At Damanhur, we have the idea that living in our nucleo communities is like a ritual, and ideally, we move through all our moments at home with Attention. Presence. Enchantment. It’s true, there is a palpable everyday magic in the simple moments and tasks of living in a Damanhurian nucleo. Things that may seem like normal household chores, with this intention, become dense and significant, living acts of magic.
It’s 9 o’clock and time to start my ‘turno.’ For one half-day every week, each one of us in the nucleo has our turn to watch over things, take care of cleaning and cooking, attending to guests, and additional projects like gardening, building or fixing things, deep cleaning, and working the land.
I begin. I unlock the front door, put on my work coat, lightly dusted with wood shavings, and a pair of water resistant work gloves, maybe the 8th pair I have worn down and sometimes lost in my years at Damanhur. I go outside, feeling the clear, pure chill of Valchiusella winter air on my face. I twist open the metal handle of the wood burning heater. I heft and throw in one log after another, taking them from a pile of logs meticulously stacked according to size, circumference and length. I attempt to vary their shape, as I have learned that stacking alternating round and triangular pieces is most effective and energy efficient. This is one of many pieces of practical information I have accumulated over the years here, ones I never would have known otherwise and that now have become automatic. There is a certain visceral satisfaction in hefting wood, a feeling of really using the muscles of the body in this primal functionality. Wood, fire, heat. It is a symbol, it is the warmth of family, closeness, care. Life force. Camaraderie. Living consciousness in the heart of a community home.
I walk along the former greenhouses turned tool shed, bike shed and storage space. I let the chickens out of their coop as today is a sunny day, with no ice or snow on the grass, warm enough for them to go out despite the winter chill. I pull the string system my housemate Volpe Zenzero (Fox Ginger) devised to open a little hatch door from outside the chicken coop. Volpe is the devoted caretaker of the house chickens, and we joke that this is the only place in the world where a fox nurtures chickens instead of preying on them. The chickens dash out to graze in an enclosed grassy lawn…
Luna, one of the dogs, runs up to me, excited to have an outdoor companion. She knows my usual route and follows loyally. I tromp through the grass field past the greenhouses that are in use during growing season and the frosted garden plots, noticing the dreamcatcher made by one of our visitors still hanging from a tree branch. I descend the stone steps that lead to the lower area of the land, delineated by a stream that flows over rocks and through clusters of trees. Tromping over branches and leaves, I walk up to a moderately sized pine tree. This tree is my friend, my chosen tree, an antenna for contacting the tree and nature spirits of the land—a Damanhurian tradition since the earliest days. After few minutes of quiet listening, first licking the bark (it’s a technique to enter into contact with the tree) then resting my forehead resting against its trunk, I salute the tree and walk further along the grassy path, sloping back up to the fields. Luna pants and runs alongside me. We go past the wheat fields that are to be re-planted with corn next season, walking around the pond and to the stream that channels water from the hills, cleansing the pond and moving the waters. Layers of memories, conversations and personal rituals witnessed by the waters of this stream arise in my mind as I stand on one of the large rocks and let the movement of the water refresh my energy.
Across the fields and back into the house. I pick a tarot card from the deck of cards always spread out on a dedicated table for each of us to receive a daily indication. Today is “Il Diavolo.” The Devil. Disorder, passion, lust, egoism. Mars and Venus conjunct. … Hm. Wild energies at work, despite my current task of making things tidy and being of humble service. I use it to proceed in my work with immediacy and verve.
As long as I have my gloves and outdoor shoes on, I take the small recycling bins and trash bin from the kitchen and empty them in the larger ones outside the main gate, lined in a row next to the parking lot. Two out of the ten cars have remained. Someone working from home, someone else staying in to rest from a backache. I go into the kitchen, beginning the indoor work. Rinsing cups and bowls and putting them on the plastic trays that go in the industrial dishwasher-sanitizer. Cleaning up the used espresso coffee makers on the stove and coffee grounds still floating around the sink. I wipe the small white-topped kitchen table of breadcrumbs. Usually there are still children eating breakfast in the kitchen and parents preparing their midday snacks, others packing lunches or finishing off biscuits. I survey the people who are present and send text messages to the ones absent to count who is coming back for lunch, so I can prepare food quantities accordingly. I pause for breakfast myself, after things quiet down. I make a smoothie and eat some almond butter spread on pieces of cut fruit. In the winters, the fruit usually comes from elsewhere, though in the warmer months, endless plums from our trees are available for days of marmalade making, along with apricots and figs traded with other Damanhur communities, and locally sourced kiwis.
I go back outside to check the mail, which is usually a mix of envelopes addressed to current residents, former ones, mistaken mail for our neighbors, and the agritourism restaurant that used to be operating here. Inside the house, I slip the envelopes into the personal slots of our house mailbox, labeled with both our Damanhurian animal/plant names and legal names. Every Damanhurian receives first an animal name and then later on a plant name, as a symbol of spiritual transformation, connection to nature, and participation in the Game of Life, which is a Damanhurian institution that creates new conditions and changes. It took me a while to memorize the ‘real’ names of the people I live with, and I don’t even know the ‘real’ names of the vast majority of Damanhur community members, as our animal and plant names are so prominently used.
The Tuesday morning assigned cleaning area is the living room and laundry room, so I pass a rag over the dust, spray down the glass doors and windows. Sweeping, dusting, replacing the children’s toys and books on shelves and in boxes, finding orderly places for random items left about. A pair of pliers, a notebook.
What’s for lunch? I pull out bowls and trays of leftovers from the main refrigerator (we have three) and go into the canteen to survey the grains and legumes. I choose between brown rice and quinoa. Red lentils and green. Saute some chickpeas, and heat up a vegetable soup from last night’s dinner. I almost always prepare vegan foods, with raw or macrobiotic recipes because I prefer to eat this way, though most Damanhurians eat some meat, dairy, eggs and animal products as well, always with preference for organic foods, especially those produced in our communities.
I set the table. Tablecloths, plates. Counting the number of people who responded that they would be present for lunch. Six, maybe seven—about half of the nucleo members, those who can easily come home for lunch. It’s the most cost-efficient way to eat as we divide our monthly food expenses equally, despite the number of meals eaten at home. Forks and knives, fork on the left side of the plate, knife on the right. Glass cups on the upper right side of the plate. A carafe of still water, a glass bottle of sparkling water filled at the local water machine in the plaza near Damanhur Crea. Homemade bread, cutting board, knife. Olive oil made from our olive groves in Tuscany and salt shakers. Someone often brings home a bottle of wine, and the less expensive kind in the box is perched on the wet bar. Red wine is the preference almost all of the time, as well as the Damanhurian-made wines. When the food is ready, I arrange it onto platters and place them on the serving table in the dining room, adding serving spoons. Washed whole leaves of lettuce, shredded carrots. Housemates begin to arrive as I run the dishes and pots through the dishwasher and throw vegetable scraps in the compost bin and clean up the counters.
We do a short, collective ritual to align ourselves in a harmonious frequency with the food, eating with presence and appreciation, spiritual nourishment and gratitude. The conversation is often jovial, permeated with laughter as wine cups are filled and people go back for second and third servings. There is an air of abundant eating and drinking, delight in the pleasure of being together and sharing a meal. Even this is a ritual. The communication is sometimes practical: machines that need fixing, parts to be bought and replaced. Vegetables that are to be planted or harvested. Finishing the fence. Conversation topics can range from Damanhur current events and nucleo concerns to politics and movies. I am the last one to sit down at the table, bringing my wooden chopsticks which I always eat with. I exhale deeply before beginning my meal with a spoonful of lentils, grateful to have a reprise of stillness and social connection after the efforts and busy-ness of the morning ‘turno’ ritual.