Harper Cowan

25th September, 2014 

About an hour’s drive from Rochester proper, we found Rochester Folk Art Guild. We pulled up and were greeted by a soft spoken, curly-haired blonde man sitting on the lawn playing with an adorable kitten in the sunshine. This is almost par for the course in our lives now, and we ain’t complaining. We stayed in a big, sweet room with four neatly made single beds with brown gingham blankets and white eyelet pillow shams. Our room was  above the incredible library, filled with books with titles like “Cosmic Consciousness” and “Creative Dreaming” – books about permaculture, gardening, plants, medicine, meditating, books by Krishnamurti, and of course Gurdjieff, upon who’s teaching the community was founded. Our room was in the same house as the community dining room, and the group-kitchen where many a dish was washed and one late night was spent ruminating over hot fresh cups of tea and dancing in socks to live fiddle-music.

This place was so incredible we had to extend our stay, we just couldn’t leave. Many of the members of this community had experienced a similar sensation, coming to visit the farm in the early seventies and remaining there still today.

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The quality of “attention” in Gurdjieff’s teachings was emphasized to us by several members of the community. It seems a meditative, steadying practice – paying attention to whatever you’re doing, doing it with effort, focus, care. The idea of attention, to me, translated to the idea of always trying to be present. Remaining present is an ongoing struggle, I notice how scattered my brain can become, in how many directions it can simultaneously try to wander, and I strive to bring it back, to focus on what’s happening right now, on how my body feels, on my feet on the ground, the air that I’m breathing. Being present is crucial, now is all we can ever hope to have, and surrendering to that and being able to enjoy it is, to me, an essential pursuit.

The Guild centers around crafts – they are prolific pottery makers, weavers, sewers, and wood shop aficionados. The craft-making is a form of meditation, they don’t do it for the glory, they do it for the satisfaction that comes from devotion to a practice. Many have spent years and years honing their craft, and I think that effort and care makes them feel good, it’s a way to engage with detail that resonates in both the big and small pictures. They also have an incredible farm run by the sweet and knowledgeable younger generation of community members – they never use pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, chemical fertilizers, or genetically modified organisms, and they provide the region with a CSA (locally grown produce available for pick-up once a week). We did our best to help them harvest potatoes while simultaneously trying to film the experience.

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At Rochester Folk Art Guild, I again bonded with the animals – we had a constant companion in Bobo, a black lab and a gracious host, and Lyra, a little puppy, a bit nippy but cute as a button mushroom. There were also loads of happy chickens here, and chicks, two horses (one deaf, named SweetPea), and I saw a praying mantis. Also, NEWSFLASH, i got stung by a bee – rather unpleasant, I have to say, but probably worse for the bee in the long run.

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 3.56.00 PMThe people at the Guild were so welcoming to us, so open and so interested in our project. We tried to answer their questions and relay to them some of what we’ve learned from visiting so many communities this year. We had breakfast, lunch and dinner with them every day, it was really nice to get to come together at least 3 times in the day and check in – hear what people were working on, what had happened to them since the last meal, and a good time for people to pose any questions that needed the whole community’s approval, like “should we buy a pig?” and “Is it ok if Jess & Harps stay another night?” One of my favorite activities was washing dishes – everyone that was at the meal choses a job –  collecting compost material, washing dishes, drying, or putting away. Doing dishes becomes fast, easy and enjoyable, as well as some more time to spend with the community and an equalizing manifestation of gratitude – nobody feels taken advantage of, there is no server and served, it’s a group effort and a joyful time, another crack in the day that gets filled with attention (care and focus) where there could too easily be none.




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