Inna and I are huddled on Ilja’s bed, swimming in blankets and giant pillows. A long string of LED lanterns is strung across the wall overhead, casting a calming glow to the sound of evening traffic on Gneisenaustraße. In the kitchen, Lauren is making a first batch of Kombucha while Sekar blends garlic and chilis for chutney. Ilja pours tea.
The day has been a strange one, but that’s nothing new.
With new residents entering vacant spaces, old residents returning after long absences, partners visiting from afar, all in the midst of a pandemic that ceaselessly teases at its own end, the feeling of keeping one’s head just above the waves of experience is somehow also nothing new.
Riding out the second lockdown in a community of 10–12 people in the last months has accelerated a process that I began feeling at the start of my journey in The Life Itself Berlin Hub. Moving from isolated individual living quarters into an intentional co-living collective, sharing lifelines and life spaces, I saw myself as a single-celled organism who had woken up to find herself a part of some larger life form.
At first, this was intensely overwhelming. Going from having only my own thoughts and feelings to constantly sensing an ocean of others made me feel I was involuntarily telepathic. In the first weeks, I felt myself vigorously stretched to hold everyone’s voices — all their stories, directions, and immediate experiences were suddenly present in my body.
As we lived and worked together in close quarters over the following months, I also began feeling other people’s feelings. Anxiety and anger would flood me at unexpected moments, which I would at first believe were my own, only to discover later that someone else had been feeling it from a stressful day at work.
Now, nearly six months later (or six years, in what we call the vortex of HubTime), the strangeness of thinking and feeling with multiple consciousnesses is still there. It is simply now a familiar strangeness. I find myself curiously acting, thinking, and even emoting in tandem with those I have close relationships with, in a way that is more than what happens just with roommates. They feel like a part of me now, and fittingly, I a part of them.
When new residents join, it feels like waking up with a new limb that you don’t quite know how to relate to yet. With every new iteration of member constellations, the collective sheds a layer of skin as it continues becoming the next version of Life Itself.
Back under the glow of LED lights, Inna, Ilja, and I — the three born under the red flags of the former Soviet Union and China, share our experiences of that kind of collectivism compared with the one we were now co-creating. Inna talks of how in the days of her parents, only 100 million pairs of shoes were produced per year, which had to be distributed and sold to last the whole country the entire year regardless of how many were needed. She talks of queueing to buy food, where money was not the only thing that was needed but also stamps to legitimize how much food was purchased. All the things we learn in textbooks about the realities of a planned economy, Inna had lived.
Ilja listens and supports with his gentle, inviting presence. On other occasions, he shows a book of photos made by his mother on his thirtieth birthday, with black and white photos of their lives in the former Soviet Union before immigrating to Germany. With indescribable calm, he shares that his grandmother died today in Russia of an eye operation complicated by a Covid infection.
I am quiet and still surfing the waves of experience. These beings, who have become as close to me as my own body parts over the last months are at once so familiar, and yet still so mysterious. We share our daily lives. We’ve learned to work as a coordinated unit (and an impressive one, at that), supporting each other and building scaffolds to support others. Our shared context is the foundation upon which we create meaning. It is strange to think of relating to them outside of this context of community living. They are not only my housemates but more. They are not exactly my friends, but more. My relationship with them is best and most simply described as familial. And our experiences together are at times aggravating and upsetting in just the way that family members can be aggravating and upsetting. And they are rewarding, beautiful, and deep in the way that only family relationships can sometimes touch.
I keep on taking it all in — the lamps still glowing overhead, the hum of the traffic outside, the snippets of conversation threading their way from the hallway. I suppose this is no stranger than waking up in your own biological family — people you also never chose, but who are nevertheless with you through all of it.
To learn more about Life Itself, The Berlin Hub, and our micro-culture projects to spark societal transformation towards a radically wiser world, visit lifeitself.us/hubs/berlin.