If I had to sum up the Damanhurians in one word, it would be “self-responsibility.” The word “Damanhur” means “city of life,” and this tremendous respect for life in all of its forms is reflected in each person’s attention to serving his/her community. People in Damanhur give back to both their immediate community through community service and to the earth through eco-conscious existence. They’re on the forefront of eco-living and sustainability, diligently rehabilitating woodland areas previously exploited for firewood and implementing eco-building. In every aspect of living, their love, respect and attention to detail cultivate this sense of “self-responsibility.”
Nestled in Northern Italy about 30 miles from Turin is an eco-society based on ethical and spiritual values called Damanhur. Founded in 1975, Damanhur has approximately 1,000 citizen and over 500 hectares of territory throughout Valchiusella and the Alto Canavese area, at the foothills of the Piedmont Alps.
I recently spent a few days in this unique spiritual community, and had the opportunity to learn about their culture of peace and equitable development. Damanhurians examine sustainable living through solidarity, volunteerism, respect for the environment, art, and social and political engagements. As I read about the community in preparation for my visit, I wondered: could this “laboratory for the future” live up to its name as a role model for the world? Here are the lessons I learned, and the answer to that question.
Lesson #1: Believe in your dreams.
Damanhur is celebrated for its eight underground temples—called the “eighth wonder of the world.” The temples were born from a dream. When Oberto Airaudi was in his early twenties, he had a vision for the temples. He kept his vision to himself until he could fully form it. Then he started telling select people. One night in his backyard, he and a few close friends started digging into the base of the mountain and carving out the temples. Their only tools were a hammer and chisel, shovel and pick, and a curved pick. Twenty years later they had eight temples—completely finished and adorned with vibrant and spiritually meaningful images.
In the 1990s, the authorities learned of these underground structures and said they must be torn down because the group did not have the proper permits. But after visiting the temples, seeing the beauty of them, and feeling the intense spiritual energy contained in their walls, the authorities approved a change in the law to legalize the underground structures. Damanhur was based on the vision and dream of an individual. Fueled with the passion and persistence of a dedicated few, the extraordinary beauty of our dreams can win over larger communities that would otherwise tear them down.
Lesson #2: We all need a purpose.
I found that most of the people who moved to Damanhur initially went to the community because something in their life wasn’t working. They were lost or broken souls who were yearning for a sense of community and belonging, which they discovered at Damanhur.
For years I’ve been teaching that all people need love, community, and passion in their lives. And at Damanhur, love abounds. A sense of community permeates the streets, the walls, the gardens. And everyone cultivates the passion of meaningful existence through their work in to help keep the community beautiful and self-sufficient. Many of its citizens love art and spirituality, so they work with master artisans to learn their beautiful crafts. It creates an incredible synergy that seems to work for everyone involved.
Lesson #3: Give back to the world.
Can you imagine would it be like if each person in the world was responsible like this? If everyone gave back to the community, even just an hour of time per week, our world would change dramatically. Every time you do something for others, you like yourself more and become more self-responsible. And most importantly, you cultivate a deeper understanding of your role in the wider community and a connection to the world around you.
Lesson #4: We all must find our inner guru.
During my stay in Damanhur I had the opportunity to interview the founder of the community, Oberto Airaudi, who now goes by name of Falco. The media has always portrayed Falco as a “guru,” but he says he’s more of a spiritual guide.
Falco encourages everyone to find their inner guru and awaken their inner master. You do that, he says, through studying, experimentation, overcoming set values you had when you were a child, and being eternally curious. He aims to open people’s minds to new ideas and possibilities. His goal is for everyone to reach their full potential—spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.
Lesson #5: Instill values in the next generation.
You’d think that growing up and living in a secluded community would make someone small-minded and somewhat rebellious in the teen years. In Damanhur, just the opposite is true. The Damanhurians instill great values in their children and expect them to live up to those values. And from what I saw, the children do. Each child I met was polite, mature, and well mannered—but still maintained the quintessential virtues of childhood. They played like normal kids, but had a stronger sense of responsibility than most children.
The children are also taught to go out into the community and give back, and they’re encouraged as teens to study abroad and learn about other cultures. Keeping company with them was refreshing, as they were all so talented, artistic, well-read, and informed about the world. That’s what raising kids should be about.
A New World Vision
Whether you’re seeking direction for your life or want to get away to enhance your spiritual journey, you’ll definitely find the synergy and support you need in this inspiring place. It’s a community where everyone feels they’re doing something worthwhile and meaningful—a community of spiritually minded people that share the central values of sharing, solidarity, positive thought, and an active commitment to the re-awakening of humanity on this planet. What better vision for the world could anyone have?
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