Report from Centers Gathering, Quebec City, May 2016
by Peter Moore
Within the history of contemporary holistic centers, there has been a tradition of annual meetings of founders, administrators, program directors and other staff members going back more than 30 years. During these three+ decades, representatives of such centers have met at holistic centers located throughout North America, UK, Europe, Eastern Europe, Russia and China. I’ve had the sincere pleasure of attending such meetings over the past decade and both I, and the holistic center I represent, Breitenbush Hot Springs, have benefitted in so many ways from the unique mind-meld and practical information exchanged between colleagues from so many different centers. What a gift.
In the spring of 2013, I attended the International Holistic Centers Gathering (IHCG) at Esalen Institute, in California. There I met a participant who had not previously attended such gatherings, Isabelle Duchesneau. She informed us all of a major initiative to establish a holistic center in Quebec City, Canada. She told a story about an historic monastery established in 1639 by three nuns of the Order of Saint Augustine, devoted to the healing of body and soul.
These three nuns, and the many who followed their example over the next almost four centuries, built their “Hotel de Dieu” inside the fortified walls of the old city, including hospital, church and four stories of rooms dedicated to the cloistered life of prayer and service. Here they mixed their natural apothecary medicines influenced by healing traditions from both Europe and the native peoples of the Province, and here they tended the injured and ill. During the war between the English and the French in the 18th Century, nuns from this monastery cared impartially for wounded soldiers from both sides, as well as the native peoples drawn into the conflict. From this place satellite centers of healing to help all people were established throughout the Province over the centuries.
In recent years the Catholic nuns, aware of their aging and dwindling population, were aware they could no longer fulfill the mission of their beautiful monastery in the thriving center of the city. They made common cause with Isabelle and other visionaries to plan for renewal of this space where their work in service of healing could be continued beyond the boundaries of their own denomination. Isabelle and her team conducted a major fund-raising campaign for this project, raising millions of dollars in public/private donations, and the work commenced. It was at this point that Isabelle attended the IHCG, seeking useful holistic models of healing and transformation applicable to the program of the newly established holistic center at Le Monastére des Augustines.
The following year, at the 2014 IHCG hosted by The Haven on Gabriola Island in Canada, participants of the conference were invited by Isabelle to hold our annual meeting in Quebec following the reopening of Le Monastére des Augustines. The response was an enthusiastic Yes!
Later that year, in October 2014, I visited this monastery in Quebec City with my friend and colleague Ludwig Fischer. Rehabilitation of the massive structure was in full force, it was a major construction site at the time. Wearing hard-hats and walking carefully through multiple floors of the maze of the old building, we witnessed careful attention being paid to retain the original character of the place while bringing it up to modern standards of comfort, convenience and structural integrity.
Between May 15 -20, 2016, the International Holistic Centers Gathering convened at Le Monastére des Augustines in Quebec City. Some 40 people gathered at the newly opened center to reflect, discuss, and work on plans of action. These included the usual cast of characters from existing holistic centers—program directors, executive directors, operations managers—but also included founders of future centers, scholars in related fields and consultants to centers.
Holistic centers from the USA included Kalani Honua, Esalen, Omega, Breitenbush, Saratoga Springs, Harbin Hot Springs, Hawaii Island Retreat, Mount Madonna Center, Broward College/Abrevista and New York Open Center. From Canada were The Haven, Hollyhock, Le Monastére des Augustines and IHWA. From the UK were representatives from the Findhorn Foundation and Newbold House. Also in attendance were representative of centers from China (New Haiwen & House of I), Greece (Kalikalos), France (La Roane), and India (Auroville), as well as representation of the Global Ecovillage Network.
Within the supportive atmosphere of the historic meeting rooms and nourished by excellent French cuisine, the meetings were conducted in a congenial and inspirational atmosphere. In the spirit of connectedness of body/mind/soul, the daily schedule included components otherwise not normally part of a professional conference. The day began with an Awakening Series of yoga, meditation and body movement, followed by a silent breakfast in the tradition established by the nuns since the 17th Century, all of which provided an inner focus before the work sessions of the day began. Prior to lunch and dinner was a Vitality and Revitalize Series. Evenings were left intentionally open for small groups to pursue subjects of interest. Museum tours of the 40,000 artifacts and manuscripts collected over three+ centuries at Le Monastére, plus guided walking tours of the Old City, gave participants a sense of the history and space within which our meetings took place. In 10 sessions of 90 minutes each topics relevant to the responsibilities, challenges and joys of developing and maintaining holistic centers were addressed.
The gathering began with a brief state of the holistic union, a report from different centers about issues, trends, best practices, growing edges, etc. A need for the increase of networking was identified as a major topic, including the exploration of new technological possibilities to share information. Organizational and hierarchical structures in the context of holistic vision was discussed, as well as balancing cooperation and collaboration with the reality of a shared demographic of potential clients. This last was considered in context of growing that demographic (“growing the pie”) based on shared cultural values that are changing all over the world, moving incrementally towards holistic awareness.
Similarly, the mission, vision and purpose of holistic centers in the current culture—with its rapidly evolving paradigm shift from a materialistic base to an ecologically sustainable and inclusive diversity paradigm—was discussed. How to serve the needs of individual health and holistic lifestyle seekers, with courses not offered by conventional academic and educational institutions, was discussed. We explored the challenges of remaining true to the ideals of vision and curriculum while not losing sight and paying due attention to practical economic “realities” of each center—to survive and thrive in volatile conditions of the current economic times. Concrete strategies to improve effective marketing tools, with focus on the role and impact of social media and the accessibility and general public perceptions were also an area of focus.
Among action items coming out of this Gathering were:
- Transition from voluntary cooperative networking towards formalization of an organizational structure is a priority, with paid staff to further goals and objectives of holistic centers worldwide.
- It was determined that the not-for-profit 501(c)(3) corporation known as Breitenbush Eco Fund will be the common platform for fundraising at this time. 100% of the newly established bursary fund money, raised during this year’s IHCG, will be used to assist chosen beneficiaries to attend future IHCG, thus expanding diversity of people and centers that participate in the gathering. Criteria for choosing beneficiaries of bursary assistance remain to be worked out. BIG thanks to all who contributed to the new bursary fund, what a spontaneous outpouring of generosity!
- Repurposing the Breitenbush Eco Fund toward working more seamlessly with the IHCG is an initiative to be accomplished through updating Bylaws, Board development, development of job description for Executive Director, development of goals & objectives for the organization, etc.
- The IHCG affirmed the 2017 annual meeting will be held at Hawaiian Island Retreat on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Personal reflections: Participants of this year’s Gathering received a gift from Le Monastére of an old key that had opened a door in the monastic past, to symbolically re-enter the sacred space consciously. This key provided a poignant example of the Quebec motto, printed on the license plate of every vehicle in the Province, Je me souviens (“I remember”). Le Monastére des Augustines offered participants a beautiful mix of monastic and modern amenities, enhancing the experience of the International Holistic Centers Gathering, thus honoring the heritage of the place with its new mission to work towards solutions for the future.
The long tradition to heal body and mind, carried on since the 16th Century by the devotion of the Augustinian nuns, finds its continuation in the dedication of contemporary visionaries who build on that tradition through the work of this holistic center. May we all profit from the example of this year’s host center and continue our essential work in the world.
Business Director and Founding Member, Breitenbush Hot Springs
Click the video link above to be transported via a five minute visual journey into the spirit of the 2016 Gathering at Le Monastère des Augustines, accompanied by evocative music.