Intentional Living Definition Essay

Yesterday I announced some pretty big changes to Life Your Way. While the design changes will take a little more time to implement, you’ll notice the changes to the content right away.

As we kick off the New Year, I wanted to start by looking at our tagline — intentional & creative living– and what that actually means.

You may have noticed that in yesterday’s post, the header in the screenshot of the new site said “creative & intentional living” rather than the other way around. I’ve actually gone back and forth about the order of those two words, but I ultimately decided that intentional needed to be first because it’s that intentionality that makes room for the creative even in the midst of commitments and chaos and everything else we have going on in our lives.

Today, let’s look at intentional living: What does it even mean to live intentionally?

Intentional living is about knowing why you do what you do and why you don’t do what you don’t do.

We are faced with dozens of choices every day — some little, some big. From whether to choose a salad or a chocolate sundae for lunch to where our kids go to school, our world today is full of options. The thing is, sometimes it’s much easier to just go with the flow and not think about those options — choosing public school, paying for cable every month, etc. — but that doesn’t make them the best choices for our families. On the other hand, it’s tempting for some of us to choose the unconventional choice just because we’re nonconformists, and that’s not necessarily best for our families either.

In fact, living intentionally doesn’t have anything to do with the specific choices you’re making at all. I know, I know — we tend to have a picture of what it means to live intentionally: it’s about being organized and choosing to serve our families only real food and eliminating TV and drinking fair-trade coffee. But honestly, you can make those choices just to fit in with the “cool” crowd and miss the point entirely.

In fact, I would argue that you can live intentionally and eat fast food, watch cable TV and collect knick knacks like there’s no tomorrow.

Rather than trying to define a set of choices that are characteristic of living intentionally, it’s about knowing why you do what you do, or why you don’t do the other things.

Whether your family “does” Santa (or not), sends your kids to public or private school, eats McDonald’s or watches cable TV is not the point. It’s about thinking through each of those decisions, considering their consequences and making your decisions with your eyes wide open.

Intentional living is being willing to take a step back and evaluate the things you’re doing.

On the other hand, living also means being willing to evaluate those decisions as you go rather than just making a decision once and sticking to it no matter what. I think that’s probably where we get our picture of what living intentionally looks like — over time, if you’re really evaluating your food choices, you’ll probably tend to move in the direction of eating more food. And if you’re really evaluating the things you own, you’ll probably end up decluttering along the way. But it’s not about waking up on January 1st and making those decisions; it’s about making choices and evaluating them all throughout your life.

It also means being willing to ask other people for their input and even to look for the truth in criticism, however harsh it may be.

Funny enough, it was a harsh review that someone left on Amazon about How to Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too (my first ebook) that really sparked my desire to simplify my business model and focus on my core businesses. She said:

“It felt like Mrs. Ehman was trying too hard to convince readers that doing and being everything as a mom, wife, homeschooling teacher, and entrepreneur without dropping balls was possible…However, this book helped me in that it made me remember why I let my business go in the first place- you truly cannot have it all without dropping balls….It’s apparent in reading this book that the author struggles with this too. Her pace seems frantic…”

While I stand by the advice in that ebook and disagree 100% with her assertion that I have made sacrifices for my own personal success and not for the benefit of my family, once I was able to step back and think about her words, I realized I had in some ways become addicted to the frantic pace and starting new things rather than looking for ways to enjoy some of the benefits of the hard work I put into my business in the early years.

It would have been easy to just dismiss her entire review because of the tone or the overly harsh criticism, and I think a lot of people would have advised me to do that, but if I had, I would have missed out on the chance for some introspection and the nuggets of truth it contained.

Intentional living is about doing the things that are important to you even when they’re not easy.

I remember feeling like a fraud as a young mother; I was reading to my baby because it was important to me to raise readers, but it felt forced. And then I realized that sometimes that’s what intentional mothering looks like: choosing to do the things that are important to us even when they’re not easy or don’t come naturally.

Living intentionally means defining your values and making choices that reflect those values.

It’s making a commitment to look your children in the eye when they talk to you or putting down the phone when you know you’re just zoning out. It’s choosing to get up and exercise even though you hate it. It’s making time to serve in your church or community or giving up conventional chocolate.

It doesn’t mean you have to bike to the grocery store just because your neighbors do, but it does mean evaluating your family’s values and goals and intentionally choosing activities that align with those, even when those activities take effort on your part.

Intentional living is about evaluating the advice and example of other people and taking from it what works for you.

I’ve always thought the controversy over Gary Ezzo’s Baby Wise was a bit dramatic. While I now understand that some people have followed his advice to the letter of the law and it has actually hurt their babies, it always seemed obvious to me that when considering any advice — about parenting or marriage or gardening or business — you should evaluate it with an open mind, take what works for you and leave the rest.

Bloggers, authors and so-called experts may have a lot to offer from their own experience and knowledge, but that doesn’t mean that life is one-size-fit-all or that there is only one right way to do things.

In this age of social media and instant access to the lives of everyone around us, it can also be easy to create an unrealistic checklist of what the “perfect” family looks like just by watching the other families you know. But if you try to do all the “good” things other families are doing, you’ll end up stressed out and without a strong family culture of your own. Living intentionally means being able to see the things that other people are doing, appreciate them and then pick and choose the ones that are the best fit for you or your family.

Intentional living helps you set a course for your life and your family rather than just wandering aimlessly through life. It gives you the freedom to make time for the things that are truly important and to discard the rest. How will you live intentionally in 2014?

Filed Under: News and NotesTagged With: taking care of yourself, vision

My fiancé and I are curious about commune living, community co-ops, or intentional living communities for our future living arrangements — but we need advice. What should we know before we decide whether to take the dive into this world?

Oh, do I ever have the inside scoop on this one. See, my mom runs an intentional community called Sacred Groves on the property where I grew up. For those who have read my book, our wedding reception happened at Sacred Groves, so all the shenanigans that took place that night were hosted by the Groves.

That in mind, I decided to bring in my mom to answer this question. Take it away, Ma!

Intentional Communities

By Therese Charvet, of Sacred Groves
Living in community is as old as the human race. Our modern lifestyle with singles, couples and single-families living in isolated housing units is relatively modern, and uncommon in much of the world. Conventional houses and apartments offer much privacy and reduce the hassles of sharing, but they can also breed isolation, loneliness and can put a strain on marriages. Intentional Communities, Communes and Co-housing situations offer an alternative to this model, one more akin to our traditional roots.

Every community is different but the basic premise is that you live in proximity with a group of people with whom you share the use of certain common facilities, and things are set up in such a way as to promote connection and familiarity amongst the residents. Generally speaking, this is the definition of "Intentional Community." Dozens of models of intentional communities exist, some with only a few people, some with hundreds, some with a charismatic leader, others with a commitment to consensus.

There is quite a movement afoot in the U.S. toward community living. In fact, a national organization exists and a national directory of intentional communities is available for people looking for housing. For more description and definition of Intentional Communities, see Wikipedia and/or the website for The Fellowship of Intentional Communities.

I raised my daughter Ariel in a single-family dwelling, a tiny log cabin we built ourselves. Ariel and her father David were both only-children that enjoyed their privacy, and the house was small, so I put my desire to live in community on the back burner for twenty years. However, I always yearned for community, so I tended a thriving network of friends and comrades.

In late 2005, my current partner Tere and I decided it was time to make the land where we live, Sacred Groves, an "intentional community." We transformed the downstairs of the log cabin (with kitchen, bathroom and dining area) into "common space" and used the upstairs rooms plus three nearby cabins as private space for residents' bedrooms. A couple women friends who happened to be looking for housing at that time decided to join our experiment and the four of us formed the first rendition of a Sacred Groves Intentional Community.

Since that time, we've had a dozen renditions of our community, as people have come and gone. In 2007-08 we built a beautiful new home, the "Round House" with two bedrooms, two nearby round cabins, a new cabin near the log cabin and another new cabin on its way. We currently have eight adults and five children living here, an age range of 7 months to 60 years old. We've evolved "Community Agreements" to guide day-to-day activities, share a "food fund," community dinner cooking schedule, chores for keeping our common spaces orderly, a "community fund" for gardening supplies, regular "Community Councils" for talking over business and our lives. Five of us adults (plus four kids) share the kitchen and bathrooms in the Round House.

It is nearly always heart-warming and sometimes very challenging to live in this way with people. Some of the challenges include getting enough quiet/private time, figuring out chores, working out disagreements in a functional way, staying out of each other's business. Each of us has to deal with our personal control issues regularly; community living does not make it easy to be a control freak. It flushes out what you are attached to, that's for sure! But the rewards are worth the effort! These rewards include spiritual and personal development and participating in the evolution of human consciousness toward a more cooperative society. That's big work, work the world really needs right now.

The success of a community depends on a combination of personality factors and the functional infrastructure. Ideally the community has a clearly articulated mission and goals, so those coming in will know what they are getting into. Systems for paying expenses, buying food, keeping the house clean, keeping the property tended need to be equitable and clearly articulated. Written agreements and policies are helpful, especially with big groups. The personal qualities that work best in community are open-ness and curiosity toward others, willingness to share resources as well as the skill to claim personal boundaries when indicated. A good communitarian is willing to work through conflict and drop judgments, to look at one's own foibles, control issues and blind spots, is committed to creating a better world by doing the interpersonal work of learning to live cooperatively and happily with others.

In closing let me say that I love this lifestyle and hope to live in community until old age. I don't understand those 90 year olds who want to live alone in their own house until they die. I love living around children and young adults, it keeps me flexible and up to date, it gives me a place to share my stories, my skills, my time and my gifts. It makes me smile to hear the children laughing uproariously as they jump on the trampoline. Life is good!

If you're interested in learning more about my mom's community, you can see photos of Sacred Groves on their website or on Flickr. Oh and my mom tells me they miiiiight have openings for new Grovesmates in the coming months. Click here if you're interested in that sort of thing.

I'd also love to hear from Homies who may have had experience living in community. I know from my times out at Sacred Groves, that it can be a challenging and rewarding experience for folks who are suited to that kind of living. Anybody got any stories to share?

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