"So, we all just... tried - all together, cooperating and bringing out the best in each other," explained Formica Coriandola, founder of Damanhur's laboratory of art and a prolific artist and researcher herself. She took me under her wing during my stay with the community. She smiled as she spoke, as she always smiled when she spoke, warm and present. She was talking about the building of the temple, but also about the building of the community.
MAKE YOURSELF - Damanhur pt. 2
Today, Damanhur is a federation of ecological and spiritual communities in Northern Italy - 15 kilometers of eco-housing, organic agriculture and artistic creations, draped over the gorgeous green valley of Valchiusella, Piedmont. Over 40 years in the making, this collective community of 600 people have created its own culture, spiritual philosophy, currency, technology and styles of art, music and dance in an effort to foster human potential and a symbiotic relationship with the natural world. Having received the United Nations Award for Sustainable Communities in 2005, Damanhur serves as a hope-giving social, economic and ecological model for peaceful societies everywhere.
Thousands of visitors come each year for seminars, retreats and full courses through Damanhur University. Courses include sustainable living, community building, and alternative methods for healing, personal growth and wellness. And if you're into the esoteric, you've hit the jackpot: courses in dreaming, alchemy, esoteric physics and even magic.
Damanhur's experimental science research is turning heads as well, including an innovative approach to understanding the capacity of plants to communicate with their surroundings, including people.
"This is how we are living in Damanhur. We are self-made in everything," Formica and I now strolled through the paths of Damjl, the central territory of Damanhur, surrounded by columns and hand-carved statues. "We believe that we can create impossible dreams, such as the temple, together."
The Damanhurian philosophy of community is that the well of human values and cultivable skill is deeper than we can realize on our own. "We are always educated (in the world) to not trust our potential," Formica explained. "If you're not a good singer, or if you don't know how to draw, you may be shy to try. But when you create a field of trust in a community, the trust of the others allows you to create something that by yourself you would never have done."
Formica is a prime example. She was an electrician with no artistic background when she arrived 33 years ago. "I started trusting my own potential," she said. "I can really do a lot of things that I never supposed." During our tour of the temple, she casually pointed out her stained-glass work. I was blown away: huge, intricate ceilings and doors that rivaled stained-glass pieces I've seen in fine-arts museums and famous churches. I told her so - she just laughed. "You can learn!"
Formica with one of her stained-glass doors in the Temples of Humankind
This is a key point to the happiness found in Damanhur - you can learn. The community will support you in just about anything if you're passionate about it. All members are encouraged to have their hands in everything from arts and sciences to politics and education. Through the process of learning and teaching, leading and following, each person follows his or her unique path of self-discovery and wholeness. Since the whole community is involved in each other's individual path, the community itself furthers its development as if it were a big organism. This symbiotic unity gives the community the strength to take risks, experiment and stay in a constant state of evolution.
Nobody was an artist or a scientist when Damanhur was founded. Everything that they are today was created through experimental incubation. The recipe calls for a pinch of imagination, a dash of daring and a whole lot of failing until success is found. Cooked with love, of course.
Formica's son, Miró, grew up in Damanhur. He wrote a book of constructive critiques on Damanhur and communities in general. It is sold in the Damanhur bookstore and was successful enough to send him to live abroad in Australia for several months. He speaks wisely on behalf of the younger Damanhur generation about what needs to change to move forward into a brighter future. It all starts with opening the community to the world for the first time and spreading awareness that this kind of living is not something that we need to be suspicious of. "We need to spread the message: it is possible to live together, to find happiness, to find harmony and to grow."
"I feel I've found my tribe," Nandu said. "My children recognize that." She has two daughters aged 27 and 35, who also prefer community living, though they are living in different communities in Germany. "When they came to visit me they said, 'mom, you've found your paradise. Everything you ever wished for, strived for, we can see here. Here is really your place.' That made me really happy that they could recognize that."
Damanhur integrates the wisdom of a vast number of world cultures and religions into their universal-spirituality. Stained-glass panels like these represent those cultures and belief systems.
There is much to be gained from how different civilizations experience the same archetypal story of mankind. It's a story written in the stars and, after all, we all live under the same stars.
Damanhurians live in "nucleos" - shared houses where everyone has cycling responsibilities. Community starts at the level of the family, then the nucleo, then the community, and finally the federation (Damanhur).
Eco-building. Ah, reminds me of that time I was at Manu's. Did I ever tell you? ...
Glass domes - always a smash!