Since 2010 I’ve had the great joy of attending the Holistic Centers Gathering that takes place around the world every year. In October it was held in Asia for the first time in its 30-year history – a unique cross-cultural experience full of potential for the future of humanity.
Hosted by The House of I, we were nestled in the mountainous region of Yanqing, to Beijing’s northwest and 80km from the Great Wall of China, one of the sites of the 2022 Beijing Winter Games. I feel the Gathering shares an affinity with the spirit of the Olympics – nations coming together to foster understanding and friendship.
North America was well represented with Breitenbush Hot Springs, Process Work Institute, Hawaii Island Retreat, Saratoga Springs and Harbin Hot Springs in the USA, and The Haven in Canada. Haiwen in Shenzen and The House of I in Beijing organised the event and offered warm hospitality and extensive buffets both noon and night. We had great fun sharing the food around the table and discussing the contents of each unfamiliar dish.
Europe was there too, Findhorn Foundation and Newbold House in Scotland, and Kalikalos in Greece. Shanti Mission travelled from Australia and the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) was present. Esalen in California and The Open Center in New York joined us via skype. Every conversation felt supportive and valuable, with delight and laughter never far away.
Centers ranged from just one year in existence to over fifty years and east met west in the spirit of collaboration, strengthening friendships on the personal level and the network on the global level. Each day we engaged in reciprocal learning and mutual inspiration, openly exploring trends and best practices, insights and challenges, the many different aspects of running a holistic center full of co-workers and guests.
Sustainability was a key theme and particularly potent within the context of China. Contributing to the world’s pollution more than any other country, it has the power to lead the way in new solutions. Can China be green? This is the big question. There were nights I struggled to switch off and sleep, the energy of potential felt so strong as I imagined ecovillages with the lowest carbon footprint in this vast nation. Landing in Beijing I was struck by the orange brown smog and then days later the beauty of a clear blue sky, perhaps symbolic of the transformation to come.
Environmental sustainability was paramount and drought a particular concern. Harbin Hot Springs had been destroyed by devastating fire just weeks before and two centers shared how they truck in water to continue operations. Rachel Davey, Executive Director of The Haven, B.C, Canada, now says to guests, “We’re offering a free introduction to Climate Change in addition to your programme. We’re not just asking you to be mindful of water, we’re asking you to change your behaviour.”
I was struck by the pioneering nature of the Findhorn Foundation and Community which evolved from a spiritual community in the 60s into a low carbon ecovillage in the mid 80s, not so much in response to the immediate concerns other centers are facing today, perhaps more as an expression of our spiritual values and one of our founding principles – co-creation with the intelligence of nature. I’ve always felt more drawn to the spiritual dimension; one of the many gifts of being in China was a deeper interest in the environment opening up in me. I’ve been reading voraciously, informing myself more fully about our changing world and the pressures we face.
The experience felt threefold; insights and learning from the Gathering, relationship building from the Conference, and strengthening the Network of Light. Each aspect playing a vital role in the planet coming into balance.
In their early meditations, the founders of Findhorn felt the presence of other centers and the importance of linking up. Eileen Caddy wrote in her autobiography, Flight into Freedom and Beyond, “It was done in absolute faith, as our only confirmation that these centers existed was an inner knowing.”
Today more centers are emerging around the world as focal points for the new holistic, spiritual and ecological worldview and many of us are connected through the World Wide Web – a modern day manifestation of the Network of Light. In these challenging times of war, displacement, terror and turmoil, their importance has never been greater. In the 90s the Gathering was held in Eastern Europe as walls came tumbling down. Now the world’s most populous country of 1.3 billion people opens to new possibilities and the potential feels vast.
Personal growth in China has developed in the last ten years, mostly with training in the corporate field. Amidst a history of communism, the country opened economically in the 80s and has seen phenomenal growth. I sensed the next wave of development, and a strong holistic impulse seeking to find expression.
A young couple, Eric, a successful entrepreneur, and his fiancée Ivy, attended the Gathering keen to create a holistic center in China. With their dynamic energy and dedication I imagine it’s only a matter of time until this dream becomes a reality, possibly the first of many. I was keen to understand their systems thinking and flair for generating income. Financial sustainability is often the weakest link in holistic centers and maybe China can do it differently. I imagine there’s so much we can learn from each other.
The five day Gathering was followed by a three day Conference, attended by business owners, corporate folk, land developers, students, media people and more. We presented our centres in a series of experiential workshops, slideshows and talks and felt the yearning for a deeper connection with nature, enthusiasm to learn about eco-village living and desire to explore spirituality, considered a sensitive word within a country where censorship is part of the culture.
Eric spoke passionately, “Some of your centers have existed for 40 or 50 years, what took you so long to come here? Please don’t wait another 40 years to come, we want you to visit 40 times each year!” Many bridges were formed and possibilities are being explored to partner with like-minded organisations, plan outreach education and welcome a wave of guests. The light of Findhorn felt more relevant than ever and a beacon of hope and inspiration.
Beyond the Gathering and Conference, I felt a strength, gentleness, dignity and joy in the people I met when I visited the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, travelled on the bullet train and explored the sights of Shanghai. There was a sense of community as women gathered to play cards on a street corner, elders practiced Tai Chi by the river, and people of all ages enjoyed Line Dancing in the Square. Time after time I felt the importance of togetherness and enjoyed the colour of individual style, in contrast to the plain Mao suit in dark navy still worn by some of the older generation.
Sitting next to a woman my age on the Huangpu River Cruise, she spoke of her inner life and I enquired tentatively, “Is that common in China?” She mentioned the Cultural Revolution of the 60s when trust was broken and how people are finding their way back to this inner knowing. I felt the privilege of safety I’ve known in my life and the importance of connection and we shared stories of building trust in groups in our respective workplaces.
Personal and planetary transformation feels alive and strong and as we approach the United Nations Conference on Climate Change it’s a significant time. The Holistic Centers Gathering has signed the Paris pledge for action, along with the Findhorn Foundation and many other organisations, each contributing in their own unique way towards a shared vision of a more sustainable future.
By Christine Lines