Stories from a place called home — Shatz’s wild wild country

Yoav Goldwein
8 min readMar 7, 2020

Story about love, sexuality and a guru sitting between them.

“I love, therefore I exist” states the sign on Tamera’s gathering hall just above something that resembles an altar. It reminds me of one of those stark and dreading axioms in our local synagogue back in my adolescence, which intended to praise god or command you to follow his ways and the values of a healthy society. As an 8 year old, escorting my father on his journey to discover orthodox Judaism, they triggered mostly rebellion. None of our family members were persuaded to join his journey and gradually my father was drifting away to other worlds, disconnecting from one purpose and reconnecting to another.

Eventually he transformed wholly and left home in favor of a new life and a new family; leaving me with some unprocessed anger and many questions about good, evil, heaven, hell, god and in the words of the great Tina Turner — ‘what’s love got to do with it?’..

Tamera, an intentional community founded in Portugal in 1995, confronts me once more with some of those profound questions, but unlike Tina, it argues that love has got everything to do with it.

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Tamera, established in 1978, sprouted from 3 other communities in West Germany who challenged the concept of love and sexuality in the 1970’s. A few members of those communities, who struggled with the conservative local environment, made up their minds to migrate south and start a new chapter in a “warmer” climate.

Schatz, who moved here 9 years ago, took me on a tour through the land and described the community’s accomplishments over the past 20 years:

“The concept of Tamera first and for all is political. We are here to bring peace on earth through experimenting with communication methods, governance modules, relationships, conflict mediation and of course love and sexuality. In an era of individualism we want to know what it means to live together, to be true to our human nature and our feelings towards each other.”

Tamera’s symbol consists of 3 pole shaped elements which meet in the middle of a circle. According to Schatz, the symbol represents the aim to break the duality between 2 people by introducing another element to the equation. The additional element can be god, community, another lover or a spiritual leader, as I learned later in the conversation.

The community trusts that love is abundant, and there are no limits to the amount of (romantic) relationships one can be involved in.

Schatz himself is involved in a few relationships but not really typical ones… While his main partner for the last 4 years is a man, he also has 3 kids with 2 women.

One of them is a story that perhaps crystallizes the essence of living in a place like Tamera.

“The mother of the child and I had a short sexual relationship apart from our friendship, and the pregnancy was not planned. We agreed to keep the pregnancy, and when the child was born, we shared custody and responsibilities. However, as the child grew, I noticed she doesn’t resemble me in any way. After a short investigation it appeared that my partner was involved with another man from the community during our sexual relationship. We performed a genetic paternity test and it turned out I’m indeed not the father.”

It might sound like a synopsis of a Spanish Telenovela but love triangles like this one are not rare in Tamera, and usually are solved swiftly without dramatic expressions nor roars of revenge. What in most parts of society would have escalated into an ugly battle in court, was solved calmly with listening, empathy and unconditional love.

“I have already become very attached to the child and couldn’t see myself stepping down from being her father. The biological father, who was confused as I was, the mother and myself decided no one will be excluded from loving this child. Therefore we decided to share the parenting between all 3 of us, regardless of blood relations. Today, she spends every second weekend with me and sometimes I help her mother also on weekdays. It’s not so hard when we all live together in the same village.”

With no anonymity or places to hide, conflicts are the main source of pain in intentional communities. Friction in relationships is common, especially when people work intensively to build something together. But when sex is in the air even a small spark can start a fire, making Tamera as flammable as the Australian bush in peak dry season.

In order to follow a vision of peace and love that brings patriarchy and puritanism to an end, Tamera uses several tools to mediate conflicts. The main tool for dealing with relationships and peace keeping is called “Forum”.

Forum is a form of transparent communication, which is now being adopted worldwide by various social networks and communities. It offers a “stage” upon which people’s thoughts, feelings or anything that moves them can become visible to others. The person who chooses to enter the “stage” and share what is in their heart, is receiving reflections of their presentation from other community members (“mirrors”). The aim is to reveal whatever is authentic, alive and true and to share the inner motivation behind actions. According to Tamera, Forum is a powerful tool to reveal the blind spots in a person’s awareness and to harbor the treasures that lie in our “shadow”.

“Community is a good tool for self growth as it provides mirrors for the individuals instead of him or her dwelling in their problems alone and wasting energy on dysfunctioning relationships.” says Schatz, “We persistently practice forums every day in the sub communities and once a week in the frame of the whole community.”

Sub-communities are Tamera’s solution to the lack of intimacy in big groups. These clusters form around professions or responsibilities — education, ecology, elders, political network, etc. — and count up to 20–30 people who live in proximity to each other, having meals together and working closely on their areas of responsibility.

Tamera’s bold experiment inhabits today more than 200 permanent residents and welcome around 2000 to 3000 visitors a year who come to volunteer in maintaining the land or to study one of the courses Tamera is offering. Besides teaching Forum, Tamera’s institute for global peacework also offers other programs like: “Love school”, “Parents school”, “permaculture courses” and so on.

A few years ago Schatz got inspired to leave Tamera with some comrades and attempted to build a sister community with a similar spirit in his country of origin — Israel. The experiment failed eventually, mainly due to the lack of space, and bureaucratic barriers, but he admits there was a deeper, unexpected truth: “We were not experienced enough and in the time we spent away, we missed the wisdom and diversity of the bigger community, the structures we have built over time and the presence of our gurus.”

Here is the part where I raised my eyebrow as far as it can reach towards my receding hairline, and engaged all of my defense mechanisms into alarm mode. “Gurus???” I spit in confusion, watching the rose tinted picture I drew in my mind of this paradise becomes clouded by my own traumatic experience of religion.

“I love anarchy” Schatz calmly withstood my shock, “but back then we were a group of 3–5 strong leaders and inner clashes made our life much more difficult. A guru is a person that everyone has trust in to give an input and can make a change where it’s needed without the tyranny of reaching consensus. It saves a lot of community discussion time and makes it easy to make decisions.”

Those so called “gurus” Schatz refers to are the secret ingredient of Tamera’s governance system. They join a group of 15 members who share the role of higher council and support them as trusted spiritual guides.

“It sounds to me like Tamera is a sect” I try to trigger him. “What is the definition of sect?”, Schatz says defiantly. “First time I read about it, it sounded to me like something very similar to Judaism. I assume it was a negative term that main religions used against small religions to make them illegitimate. But after I read another definition which is different than Tamera, it became more clear. Sect is something that uses different social, economic and regulatory mechanisms to make it difficult for a member to get out of. This is not the case in Tamera where people are not obliged to stay and where members don’t have to donate all their possessions for the commons.”

“I think that we have a strong spiritual leaders who perhaps give a feeling of guruism, but also a strong and wise community that constantly deconstruct mechanisms of leadership”

“I will give you an example, 10 students who entered Tamera as a sub-community 2 years ago decided to start an experiment. Every week one of them is assigned to be the “guru”. The chosen person decides when and where they will meet, what they will discuss and can give orders for others. It’s a beautiful process to observe, and it is inspiring to see how much they learn about leadership from that experience. I think they understand now how much being a leader is being in service and how it affects one socially inside a group. In order for leaders to gain trust in a community like Tamera, they are required to be completely transparent and to show their most vulnerable side on a regular basis. It is a humbling process rather than a game of power and authority.”

Another example of how fluid leadership works, is “The Women Council”. An “institute” of 4–5 women in their 50’s or 60’s who gained the most wisdom and confidence when it comes to issues of love, human contact and sexuality. “When you’re in love, worried or suffer from matters of the heart, you go to the wise women for advice.” Schatz smiles. “Now there is a young generation of 3–4 women that are training to become the new women council. Not like in most collaborative groups where there’s a crisis of trust between the founders and the second generation.”

“What will you do when the guru will pass away? Will you assign a new one?” I wonder. “This is indeed a troubling thought but I’m sure we will manage to find the right solution. People are leaving the community all the time. Even a few of the founders that I considered as family left each for their own reasons. Whether it is love issues, emotional troubles, changes in their personal life or even the desire to go and explore other places; The members of Tamera are not obliged to stay forever in the community. On the opposite, they are encouraged to leave and explore if they desire to. The community respects the need for a change and embraces it.”

There are many examples throughout history of radical ideas that gained momentum through collective spiritual groups. Some managed to create a core of long-term “believers” and become institutes and some vaporized through internal conflicts and clashes with the outside world.

Tamera is perhaps an advanced and conscious attempt to reach harmony in living together, and there is definitely a reason why it is one of the world’s most veteran intentional communities. But as inspiring as this experiment is, it is still far from finding a way to “spread the love” to an outside world that is constantly torn apart by conflict and broken hearts.

For me, my relationship with religion will probably remain complex and withhold me from joining a community like Tamera, but I did learn something about love and how it shouldn’t be regarded as a second hand emotion.

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Yoav Goldwein

Everywhere and nowhere. Urbanist, researcher, social anthropologist and a huge fan of human humans. https://yoavgoldwein.wixsite.com/intrinsicurbanism