Interview with Haystack Heights member Carol Bryan
by member Sarah Conover
Sarah: What does community mean to you these days?
Carol: Well, right now it means my neighborhood. It's taken me 17 years to feel like this is my community and it's changed because of the meditation group that I began and hold at my house every morning.
Sarah: Can you tell us about that? You started it how long ago?
Carol: About a year and ¾ ago. We meet at, theoretically, seven in the morning. We go about 40 minutes. Our plan is we have 10 minutes of a guided meditation and then 10 minutes of silence. Then we spend time afterwards going around the circle and we pass a stone. We take turns and we share what responses we had to the meditation that morning.
Sarah: What initiated this, why did you see the need for this? Was it a vision that a meditation group would bring your community together?
Carol: Oh No! My motivation was that a meditation group would help me meditate! I needed support. I needed the group support. And that's why I did it. I had thought of this for maybe six months because I was going to the Monday night meditation group at the Unitarian Church and they kept saying, “practice every day” and I just wasn't doing it. I thought about it, and was going to do it, but I didn't do it. Then I went up to Sravasti Abbey for the New Year's retreat. I came home on January 1st and went upstairs and typed out this little half sheet of paper on my computer. The weather was good, so I went outside and passed them around to my neighbors that very day and said, “It starts tomorrow.” There wasn't any room to change my mind.
When I went around to my neighbors, I was astounded at how polite people were, how friendly. Many of them said, well, I can't come because I work, but I love this idea. The next day 11 people showed up and I was just flabbergasted.
Sarah: Did you know all of them?
Carol: No. No. I didn't know them at all. I’d gone to some “meet your neighbors” and I knew them to some degree, but not very much. Not the degree I do now. Some of them couldn’t keep coming to meditation because of jobs transfers—they moved away, this and that, you know. Some said, “I already have a meditation practice, so I'm not interested.” It astounded me, frankly, how many had a practice and were already committed and had their routine.
The rest of us were all floundering and just learning. It was just the start of me belonging here. I had tried various things for 17 years—I have gone to neighborhood meetings up the Yin Yang and I've been working on neighborhood projects and I still do all that. I've had a lot of adversarial situations around my shared driveway and I have 17 rentals in a circle around my house, closer than most people have to their closest neighbors. I've had every, almost (I haven't had any murders), just about every situation to deal with, more than I could have imagined.
Sarah: Do your renters come to your group?
Carol: They're always invited, and some come. Some don't.
Sarah: I'm going to ask you again, what does community mean to you now? I hear you say that it means a sense of belonging, but what else?
Carol: It means mutuality. I help you. You help me. And even if we don't call each other for help, we have a sense that there is someone we can call. I notice this at cohousing as well. I think people enjoy contributing when they know how to contribute. I get a lot of positive feedback for the meditation group. I'm not living in isolation. Even if some come just for Friday mornings because we do treats. We usually have a few more people on Fridays, and most people admit, eventually, that they come on Fridays for connecting with neighbors, not for the meditation.
I really never know who's going to show up. It’s taught me some trust and patience and self-acceptance. I've just gotten a lot of positive feedback and appreciation and…love. Really. I mean we have such an assorted group. I would say my best friend in the group is an ex-heroin addict who lives on disability. I was afraid of her. She was afraid of me. Now I think she might be the kindest, most sensitive person I’ve ever encountered. When I was passing out papers that January day, I just thought, well, I guess I'll give her one. And I did. I thought she’d never come. But she came and I played this “Welcome to the New Year” meditation, all our welcome here, regardless of religion, regardless or sexual orientation. She kept coming back and she invited other neighbors. And this Mormon woman, who I just love dearly, blew my stereotype of Mormonism.
Sarah: Has anyone had to go through some really, hard personal stuff during the time you’ve been together and talked?
Carol: Not yet. Not yet.
Sarah: Can you see how what you’ve learned might carry over to cohousing?
Carol: Oh, absolutely. There are people that are interested in getting together in many different ways, and I'm assuming there will be people who have their own meditation practices at cohousing but others who might like to explore it with me. I will certainly be offering it in cohousing and hopefully some of my neighbors here might come over there, and some of the neighbors around our project may also come. It won't just be co-housing, it'll be a little broader community event daily.
Sarah: Well, you have a daughter, a son-in-law and a son involved in Haystack Heights cohousing. Why did you make the jump into co-housing as well?
Carol: I read in the newspaper that I'm going to be living at Haystack Heights.
Sarah: Is that really how you ended up with us? Otherwise, your previous plan had been to age in place here? Oh, please tell us the story!
Carol: I was never going to leave my home. I mean, I was considering co-housing because my daughter was involved, but I really hadn't decided until I read it in the Spokesman Review and people kept coming up to me at church: “So when are you moving in with your daughter?”
Sarah: I’m assuming it was an article in the Spokesman that featured your daughter, Mariah!
Carol: Yes. So, then I decided I would try it and get to know more people. I think a turning point for me was going to Portland to the National Co-housing Conference with our group. I noticed every time I saw somebody from Spokane cohousing, I just felt elated and it was like seeing a long-lost family member. It was so fun, and I thought, wow, I am more interested in this and committed than I thought! And when I saw all the different ways that people do co-housing and all the possibilities and all the joys and all the perils and pitfalls, it just seemed like a grand new adventure. And that's when I really got hooked, thinking of it as an adventure in life, and fully living while I'm alive.