East Hill Farm, by Jonathan James

A leap of faith into an “intentional” community

Once upon a time… many years ago, when a now very old man was but a youth, he felt something was mysteriously missing in his life, but he didn’t know what it was or where to find it. He wasn’t even sure how to begin looking for it.

“Go find Truth and Knowledge,” he was told. “When you find them, you’ll know what’s missing and how to find it.”

So, the man went looking for Truth and Knowledge. He searched all over many lands that were close by and many lands that were far away. He searched from the mountains to the sea and walked through valleys that were very dry and over mountain tops that were very high. He asked everyone and anybody he met on his travels if they knew where he could find Truth and Knowledge. Some said he should be looking in the South; others said to look in the North. Still others could only wish him luck and good fortune on his quest, and there were those who even said they didn’t know what he was talking about and thought his ideas were very strange indeed.

Sometimes the man was disheartened and wondered if he would ever find Truth and Knowledge. Other times he felt he was getting so very close, only to face disappointment followed by the feeling of emptiness “almost finding something” brings with it. But he didn’t give up.

“Never give up,” he would tell himself and he kept searching, certain that one day he would find Truth and Knowledge. One day he would know what was missing in his life and how to find it.

The man’s friend told him about East Hill Farm, a place he had heard about where those ideas of personal transformation were studied under the guidance of a real teacher. The man immediately felt drawn to visiting this place, but wasn’t sure how to go about it. He didn’t quite know what to expect at East Hill Farm, so his mind conjured up all kinds of ideas of what such a place with a real teacher would be like. A part of him immediately began to fantasize about East Hill Farm and what it would be like to live there.

“The people living there are practicing these ideas every day, all the time,” the man thought. Then he started to make comparisons. “They must be far more advanced and spiritually developed than I or most people who are seeking spiritual growth. Perhaps they’ve already found Truth and Knowledge.” His mind did what it always did in these types of situations. Instead of becoming empty and being able and ready to receive some real impressions, it created a reality which didn’t exist. It was a reality based on his associations which kept him living in a make believe world. He later discovered how this only led him further away from what he was seeking to find.

The man’s fantasies created a vision of a near perfect world at East Hill Farm, a way to reach “spiritual enlightenment.” He fantasized that whatever people did there was done with a much greater degree of self-awareness and attention than happened in the rest of the world. He imagined and fantasized about how studying with a real teacher would help him become a more perfect, more aware, more enlightened individual. 

His imagination and fantasy created an obstacle that would take years to remove.

So, he visited East Hill Farm under a cloud of misinformation and fantasy. It was the same way he lived most of his life. How could he hope for anything real to come from that?

When he arrived at East Hill Farm, he had a short meeting with the teacher and before he had a chance to look around, he was invited to come and live there.

“When?” he asked

“Now, right away,” was the reply.

He hesitated before answering; he didn’t know what to say. “I’m not sure I’m ready to just move here right away,” he thought. “I should probably think about this first.” He didn’t expect such a sudden invitation and he was torn about what to do. He wasn’t quite ready to let go and just jump in.

But he felt a surprising “intensity of something” in the fabric of the place which was difficult to put into words. There was something different about East Hill Farm. Something in him felt nurtured in a way he had not experienced before. There was a certain sense of order and intention with the people who lived there which he didn’t find in the rest of his world.

He hesitated before answering because while there was something very compelling, there was also something very scary about the place. He felt all of his automatic habits, all of his familiar and comfortable sides wanted him to be very careful about getting too close to East Hill Farm. The parts of him which were comfortable with themselves and what they liked knew they would be especially challenged by living there. There would be no place for them to hide.

If he moved there to live, he was afraid he would have to struggle with his likes and dislikes. He would have to face the fantasies and illusions he had about himself, all of those parts which pretended to be real. “At least I know those comfortable parts,” he thought. “I’m familiar with them. Not hiding behind them takes me into foreign lands, the complete unknown, the void, the abyss. What could be scarier than that?

“Shall I just say ‘yes’ and jump into the abyss?” he thought to himself. “Should I hold on to what I know, or should I let go and move into what I don’t know? What should I do? I really don’t know what it’s like to let go because I’ve always held on: I’ve never let go.”

Giving up and letting go was a major obstacle for the man. He had a strong feeling that if he decided to live at East Hill Farm it would not be easy. Moving to East Hill Farm would be a huge risk and perhaps a life changing decision.

The parts of him which were drawn to living there turned out to be stronger than the voices cautioning against it. He said “yes” he would like to live there and, after he was told to avoid any unnecessary talk, he went to work right away polishing a sculpture in the iron shop. Eventually he would work in other craft shops and seldom were his internal voices quiet. They continued to doubt what he had done and kept him from completely letting go. He listened to them arguing about being there, but he had made a decision and was going to force the opposing voices to accept it. He felt this place was the most “real” place he had ever experienced. What he didn’t know was how real and strong his opposing voices could become if he didn’t listen to them.

After moving to East Hill Farm, the man learned that the people
 who lived there were a part of a larger, extended community. The community was started some years before by a group of men and women who came together in their search for something more real in their lives than anything they had been able to find on their own. Under the guidance of a real teacher who had walked the path they wanted to take, the community moved to East Hill Farm a few years before the man came. 

East Hill Farm became an oasis for those looking for something more real in their lives. It became a “school of transformation,” of personal and spiritual growth. It was a place where people searched for answers and lives were changed. It was a school for “inner” work within a school for “outer” work. The students began their studies by working in crafts, because, said their teacher, that kind of “outer” work demanded the type of attention they needed to develop “inner” work. The inner work on themselves guided their outer work in the crafts which, in turn fed their inner work.

The man began to learn about himself as he studied the ideas and applied them in his daily life. Working with them in this way gave him a new insight into and a better understanding of the ideas. He thought, “Never before have there been ideas about life which seemed so real to me, more real than any other ideas I have ever found. Being here, my life is somehow fuller and I feel more alive than I ever have before.”

The man found both the inner and outer work at East Hill Farm were difficult and demanding, too difficult for some students, who would leave and never return. But the man slowly realized that those who chose to stay and work on themselves were rewarded with insight into the answers to some of the life questions they carried. They began to know who they really were after seeing through many of the myths about themselves they had believed in. Their pictures of themselves were being repainted.

The students’ honest efforts to learn were repaid with a greater view on life and a greater sense of what it means to be alive. They were given a taste of a new and different way of living.

Some of the man’s education at East Hill Farm happened simply because he was open to receiving a certain something which was sensed or felt by most people when they visited the place. When the man asked the teacher what that certain something was, the teacher said to him, “That something is here because of the inner work people do. You can’t say exactly what it is. You can’t put it into words, but it nurtures you. You can feel it; no, not really ‘feel,’ it’s more of a ‘sensing.’ You can sense it inside yourself. You can’t see it, but you know it’s there. It’s very real.”

“For me,” said someone else, “it has a grounding effect, it helps me to remember myself.”

“Whatever you call it,” continued the teacher, “it’s something which is not easily spoken of, because words only do a partial job when used to try and describe what lies beyond them. How do you tell others what you experience when you silently watch the sun rise or when you look up into a star filled night sky, trying to grasp the limits of that which is without limits? How can you trust words to communicate what you mean by experiencing a ‘sense of timelessness’ or a sense of awe? You can talk about it, but you can’t pass on the essence of what you experience to someone else. It’s the difference between knowledge ‘about’ something and knowledge ‘of’ something.

“Knowledge ‘about’ something is knowing with the conscious mind. This type of understanding can be shared using words. Knowledge ‘of’ something is wisdom; it’s knowing something from the inside out. It’s knowledge which cannot be understood using the conscious mind and cannot be accurately spoken of. This type of knowledge is a gift which comes to you when you are ready to receive it. It’s not something you can force or make happen.” The teacher stopped for a moment, quickly thought about something, and then decided to continue.

“You can learn how to turn wooden bowls or throw clay pots by talking and trying, but how do you learn how to ‘be’ when you work in those crafts? How do you approach your work? Where is your attention? How do you prepare yourself before you begin? These are lessons about using the same type of attention you use to work on the bowl or pot to work on yourself. The outer work, which you can see, is done on the bowl or pot. The inner work, which you can’t see, you do on yourself. And working on yourself is the only way to find the Truth and Knowledge you seek.” ◆

Reprinted by permission from Jonathan James’s Jumping into the Abyss: Finding yourself at East Hill Farm while traveling on the road to somewhere (Jonathan James Books, 2017). The book is available for purchase on Amazon.com.

This piece is excerpted from the Fall 2022 issue of Parabola, BELONGING. You can find the full issue on our online store