From our friends at Camphill Communities California

80 Years of Camphill – amazing! When I picture the number 80, I immediately think of Jules Verne’s “Around the World in Eighty Days,” and the images that come before my inner eye are futuristic: an innovative flying machine, a creative and adventure-driven individual ahead of his time, a quest to challenge and conquer old traditions and succeeding in this quest by beating time itself! Is this image a fitting one for the spirit that drove the first Camphillers, this pioneering group of refugees, and how they faced the day-to-day reality 80 years ago? 

One would think not, since it must have been quite the opposite of a light-hearted adventure up in the air, but rather a strenuous undertaking right down on earth, faced with the grimmest of realities. How could this enormously challenging task to just sustain the physical minimum of food, shelter and safety in a foreign uncertain environment, lead to the creation of a new, humanistic, innovative and future-driven movement, whose members went far beyond just satisfying their basic human needs, and challenged themselves to the highest of ideals: to see the spiritual nature of one’s fellow man, to endeavor to develop one’s inner life, and to establish a true community through life-sharing with developmentally disabled individuals?

In Camphill Communities California we face many internal and external challenges, but they seem to pale compared to those faced in the beginning years. “If König & friends could accomplish all that under these circumstances, what are we complaining about, we who are living and operating in greatly more comfortable conditions — let’s get on with it!” This could be a valid perspective of a present member of Camphill, and might even be inspirational and strengthening to one’s determination to face any community challenge. However, as a good anthroposophist one would not be satisfied by just looking at the external factors and circumstances of those early days to make a judgement, but one would inquire what the inner impulses of the first Camphillers were, and what spiritual and invisible dynamics played a role in all this. After some deliberations one would likely conclude that a major factor of their thriving initiative must have been that they found a way to transform and overcome egoism in their daily life, which allowed them to truly put all their attention and love towards the other human beings and the spiritual beings of the community. Applying this fundamental social law to the daily routine must have been a challenge then as it is now, and I wonder at times if Camphill would be the same if the founders had been presented with a well-functioning physical space where all their needs were met. 

In Camphill Communities California we have a well-functioning physical space and our needs are met by most standards. When listening to our founders, it becomes clear that the challenges and the focus has also changed here over the last two decades: the current focus of the Middle Generation (our carrying members who are mostly in their 30’s and 40’s), is on what new forms and structures are needed to allow each individual, be it a Friend or coworker, to have meaningful tasks and as many rich learning experiences as possible. Finding new forms that allow us to accommodate this degree of individualized attention is a real challenge since many activities are by design community and therefore group activities. And while we search for forms that allow the individual to thrive, we are very aware of the fact that the individuals coming toward us, as well as the ones living here for 20+ years, are searching for community, for group activities, are ready to build life-long friendships, live in life-sharing homes, and give and receive human warmth and love. This is Camphill’s strength, and if those new forms that we are creating are the ever-changing vessel, the content and initial impulse from 80 years ago has likely not changed. Camphill Communities California’s challenge for the future is to give enough space, time and mindful attention to the original Camphill impulse, and to walk the line of creating structures that allow the individual to thrive, while at the same time establish a true community by consciously conquering egoism in the daily life.