Robert: What was the village you grew up in like?
Francois: The village had 600 people, with most of them farmers, and more recently some people (because there is a problem in France like everywhere), going to make some work with enterprises like building houses, working in small factories. When I was little, it was really a farming village. You know, our games were to jump on the back of the cows, to play with the rabbits, go and pick dandelions and grass for the rabbits along the paths. Everyday when I came back from school, my mother would give me a basket – in the spring – and send me to pick dandelions where I could find some, along the river, anywhere, and that was the salad for the evening. In all the village, little kids did that. In our house, we had a huge bread oven, made by my grandfather, in which we burned big bundles of fuel, and we baked the bread in it. We baked like 40 kilo of bread at a time. That was all part of the old tradition.
When I was little, until I was ten years old, gypsies were still very much traveling with horses and wagons, and we had a stable. We had no more horses, but we had a stable. They would come and put their horses in the stable, stop their wagons, come eat with the family, and tell us a lot of interesting stories. Out of that a bridge was created. Already somehow I realized there was something else than just the village. Those gypsies, you look at their faces – they look like no one else. They look like a . ., I did not know what they look like, but they were brown with black eyes. Those people are from India, more or less. I mean, the gypsies came thousands of years ago from India. Many of them are an incredible Indian type when you know it, you look at it. They had a sense of music, of storytelling that was completely different from the farmers around. They were the people of the road. As far as I know there have been only two kinds of people on the earth, the nomadic civilization and the pastoral, agricultural civilization. There are the people staying and the people moving. The people moving bring news, new techniques. So, somehow, after their visits my life became a combination of that. It is a new phenomenon that we see much now today. The new nomads are appearing again in their big home buses and doing what the gypsies did. Anyway, in our village, the gypsies were hated by people, because that is a very old story. The settled men have always disliked the nomads, because the nomad people endanger their values and security somehow.
Robert: What were some of the other things, good and bad, you saw in village life?
Francois: Of course, that village I was born in was not the village that impressed me the most. I even left it quite early, but afterwards I lived in other villages that were even more typical, more traditional. In France, in Morocco (I lived in a village or so in Morocco), and they were more pastoral villages because I chose to be a shepherd for some years. Also in Norway, a fishing village. People who lived from fishing, from cutting trees, making furniture and selling a bit of wood, having some sheep in the mountains. So that kind of village life was the one that was most interesting.
The value of a village? I’ll have to think about that, because for me I can not imagine any other life than village life, so consequently it is very hard for me to see the value of village life. It is like if you asked me, "What’s the value of love for a couple?" And I think, well I don’t know. Any city I see is for me a nonsense. I can love the people, like in New York. I loved New York because there was a big humanness in New York, but at the same time, from the beginning for me the city is a nonsense, it’s absurd. It’s like a big octopus with suckers pumping the countryside around. A city has no life of itself. If the trucks that bring the vegetables and the food to the city stop for only two days, the city would collapse, die. If you cut the electricity, if you cut . . the city is a completely artificial life. A village can live and live and live for hundreds of years if you cut all those things because it’s on the Mother Earth, on the living Earth, and because the number of people is small and all that. I mean, a village, with all its mistakes and jealousy is a natural self that breathes and has a pulse. It might be sick in some places, but its alive. For me, the big thing is that a city is unreal. Of course, there are humans, so we love it. We’ll go there, but the city is biologically unreal, it doesn’t live of itself, it has no life of itself. Everything you touch in a city is dead. It does not evolve, it’s paving, it’s stones. There is no life in a city of itself, therefore it’s hard for me to say what is good in a village, because the only life I see as possible for human beings is a village life.
A hamlet life, or village life, or community life is a life where you know every one of the people you live around. I think that when the village becomes so big that you don’t know everyone who lives around, you must stop the growth. I think everything you must reach with your hands and with your feet, like within a stroll of half an hour, for example. The world is at the tip of our finger. When it stops being reachable by the tip of our finger, it becomes monstrous, it escapes us.
What is good in a village is hard for me to say in that way. I really see that it is the only possible life, is village life. I see very much like Gandhi visualized it, a world of decentralized village democracies. That is the way he called it, or a gentle anarchy he called it. I see very much that the best way to be interdependent with our heart and the best way to feel we are one is to first be very independent with our basic needs. If, for example, I am too much depending on you for my clothes or for my food or for my fuel, it would be very hard to have really clean relations at the level of the heart. Maybe I have a truth to say to you. "Eh, Robert, I think that’s not right with you." Your attitudes or whatever. I won’t say it because you’re furnishing me with the wood. I won’t dare to say to you the truth that you need as a friend, because you might take it bad and you might not give me wood anymore. Therefore, hypocrisy comes very quickly if we are too dependent on the material level. We need to be self- sufficient, like decentralized village democracies, as much as possible. When I say village, I mean a real village, not a residential village. I mean a village where there are gardens, goats, cows, a little dairy – a village like a community we see today. To be as much, as much, as much as possible self-sufficient on all the basic levels of clothes, shelter, warming, fuel, building is the best way to have the best possible relation with the next village because our relation is really coming from the heart. It is like people who married for money, or who married to get a bigger estate. It is very hard to keep the love pure in that way, but if you are marrying someone who has nothing to give you, you have nothing to give her materially, it’s just love. I believe very much that the best way to clear up our relationships all over the planet is self-sufficiency.
I don’t see self-sufficiency as a kind of isolation. For me it is not the opposite of communication. It is the best way to start clear on our communication, because our communication must be coming from the heart. We go to the next village for a feast, or we go to the next village because we want to see other people who are a bit different from us. We don’t go there because we are going to please them so that in return we are going to get this or that. All over the world the economy is based on that. The planet has become such a place of lies, and hypocrisy, and a wrong vibration between people and countries. So I see the village as being very independent economically.
Another aspect I will say about that thing is a more spiritual aspect. For example, why a village should be self- sufficient, or why we, in our little farm, homestead, should be. We were really striving, working hard on that idea that here is the place we are going to depend on; to have our cultural life, our spiritual life, our material life, our food, everything, because that’s more spiritual. For me it is as important. I don’t speak about the economic factor. Oh [changing his mind], very quickly, we did not want imported products or oranges. We bought no products from other countries, especially not at all from poor countries, but not even from other countries, because we know that when you get oranges, for example, from Morocco in France, it’s the cheapest fruit, because in Morocco people are starving. They are paid less than nothing to pick the oranges, and where they pick the oranges, they can not grow their own vegetables. And if some people try to grow their vegetables, they are put in jail. It happens the same in Honduras and El Salvador with the bananas, so we must stop eating those things clearly and simply, because it means suffering and it means unrighteousness in other parts of the world.
But the other aspect of it is also that for me importing things is like saying to God, "Hey, your world is not well done. We have not enough vitamin C here, we need oranges." And it’s not true. He will tell you, "No, you have enough. Look, you have wild rose hips here, or you have this or that." We saw that in our place where we lived in Norway. The balance of nature was perfect. You could grow, and you could pick in the wild, and you could fish, and you could find everything that the body needs, for shelter, for everything. So using things that are around you is a kind of way to say to the great spirit, "Hey, it’s perfect. Look, I have everything I need here." That’s the best way to express your total gratefulness towards the creator who made the world perfect, in every place it’s perfect. Eskimos might eat only meat and seal fat and clothe themselves with seal skins. It’s perfect for them. Any place has all it needs for keeping a human alive, and not only alive, but happy and everything, so self- sufficiency is a way to express your contentment, your satisfaction. Dependency is a way to express your dissatisfaction, and your everlasting discontent – you are never satisfied. You want an orange, you want bananas, you want coffee, you want this. It doesn’t grow here, but you want it. It’s a way to say, we have not enough. It’s like if we are in a house together and I am always running away. It’s like if you are married with a woman, and are always going to sleep some nights with another woman, because you are not in love with the first woman. It’s a bit what we do when we are not satisfied with what we are. The earth is a woman, is a beautiful queen. Around here we have everything we need, and we will express our satisfaction and contentment by developing all our senses and exploring around and seeing that around is everything we need, to transform it into food, into art, into beauty, into shelter – everything is here.
So therefore, it comes back to the big wisdom and knowledge of the tradition. To see that, I had to take my bag on my back and go to see people who know that. All over Europe, in some places of Germany, some places of Scotland, especially the mountainous parts, some places of Spain, Italy, or Morocco, or Norway, there are people who have built their houses only with the local wood. Where all food and recipes are made only with the things that grow around. In Norway, the basic food was potatoes, bread, fish, and milk, which is only about four things, some berries, but from those things, thousands, hundreds of different kinds of bread, recipes, hundreds of ways of making milk, you know, preparing milk. You are not going to run after exotic things, but see how you can use in depth all the local things. It is the same in the way to honor stone and wood. You are not going to learn it from the world today. You open a recipe book, you are sure half of the products are from India, from Africa, some are local. We have no more that sense of integrity of things being here. So you have to go to the places where the tradition still exist to learn that wisdom and that kind of good way to use the local things.
Robert: Could you say more about the places you have been in your travels?
Francois: I can say very quickly the places that have especially impressed me. First place I went to was Lapland; I went to Finland and then Lapland. By an accident, a good accident, I got lost more or less in the tundra, working there. I met some Lapps and I stayed seven months with the nomad Lapps people who are living with reindeer and in tipis. And there I think I had the chance to really experience the nearest thing we know of the arctic and Indian culture. Eskimos, Indians, and Lapps had many basic things the same. The Lapps people are the only people today, with maybe some Eskimos, who really still live undisturbed their way of life. They have slowly modernized a bit, but their values are basically the same. They have never been exterminated like Indians in America, put in reservations. Lapland is the place where Lapps have lived hundreds and hundreds of years. So I lived with those Lapps. It was the first time my set of values was disturbed completely by a new set of values that was very beneficial.
I can explain briefly the life of the Lapps people. They are part of that arctic population. They are the reindeer people, like some Eskimos were caribou people. They make their clothes out of reindeer skin, they still do today. They live off reindeer meat. They sleep on reindeer skins. They herd flocks of reindeer. Not all the Lapps do that, to make things clear, only 20% of the Lapps still live that way of life. They are the rich Lapps. They look poor, they look ragged, they look smokey, they smell strong, but they are the rich Lapps. If you ever go there, you will not be fooled about that. Many other Lapps have had to abandon that way of life, and they are either working as fishermen, with Norwegian Fishermen, or working in local lumbering industry, or different things. Also, a very interesting group of Lapps are living along the riversides, or by the lake where they combine fishing – salmon and trout – and selling those salmon and trout and other kinds of fish, I don’t know the name in English, and making some Lapps’ crafts like knives and shoes. Lapps shoes are very renowned for winter. They are very good. They are made only of reindeer skin – a kind of moccasin. They are so good that many Norwegians also use them. And they make a beautiful knife that is very renowned – a very, very good knife. They also make a nice river boat, kind of a canoe. They grow some potatoes, they might have a few sheep, and the reindeer which they use for packing and milking in some parts. So they are a bit with reindeer, a bit with farming, and a lot of hunting – ptarmingan and arctic hare, and eating reindeer meat a bit. But they are farmer/Lappscraftsmen – that mixture, and fishermen in the lakes. A very interesting breed of people. Very similar to the people on the west coast of Norway where I live. That mixture of many aspects. The craftsman aspect, the farmer aspect, and the hunter or wild nomad aspect mixed in one man – very interesting.
But those Lapps I lived with are mostly the nomadic Lapps. I can say a few things about those people. When I went to the Lapps and started to stay with them, they were just going to kill some reindeer before the big migration. I must say, the Lapps people are herding reindeer flocks, but in fact they have no control over the reindeer flock. What happens is that the inside part of Lapland is marshes and lakes and is very full of mosquitoes in summer, and a swamp. You might have a place like that in northern Canada, tundra like and wet. The north is rocky shores, with fresh wind, salty air and nice green pasture on those rocky shores. The reindeer have always moved, like a pendulum, during the year. When the summer comes and the snow melts on the tundra, mosquitoes start to appear, swamps are dangerous, it is very hard to walk there. The reindeer on the last snow have the instinct of going when the last snow is still hard to the sea, and when they arrive there, there is green pasture just ready for them. But in winter, the seashore is terribly windy, stormy. It is just impossible to stand there. By instinct the reindeer on the first snow go back to the tundra, which then is frozen so it is not dangerous with swamps, it is not wet, there are no mosquitoes. What they do is dig the snow with their hoof and get lichen and moss from under the snow. So in winter they are in the tundra and in summer they go on the coast. The reindeer follow that big movement and the Lapps people just follow them. The Lapps people are just on the watch all the time. They mark their reindeer. They bite their hair and make some marks. So a man has reindeer, "That’s my reindeer, that’s your reindeer." But in fact, it’s very funny, because they appropriate reindeer, which are theirs, but they follow their wild instincts. Man decides nothing. It is a very interesting aspect of controlling nature but still nature is free. So they follow those flocks of reindeer.
When I first came there and met the people, they were going to kill their reindeer in the end of the summer to migrate back. They always kill a lot of reindeer before the migration. That’s the control of man. They gather them in a very special way that I won’t explain now. It would take hours to speak of their life. When they are gathered, they kill a big part of the ones who will die along the way anyway, old ones or sick ones, many young males. They don’t want to keep so many young males. It doesn’t make the flock grow. They will be skinned, the skin will be salted. Part of the skin will be sold. The nicest skin they keep for themselves, for clothing. Some part is for shoes, some part for gloves, everything. Sinews, they still sew with the sinews there. They use the sinew on their teeth; they spin them somehow, and they sew the shoes with the sinews. The sinews get bigger when there is water; it makes the shoe completely tight. So they really live off the reindeer, they really are still the reindeer people.
When I was there I saw those people, and they were very nice with me and very smiling. And occasionally on a little fire outside they would make some cafe with a piece of reindeer meat, and they would just let me have some. After one day or two I asked them if I can help them to work. I get no answer. Also ask if I can sleep here, if I can be there a few days – never an answer. Sometimes a kind of mumbling, but no answer. But I could see that they did not dislike me. You can feel, you know. I don’t think they dislike me, I think it’s all right. I felt some nice smiles, sometimes jokes, and twinkling of the eyes. But each time I wanted to have a clear answer, a clear something about something – no answer. In Europe, I was used to ask, can I do this or can I do that. "Can I help you?" You get an answer with civilized people. For days it went on. I never got an answer. So I started to do the job of the little kids and the young girls, because work is very organized like that. And they just laughed; made some funny song about me, because they have those song relations with them, like Indians have the same kind of songs. I became ready to be part of their fun, of their life, but never still could I get an answer. And for days, I saw them going in their tipis, their kind of tipis, and I had never seen a tipi in my life. I had never been inside. You can imagine being born in a little village in France, having read stories about Indians, and I thought, "Oh, I would like to see a tipi inside, so really magic." They all went in and out and laughed a lot, and drank schnapps and that whiskey, and sang. I could not just be with them, they never invited me.
I thought, really those people are very strange. I am with them, I help them a bit, and they are very friendly, but they never invite me into their tipis. Anyone that I had worked with in France would have invited me in. It was kind of a block. One day I asked a young girl, "I would not like to disturb, but if I could go in your tipi . . ." I was very stupid and using gloves to speak. And she said, "Phew". She called all the girls and she explained what I said, and they laughed at me and mocked me and pushed me and said, "You are stupid, go in." And then later, people really made clear to me, in their country, you don’t ask things. You are a man, aren’t you? Don’t you know what is good and right? Don’t you know what you need? Why are you asking like a little child if you can stay, if you can work, if you can go in? Don’t you see, if you are cold, it is cold outside and warm inside. What are you doing standing in the doorway? Go in. They have that kind of clear logic. They have done without all our politeness and all our introductions. They don’t have it. They don’t even say thank you, usually. I remember one day I bought a lot of chocolate because I had been in the little village. I knew everyone liked chocolate, and I liked chocolate. I would not do it now because I’m more conscious about it, but then I brought a big packet, and gave it to the people – some people I had been with a lot. Nobody thanked me. Everybody ate it. Well, if I wanted to give chocolate, it was my own pleasure, wasn’t it. If I want to give it, I want to give it. We are not going to make a big thing about it. That does not mean they were not grateful. Themselves, they gave me a lot of things, like a bunch of people (I never suspected they were doing it) they had started to make clothes for me, with reindeer, beautiful decorated clothes. They gave it to me and I said, "Ah, thank you!" They told me, "Eh, come on, that’s all right." I had the same experience walking in the tundra for days and seeing finally a little house with smoke. I banged the door with my bad reflex, my old reflex. Nobody opened the door. It was storming outside! After a while, someone opened the door, a bit upset. "Why don’t you come in?" Inside I asked, can I have some meat. They just get upset. "Of course you can have some meat. There is meat here. Why do you ask?"
With us, you go to a place, and I ask you, for example, "Can I stay a week at your place?" You tell me yes. Then somehow what can happen, because there is a lazy man in us, once you have told me I can stay a week I have the assurance for a week you will not throw me out. Then I might be very lazy during that week. Not very conscious of what needs to be done. Not very conscious that your home is my home in both ways – I must also care for it, care for your child, really support the house with you. You have told me I have a guarantee for a week. I am supported. I am accepted. So what happens sometimes, your mind gets lazy and during your week you let yourself be a guest. But those people are never going to tell you you can stay a day or two days.
I was suddenly put in front of a situation that was almost too much for me. My capacity of judgment almost broke down, because I was suddenly put in front of a tremendous challenge of deciding for myself and myself alone. I had no one to give me permission or interdiction. I was there naked and alone before people I did not know, and the door was completely open, which was quite scaring. I could sleep there, I could eat there, and at the same time I knew I could not sleep there and eat there indefinitely. For the first time in my life I had to know what was the limit. I would think, I need to sleep there tonight; normally, tomorrow morning I had better go away, but they would let me stay anyway. But what do I really want, is it to stay with those people? No, what I am doing is traveling through this country. Maybe you do not realize, but we are so used to rest on other people. All our society is like that. You are allowed to walk on the lawn here but not there. Suddenly you are in a place where everything is allowed, but you know perfectly that not everything is possible and not everything is wise. You suddenly have to make very strong choices, because those people are never going to answer, "Can I help you?" You have to ask yourself, "Should I help, does he want the help? OK, I’ll help, but what should I do?" Then you have to observe more, because people are not going to show you what you are going to do. They never told me how I could help them, so I had to make a special effort of imagination and observation to see how I could help them. It was a very great teaching for me. You can see the point?
Another aspect that might interest you (because that is village life). The Lapps people are living in cedes – ceda means small community. A cede is 5 to 7, maybe 10, but usually 5 to 7 families. There is no leader. Every year they chose a leader for the migration, but it is changing all the time, so they have no leader. They have 7 families, for example living together. They live as separate families, but they manage the flock of reindeer together. Each family has its quantity of reindeer. They function like a little tribe. It does not have the aspect of "That’s our tribe and we are very different from the next tribe." Most Lapps’ cedes are the same. They have been grouped for generations into that 7 family group which migrate with that large flock of reindeer together. It might be 12,000 or 15,000 reindeer for a cede which is divided between each family. So that’s the cede.
Now inside the cede there’s something very interesting. When I was with the Lapps, and I stayed a long time there and much with young people, I noticed there was almost no generation conflict. Sometimes there were arguments, but the reason was not generation. Someone was in a bad mood or someone was arrogant, you know. There were fights, but not the typical generation conflict I was used to – very smooth, the passage of age was very smooth. I investigated more and I learned something very interesting about their inheritance system. Their inheritance system is like, for example, if I am a Lapp and I own 600 reindeer, and I fall in love with that Lapp girl, Tanya, who has 600 reindeer. We marry; we have 1200 reindeer. First child we get, the day he is born, he gets from us 1 reindeer. For his first tooth, he adds 1 reindeer, and so it goes on. When a child is seven years old, he maybe has twenty reindeer. Second child comes, same thing. As the parents grow older, they get less reindeer. It is like two vessels communicating slowly. You can see that?
When I was 10, I got my first pocket money, and I would beg my parents to get so much for this and that. Always it created conflict, such that after a while, I wanted to go away from home and be independent, which you have done, probably everyone has done. I wanted to be independent from my old folks, not always asking them for money. It doesn’t happen with the Lapps, because from the beginning they don’t make the difference that the parents are the owners, the givers of money and the children are those dependent persons. When a child is 10 years old he has maybe 18 reindeer. I don’t know, it depends on the size. So what happens, when a child is 10 years old, if he has a fancy of, "When we go to the town next time, I want to buy a gold arm band," – something not useful? The parents aren’t going to say anything. It is your reindeer. You lose. So when the killing will come he will say I want to kill that and that reindeer. It is not unusual to see very small kids deciding which reindeer we are going to kill. They will have money from that or they want the skin. From very young, the reindeer are owned by the whole family. When the people are getting old, like 60 or 70 years old, obviously they have few reindeer, but they have still like 30 reindeer. Just enough. What do two old folks need? Not very much. They eat less, they are not so interested about jewelry, nice clothes, and things like that. It has all gone smoothly.
Somehow we do the same, but much more complicated, much more unfair. And that meant that there was no generation problem, because most of the generation problem is an economic conflict. It does not seem like that, but it is like that, because once you are twelve or thirteen, you want to use your energy in such and such direction, and you need money somehow – unless you live a different way of life. But, you need money or some material way to express it. You have to ask your parents, and if your parents are a bit narrow minded, you have to start to use flattery. You have to start to be crooked, you know, to get the money from your folks. First you ask Papa, and then you ask Mama – you start to use crooked ways, and lies, and flattering- something not clean even in your family. The family should be a sacred place where we don’t need to do that, but it starts in the family.
It is the same with relationships. You have a girl friend. You are 13 years old, you want to sleep with her, but you aren’t going to say, "I am going to sleep with my girl friend." You say, "I am going to Bob’s; we are going to play badminton together," while in fact you go to Kathleen’s or wherever. You tell lies to your parents.
The Lapps people, they have this thing. When the young kids are 13 or 14 years old, all boys and girls go away for two weeks. They go away camping, and they do what they want. They make love, they have experiences. People have a lot of premarital sexual experience, friendly experience, and the parents don’t put their noses in at all. So those two things, economics and relationships, are not controlled by the parents. That’s your life.
One other thing I saw in the village life of the Lapps people, I saw little kids who were 2 1/2 years old using huge Lapps’ knives – chop, chop, chop. They would split wood, cut wood, make a fire. They would take big salmon, cut them, take the guts away, roast and separate them. 2 1/2 3, 4 years old they already knew how to handle an ax and a knife without cutting themselves, or maybe they learned with some cuts. The grown-ups, parents are completely placid, calm beside a 2 1/2 year old child using a huge, very sharp knife, splitting a little piece of wood. I was used to see the same situation in our culture, like in France you would have had half of my sisters or aunts screaming, "Yehaa! He is going to cut himself!" So very young, they learn to be man and woman, living with nature, and they become very clever. I have seen sometimes some young girls, 13 years old or something like that, going to ski alone for two days, to hunt ptarmingan, in the cold, cold snow of the arctic. And people will not worry, because children are very much faced with real life.
The children have very few toys. Some little kind of funny things made of bone, but the whole thing is life. Since that time, and now after years I have become more and more sure of one thing. I think toys are hell for children. I think all those toys we give to children cause incredible confusion. If we have a life which is interesting, you live by the land, you are a craftsman, you go picking berries, what do you need a toy for? We need toys because our life as grown-ups is so boring that we have to throw them some things to play with. But as soon as you have a life that is related to living things, trees, bark, small stones, anything you work with, the toys just fade. We have never used toys with our daughter, and she does not want toys. We have been visiting people who have toys, and the conflict starts straight because as soon as the toys come, the "Mine! No Mine!" starts. But with the things of daily life there is very little of that, because you can’t claim, that table is yours, that tree is mine. But those toys are that kind of exciting thing on that level of mine and yours, ego level for children. I also see the confusion toys bring. It’s like toys are so much made of that world we live in – just gadget, gadget, gadget. Toys are that gadget world we have thrown at the feet of our children, who in fact are very pure and kind of innocent and very open beings who don’t need that, who don’t want it, who can do without it, and who develop themselves much better without it. So somehow, seeing the life of the Lapps children, and all those things I have seen after, and seeing negative things in families, has really made me think, let’s grow our child in a clear world, simple. Not a boring world. We will have games, we will have fun together, fun in learning. We don’t need all those things. It is so bad to have little children using the mine and yours, the material possessions, that you are something big because you have a big red plastic truck, I am better than you because I have a big doll, or I am better than you because my Papa is rich and can buy me an electric train. I think that is already corrupting the child’s world from the beginning. What I will do is give my daughter a good knife soon. I don’t want to put her in danger, but I want her to come into life with us. We go together and do the things of life, and I see that she is a very happy little girl in that way. That is the Lapp’s people’s way of education.
Robert: What are some of the difficulties you have seen in village life.
Francois: I think one of the big dangers of village life, which is the same as community life, is that once you start to have a good life in a village, you imagine you have the best life. Especially when you start to have difficulties in your village, you try to upgrade yourself by seeing that you are much better than the other. Because you quickly realize that it’s not heaven, even a little village or a community, so you need to get some strength from somewhere. Then you fall again in the same old thing, you have to find an enemy, someone who is bad. And very early, one of the first experiences that comes in community or village life is that thing, that "We are the right village, or the right community." Like self- righteousness or village mind and that destroys the whole thing. Village life has been here for thousands of years, and it has been war for thousands of years because of that spirit, because of thinking that we are the only one we are right, or we are the best village. So I think that as soon as a village is started or a community is started, in parallel, constantly should be kept that spirit of honoring the next village, honoring the next culture, honoring the next religion. Not adopting the next religion or the next village’s ways of doing, but honoring it. Really appreciating the good of other villages so that we can be a constellation of many villages, honoring each other.
The other thing is that very often in village life, and I see it also in community life, certain roles get filled and are then not available to other people. Some families even become forever the stupid people, forever the wise family. There is a perpetuation in roles. I can remember a man in my village where I was born, which was in many ways not a very good village, who was an example of this. He was one of the men who has impressed me very much in my life. He died when he was 60 about. When I was little, he was 45. He was a mason, a stone builder, and it happened that there was always something to do at our house – rebuild the pig house, or make a wall there around the garden. The masons from the village were very busy. There were only 600 people in the village and 5 or 6 of them, yet they were very busy. They were always 1/2 a day here, 6 hours there, 2 days there. They also did a few other things – they would dig a garden if you asked them. They were very flexible masons. That man, Joseph, came with another fellow. I remember as a child how good that man was to me. He was so kind. He was just kindness, like you would say Buddha was truth, he was kindness. He was just kindness. I can really remember how impressed I was when sometimes at the table when we ate, someone would say something a bit mean about someone else. A slight criticism, and we were not very criticizing but still you always drop a word without thinking, and he would always be there in a kind of gentle way, almost with tears in his eyes, and say, "Look, he is a good man. He has done this and that." Always pointed at the good of people. It happened at the same time that that man was the big, big drunkard of the village. He swallowed 7 liters of red wine a day. I mean it. Seven liters is almost 2 gallons. He was red, like a tomato. He was impregnated with alcohol. So what is that man? As a statistic, he is an alcoholic and nothing else. He is a man who has a problem. He never beat his wife or anything like that, but he was sometimes brought home in a wheelbarrow. He is the alcoholic of the village. For many people, that’s all he was. And very few people had the humility or the openness to see that he was an angel in that village. He really was. Some people now say it, many reflect on how kind he was, how good he was, but during the time he was living, people were more preoccupied about his alcohol problem than about his heart.
I see that as one of the reasons why many people run away from villages, because very often in a village your true heart cannot grow. Why do you fall in love and try to find someone who will love you? Because you want to find someone who will know your true heart. Who will know that here deep is a poet or a dreamer or something like that. That person knows it and the company of that person is so important. She is a person who knows your inside treasure, the pearl inside you. Why shouldn’t we try to know the precious pearl inside everyone in the village? But it happens that most villages are just the opposite of that. A village is a place where it is very hard to really let the precious pearl grow out. You are not allowed to. People don’t want to. There is a kind of voluntary, or maybe involuntary, blindness. I really see that village life can be very hard and very terrible about that. Roles are decided because of something that happened to you in your childhood and because everyone knows you, or because your father was this or that. Then you are not allowed to be something else. Especially if someone is a drunkard, then he is just a drunkard, or if someone is an old eccentric, he is just that. Maybe he is the philosopher of the village, but people are going to look up at a philosophy book or people who speak on the radio, not realizing that in their village they have a philosopher of much bigger stature, who knows the village. They can not see that in the village usually you have all those elements, the poet, the philosopher, the singer. They usually are killed. They are killed in the nest. They are not allowed to be that and they don’t become that. You can not become a singer if nobody listens to you. You can’t become a poet, really, if nobody listens to your poetry, asks for your poetry, and loves it.
Another interesting aspect of community and village life is expansion. One of the big trainings we concentrated on in our farm in Norway was this point of expansion and progress. We started the first year with one cow, a horse, 2 bee hives, 9 chickens, a boat, picking berries, and tending a garden. We were doing all of those hundreds of little things. Apparently it looked like a very little farm, but we were completely occupied all the time. But the year after, we said, "Eh, we could have 15 chickens." We just started to have 15 chickens and the whole thing was out of balance. We are very tempted as human beings to expand, like every year we think, eh, we should make a bigger garden – dig a bit more, dig a bit more. It is not only ambition, it can also be that you like something. Maureen likes to pick blueberries. But she is so fanatic at picking blueberries because she likes the little berries and the green leaves that the first year we had too many blueberries. We could not eat them all. And then, because we had spent two more days picking blueberries, we had not picked moss, or picked the leaves from under the trees to make compost. Something hadn’t been done. If you want a way of life where you really keep in balance with every small detail, you must not overdo anything, and you must control your ambition. So what we realized after our experience in our little farm, was that after the first or second year we found out what was good. We had only enough garden, enough fish, enough milk, enough eggs with that minifarm. We had to make a big effort to control our expansion, natural human expansion. Towns are exactly that, they are uncontrolled expansion – bigger, bigger, bigger. We found that we must not expand more. We tried with 4 beehives, it was too much. We really saw, because we used no farm machinery, in fact the limited need of human beings is very small, and we lived very well. If you can control a cow, a horse, 12 chickens garden, some fishing, cut your wood by hand, pick your medicinal herbs, weave your clothes – your whole year is full of occupation. I will say leave a good quarter of the time for feast and celebration, or your soul will die. So if you want to consider that, man is, even before everything else, made for celebrating, for dancing, for music, for beauty, for tenderness, for being together. We realized, and we are hard workers and well organized, that with that very small farm we had exactly enough. We had both enough work and enough to eat and be happy. So what shall we do with our energy of expansion? And we realized, eh, we turn it inside – we expand inside. So I say now, it is a great time to look a bit at the science of numbers. Start to see that you have ten fingers, two hands, two feet, not more. Everything in man is limited. It can be extremely blooming if we know our limits. Gandhi said that for him one of the places where he got so much strength was when he discovered his own limits. From the discovery of his own limits, he discovered the limits of man in general. He could really use, within his limits, his power to the maximum.
Within a village life, it’s very important. All villages want to grow bigger than the next village or just expand for its own sake. Any community, any congregation of monks can fall into the same trap – expansion. Francis of Assisi started with a handful of monks, with simplicity, poverty, really referring to nature and what God has written on the clouds and trees. Now, you go in Franciscan Monasteries, they are full of books, they have money in banks. The spirit of Francis of Assisi is completely gone – because of expansion. I can really see the new age can be completely gone into expansion. Everything can disappear into that expansion, into that material expansion. In a normal village, maybe 50 or 60 people – I see a really small village, you know – when we want to expand, we have too much energy. Let’s expand inside, inward. Instead of explosion, implosion. We need to expand outward up to a point to sustain our lives, but then the wisdom comes here – stop at the optimum. Expand inward in quality, in delicacy, in nuances. We saw in living rather primitively ourselves, that when you start to use that energy inside instead of outside is when you really start to become civilized.
I HAD the good fortune to meet Francois while we were both visiting communities in Oregon. He grew up in a village in southern France, blessed with a mother who read Gandhi. Early on, he decided that he wanted to learn from life rather than schools, and he has spent many years traveling and apprenticing throughout Europe. During the last 5 years he has lived with his wife Maureen and daughter Laila on a small farm in northern Norway in a tiny fishing village that has four other families.