple pie and roses. And we’re gonna sit  out in the food forest and just watch everything grow. I always work with groups, as a consultant and describe the deep level of impact that will happen and the choice to be impacted that way. And how to surrender into that journey. And you know, the word intimacy, when, when it’s broken down is into me see? And so how will I be willing to be fully seen? And how will I be willing to see other humans in all of our imperfections, because, you know, we’re pretty trained up to be looking good, and to be right, and to pull it off. But in our most authentic selves, if we don’t have to be all those things, and we truly allow ourselves to be messy critters, who mess up a lot. We hurt each other’s feelings we we do or say things that have not positive impacts, and not to protect that and think, you know, well, maybe two things, we’re doing our best that really none of us has ill intention. And we still screw up a lot. So how do we get real with that, and then fall in love with each other, in that very unfortunate way of being that we can be and still come to the next place. Most people didn’t have family centered experiences where people learn how to fight fair, or how to how to be angry at each other in a healthy way, and then get to the next place. It’s all about where you go with that. It’s like trauma is really an experience and then how do I metabolize it? Well, that is deeply embedded in all our relationships, the trauma of not knowing that there is a healing process on the other side of that experience.
Silas Rose  29:53  
My sense is it takes a really strong container to do that work because there is so much kind of shadow on the surface, when you’re in community with others and intense emotional energy. I often wonder if that’s why many intentional communities fail?
Brandy Gallagher  30:10  
Well, there’s a cliche that 95% of communities fail in the first five years, and it’s often denoted because of structural dysfunction is the term that was utilized in Diana Leif Christian’s work creating a life together. And, you know, Diana, and I used to work together, and it had me really on the path of creating structure, why I threw myself into policy and legal work to the nth degree. Curiously, underneath that, I started to listen to one of my dear mentors of the time, Lynn Curtis. And he said, This phrase that I think is great for all of us to think about, but I’m really that me try and get this as well as I can. It’s not about the letter of the law, it’s about the spirit of the intent. If we aren’t coming from a collaborative worldview, even knowing that we’ve never had any skill development in that area in our culture, like, Where would we learn that skill. If we don’t go into that deep adaptation, the letter of the law will be used against us not not to become functional not to make it past that five years, we’ll use it against each other, you know, and that happens in intentional communities and eco villages all the time in the North American sense, in particular, people are all running out and buying land together. And they’re not really doing the work of the group building previously, it’s kind of treating it like real estate. And that’s an unfortunate term. It’s objectifying place in a in a very disconnected kind of pattern. And then what happens is, the humans get together, and then the forming, storming, norming. And performing unfolds. And quite often doesn’t get past the storming phase of that group process.
Silas Rose  32:27  
So you’ve been at the center of this incredible community process for 20 years, and you really one of the people that have in mind when I think of someone that really knows how to kind of manifest. So I sort of see you as, you know, this kind of master chef in the kitchen, slaving away. I think you’re probably pretty familiar with that heat in the kitchen. How’s has the ecovillage journey that you’ve been on changed you?
Brandy Gallagher  32:57  
You know, I was in a conversation with a couple of other ecovillage founders, and folks that are part of the global ecovillage network, which is such an important aspecting I think this ecovillage? Oh, you are? Because we’re really in that bigger web, and the thinking behind them. And we were talking about as an elders Council, how we have been crafted by this journey. And I would say we talked about how much we messed up in the journey and how in permaculture, we often talk about fail early, fail often. That’s the way to learn. And I would say we all described how our own personal personalities, our history, our own traumas, have played into the delicate journey of breaking apart as a human being to live in a communal setting and acquire and create cooperative culture. And so I would say I have failed early and failed often a lot and is what is crafted me and my own kind of attachments, and how that showed up. I lost my family when I was quite young. And was often the world in a way at a very young age. So having to learn how to be with people has been a big part of my journey. But the other really big part, I think, is that whole idea of being family and people use those terms very loosely like Hey, brother, I’m with you. And it’s bantered around in a very I would say. unfortunate way because family is something that also is very triggering for people. It’s our place of, you know, some of our greatest hardship and the place of our deepest love. And so to really be able to love fully, and accept each other for all our differences, and all of our failings, or shortcomings or missteps that we make, you know, a lot of people never had that experience in our own families. So how are we going to do it together? And, and I feel like that has crafted me a lot. I think it’s, I’m a difficult person in the setting of that just because of my own attachments. And, and also kind of the honor code that I carry. And so I’ve had to give up some of that I realized being in community really have to compromise, probably both. Easily 60% of the way I have held my way of being in the world, and finding a different path or a middle road.
Silas Rose  36:12  
Earlier on, we were talking about that edge, the inevitable rough spots that we encounter, when we start to explore living in community. What do you think is the reward on the other side of the edge? What’s the heart of it?
Brandy Gallagher  36:26  
I would say the reason 10,000 People have connected through here a year is this deep longing for belonging, this deep call to really know the interconnectedness of all of us. And, you know, perhaps that sounds kind of esoteric, but on so many levels, what, what drives us to be alive? And I believe community calls us from that same place. How do we become more vital, more, more and more can, you know, awaken is the whole title of this podcast? And that I think is the call to really help each other on that journey. And I don’t know that you’ll get that all by yourself on a mountaintop in a cave meditating about it. Maybe parts of that happen that way, but it’s only through human connection, and maybe other being connection as well. I think that we’re going to get to that place of longing in any fulfillment. So I yeah, I think that the tricky thing is, you know, Scott Peck talked about this as well. It’s the single most elusive feeling you’ll ever have. Because that moment of exhale, you’re like, wow, we are all connected. Suddenly, you blink, and it changes again. And something happens. So it’s such a generative process. And it’s such a cyclical, spiralling process to be in relationship, that it’s just the journey. It’s not a destination, community. It’s not even a place. It’s a it’s a it’s creating community. And it’s never over. So yeah, and even here, it’s never never over because we have some of our founders and early members here, and they actually are part of our green burial project. So it’s really not over
Silas Rose  38:39  
Something that’s coming up, as you’re saying that there’s a Buddhist prophecy about the future Buddha Maitreya, that that Buddha would be a community,
Brandy Gallagher  38:48  
I think that’s on our website as a tagline. But the, the next Buddha will come in the form of community. And the I do, I believe, the most successful if we want to use that term, or the the most achieving community projects are where people really understand themselves as being on a spiritual journey in that relatedness element. And it’s not to kind of like bring images of cult or leadership followership kind of notions. I think really, that is why maybe that quote was made by Thich Nat Hanh, I believe is that we need to stop making people into leaders that are who we hold to blame as well. I think that’s the the biggest challenge of founding an ecovillage is your then forever, to blame for everything. It’s a funny oxymoron, that the way we behave and you know, it’s often said that we set up leaders just to take them down. So who wants to be responsible for that job description, but, but the idea of actually spreading that out into a collective responsibility in the world that is appealing. And I think that’s probably the other advice I would give is that we all need to step forward as leaders, not where we’re in politics with each other. But where we’re essentially our nature is to lead and to be ambassadors of that.
Silas Rose  40:38  
It’s been so, so awesome, reconnecting with your Brandy. Thank you. And how can people find out more about OUR ecovillage, and your work?
Brandy Gallagher  40:47  
Um, well, I think a great start place is to come to our website, which is simply OUReco village.org. And then come for a visit. If you’re at a distance, and you’re not on Vancouver Island, there’s eco villages across Canada and across the world. So if not here, then there wherever there might be. But right now, I mean, our United Nations has actually look towards eco villages, as I’m not sure if that they’re the quote of lifeboats for the future. But as we go into climate crisis on the levels that are ahead, I don’t know if you saw the IPCC report that came out today, we need to find a way to do it different. And you are describing manifesting, we, we all need to step up as manifester is of the collective, we all need to manifest a future that will exist for humanity in this planet in a very different way. It’s also going to mean supporting each other to let go of a lot and going into a deep adaptation. And we need each other, we really do once we recognize where we’re at, maybe we’ll let go of this kind of especially North American way of rugged individualism and not needing each other. But when we get to the place of actually really adapting to meeting each other and being able to, to take that in, I think we’ll find each other all over the planet. So start wherever you are, whether you’re urban, rural, large, small groups of people, get everyone on your street to revillage together, create your street that you live on in a city, or in a suburb to become an ecovillage.

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