I woke up in the Heathcote Mill Conference Center, lying on a couch in a ring of couches, a beach sized towel over me. Sunshine and cool, post-rain air came in windows on three sides.

I was staring at the blackboard, with the previous night’s business meeting agenda on it, and a easel with a large pad on it, opened to a list of visitor weekend work day projects and the names of volunteer supervisors. I had been the facilitator last night and I briefly felt echoes of the dramas, connections and over-extendedness that strangers might or might not guess, looking at the chalk and marker words.

I moved my sleepy attention to the ceiling, pondering the plaster sun face sculpture there, with the hematite third eye. When Patty and the other volunteers had painted the Conference Center recently (oh, how it had needed it) they lovingly painted around the sculpture, great job.

I heard Charles and Patty talking downstairs in the Mill kitchen. I heard the intern Kat singing there. Someone came into the room and sat at the table behind my couch, eating an apple, booting up a computer. It was Kwame, an intern from Ghana.

Patty came to check on me, just as I was sitting up and drinking more mint tea. No, no stomach pain at all! I feel wiped out, but much better! She smiled widely and clasped her hands together. “I’ve been there, I know how that feels, that was a real emergency!” She let me know she’d be in the Farmhouse if I needed anything.

At Heathcote we’ve had several casual discussions about how each of us likes to be dealt with when we’re ill. It ranges from baby me to don’t even knock on my door. I’m nearer the baby me end of the spectrum, because I’m likely to shut down, fail to hydrate and pick crazy solutions, like that infamous epecac syrup caper years ago. And I find it comforting to know someone is there when I don’t feel well.

I had had a bad reaction to a cocktail of six medications, vitamins, mostly. When I get sick, I get stupid. The logic center of my brain (not a frequently visited location anyway, some would say) shuts down.

I had taken my cocktail with breakfast and prescription prilosec, given to head off stomach upset, and I continued with my day. I was weak but I arrived at the Carriage House and plodded through filling ten freezer bags with the dry ingredients of the vegetarian dog food we make. Before I loaded up on peanut butter and TVP, I needed to sit down.

I joined Betsy in the sitting area of the Mill kitchen and we chatted. I complained that I was starting to feel stomach upset and we commiserated about the limitations and Frankenstein mentality of mainstream Western healthcare. Bob came in for coffee. I asked him to put enough water in the teapot for me to get some mint tea for my stomach. Betsy suggested ginger, but I’d warded off the upset with mint the previous night, so I stuck with that.

But two sips into my tea, it was time to lie down. The gluten-free crackers I’d tried while scooping dog food hadn’t worked and the tea was coming too late. I was crashing.

I was having sweats and shakes, and severe stomach cramps. Betsy brought the cool rag I asked for and I tried to relax enough to sit up again and get more tea.

Nick happened through, making a phone call. He asked if I needed anything. I was beyond being able to relax. I had him call the doctor. The physician’s assistant on the phone said that I could come into the clinic and just live through it, because there isn’t much they could do for me, or I could just live through it at home. She didn’t think I needed to go to the emergency room.

Considering that Western medicine had gotten me where I was, I was ready to cut that cord and let my body work it out at home.

Do you want reiki? Patty asked from the quiet room. My yes overlapped her question and then her hands were above my abdomen. By this time, I was tensed with pain and my breathing was stressed, making my tensing worse. Kat was willing to breathe with me and hold my hand.

As I breathed in healing and groaned out pain and stress, my body got clear that we wanted to expel something, one way or another. So Patty and Kat helped me upstairs to the bathroom. By the time I got there, I was too tired to sit on the toilet, so I lied down on the cool concrete floor. It was summer at Heathcote, so the tie-dyed sundress was all that I was wearing. I didn’t care that it bunched up around my waist as I rocked on the floor. I was among women in a bathroom. I just worked on relaxing.

Then the healing purge came. I made it to the toilet and Patty held my locks back while I vomited. She had the cool rag on hand and I appreciated being able to wipe my face as soon as I was done.

All along the way, my community mates let me ask for what I needed and be in charge of my healing. I agreed with the suggestion that I lie on the couch and once I was there, my extremities were cool and tingly. They found an over-sized towel that was just enough, and brought me my tea from downstairs. Patty joked about our “checkin.” She and I were supposed to meet to process a delicate matter over lunch. Oh yeah, our big, dramatic checkin. I guess we had a different one, I answered. I drifted off to sleep for an hour or so, waking to the late afternoon sounds of Heathcote at work.

And the sunshiny room, and the chalkboard agenda, the circle of couches, and a cup of cold mint tea, sitting safely in the middle of a wooden folding chair, waiting for me. I woke up feeling weak but pain free, and loving my community that was willing to be a vehicle of my healing, and willing to let me drive.

No Intentional Community can be a substitute for trained healthcare practitioners, nor can an Intentional Community take on all illnesses. I regularly meet people who hope living in Community will magically heal their mental illness or provide them with the caregiving they need for some chronic condition or disability. Honestly, it’s case by case, and the seeker should be transparent and up front about what s/he is asking a Community to take on. The answer may be yes, and it may be no.

But being in Community, and falling ill, as we all do sometimes, I feel so blessed and held, not pampered or nursed in a passive way, but honored as the driver of my own body. My mates provided a safe container for me to operate.

As I sit today, weak but researching alternative solutions to my lingering health issue, I reflect that the support and empowerment I got are more reasons that Intentional Community is more sustainable than the isolated, Western lifestyle that surrounds me. If I lived there, I wouldn’t know my neighbors and I wouldn’t have been in common space when I got ill. I would have had to live through it, as the physician’s assistant said, alone.


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