Come Alive is the enticing name of a program that draws people from all over the country, and further afield, to a tiny island of the West Coast of Canada. I imagine each one of us sitting in the opening circle were curious to find out what this really means, some perhaps clearer than others as to the reasons that drew us here.
For 30 years The Haven has offered programs in personal and professional development on beautiful Gabriola Island, B.C. and I was part of the latest intake responding to the invitation to ‘grow, transform, connect.’ After a few days exploring Vancouver I arrived via seaplane and then ferry, the day becoming progressively brighter with stunning views across the water.
I actually came to Canada to attend the annual Holistic Centers Gathering. However, travelling all the way from Scotland and with an ever curious spirit, I was keen to experience The Haven on a deeper level by extending my stay and immersing myself in the learning environment of another center.
Although I still call Australia home (having lived there half my lifetime), the community of the Findhorn Foundation (FF) in the far north of Scotland has been the place where I live and work for the past nearly four years. I regularly hold guest programs there with the focus on relationship with self, other, and the spirit of life.
Hence I came to The Haven not only as a participant, but also as an observer, with the enquiry, “What is similar, what is different? What can I learn from this sister Center? How can I deepen into my inner journey and share this experience with others?” I’m passionate about personal and spiritual development, the alchemy of transformation, and connecting on a soul level amidst the idea that we are all part of a global community.
We were a group of 18 participants, all Canadian, except a woman from Denmark on her third visit, and myself. Looking around as we began, I wondered why we had two leaders and five support people. It made for an interesting and seemingly unbalanced mix. The reason soon became clear as we sat in the large group during the day and then in three smaller groups in the evening.
I needed to go through a cultural shift from ‘the Findhorn way’ to ‘the Haven way’ of facilitation and as the five day program began to unfold, my understanding and appreciation deepened. Dancing before each session no longer felt predictable as I began to delight in the array of music. If you’re not sure you want to come alive, come along for the music and I’ll be surprised if you go home unchanged!
During the first few days, I missed the FF way of sharing and listening during the more interactive Haven style of dialogue. My curiosity kept me present when I sometimes longed for silence. I felt fascinated by the therapeutic approach in the group context and open to the various teaching models presented. Aware of how many times I’ve shared with new guests that the FF Experience Week is neither therapy nor teaching, I valued the experiential nature common to both programs.
Breath work is a key aspect of Come Alive and one of the tools I take home is the practice of Bio Energetic breathing. I’ve experienced breath work as an invaluable healing modality on my personal journey and it used to be practiced in the FF, however due to controversy many years ago (and perhaps other reasons) is no longer offered. My ‘small group buddies’ reflected back to me the expression of pure joy after some focus work when grief and sadness fell away and I was able to reconnect with my essential nature through the simple practice of specific breathing exercises!
We explored The Haven model of communication and I considered the similarities with the style more familiar to me of Non Violent or Compassionate Communication. Physically practising the different steps as we moved about the room with a partner in the ‘communication walk’ was a great way to ground the practice and refine the art of understanding each other. In just five days new friendships unfolded and it would be interesting to take before and after photos of the experience. I include one here taken over lunch on our last day, with beaming smiles!
During group time the opportunities for empathy were boundless as the leaders guided individuals into embodied experiences of healing and transformation with great care and skilful facilitation. I think it’s true to say each process touched every one present and formed bonds between us all. Through a sense of recognising wounds, patterns, blocks, beliefs, and a universal longing for connection.
The five days seemed to blur into a continual phase without distinction. I moved through a timeless space, at first disorientated by travel, unfamiliar surroundings and the eight hour time difference, combined with an accumulative emotional exhaustion, to slowly become more awake and alive.
I adjusted to a lack of identity away from my FF roles and responsibilities, (that took a little bit of settling into), letting people just experience me in each moment without the need to be anything else. I relaxed into knowing how much I’ve grown during my FF journey of the last few years and my commitment to the unfolding journey. I missed some of the practices that are part of the community I call home and deeply meaningful to me, yet it was undeniably fun to mix the known and the unknown and play with form and structure.
We sat on low chairs on the floor, with an abundance of cushions and blankets for comfort, creating a relaxed informality within the sometimes discomfort of deep emotion. If this sounds a little edgy, rest assured the experience was counterbalanced by fresh and flavoursome food, nurturing treatments with experienced and intuitive bodyworkers, and quiet time in the natural surroundings or the hut tub overlooking the sea, during the free time in between sessions.
There’s a quote I’ve loved for a long time, ‘Go confidently in the direction of your dreams, live the life you imagined.’ Come Alive nudged me to keep dreaming, to keep revealing deeper layers of myself. To break open the box I sometimes feel confined within and understand a little more how that box was constructed in the first place.
The peaceful environment of The Haven provided a perfect backdrop to the experience and I felt the warmth of the entire Haven team around me from the receptionists, cooks, gardeners and all involved, in addition to those directly supporting us during the group time. I’m also struck by how professionally The Haven is run and the comfort of my accommodation, with a rustic, yet contemporary style.
I truly believe these centers are invaluable and have an important role to play in the lives they touch. The beauty of the human spirit shone through the intimacy of the group experience. May all who feel drawn find their way.