On the middle day of our largest work party for clay plaster on the interior - we're a crew of about 12. We opened for an hour, hearing from each person what stage of life we feel we're moving into, our latest breakthroughs or struggles, our passions and interests, why we're here and how it fits in.
People have mixed overall experiences of these longer processes. One person stated they were feeling a little antsy by the end. A few of us felt incredibly energized. I arrived that morning well exhausted, but I was touched by what others had shared and shifted by the opportunity to share myself, and by the end of circle I was filled with energy and joyfully worked another 10 hours. In fact, in the moment of singing a simple song at the end of the day with a new friend, rounding a window corner with mud and the westerly golden light shining through the window, I would say this day, which began with a Heart Circle, was the most significant day of my life since 2009 when I first heard Mark Lakeman speak about Placemaking.
"Time is money" doesn't culturally allow for this level of intimacy in a work setting, especially a construction setting. Yet, I have seen - in many cases - when good relationships and a healthy working environment are prioritized, work happens more smoothly. The entire operation is extremely efficient.
When I was an organizer for the Village Building Convergence, between the years 2011, and 2012 we decided to implement "Heart Space" into the official meetings for the Core organizing group. I had been with VBC 2010 and 2011 and experienced our meetings in what was 'normal' for us then, which was roughly consensus decision making with a loose timeline and working-group updates that guided the agenda week-to-week. We met for two hours weekly. Two hours for a group ranging anywhere from 7-25, with approximately 6 working-groups, and at least two "big topics" of discussion at any given time, every 120 minutes was precious. However, we made the commitment to carve out 20 minutes EVERY WEEK specifically for "Heart Space".
The difference in the quality of the meetings was dramatic. I witnessed far less in-fighting, far less personal-stuff negatively drawing on the group energy, far more willingness to listen easily to each other. We addressed conflicts directly, we spoke honestly, and we became familiar with feelings of gratitude for each other. (We largely followed the format of Heart of Now exercises for this time.) Though the difference is immeasurable, I found our meetings to be vastly more efficient even though we were spending less time talking about "what we came there for".
Efficiency is achieving the best product in relation to the amount of work that is put in. I expect this can be thought of in about 7 billions ways. With natural building, I view the use of materials as being extremely efficient. On a human-scale, I can expend energy collecting clay soil, sand, straw, and water, and mix it together on a tarp, and build walls not unlike a pinch pot to create a giant bowl I can live in. And I can keep doing it as long as I eat a bunch of really good food. My day's work requires dinner. Very different than the processes of most all other conventional construction materials. The amount of raw energy expended to create the 'product' does not even come close to the dollar amount that is subsidized and then sold cheaply en mass.
Similarly, 'weeds' very efficiently bring needed nutrients to the surface without any additional care. A dandelion bioaccumulates rich minerals from a deep taproot and brings them up to the surface, produces edible greens, provides bee forage, makes delicious root tea, digestive tincture, and seasonal wine, is a companion plant to almost any vegetable, is completely fun to make wishes with, and if undesired otherwise, adds rich nutrients to the compost. All without needing any care. I love how we (can) use things like dandelion and yarrow every day. The plants we need the most are easy to grow.
As a culture, we often use the word 'efficiency' without considering its true implications. It would benefit to pause and think, "What does it mean for things to run smoothly? How do I put my energy to best use?" Chad Toomey, our outdoor leadership teacher in college said to us, "Slow is efficient. Efficient is fast." So when we take an hour or more to do a Heart Circle at the beginning of the day at a construction site, we recognize that as efficient. We no longer separate "the place" where we go to meet with friends from "the place" where we go to work from "the place" where we receive counseling from "the place" where we are appreciated from "the place" where we go to eat. When these things are once again integrated, the system learns efficiency.
From a cost-analysis standpoint for the homeowners of a house, to pay a few workshop leaders and accept a crew of volunteers who want to learn how to build with natural materials and connect in a deeper way is about the same dollars-wise as a cut-and-dry fully experienced crew-for-hire. Work happens about one day slower, give or take, but in a way that cultivates learning, growth, opportunity for connection, lasting friendships, and great feelings of accomplishment and purpose... the amount of 'product' we get from the workshop setting is exponentially greater, in essentially the same amount of time. Our working team becomes our community. We eat burritos at the beach for sunset and share our dreams in the morning - or not. Silence is acceptable too, some choose not to sing, and part of us working together is only doing what brings us Alive, and naturally we find our place on the job-site accordingly.
We never know the futures that will take place as a result of who we meet, or why. A volunteer on the Living Prayer House - a videographer - took beautiful footage of the process she was there for, and we're hoping to work together with those deeply involved in the project to create a movie to share the story of this H\house and why its heart beats.
We create our experiences based on intention and presence. How do we use our energy for the greatest amount of good, for our highest growth, to utilize our creative potential? How do we come to think of efficiency as sacred? How do we come to recognizing that "labor intensive" processes - of making things with our hands, of engaging our bodies, of connecting our hearts - lead to overall less work as a society and more strength in culture and personal purpose?
I don't believe there's one right way to do it. Effective and beautiful uses of energy are accomplished in a multitude of ways. Each person holding a unique lens for their own application.