The Big Island of Hawaii, volcanic, tropical and verdant, welcomed the Centers Gathering to the sacred land in the northernmost tip, far beyond Kona. This year Hawaii Island Retreat hosted our annual event that moves between locations around the world. The beauty of the landscape shone through, nourishing each one of us as we immersed ourselves more deeply into the experience day by day.
Each year we meet in the spirit of mutual learning, recognising each other as peers along the path all devoted to a more conscious, holistic and regenerative culture. We welcomed 18 new participants into the circle, a sign the Gathering is increasing in magnetism and being recognised for the vital meeting place that it represents. The hub at the center of a vast global network, larger than we know.
Our diversity continues to expand beyond the more traditional east coast west coast presence of North America and Canada, with representatives from centers as far afield as Shenzen and Beijing in China, Kenya in Africa and Greece and Scotland in Europe, and for the first time the southern tip of Florida, USA. Urban, remote, spiritual or cultural, each center makes a unique contribution to the whole and each year we recognise how similar we really are.
With 40 participants representing 25 different centers, this is an intimate gathering rather than large conference with space for dialogue and interaction in a myriad of ways between everyone present.
In the words of Peter Caddy, co-founder of the Findhorn Foundation and Community in the far north of Scotland, “It is very much our work to be a point of synthesis, to link centers together to see where we can unite. Each center has something different that we can learn from, that they can give to us, and we can give to them.”
Plenary sessions are established based on experience and feedback from previous years and interwoven with cultural outings and activities. Open space allows for emergent themes, offering a balance of focused conversation and heartfelt connection. The dance between work, play and self-care is something many of us contemplate in our daily lives serving these centers of transformational learning.
The Hawaiian Blessing of the first morning gave us a sense of place and interconnection. One long term participant shared, ‘The ceremony was really special and deeply meaningful – the kahuna weaving together the flowers representing each person and centre was significant. The standing together in silence overlooking the ocean felt like the beginning of our weaving together.’
This opened the way into storytelling – sharing our soul’s calling and enquiring into the role of the centers we represent. With a conscious intention to weave old timers and new into one integrated circle, sharing in pairs gave space to really see the other. Moving into groups of six we began to harvest themes.
Coming together as a large group each day gave shape to the conversations longing to happen during this precious time together. Small group conversations popped up over mealtimes as everyone sought to meet their interests and reveal some of the many gems we take back to our centers as rich offerings in our evolution. Rachel Davey, Executive Director of The Haven for ten years, said, ‘It is the connecting that provides the key learnings – that we are all in this together.’ Those of us from cooler climes delighted in the often outdoor nature of these learnings.
Sustainability was a lived experience with Harbin Hot Springs sharing their journey of rising from the ashes after the devastating fire that destroyed all but the hot pools over 18 months ago.
Through visual imagery, poetry and poignant learnings they took us by the hand into their personal experience. We learnt practical steps to implement emergency measures in our centers, as they shared their response to nature’s harsh demand for a change in culture and new harmony with the land. Cameron Wenaus, co-founder of Retreat Guru, shared, ‘What a moving and practical case study, this felt so helpful’.
Esalen Institute only joined us mid week as the campus needs took priority, laying off a huge percentage of staff just days earlier due to the enforced closure now exceeding 100 days, after unprecedented landslides limited access. Renewal was a key theme with Kalani Honua and Findhorn Foundation both moving through extensive change in organisation and culture, needing to mature beyond and yet honour our early foundations. Joel Tan, Executive Director of Kalani Honua said, ‘This was a gem for me. Discovering that other centers are going through similar renewals feels very empowering.’
Whether forced upon us by the nature around us or moving from within, these four centers, 35 years, 55 years, 42 years and 55 years respectively are all radically reinventing themselves. We noticed a generational shift within the Gathering itself, with ‘agency trained’ marketing expertise are we evolving beyond the counter culture present when many of these centers emerged? Different voices questioned is this a positive step forward. Others asked could this agency be a new model of service within our service organisations?
Frederic Laloux, author of Reinventing Organisations was invited to join us and to our delight offered a 90 minute session via skype, valuing our contribution as an extraordinary network. He joined us in the question, ‘What do we need to do in these particular times? Can we make the breakthrough and evolve into our fullest potential?’
If our gift to the world is creating these spaces where people can experience a different way of being, how inspiring would it be if we can radiate that what we offer isn’t exceptional, isn’t just happening within the retreats and programs, it’s what we live very simply within our centers on a daily basis that can be lived in all organisations.
We explored Human Resources and the importance of principles over personality, held by Peter Moore, co-founder and Business Director of Breitenbush Hot Springs. A session was offered on Programming, Analytics and Trends with great insights and data offered, including SEO expertise from Les Hodge at Mount Madonna and his prior life experience as an inventor and futurist in IT.
We engaged in an exercise around visioning held by Dana Bass Solomon, CEO of Hollyhock Lifelong Learning Centre for 18 years, and understood the deeper sense of manifestation. Elaine Watt, Managing Director of Harbin Hot Springs shared, ‘This was very powerful – the “oh my gosh, I just had the most amazing year” exercise was phenomenal.’
A self organising group, each session is facilitated by members of the circle, bringing both our expertise and desire to learn into the mix. As always the spirit of collaboration ran deep, between centers still in the birthing process and those growing through every decade to 50+ years. Mindy and Patrick Meiering, co-founders of the newly emerging Inhabit Retreat Center were a beautiful link in the circle from the youngest to the oldest, with their mentor on the land, Sophia, having lived at Findhorn in the 80s.
We now move into our year long webinar series to expand the richness of all we offer each other and to stay in touch before we meet again. Next time at Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in May 2018. Dedicated to awakening the best in the human spirit, come and join us there.