by NICK MEADOR
I chose to make my first experience with intentional community a month-long immersion at InanItah spiritual community and eco-learning center. I met co-founder Gaia Ma at Cosmic Convergence Festival and took her course in facilitating OSHO active meditations. Then it was clear that I wanted to spend February 2016 at the center on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua. Now I'm writing this upon my return 10 months later.
I immediately liked the Monday morning meeting, where everyone checked in about how they were feeling and planned out the week's community duties and events. I felt the same about the Wednesday evening transparency circle, where people could stand up and express their heart to the whole community, sometimes receiving feedback and support. Because of their importance to the health of the community, these two events were mandatory for all people staying at InanItah.
I saw truth in what a friend had told me – that everyone who visited was a teacher with gifts to give. Each weekday included an active meditation at 6:00am, yoga at 2:30pm, and two open activity slots where people offered a variety of workshops. Then on Friday evenings we came together for a cacao ceremony and ecstatic dance party, a community ritual of celebration and renewal.
After living in relative isolation with the comforts of modern Westerm society most of my life, this month came with its challenges. I found it overwhelming living around 35 people all the time. I wasn't used to being witnessed in all my different states and moods. I was here in the middle of dry season, which is also the hottest and most humid time of year. I had never before slept in a tent for a month straight (most people do here, but there are also open-air cabins and a dorm). Camping at a remote location in a less developed country presents a heightened risk of theft, mainly of electronics and other valuables (though there is a safe room to use, so the risk is almost nil when exercising caution).
I struggled with changes to my usual diet. InanItah strives to keep food vegetarian, local, and organic. That means a lot of rice, pumpkin squash, mung beans, sorghum, and garden greens. But we also had a seemingly unlimited supply of bananas, grapefruit, coconut, and moringa (a tropical superfood).
I also grumbled over limited access to technology (including WIFI, which is much slower in most of Central America) and other resources I usually take for granted – like soap (they use ash to wash hands and dishes). Plus all the showers are out in the open air, as well as most of the composting toilets (only one of which has a seat; the others are squatting platforms).
But even after my first two days back, I could see how much I've changed in the past 10 months. I'm more comfortable being witnessed "warts and all." I'm coming out of my shell and I feel more relaxed with the ever-changing social dynamics. My body is actually calling for a period with a simple, consistent diet of fresh foods... and 95% of what we eat is grown either on the property or the surrounding island. It's the tail end of rainy season, everything is filled in with lush green, the air is slightly more comfortable (especially at night). And I like the idea of sleeping on the ground in fresh air for a month (of course, I did bring a better sleeping pad).
InanItah is the only spiritual/self-development community I've ever been a part of that passes my "cult test." Nobody is told to interpret things according to an abstract Theory of Everything. People are encouraged to figure out their own truth and how to express it. Everyone is a leader and collaborator in some way; it's not "about" the community founders (even though they're wonderful, and admirable for keeping things running). There's a willingness to work through conflicts mindfully, with people owning their part in what's happening. It doesn't cost an exorbitant amount to stay here. And we're all free to come and go as we please.
After my first visit I was surprised how much I welcomed the return to suburban America. I was already composting and recycling, but I didn't move to or start my own intentional eco-community. I improved my community connections, but I still often felt too isolated. I became critical of myself for not totally converting to a more ecologically and socially sustainable lifestyle all-at-once.
InanItah is located on the north side of Volcán Maderas, Ometepe Island, Nicaragua. Zoom out to see where it is in the world.
Yet when I returned to InanItah, I saw how intentional community is actually a process. There's no such thing as 100% sustainability. Each time I visit a center like InanItah, I'll change, learn, and grow a little bit. I'll gradually find a more balanced way of using the tools of modern society to accomplish great things, while minimizing the negative impact on the planet and the collective psyche.
Each time I'll feel a little more confident, empowered, and comfortable in my own skin. Each day spent here is an opportunity to try on a new identity and way of being that more closely approximates my full potential and fulfills my soul's desire. It's not easy, but it's totally worthwhile.
If this kind of experience calls you, visit inanitah.com to learn more and start planning your trip.
(Disclosure: While this article was written on my own inspiration and volition, I am now assisting Gaia with event organization and promotion.)