Thinking about ‘Festina Lente’

Festina lente” read the text during a recent longer Zoom workshop. I had to look it up. My fellow cohouser often sends me messages that require a learning moment on my part. I love the way she challenges me.

Oh yes, that’s it! Like “Eile mit Weile” or “Make Haste Slowly”. I try to relax, leave my old self behind — again — and clumsily ease into a new way of collaborating.

Working on our cohousing project during the COVID era has immersed me in a world I’ve only read about until now. The group operates — or rather, is learning how to operate — by consensus principles.

Starting assumptions.

From the outside looking in, I had assumed the end product would simply be decisions that everyone “could live with“. That would be it. This would be achieved through some mysterious process, as long as we have enough good will and reasonable people. The benefit was reported to be that decisions “stick” better and are less likely to be revisited. Ok, I can get behind that.

I had heard some stories about it going a bit slower sometimes, and other buyer-beware warnings, so I was on alert. Our highly developed survival instincts make sure we remember these red flags.

So imagine my surprise as I start to get glimpses into something very different unfolding. Something much richer and broader.

What it looks like.

It’s a way that doesn’t require me to fight for air time. The process assures my voice gets equal and sufficient time — not just an after-thought, polite “what did you think” if I don’t wedge into the fray.

It’s a way that doesn’t favor the most persuasive orator. The process trains us on deeper listening, so your contribution is accessible even if it’s sometimes jumbled. The ‘receiver’ works hard to compensate for your ‘sending’ flubs.

It’s a way that pauses to make sure no person or idea is left behind.

What it feels like.

It’s a place where “I” am not pressured to win to feel good about the outcome. The work is focused on getting the “We” to win — moving us to a place where there are no losers.

I’m experiencing interactions that demonstrate how a deeper understanding of your position contains the seeds of the bridge between us. Me unpacking your side of things and you fully soaking in mine, strips away the clutter of our differences and opens up a new path forward.

How is it changing my approach to the meetings?

In a former life, performance and time pressures conditioned me to “bring solutions”, “demonstrate initiative”, and pile up “individual accomplishments” to pad out annual performance reviews. Meetings were arenas, where you went to perform and win.

With consensus, I don’t have to arrive with all the answers and be ready to fight to get them recognized and adopted. It’s understood that the final outcome will be a “best of breed” of our collective input, rather than a vote on an individual’s proposal. Now I am working on starting meetings with a more “open” stance. I’m not going in attached to a specific solution I’m bringing — well, mostly anyway! I’m working on it …

The mental workload is shared. Stress levels drop. You don’t have to be “on” and ready to lead the charge. You just need to show up, listen, contribute, do your best and stick with the process.

It’s obvious that I’m very much a ‘work in progress’, and easily revert to my standard MO. It’s hard to switch styles after so many decades, but it’s an exhilarating challenge.

I’m thinking of an old African saying, that reminds me of the prize:

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”


Afterthought: Maybe our national approach to the current crisis could learn something from an alternative universe like this. Just maybe …

From Act of Faith to Beacon of Hope

From earlier in the week …


It’s Monday morning and we’re on a high from a weekend-long collaborative design workshop. Guided by a professional facilitator, our CoHousing Houston community worked with our architects to align on a shared vision for the common amenities in our project. It was a surprisingly exhilarating experience for so many hours spent parked in front of a Zoom screen.

This would be a tall order under any circumstances for any group of people with relatively little shared history, mostly zero experience living in community and still stubbing our toes on working with consensus.

When you layer in 2020 COVID dynamics it might seem like a stretch too far. We haven’t even met our post-COVID new joiners in person. Lively pot-luck social-cum-business gatherings have been downgraded to the flatness and boxiness of Zoom galleries with tightly scripted agendas.

I’m mystified by this uplifted feeling after ten hours of Zooming with 18 people. I was fully expecting to be depleted and cranky at best and thoughts of “I can’t do this any longer” at worst.

So what happened?

Investing significant time and treasure in the early stages of a forming cohousing community is an act of faith. A core group of us have been working on this for over three years now. We had finally reached the point where we had land under contract, the legal structure was in place a date was set for the signing of legal documents plus the first sizable down payments made, and the timetable for face-to-face design workshop weekends was fixed in our calendars.

It was all systems GO, then the COVID lockdown burst in on the scene.

Do we postpone? Do we slow down? The answer was a resounding NO. We will not be deterred. Let’s press ahead. We have great momentum. Carpe diem, and all that — and anyway, this virus thing won’t last forever.

“Onward through the fog”, as they like to say in Austin, Texas.

Four months later, we’re Zoom-weary, we miss the contagious energy of a group gathering, some are technology frazzled and others are suffering financial fears. The idea of even seeing people face-to-face, let alone living in a closer community together is seeming more and more remote and nostalgic. It’s a like a faded painting which we can no longer visualize in its original vibrant colors.

Yet we carry on in faith.

Then this virtual design weekend happened. I’m sure if we were honest about it, nobody was really looking forward to all those hours staring at the tidy framed grid of Zoom screens. Ugh.

Yet we all showed up ready to participate.

We very quickly found ourselves imagineering an oasis of community living.

This was going to be better than expected …

We shared pictures of communal dinning and living. We dreamed of shared drinks on the rooftop terrace overlooking the treetops of the neighborhood at sunset. We placed ourselves in the meditation space, the reading nooks and even hanging out around a pool. We felt the joy of bumping into each other in the mail room, distracting someone cooking in the community kitchen and shooing the noisy youngsters into the kids cave after dinner.  We dreamed of group woodworking and ceramic projects and borrowing bikes from each other.

We spent the whole weekend living in a world we long for and cannot see being lived out anywhere on the planet right now. It’s a world filled with the things we have given up these past few months.

It’s a place where we can channel our dreams for a better future.

So many of our social institutions and structures are being eroded by lack of connections. What will be left standing on the other side of the pandemic? All the places that have knit us together — what can we count on still being there? Even some of the basic foundations of our society like classrooms, churches, concerts, plays — what will they look like?

We can’t predict or control many of these broader outcomes, but this weekend we brought to life a sparkly alternative to an otherwise bleak forecast. We can see this more clearly now, we can see the road map to getting there and we can visualize a vibrant oasis with us in it.

What had felt like an act of faith in a risky social experiment has morphed into a beacon of hope.

It’s called CoHousing Houston. We believe we can make this happen.

If you’re curious, check us out at or under cohousinghouston on Facebook. There’s room for more!


Time to rewire “temporary”

Note to self:

2020 is half over. It’s time to get out of idle and shift into gear again.

Enough of “waiting” to pick up and carry on … until this …

Enough of “postponing” life events … until that …

Enough of “suspending” connections … until the other …

I’ve been thinking this is temporary. Just wait it out. Soon enough we will be able to pick up where we left off, and carry on as usual — mostly. In the meantime, four months have flown by and it’s looking like we’re in this for the long-haul. A nebulous soon has turned into a nebulous distant future – maybe even 2021. I’m pushing myself to consider this possibility – while also not having a panic attack about it.

Do I want to continue living like this another year? Absolutely not.

Does this mean, I’m going to cast all care to the wind and sport mask-less bravado? Also, absolutely not.

I’m working on re-wiring my own personal internal thinking about how I arrange my life. Staying within the bounds of COVID safety to do all the things I want to do, involves greater effort, greater planning and greater discomfort. Thus far, I’ve made rather lazy and comfort-seeking decisions behind the veil of caution, comfort and lack of urgency.

Rejecting Zoom invites, because I might self-combust if I have to sit in front of the screen another hour. Not making the effort to arrange for creative outings, because … well … it takes effort. Forgetting to call people I would normally collide with in my daily comings and goings, because out of sight is out of mind. Dragging my feet to invite others to social distance with me, because it’s hot and buggy outside these days – and muggy too on the Texas gulf coast. Pushing things off til tomorrow, because there’s no sense of urgency for today.

Do I want to be taking inventory at the end of 2020, and see the whole year was a holding pattern? Maybe one year is fleeting in the grand scheme of time, but the sands of time on my personal clock are not endless.

I need a paradigm shift. I don’t have lots of answers yet, but I know “Awareness is the greatest agent for change” – thanks for that thought Eckhardt Tolle.

On a whim, I cycled by a friend’s condo yesterday, called her on the phone and asked her to step out on the balcony. She’s not in a position to social distance, so we waved and chatted on the phone. Even though she was 14 floors up and I was standing on a busy street corner, it felt more real and intimate than a Zoom session. More of this …

It gave me a real bounce. I hope it did her too.

The spontaneous balcony visit was on the way home from a patio coffee shop visit with a friend I haven’t seen in person since late last year. It was a multi-sensory technicolor experience compared to the flat world of emails and Facebook posts. We could laugh, catch up, wander down assorted paths of conversation, recycle topics, chatter and debate and go back-and-forth in real-time. More of this too …

It was invigorating for me. I hope she feels the same.

Working on it …

Non-Zoom ideas most welcome 🙂