Prairie Sky is Alberta’s first cohousing cooperative. Constructed in 2003 in a quiet Calgary neighbourhood not far from downtown, the 18-unit residential development also has a 3,400 square-foot “Common House” for weekly communal meals, informal gatherings, meetings and community celebrations.
Cohousing is a concept that came to North America in 1988 from Denmark, where it first began appearing in the 1960s. Cohousing combines the autonomy of private dwellings with the advantages of shared resources and community living.
To quote the Canadian Cohousing Network, “Some call them a return to the best of small-town life. Others say they are like a traditional village or the close-knit neighbourhood where they grew up, while futurists call them an altogether new response to social, economic and environmental challenges of the 21st century. Each holds a piece of the truth.”
Sarah Arthurs moved with her family into Prairie Sky in 2008.
It is interesting to write about cohousing, now that I’m a veteran of ten years. What I am noticing at this point is not the built and social architecture of cohousing: features designed to create ‘bumping’, common meals connecting us through food and laughter, consensus decision-making which sustains respect and openness at our monthly business meetings, and friendships deepened around cross country skiing, bad golf, hugs with a cancer diagnosis and parties when chemo is over. It is not these ordinary miracles that have my attention today, but how long it is taking me to settle into the goodness of these friendships with my neighbours.
In the words of John Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Centre for Mindfulness in Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, “Wherever you go there you are”. You can find yourself in the most intimate, kind and generative of communities, but the extent to which you experience this intimacy and kindness and generativity is shaped and determined by your capacity for such…how many receptor sites you have.
At one of our recent monthly business meetings at Prairie Sky, I shared the lovely words of C.S. Lewis, repeated a number of times in the final chapters of The Last Battle (the concluding book in the Narnia series): “Further up and further in!” The children and the Narnians encourage each other to move further into the new earth/new heaven. I often feel that I live on the surface of what the experience of cohousing has to offer, and that I, too, could move further up and further in.
And my way of going further up and further in seems to be with the practice of Centering Prayer. In Centering Prayer – and the commentary on this endeavour provided by the meditations of Richard Rohr – I daily attempt to do the impossible: be still, be open, quit imagining, scheming and thinking, stop remembering, and stop anticipating. Sometimes, briefly, if I am “lucky”, I realize this Praying is not about anything I am doing or not doing, but about what already is and always was and always will be and which holds me…hmm, the words are not quite right…as I am so new in this realm.
Suffice to say this daily practice seems to be enabling me to be more present to my neighbours, to have fewer agendas, and to experience waves of gratitude for the opportunity to live in this community just as it is. I am also experiencing a greater openness and curiosity about knowing the amazing Others that Prairie Sky has brought into my life – with so much joy, and so much to enjoy! And there is only further up and further in to go.