Spring is budget season for Breitenbush, a time when we who live and work here participate one way or another in evaluation of the year gone by, and financial planning for the year to come. The first day of our new fiscal year is always April Fools Day, an apt symbol I think. Finance is, for me, a mysterious and creative domain. I often smile that I’m an intuitive artist acting as a business director, but Breitenbush’s budget process turns that little personal joke into reality, as it forces into focus the partnership of intuition and mathematical rigor required for successful financial planning. Good budgeting requires the balance of left and right-brain hemispheric participation to make it go well. At least that’s my experience.
I close my eyes and spin back in time. The Breitenbush that I came to in spring, 1978, had neither a budget season nor business plan. In their place was a vision, initiated by founder Alex Beamer and riffed upon by all who came after, to create a successful organization based on intentional community, self-reliance and service. The immediate crucible in which our community was formed was the hard work to bring the ghost resort back to life, which took years. But always, in the background view of our minds’ eye, there was the larger dimension of the vision, to create a center dedicated to both the majesty of the natural world and the miracle of human consciousness. We enshrined these principles in the Breitenbush Credo in 1978, a document that has remained central to the Breitenbush mission and unchanged to this day. The geographic location of Breitenbush Hot Springs lent itself perfectly to our experiment.
Starting a vision-based business, unsupported by business plan or proper capitalization, is a formula for failure in the “real” world, right? Yet more than 35 years after the Breitenbush worker-owned co-op got going, this experimental business thrives and continues to grow in appropriate ways. So what’s the secret economic ingredient that could manifest such an impractical dream?
There are two I think. The first was (and continues to be) a commitment to a service-based empathic vision for how to be in the world. At the outset, we went on faith that if we do our work in service—to the place we live and love, and to all who visit us—we can trust that the money will follow. Service in support of our principles was viewed by us as the guarantor of consistent social and spiritual relevance, and would therefore become the firm foundation for our future business, or so we thought. This approach of serve now/deserve later has proved out over time, but has meant that Breitenbush grew slowly, independently, forcing us to improvise endlessly, which in turn has fostered many novel solutions. Examples include our hydroelectric power plant and geothermal heating systems, designed and built by us, which provide essential livability at our off-the-grid outpost on the wild edge of Mount Jefferson. A less obvious example might be the circular (not pyramidal) organizational structures devised by us to manage our democratically operated worker-owned co-op. Point is, whether we’re talking physical or metaphysical constructs, we’re talking about consistency in service to our founding principles, and our success rises or fails with it.
The second secret ingredient to our success might be characterized as “grace”. There’s a certain amount of what can only be described as good luck involved in Breitenbush’s success. Frankly, we have, at times, “dodged the bullet” that might have taken us down. There’s no guarantee we’ll always be able to dodge that bullet in the future—it might come in the form of flood or fire or freeze or internal schism, who knows?—but it’s always worked out so far. Moreover, I think that, in large measure, we manufacture our own good luck whenever we make a commitment to positive outcomes and are willing to labor on their behalf. Grace follows in the wake of commitment and hard work.
Over the years, Breitenbush has proved sustainable in multiple ways. It is an organization that has grown with each decade, successfully navigated multiple leadership transitions, and consistently upgraded the quality of service provided to guests & staff, environmental health, and sane economic activity (i.e. the triple bottom line of people/planet/profits). It has consistently hit the meaningful benchmarks of sustainability: longevity, appropriate scale of operations, financial balance, and continued relevance. And so we continue, to plan, to work, to do risk assessment, to train and respond—in short, to carry on in our commitments.
In this game called intentional community, the process is the product, the voyage is the destination. Here in the spring, I see a thousand line items merging into a flow called a budget, a roadmap for proceeding into the near future. Thanks for flowing with us.