Our monthly webinar in March focused on the theme of diversity and participants contributed from The Haven in BC, Canada, Breitenbush Hot Springs in Oregon, Abrevista in Florida, Omega in New York and the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland.
In advance of the call, we were invited to reflect on the following questions and this formed the framework for our discussion.
The call was another opportunity to learn from each other and share ideas, links and intiatives. Elisabeth Lesser, co-founder of Omega, is hosting live stream conversations around the idea of ‘taking the other to lunch’ and asking three key questions, based on her successful TED talk filmed in 2010 and viewed over a million times.
In our call with each other as centers we explored the traditional descriptors of diversity, including age and ability, social and economic status, cultural and historical background, language and education, geography and gender. When we talk about diversity, we’re also talking about inclusion and being open to different viewpoints, political beliefs and identities.
Eileen Caddy, one of the founders of the Findhorn Foundation, often spoke of finding unity in diversity. In these times of extreme polarization our challenge is to find those places within us where we can connect in our shared humanity. Most of our centers are predominantly white and middle class, both in participants and staff, yet we foster the idea that everyone is welcome in the circle whether they be tree huggers or loggers, hunters or vegans, a young german or a relative of a victim in the holocaust. I vividly remember sitting in one circle and realising it is in many ways a microcosm of the United Nations, an opportunity for people to come together, share their lives in an open and heartfelt way, and bond through a sense of knowing each other just a little more intimately as small steps in nurturing a more peaceful world.
In these current political times centers are perhaps more than ever called to provide safe spaces where people of opposing views can come together, connect and communicate. The circle is not the sole domain of the progressives, it’s for all of us. Each center stands as a beacon of hope and needs to reach out in a variety of ways to form two way bridges and not exist within our own paradigm.
Natalie Butto from Abrevista who lectures on this topic at Broward College, Florida, explained, “Community Colleges and Universities can be holistic learning centers, and vice versa. Laws, policies and procedures can be changed, it’s the cultural shifts that take longer”. Being able to come from a deeper, more holistic place we can transcend and include our differences and from the perspective of spiral dynamics, inclusion of the different stages of human consciousness is key for us to evolve beyond the world we know today.
I watched a video recently of people being amazed to discover their interconnection through DNA testing. I felt touched by what could so easily have been a group process at Findhorn happening in the mainstream. Breaking down barriers can happen in hours, it doesn’t necessarily need a week long immersion. No doubt there are many such initiatives, beyond holistic centers, and the possibilities of those meeting places are exciting.
Centers shared their various actions and initiatives to help increase diversity and recognised we have much to learn and evolve in this area.
- Created a year long project with diversity as one of their key goals and hosted the 2016 Leadership Summit consciously inviting new faces and removing financial barriers
- All staff joined a training program through Safe Harbour an organisation that focuses on strengthening diversity in BC
One moment that stood out for participants was around the question, Where are you from? and pondering how might it feel if you were asked that several times a day?
- Invited trainers from a local LGBTQ support group to offer queer competency training which stimulated a lot of ongoing discussion and learning
- Hosted the New Story Summit in 2014, offered on the basis of gift economy, inviting over 330 leaders of different ages and cultures to explore the new story for humanity
- Created the Findhorn International Center for Sustainability where people from the corporate world, less likely to visit Findhorn as a transformational learning center, collaboratively explore ways of responding to climate change
- Offered three places in every Experience Week over a twelve month period for the cost of the deposit only, to people 25 and under through the Young Persons Initiative
- Conscious of being more diverse in marketing initiatives through language, imagery, reach and campaigns
- Focusing on developing greater diversity through recruitment of staff
- Inviting several non-profit groups to retreat for free, to recharge, network and connect
Breitenbush Hot Springs
- Advertising in a community-based magazine in Portland with a predominately African American readership
- Undertaking “anti-oppression” training with a co-op training group named Aorta
- Engaging with the issue of gender identity and reviewing policies to create more understanding and openness
- Inviting teachers from Portland and Seattle that offer people of color yoga and meditation classes. No one is excluded from classes i.e. white people can join and people of color are encouraged to attend. This is based on the idea that people of color don’t always feel comfortable (and thus have a less effective experience) in traditional classes/workshops, and is a way to spread yoga and meditation to previously unreached demographics
These are interesting links to read more
When we touched upon resistance and struggle experienced in our centers, I realised that within the center I know best, it feels very inclusive – as long as there’s a similar way of being, behaving, relating, interacting. If someone is more radical or doesn’t communicate in the way I feel comfortable, tension can arise along with questions around our differences. If we can notice this and converse they can so easily dissolve. It’s a great awareness to explore, in my life in general, not just when I’m engaged in the center.
One of the great insights from the call was actively inviting more diverse groups to share our space and to see our center through their eyes, something we’re unable to do ourselves. As Rachel Davey, Executive Director of The Haven explained, “It puts us in a vulnerable place. Our centers have a long, storied history and we’re proud of it.” Inviting participants to ‘tell us what you see as you look around’ on the walls, in the marketing, on the website, can show us our blind spots and help us shift more constructively.
Earlier in the call I’d voiced, “We want to explore diversity within the Foundation but don’t really know how, I’m interested in concrete ways.” We touched upon various ideas and initiatives and this last one feels perhaps the most brave and bold.
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