Vision of a Crafts Monastery

A while ago, I published a document written in 2001, detailing my monastery vision at that point. CLICK HERE TO SEE THAT POST. This is a rewrite of that vision, incorporating many of the things I’ve learned by studying, starting, and running businesses since then.

Many of these ideas were hatched out of my experience at the Wolf Creek Sanctuary, a spiritual retreat center in southern Oregon. One of the primary difficulties within that community is the fact that there is no infrastructure to provide financial support for the people who care for the land. They need to arrive with their own money, leave the land to work, or exist on nothing but public assistance.

Historically, monasteries often engaged in business. They made paper, brewed beer, distilled liqueurs and more. The monastic lifestyle can be a slow and contemplative one, but it can also be very productive. The monks are supported by the work of their hands.

Many spiritual systems teach that people are separate from the animals because we were “made in the image of the creator”. Whatever name or shape is given to that creator, this is the entity credited with creating all that we know and is also generally responsible for controlling our destinies. Well, if we were made in the image of a creator, doesn’t it stand to reason that we can strengthen our connection by engaging in the act of creation? That we can influence our own destinies by tapping into the part of ourselves that was made in the likeness of a divine creator?

These ideas might be familiar to anyone who has engaged in craftwork:
“I lost track of myself for a while. I sat down and the work just flowed out of me.”
“I can’t believe this came from *my* hands.”
“It feels like the beauty of my craftwork came from someone else.”

It’s my belief that these fleeting experiences can be deepened by making creation a steady part of one’s life. And by creating items that can be sold to the world at large, we can support ourselves and expand the awareness of gentle spiritual pursuit as a way of life.

Modern life moves fast. Many people find themselves willing participants in a rat race where they work hard to afford their lifestyle. My time in occult retail has shown me that people from all walks of life are interested in experiencing a slower, more balanced lifestyle, even tangentially and fleetingly.

A Tangent: Customers Want Authenticity

Video Lecture – TED Talks: Joseph Pine on What Consumers Want

Below is a synopsis of this lecture, which has profoundly impacted my understanding of the modern consumer mindset.

In the development of our current economy, there are several distinct stages:
Agrarian: Resources are used or sold directly.
Industrial: Resources are converted to goods and sold.
Customization: Goods are customized. The service of customizing is sold.
Experience: The services themselves are customized and sold.

“Authenticity of Experience” is the new consumer sensibility.

It’s my vision that we can provide an authentic experience for people. When they are purchasing the items that we make, they are not purchasing things that they can buy anywhere else. They are purchasing a beautiful memento of their experience meeting “those monks who live a simple life of creation.” They are purchasing a piece of a dream for themselves. And nowadays, dreams fetch a good price if you can figure out how to sell them.

Currently, people are beginning to wake up from the world of mass commerce and realize that they aren’t happy. They are realizing that the way the world has been working is not sustainable. Things have become productized, cheap, and worthless. Banks are collapsing and we are facing the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression. These realizations are causing many people to seek a different way of being. We can stand as an example to them by creating beautiful craftwork using old-fashioned techniques.

What would a day in the life of this monastery look like?
I envision a place that’s pretty similar to Wolf Creek Sanctuary in its daily life. People have projects that they are working on. They’re helping each other out. They’re doing the chores to keep the place running. They’re relaxing enjoying their time together when the work is finished.

The financial support that we need would come from selling our wares: at craft shows, in stores and galleries, and on the web. If we build our “brand identity” collectively, individual artists are free to move within the collective, learning and doing different crafts as their whims dictate. I think this is key to properly serving our particular community. We seem to be a people who thrive on flexibility and change.

This monastery would be a place where people can visit and easily find a place to fit in. There would always be plenty to do, and people to help new visitors learn the ropes. Every form of craftwork has some task that can be taught quickly, ensuring that people can be truly productive from the start, refining their skills and moving on in an organic way.

The big difference between “sanctuary” and “monastery” in my mind is the focus. At a sanctuary, at least the Wolf Creek version of it, visitors have the option of staying for a while with very little expected of them. Some visitors never do figure out how to pitch in and help with the work that needs to be done. This is a perpetual source of tension.

In a monastery, everybody works. It’s the concept of “playbor” taught by Wolf Creek’s first caretaker, Oskrr. It’s work that’s engaging and fun. The work is central to the spiritual pursuit. If you want to engage in the way that others are engaging, you pick up a task and do it. I’d like to see this awareness become central to the culture of the monastery.

I see this place growing organically as well. It would begin with one or two crafts. We would work hard, sell our wares and save our money to build additional studios, expanding our craftwork horizons.

It would be a place of learning, too. When people want to learn a craft, they can come and learn by doing it. It’s a retreat center and a crafts college rolled up in one!

And when it’s time for a visitor or resident to strike out on their own, we could help them acquire the equipment and find the sales venues to make it work. If we do things right, perhaps we could buy the work that they’re producing and give them the income bridge that they need to make it on their own.

I know that this seems like a lofty vision, but I don’t think it is. I am already doing it. My current livelihood comes from weaving full time for a small weaving company. Soon I’ll be selling my own work and looking for people to help me weave it. My boss/mentor is doing for me what I hope this monastery can do for others: buying my cloth and showing me the ropes until I can make it alone.

I’m moving to Wolf Creek for a few months this fall to work on this vision, and to craft a proposal for a one-year stay. At the end of that year, I hope to have met others who are on the same path and ready to create this monastery for real.

If you’ve got inklings in this direction, get in touch with me. I’d love to talk about your ideas and explore a shared vision for the future.

Blossom Merz
Handwoven Heirloom Textiles

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