A countywide group of 20-somethings organizes itself around sustainability, regeneration, spirituality and fun
When people think about intentional communities, they usually imagine the living arrangements — a group of people living together in a big house, a co-housing community or a sprawling rural compound where communards share organic gardening chores.
The Fifth Element Community, a countywide intentional community, isn’t organized like that. Its members are scattered all over Sonoma County — in Windsor, Sebastopol, Forestville, Healdsburg, Santa Rosa and Cloverdale — but they come together on a regular basis for parties, hikes, dances, classes and retreats — or just to hang out.
“We’ve got about 300 members in our Facebook group, and when it comes to people attending our events and engaging and co-creating with us on a regular basis, it fluctuates between 20 to 40 people,” said Jacque Van Auken, who lives in Windsor and who founded the group with her friend Lauren Brewer in 2015. The group also has a small Orange County branch, where Van Auken grew up.
From the beginning, the Fifth Element Community has been centered around events and activities. Back in 2015, Lauren Brewer suggested that they throw a dance to get like-minded people together, and the group has evolved from there.
The Fifth Element Community has a busy calendar — you can see its public events on a website and on Facebook. In addition to public events, they have full moon circles in each other’s houses, art parties and cooking parties. They also do classes in Windsor at Van Auken’s house, which serves as an office for the organization.
For the last several months, the Fifth Element Community has been hosting events at the Arlene Francis Center in downtown Santa Rosa, and offering classes on things like permaculture, fermentation and yoga. They also built an herb garden for the center and are talking with a zero waste group about a campaign to make the Wednesday Night Public Market in Santa Rosa a zero waste event.
Although members of the Fifth Element Community don’t share housing (at least not yet), they do share a common set of values.
“All of our events are centered around the twin pillars of sustainability and regeneration,” Van Auken said. “And there are different strands running through each: there’s environmental sustainability — doing things to help clean up the environment or creating consciousness around the effect of our actions. There’s emotional sustainability; so we’re really focused on self-development and growth, as well as community bonding and emotional support. We also believe in cultural sustainability, and this includes talking about our values and how can we incorporate those values and use them to create a new culture to help shift the dominant paradigm to something more sustainable. Then there’s social sustainability, which is how do we be more inclusive and how do we address certain social issues that are going on?”
“I know it sounds kind of abstract,” Van Auken said, “but we’re all about making it real. We are very focused on local action, on nurturing people and groups that are focused on doing things better here in Sonoma County, and we want to help spread those ideas.”
A third pillar for the group is a belief in the spiritual dimension of social and personal change. That’s where the name — the Fifth Element — comes from. In the ancient elemental system of earth, air, fire and water, “the fifth element is spirit or quintessential energy or emotion: the things that are ineffable, but very deeply felt,” Van Auken said.
“That’s what I was searching for, for a very long time: that connection to people, to life, to passion and purpose. And so the Fifth Element Community is coming together under a common searching and attaining of that ineffable, beautiful force.”
“It is a bit esoteric,” Van Auken admits, “and that inherently draws a specific crowd of people.”
Perhaps the most powerful driver for the group is the sense of community they’ve managed to create for each other.
In describing why they decided to create an intentional community in the first place, Daniel Eifert, who lives with Van Auken in Windsor, said “The Fifth Element Community was born out of a feeling of disconnection in the world, feeling alienated and not in touch with our roots in our community. I think it’s easy for us to feel disconnected in this rat race.”
“So instead the Fifth Element Community is about bringing us back to our roots and back to co-creating things,” Eifert said, “bringing together all our talents and all our special abilities together to form one greater good. Coming together to hold an intentional space for this common idea has helped us all form these bonds, which are very near and dear to my heart.”
Seth Benefield, a Sebastopol resident and relative newcomer to the Fifth Element Community, who hails from Alabama, agreed. “People can come out, and maybe for the first time, experience what it’s like to have community, to have what I refer to as a ‘sangha’ (the Buddhist word for a spiritual community). These events create close connections … and we form lasting community relationships that really uplift each other.”
Van Auken said that being a part of the Fifth Element is like inheriting a group of friends.
That was Jasmine Bjorndal’s experience. “When I moved here, I didn’t know anyone, so finding people with this shared intention was so powerful,” said Bjorndal, who lives in Forestville. “You get 10 hugs twice a day just being here with everyone, and the human connection is just the most important thing.”
Van Auken has looked into buying property with the group, working with a realtor in western Sonioma County who specializes in intentional communities, but, given the price of real estate in Sonoma County, that will have to wait.
Meanwhile, Van Auken and friends are looking forward to getting together with their fellow community members at their next event.
You can find out more about the Fifth Element Community on Facebook or at https://fifthelementcommunity.com.