The Vow of unSomething

Landing, Lurching, Launching
The Matera Prototipo behaved as unMonasteries everywhere.  The initial landing phase that involved locating any available source of hot water and becoming intimate with the fuse box gently eased into a period of apparent paralysis.

Buoyed only by their residual unFaith and the collective commitment to make the most of our culinary skills, the unMonks seemingly cowled in their cowls.  The accompanying phase of Culture Shock became reinforced as we absorbed the realities of our concentric Vows of Deprivation.  To emerge again as a cohesive, coherent band of devotees would indeed be a tall order.

Inevitable Invasion of the Holy Spaces
The Matera unMo followed the pattern of organic growth in unknown surroundings.  To remove the fear of faltering the first iteration repeatedly reminded itself that this was a prototipo.  Those unused to the cultivation of the ensemble could thus be automatically conscious that their’s was a life of firsts.  However, such was the pace of developments that our community of self-governing, floundering novices had yet to acknowledge the few concrete indications of the invisible, unarticulated spiritual depth of our voyage together, before their novice status was placed under question.  Forced by circumstance to welcome the unMonastery’s first substantial wave of new arrivals; it was beyond our adroitness to spontaneously promote ourselves into de facto initiates.

That fresh faces clearly need a de-tox period to negotiate their own landing should be unQuestionable.  However, with a more than full program and the absence of a blood transfusion ritual, integration was taken for granted.  

Feelings of sacredness are not immediately contagious; they require active transference.
The works of Societa Raffaello Sanzio offers a convincing pathway.  In their work X km up the coast in Cesena they also opened their work space to invaders.  Instead of flinging the doors wide open to let loose the romping urges of the young – access to each square meter was to be won.  Darkness, mystery and creative effort initiated the unveiling of each new room.  Resistance was honoured; ghosts were to be respected.  

The parallel excavation process in the unMonastery was afforded to the pioneer participants by the gradual unfolding of our operations as the heating system kicked in over a prolonged, four week period.  By the time of the second coming, the space as a whole had acquired a warming allure; it was impossible to ascertain where the newly dismantled barriers that so numbed the veterans once stood — the miracle of the unMo could be taken for granted.

De-tox Period
Sacred duty is not communicable by osmosis.  Early experience indicates that it takes at least two weeks of dedicated re-wiring before an urbanite in exile can emerge with patches of purity.  Until chemical imbalances and industrialised day rhythms have become adjusted, expecting them to hit the beach running is not the best strategy.  Ideally their acclimatisation period would include ritual baths and daily anointment with oil of self-gathered herbs.  They would be chanted upon and gently rocked into renewal, if not rebirth.  Their first act of raising a piece of cutlery towards their lips would become the subject of wise commentary disguised as any ancient joke. 

An observable external sign exhibited by our fresh arrivals has been a marked decline in coffee consumption (this despite the delectables available on the local market.)  Similarly, non-daily consummation of alcohol is a novelty for many.  The unMo practice has been simple – alcohol does not feature in our collective purchasing agreements; however, should a bottle of short-distance wine appear on the table it is consumed with both gusto and gratitude.  Our collection of empty bottles signifies this gratitude, but also our infringements upon this unwritten rule.  Again the statistically slight experience of the initial unMo populous indicates that it is not beyond the possible that, with maturity, also this chemical self-prescription of spiritual fodder is subject to creeping refinement.

Other pleasures of the flesh require other negotiations.  The Joy of Cursing seems indicative of hidden cycles of frustration that follow us from afar and which leave the unMo grace of spirit to exist in an easily disturbable pool of serenity.  The War of the Veganites has at time escalated with the identical ferocity that is ascribed the omnivores to which it is directed — biting back is a pleasure of its own…

Purity of Purpose
As the fear of unAccomplishment struck the less faithful, moments of our daily ritual became abbreviated into a perhaps illegible shorthand; degrees of holiness fading into degrees of unHoliness.  The veterans were restless, even while the uncomprehending newcomers had a legitimate need to be taken in hand.  This when it is postulated that such hand-holding is in itself not immediately reconcilable with the self-image of refugees from civilisation for whom hitting the beach running may be the only conceivable scenario.

Everyone needs follow their own version of the Landing/Lurching/Launching cycle.  The unMo must evolve the appropriate Human Rites to ease the Process.

Rituals of Aspiring
One symptom of our unArticulated measurable steps is the hastily embraced Friday evening public appraisal session.  Not only did the form mimic the much despised unidirectional TED talking with all the dryness of a cactus forest, in its prototype event it tamed the Wild Elf.  Instead of a vibrant, populated interface that in itself ferments the work it at best produced a most obedient feedback loop devoid of spiritual resonance.

Producing dead documentation as an artifact of our good intentions is to drastically underestimate our potential; it replicated the use of media at its most pacifying form far from any perceivable cutting edge.  Despite a fool-hardy attempt to give the proceedings the proverbial swift kick in the arse, the product became some highly forgetable vimeo stuff of interest to few beyond obsessed archivists.  It says what it says, but it is unBelievably bad theatre*.  Even resolute young Elf, who in the interests of getting his efforts indelibly documented bravely went first, employed a most embarrassing maneuver obviously learned in the arms of a bureaucrat to completely disregard his own time limit.

The unMo has promised to use all its savvy to do better.  I would suggest that the shortfall lies in the thinness of our ritual.  It was remarkable that to my recollection that despite a brief explosion of dancing at our inaugural open appraisal session, it didn’t feel organic to include our visitors in a closing circle.

*It is rumoured that the third public appraisal session occurred with an audience of only house residents.

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Strasbourg Frustration Management Bipolar Collective Workshop

( Il Livro dell’ Errori III )


Linguistic poverty is humiliating – steps must be made to bridge ones own helplessness without forcing others into theirs.  Occasionally the protracted pace of non-simultaneous translation can be turned to one’s advantage.  At the Inaugural unMo Party, I had Rita. 
In the Good People of Matera, I also had a hungry audience.  Patience can be a limited commodity, talk of the unMonastery had circulated for weeks, but did we really do anything?  It was certainly time to open our doors.  The population were summonsed: they would hear from us, they would also hear from one another.  We set up an open platform where groups and individuals could explain to the community the dynamics of their activities.  Some of those speaking would be well known; others could be a surprise…

There was a slot to fill.  The aforementioned good people deserved insight into what we thought we were doing.  I chose to go back to one day preceding the invention of the unMonastery idea at the first Living on the Edge gathering in Strasbourg.  I brought along two especially prepared, tall empty boxes with convenient handholds.

That historic day in Strasbourg, brother Rysiek had been concerned that his organisations tended to go down in flames.  Negative energy accumulated and found no constructive outlet.  Groups lost their edge.  He postulated a lightning rod – a negativity grounder – a totem pole that acknowledged the delicate nature of ‘Working on the Edge’ and that would protect us from a bashing when times got intricate. 

I presented my boxes as Exhibit A.  But only after having dragged dear Rita into the world of a man bent upon ‘revealing a scandal and abandoning all sense of diplomacy’.  Even if it was pointed out that since half the audience were more than likely electronic engineers everyone instinctively understood that it was impossible to create a pole of negativity without reaping the benefit of the positive fountain of inspiration, the audience were thus primed for a dangerous voyage…

The scandal bit was predicable: according to me the entire set-up of the non-Monastario was based upon false premises.  The original forty-three challenges extracted from the Materani almost exactly a year ago, were unfortunately never properly recorded.  Instead, the best our historians could produce was a limp fragment from a web artifact allegedly fed in shorthand to an Englishman!  When this document forgery had been discovered, it was already too late.  Able hands attempted a delicate restoration, but the damage had been done; the best they could manage was a good-tempered summary – a renovated, more palatable Greatest Hits now routinely presented as the twelve desirable desires and circulated to the international curious.

As the good citizens absorbed my concern; a strong urge arose that said that this misrepresentation of history shouldn’t go unexamined.  Quick to respond, I announced that I would here and now reveal the missing 31 challenges in all their nakedness.  Zipping by a slide of my intriguing ‘Culture First’ work model, I resurrected the original flimsy fragment of suppressed truths.  In a quick series of slides, I flashed the forbidden 43 Challenges in all their glory, highlighting the fact that each of them was based around a perceivable element of negativity: ( 21 examples of the word “No”, supplemented by 5  “Nots”) . Three slides later, I had deftly extracted the incendiary red words and boiled them down to a moderately poetic litany suitable for chanting with great bravata.  But, I was not there to teach Materani English – aware that my time running out, I broke off the promising howls of the masses in mid-stream.  And switched to the penultimate slide brought to us by my faithful friend Google… 

The Italian version of their litany was even juicier; moderate percussive conducting on my part was all that was necessary for the assembled multitudes to roar out their accumulated despair in convincing unison. 

No, No.
No, No.

No, No, No. 

No, no, no.
Scarso. No.
Sprecato. No.

Retrogrado, scarso. No.
No, difficile, no.
No, No, sporco.

Scarso. No.
La gente si lamenta molto.
No. No.
Lamentarsi interna senza fine. Troppo. non
Spaccatura. non
Pochi / dividere /sottovalutare.
No, niente.
Non- stare non-.

Starting with its crescendo of “No”s, the list peaked with Lamentarsi interna senza fine” ( Endless internal lamenting) before rounding off with a resounding, elongated. “Troppo” (Too much).  The resonance was palpable.

Rita, my loyal translator had used her unilingual quiet time to advantage; quick enough to grasp where I was heading, she was having none of it.  My negativity was not going to win the day.  I however had one more slide up my sleeve…

I quickly brought back the Culture First logo now augmented for the occasion with the desirable straight-forward linguistic adjustments.  Locating the unMonastery at the crux of a cultural environment that was easily clouded by chronic negativity – I mobilised sufficient body language to convey the effort necessary to get into a position to negotiate appreciable leverage.  It was demonstrably formidable.  People got my point.

And so it was back to my Negative and Positive Polarities of Project Management.  Despite my considerable defensive capabilities, Rita was well on her way to give me a good bashing with her Made in Italy positive energy box, when I was saved by the gong…



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The Healing Arts

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey lived their life in circles,
A clustered round the warmth.

The limits of unMonastic life are legitimate.  We do indeed choose to suffer perceivable deprivation.  So much is this the case that we as palpably human beings are forced to turn to the pleasures and potential pleasures of communal living in order to renew our zeal.  Although occasions of bacchanalia are mentioned in our literature, at the moment of writing we have not yet succumbed to rites of sexual abandon.  And since neither appreciable amounts of the dance nor audible song have entered our repertoire,
our renewal mechanisms are reduced to bad jokes, genuine caring and pure human warmth as shared in our two daily ritual circles and the universal sacrament of mealtimes.

The inherent conflict between our existence as a willing service institution and the more central experiment as a lifestyle choice is now under trial.  Repulsed by our insularity some seek refuge in the fleeting pleasures of fieldwork; while others, perhaps feeling dissatisfied with the superficiality of their field presence, retreat to the confines of the manageable chores within the unMo walls.  By-passing one another has now become a routine occurrence.  The unMonastery has sprung a leak…

The clearest manifestation of leakage is in our legendary morning practice.  Despite the impressive documentary footage shot by a radio-steered helicopter on the morning of our Grande Opening Feast, we have only once celebrated full attendance.  The assembled non-multitudes do the best they can, and almost routinely lift their somewhat comatose morning spirits to levels of minor euphoria.  However, we have yet to articulate the value of this activity in integrating and consolidating the collective.  Instead of something one meets keen, prepared and eager, it has been reduced to serving as an optional augmentation to the wake-up call.  Few have proven willing to see beyond their own precious selves in this equation — not reckoning that their negative presence inevitably subtracts from the positive and that those who do choose to re-invent our fellowship in concentric flights of visceral fancy, do so in the shadow of those who succumb to temptation of another 20 minutes under the warm sheets.  It is noted that the absentee rate from breakfast is appreciably lower.

That this heartbreaking dis-integration is not subject to alarm is in itself alarming.  The investment in the ensemble is the duty of every unMonasterian.   It is certainly something worth getting out of bed for.  In the pre-unMo literature this challenge was designated as “Creating the We”.  For the ego-bred urbanite such an investment in our own ‘intergratity’ seems not to be second nature.  Can a certain fevour be renewed without resorting to inorganic strategies?  Fortunately, we can turn to the wonderful world of paradoxical therapy that suggests us that for the chronically tired, one trick is to awaken earlier.

This may not be the only diagnostic window on the health of our order; it is however ridiculously easy to count the attendant heads.

Video clip 1:11 min  

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Il Livro dell’ Errori II

MA mealtimeIt is in the Nature of The Book of Mistakes that it is better written in Moments of Triumph.  The unMo Prototype Matera Grande Opening Party was declared a success – floors were dirtied, bottles emptied, children leapt.  It will go down in history as the inaugural ritual summation of the initial phase of our inter-face initiatives.  But should it escape a postmortem ?

Our unDeniable accomplishment of becoming a spiritual home for cranks and visionaries and elements of the local post-student drinking classes may be secured; but it is far from given that this converts into meaningful fieldwork.  Follow-up is everything.

Conversations were had.  In such a little society many of these were vital.  If we are generous with ourselves it can be counted as significant that these occurred within the unMoMonastery and not under the usual run of business and pleasure.  However, we are duty bound to examine the inevitable howevers

History will probably let us get away with the blandness of the pasta sauce – the kitchen crew was clearly in deep shock that no sautéed greens had appeared on our doorstep.
It is arguable that the advantage gained with our atrociously innovative polenta at lunch was surrendered to the sheer onslaught of numbers at dinner.  We suspect that unconscious sabotage bordering on the prophetic provoked the collective denial of cheese trays to the masses.  (This writer confesses to, that as midnight neared, surreptitiously kicking the case of recognisably primo wine brought especially for us by Brother Nico [we presumably insulted his palette upon his previous visit] in behind our executive shopping bag collection in an attempt to save it from external marauding hordes.)

Further questions remain about whether the presentation rounds that formed the heart of the gathering were the success they were meant to be.  It was unAvoidable perhaps that we lacked the desired density of unMonasterians to enable for us to catch people on the way out.  Follow-up still remains everything.

That which perhaps didn’t acquire its critical mass, was the inauguration of the workshop spaces below.  The Return of the Intrepid Bus Passengers drew a full house to both lunch and the following data debrief; while the historical exposé of the unMo dirty laundry, though it did raise an eyebrow or two, failed to immediately provoke the desired revolution.  With space at the upstairs presentation at a premium, the use of the streamed version to accommodate the overflow was reportedly too out of sync to perform its primary function.  Its secondary function as a playground seems destined to be a perennial hit.  The media tables seemed at a distance to function more as an open tech room than an Open Tech School.  An imposing desk lay-out and the unilingual “Talk Show” sign may have deflected attempts to negotiate the planned desirable meeting place.

The definitive highlight was our evening ritual — easing the lid upon the revelers we summonsed the willing to one of our newly initiated rooms.  The speaking protocol of our Closing Circle was simply presented and the option to comment was proffered some thirty people.  Everyone took the opportunity to heart; eager voices waxed eloquently.  The community talked with each other through the medium on unMonasticism.

That the dancing was only indulged in by two persons remains our greatest challenge…

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“La Voce del Tufo” – An unMiracle in Matera

The Birth of an Ancient Tradition ?
Tradition reflects.  Often worn smooth by habit, it requires a second glance to recognise the original needs that spurred its development.  Every pagan ritual was devised by very contemporary pagans. 


The Stations
of the Storytellers

Heaven forbid that we have Our First unMiracle.
Theatre works in mysterious ways:  it takes but the simplest of human ingredients (including the essential factor of the audience’s capacity to be transported), and moments of great beauty can transpire.  We did it.   Just barely.

At the event of Living on the Edge, the 3rd Edgeryder gathering: we were doing exactly that.  Perched in the last of the clusters of abandoned peasant and artisan cave dwellings before the stone Sassi quarters of the town of Matera are swallowed by the ravine, all roads lead down towards us.  Along the steep paths up to the city above, are to be found many an exquisite backdrop.

The call went out.  Ramona answered. Could we locate 10-15 local residents to re-inhabit their traditional residences and provide two minute anecdotes from their family history to what ever passersby we could manage to drum up?  Recruitment works best one on one.  Talking to people at the Pasta Party seemed a good strategy.
In the end, we had a bare minimum.  In the end, the fledgling unMonastery community didn’t consider themselves sufficiently alerted to the power latent in the culture stuff.  In the end, it was exceptionally charming and potent.  In the end, it is only a beginning…

This highly replicable ultra-human ritual of recounting the stories from the lives of our ancestors has now been placed in the loving hands of local culture workers.  With a small amount (2 years?) considered nurturing from the unMo, (as say the receptive end-zone party location) it should take root in the fertile soil of the community imagination.  It is highly possible that our ritual archeologist team have unearthed our first forgotten tradition:

The recipe was more or less straight forward:
1  non-stazione della non-processione
1 materani
1 lanterna o candele
2 minuti per raccontare la preziosa storia della tua famiglia (in italiano )

One appropriate spot, one local citizen, one candle, two minutes to recount a small story to passersby.  Multiplied by 10-15, the dynamic forms and light shifts of the passages between the half restored habitats stubbornly clinging to the outside of the ancient fortress wall would supply more than enough scenic backdrop. With sound shoes, the winding trip from the top of the steps by the Cathedral to the edge of the ravine should take but ten minutes – unless you were stopped upon the way.   The recruitment of good reasons to stop may or may not prove a challenge…

My unMonastery residency had not yet strictly started. The mother organisation had gathered en masse, but bitterly hammering out The unRules of our unMonastic unOrder, we were still in an adamant in-house development phase. We weren’t intending to be open for business. However, such an ideal opportunity to try out a core idea of my residential proposal of cyclical meet the community bi-weekly feasts wouldn’t come around for another 26 fortnights…

The hillside town of Matera has attracted the visually seduceable before; renowned cinematographers often summons its gnarled lanes as a stand-in for biblical times. Our work was closer to the now, and on October 31st had an additional impetus. Falling well within the mandate of my Society for the Promotion of Human Rites was the unassuming goal to demonstratively repel the insidious global pressure that replicates the fouler manifestations of the Made in USA distortion of All Souls Night. When more innocent Edgeryder voices aired the idea to arrange a suspiciously sounding “unHalloween Party”, it was now or never. One more year and the necessary effort to quell the encroachment might quadruple.

Of course, it was stunt theatre.  Of course, with 20 minutes to launch time, all but one of the vaguely promised participants had shone in their absence.  Of course, the Plan C, reflex disaster modus of transforming an elegant group installation into a frantic solo sketch would not have been a very pleasant sight…

Miracles are miracles. At the last second, up popped two players from the local gruppe di teatro. At an even later second, two of the Edgeryder lads allowed themselves to be pressed in slapping on some white face. To launch such a delicate ritual required a moment of political consciousness – two of the to-be-installed were not of this parish. The request was raised to bestow upon them temporary status of honorary Materiani.  The required nods were obtained.

Snatching a useful prop or two, we set out to people the pathway. I had scouted the route by day and found at least 14 useful spots. Now we were 6.  Some stray jars had mysteriously appeared from beneath a bush; filled with a candle we had sufficient beacons to lead the walking audience up a dark alley. We were stretched to the limit. Each of us had would cover some 40-50 meters of shadowy door openings. Andrea and Nadia changed the route on me as we marched – their choice was better.
(*a key moment when it became clear for them that the visiting director had no interest at all in monitoring their content – and that of course speaking silly English was not at all appropriate – the essence of the project was that they would be trusted to speak from their hearts.)

geeks become actors
Pascale was the find of the evening. A local lad who had almost joined the LOTE meeting on the sly, he was lent a small hat and placed in the middle of a long steep stair. His story was earth-bound: of the manner in which his family prepared the bread for the week.  The audience was stragglers: a few of our conference participants who perhaps acknowledged that the cultural interface was the first manifestation of our collective designs. Interspersed were a few gaggles of local adolescents. In groups of two to five they were sent off into the night. In the distance, the first candle illuminated an incidental pair of young lovers.

The work of the piece was perhaps more complex than its performance. The recipe was a recipe. The individual spice brought by the performers could be ever so subtle; the voice of the stones provided all necessary amplification. Those that walked the walk met either a charming installation of local colour (if they didn’t speak Italian), or a vital aspect of their collective history.  Those who participated were overwhelmed by the purity of the performing experience.  Recruitment shouldn’t be a challenge next year.


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The Health of the Idea Fountain

An Emotional Report – The unMonastery 23 days

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe unMonastery Prototype Matera started with at least one tremendous advantage. The initial crew of unMonasterians that slid through the recruitment process and landed pounding at the gates, were a super selection of adult human beings.  With small variations in individual strong points, we proved willing and able to exhibit understanding and patience in the face of several frustrating factors.  Not only was not every last detail in place for the theoretical Feb.1st moving-in-day, but several key systems exhibited signs of cantankerousness within days of the upstart.  Faced with this quirky beginning, our crowd showed themselves to be generous, creative and not the least, flexible.  Our working principle was soon articulated as ‘We Trust in the Process’.

It was no doubt preordained that as an unmonastic order ‘unaided by precedence’ we would be fated to compose tradition as it became necessary.  However, to serenely surrender to the prototype variant of our Vow of Poverty has prompted some heroic effort.  In his characteristically flowery opening speech at the inaugural press conference, our belovéd committee chairperson Paolo Verri seemingly waxed on a bit about giving us life-stimulating ‘difficulties’.  Some of us may have hoped that these collective difficulties had been a little less thorough, but it is through living the ‘interesting times’ of our first days that we as novices have built the foundation of our unSister/unBrotherhood.

The inevitable structural disappointments may have been tailor-made for fertilising our prototype.  They have demanded that we begin at a conceptual zero; abandoning our dreams to build upon reality as it has presented itself.  This embracing of on-the-ground real world is a central key to good project design.  It requires a willingness to leave behind the rhetoric of the project proposal and build one’s work in situ  — one human contact at a time.

To help stir up a ground-swell of enthusiasm just prior to the March 2013 Meet the Community gathering at the Mediateca to chart out the main concerns of local citizens that might be appropriate for the unMonastery to address, I stepped forward for an online interview with Carlo who posed a typically gracious and diplomatic Matera-style question.   Accounting for several generations of translation and the vagaries of my memory it popped out something like: “How should the Materiani prepare for your arrival?”  — I tried to summons my line as a realist.  I requested that above all that they try not to be perfect.  We were coming to make mistakes and to learn from them.  It would suffice that they were customary fallible human beings much like those whom we find in our home countries.  As I recall, I even suggested that those among them with bureaucratic tendencies be allowed to exercise them…

Our unVow of Poverty has several unavoidable structural components.  The absence of personal space has shown that different people have different levels of adaptability.  Sleep deprivation has long factored in the mandatory ecstasy of monks and nuns.  Rising for ‘early morning’ prayers was a way to put the adaptive skills of both novice and initiate to trial.  The Saga of the Snorers is worth an illuminated manuscript by itself.  The total effect of the dormitory experience designed to resurrect fallen urbanites and to rewire any residue of a decadent lifestyle — seemed to work; although it has been noted that some centuries of similar experiments led the Benedictines to adopt the more satisfactory recipe of each monk to his individual cell.

It seems that within the initial constellation of unMonasterians a collective sleeping arrangement successfully established itself in the Western sleeping hall. However, the rest of the anticipated floor plan has yet to be realised.  Not accustomed to fungal incursions, we have been left to mediating upon the expanding splotches of off-colour wall growth as if they were a fearful Shroud of Turin.  It has been implied that this is a harmless blessing of the Sassi, but that no information on either the high-tech (silica gel) or low-tech (vinegar) solutions employed by our neighbours was included in our guidebook has awoken creeping concern – when our core exercise of ‘Listening to the Stones’ becomes breathing in the lichen, the not yet acclimatised Northern Europeans may ask can this be healthy to share ones life with such mould?  Currently only one of our kind dares brave this environment, although perhaps this is a self-imposed penance spurred by serious snoring infractions…

The Year of Flexibility
Although the premise of the unMonastery has long been based upon a three-year cycle, the clever ploy of a 4-month condensed prototype has brought a valued extra pressure. As was always the case in the generic three-year unMonastery model, the ‘in-house’ activity would constitute a large proportion of our Landing Year.  The 4-month compacted version of the Matera Prototype has always invited to the inevitable frustration of compromise.  Our perhaps protracted initial adaptive phase may appear from the outside as excessively introverted, but is in fact an essential gestation period during which we explore fault lines and distill leadership.

Have we ridden dangerously into the forest of burnout? Yes, indeed.  It remains to be seen if we have the balancing skills to negotiate ourselves beyond the feeling that we are stuck in the establishment phase.  However there are strong indicator that this should be possible.

The Daily Liturgy
UnMonasterian Cristiano Siri has contributed greatly to our mental well being by providing a solid fundament with several small daily ritual elements culled from his work with The Art of Hosting. These provide a secure window of opportunity to allow everyone a chance to personally get up-to-date with how the process may be wearing upon them.  Each morning, after both our morning practice sessions on the terrace overlooking the best view in the city and after our cross-cultural breakfast, we religiously meet in a circle of at least two orbits.  The second orbit is the predicable planning circle of what each person is currently engaged with and their plans and commitments for the coming day.  The first circle is more subjective: How are we feeling?  People may be hopeful and energetic, or sleepy and discouraged; there is room for us all.  A version of this question is repeated just before bedtime.

Together these two ritual daily meetings provide an agent for keeping each other visible.  The inevitable psychic strain of so radically altering one’s life patterns and subjecting oneself to a collective rhythm and reasoning requires compassion and listening.

A second factor in our newly acquired poverty involved abandoning all our wordly possessions.  For many of us this has included our greatest treasure – our ability to communicate.  Embracing ‘virulent linguistic helplessness’ has been an additional challenge for the far afield.  Not all of the unMonks have previously digested the experience of second language acquisition in their adult condition.  Facing the surrender of a hard fought for functional lingua franca only to begin again at the primitive phrase book phase can also easily provoke an allergic reaction.  An additional cost of this chronic infantile condition was too much reliance on bilingual local speakers as functional interface.  This inevitably stretched this resource too finely.

Conventional and unconventional attempts to speed the acquisition of Italian have been integrated into our daily liturgy, but again we are squeezed by the condensed time factor.  It is bad pedagogy to jump into premature language use before one is acquainted with the basics.  In the three year model : year two and then year three would involve considerably more cross-fertilisation.  The frustration level is currently being addressed to the degree that individuals have the imaginative resources, but it is only time that will relieve the more acute symptoms.

It is written somewhere in the Lore of the unMonastery that the Kitchen shall be the Queen of the House This was most clearly voiced in preparatory discussions between Rita Pacheo and Antonio Elettrico.  In the face of subjectively perceived poverty, solace would inevitably be sought in the creative act of creating and sharing meals.  The sensuous quality of fresh local produce has brought us great satisfaction.  For one habitually living further up the food chain, and therefore being routinely fed by agro-bizniz, it has been a liberation to share my greens with an occasional snail.  That some of the late winter local vegetables don’t immediately awaken the warmth of familiarity, can also challenge the taste buds and digestive juices; sometimes our cooking committees can be accused of substituting quantity for quality.  However, early on in the group process we elected to outlaw the natural human psychic ventilation system of the complaint [ Note: the above statements are pure fact; the author is not indulging in hidden complaining.]

At the same time, others of our crew have been subject to the most cruel ‘Tyranny of the Oppressed Minority’; accepting imposed levels of vegetarianism that go unnoticed by the adherents, but that push the digestive tracts of others into virulent rebellion.  Surrounded by old-fashioned shops offering short-journeyed meat, and magnificent fish counters laden with enticing often unknown species, this deprivation easily amounts to culinary torture.

The delicate balance of the Healing power of Mealtimes is dependent upon several factors.  We feel that we have secured a satisfactory source of quality raw materials.  We  have a healthy competition to create works of art in a room that was long unheated, and upon an uncooperative brand-new obsolete technology of the first generation of induction stove.  That we are still under equipped with basic tools like soup spoons and chopping knives that chop and that would make life a touch more civilised, should soon be rectified.  What is harder to see the solution for, is the projected life of the kitchen as a functioning unit for more than two cooks and more than ten eaters.  The need to model this our primary source of harmony upon large scale cooperative kitchen operations was spoken about on the ER platform prior to the LOTE and, as the meeting that commissioned this emotional health report clearly indicated, it remains the one place of recurrent frustration — the unMonastarians are willing to use their outreach project budgets to rectify matters, but feel that hidden criteria for what is an acceptable solution that pit beauty against functionality are being employed.  That this has dragged out into our second month of residency and until our second wave of unMonasterians has cost us much valuable time and psychic resources.

On another level the ceremonial surrender of all our worldly goods for the greater enrichment of the unMo has not yet occurred.  Many Materan bistros accept our credit cards without question, some of us can still inadvertently employ the possessive pronoun ‘mine’ about the laptops that accompanied us into the house.  Perhaps we have been too generous to one another (and ourselves) by restricting the material push into our discomfort zone?  While contemplating that a harsher climate might induce greater degrees of ecstasy and revelation, we should confess that in the service of our perpetual prototype we tend to keep our ears tuned to what the inner community can safely tolerate.  At our harshest we have debated restricting our connectivity – but the organic enforced periods of internet shut-down have already proven so traumatic that the resident unMonasterians practically resorted to non-stop analog discussion with one another.  Internally we refer to this our time surviving an enforced Vow of Internet Silence as the five days of ‘sucomunicatto’ = excommunication.

One valuable tool developed by the early unMonks has been the dramatic use of inflated language.  We often employ unNormal degrees of politeness and concern. When one of our number was inadvertently forced into exile for a period of days, the welcoming committee who welcomed him back into the fold at the bus station was quickly dubbed the “rescue mission”.

Are we reduced to psychic wrecks a mere three weeks after our first nights in our traditional home?  Signs of strain are apparent, renewal is still possible.  The characteristic unMo stress response has been to work harder: “Il nostro duro lavoro sará tanto leggendario quanto i nostri baccanali.”  With the pivotal resource of the Queen of the House hopefully soon in place, we exhibit all signs of acclimatising with considerable success until at least the next wave of initiates makes their appearance…

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UnMo the Mattress

MA am practice

“Show me a man’s bed and I ‘ll tell you who he is.”
–  someone, once long ago

The prototype unMonastery bed is seemingly ingenious.  The European wooden palette specifics are clear: 80 X 120 cm.  Placed end to end, two of them are too long to be immediately useful; placed on the perpendicular they form an idea base for a standard 2m mattress with a convenient 40 x 80 cm head-end jetty as a side table for books, your mobile, the pile of travel receipts and a photo of Mamma.  Placed two high, roughly sanded and painted, they provide a right delightful alternative to flopping our unMo mattresses impulsively onto the floor and then spending the rest of ones stay stooping, squatting and otherwise performing involuntary yoga postures.  At this ideal height, your average feet can swing out of the horizontal and with the aid of a nifty 90 degree bend at the knee place themselves firmly on the cold stone floor.  Your day can begin.

The tricky bit is the 80 cm width.  Generous by historical standards (at least for a certain class of servant’s quarters), it provides a clear statement: here lieth thou or else.  For those such as myself, spoiled by the wide open spaces of modernity, this otherwise welcome invention rapidly restructured my sleeping pattern.  Since a close woman friend once goaded me into expanding my territory, I have tended during the current stage in my life to spend more than the odd night alone swimming on a vast prairie of pressed fabric and springs.  A pattern has emerged.  I sleep most snuggly on my left side.  Head propped up by sufficient pillowage, I can then direct my limbs in an expressive sprawl that broadcasts unto no one my degree of inner satisfaction.

Alas, the unMo cot allows for none of this.  Flex one knee and it protrudes worryingly from off the precipice; retract it to terrra firma and the secure feeling behind ones back inevitably evaporates.  Like it or not, the dormitory bed flips most of us upon our backs; we only lack matron’s — “Hands above the covers, Boys and Girls” to complete the idyll.

Routinely rendered supine, the straight-jacketing effect can rapidly worsen as the trough within which we lay our weary bones gets compressed by the steadily progressive heights of our exhaustion.  Sleepless nights can be made of less.  For lo and behold, the imposition of the corpse pose doth cause the slack-jawed among us to split the airflow of our nightly inhalations, and since the vaulted roofs of our new home exhibit superior acoustic properties a gentle rolling snorer all too quickly acquires an unfavorable reputation.

The benefit of the well supported night’s sleep becomes apparent the next day.  The unMonasterians of Prototipo Matera have adopted an enviable discipline. Every morning as a brisk wind sweeps any vestiges of condensed moisture up the ravine to allow the sun’s first heat to grace our magnificent stone terrace that overlooks exactly that view you get in the tourist brochures, the unmoaning unMoners embrace their Morning Practice Internally it is described as a ‘morally mandatory optional’ gathering of the clan.  Morally mandatory option means what it says; if you lack the gumption to respond actively to the 0700 hours morning bell, you face the certain knowledge that the remaining crew has upped the silliness quota in the interplay of their core exercises with Greatest Hits from the Civil Arts Master’s trove of extra-appropriate behavior that are designed to irrefutably tweak the ensemble’s connection with their inner goodness

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