"I think I can! I think I can!"Most of us remember
the kids' story about the little train trying to go up a huge,
steep hill. The moral was that we can succeed at a seemingly
impossible task if only (a) we believe that we can do it, and
(b) we have the determination to follow through until the goal
is reached. Well, that was the lesson I learned all over
again at last August's "Summer Camp," held near Portland,
Oregon and sponsored by the Network For a New Culture (NFNC).
NFNC was originally inspired
by ZEGG, a 19-year-old German community based on scientific research,
personal growth, healing, free sexuality, and the development
of a new culture. The North American network has, however, developed
a focus and a culture of its own, emphasizing a multi-pronged
approach that includes personal growth, communication skills,
open sexuality, and building community, although the culture they're
evolving is not yet a "textbook" process.
The Organized Part
Summer Camp's promotional
flyer had advertised itself as "an exciting way to integrate
new thoughts, build new friendships, and get a feel for community
living. We will focus on building an environment of truth, honesty, sharing,
and cooperation -- with plenty of time for creativity, relationships,
and fun." The setting
was in the forest, about a half hour outside of Portland, with
outdoor showers and a 12-foot diameter hot tub.
Campers either brought their own tents, vans and RVs, or
“camped out.” The meals were vegetarian, and the week's schedule was fairly full,
though folks were free to participate in whatever inspired them
and to create their own experiences with others by clearly communicated
mutual consent. Naturally,
we ranged from celibate to sexually adventurous, and covered the
entire range of the introvert/extrovert spectrum.
We started bonding informally on our own, with no formal
process in place to nudge us along faster, deeper.
I, for one, was still carrying a lot of armoring from my
interactions with the wider world, and felt relieved as the layers
The slate of workshops
included a positive "hot seat" exercise, erotic massage,
and several techniques adapted from the ZEGG culture including
the "Forum" and one called "The Dating Game."
The Dating Game was said to be about openness, communication,
and intimacy. First, all the women got together to set up
a date matrix with the men that interested them, then later in
the week the men got together to play the game in the other direction. Everyone who played was guaranteed at least one invitation, and
the underlying idea was to get the same-gender campers to work
together to create a cooperative process that would give everyone
an experience they wanted ...
a win-win situation.
Although the ground rules
were that "anything goes" by mutual consent, most of
the paired couples got together for a half hour or so of talking
or walking, sometimes massage swapping, and only occasionally
something blatantly sexual. In the end, through the Dating Game and other
exercises, the sense of camaraderie was palpable. Our shared visions and values were constantly
being explored, validated, and nurtured.
It helped that there was a lot of sympathy for and interest
in exploring intimate relationships, and in looking at and overcoming
barriers to intimacy. Though
there was notable interest in "poly" lifestyles, and
clearly some campers were having sexual adventures in their tents
or in the woods, there was no prevailing pressure or mood that
people "should" participate sexually here.
The real magic was that
we collectively managed to set a tone, holding the energy of the
group in a way that made folks feel safe and willing to be vulnerable. Campers were encouraged to share their stories,
and people got really creative with their suggestions for how
others might look at and/or work through their own material. We could do this same personal growth work back home, but usually
we avoid the opportunity out of fear that we'll be misunderstood,
judged, ostracized. Here,
at camp, we believed -- in ourselves, in our community, and in
Back into the Mainstream
I've often heard it said
at personal growth workshops that "You come to these sessions,
get all inspired by the insights and the transformative energy,
then you go back out into the 'real world' and get discouraged
or depressed by the lack of intimacy in your everyday life."
I believe we CAN have
that ongoing sense of community in our daily lives, but we each
need to take personal responsibility for initiating and maintaining
it. A big part of taking that responsibility is (1) learning to be clear
about what you want, (2) asking for it, (3) not being attached
to getting it and (4) being grateful and appreciative when it
does manifest. However that's jumping the gun a bit -- for
these steps to be effective, you need to establish solid relationships
that value and encourage intimacy.
Be prepared to reveal some of your own challenges, growing
pains, and insights -- the magic doesn't usually happen in one-way
exchanges, and transformation work takes time.
Seek out opportunities
to explore growth issues more deeply in the company of other sympathetic
and supportive beings traveling a similar path.
Hopefully we'll all come away inspired to push our train
up that mountain of possibilities ...
"I know we can! I know we can!"
For more information
contact Network For a New Culture,
PO Box 160, Forest Grove,
1-800-624-8445. Web: www/nfnc.org