by Christine Lines
The newsletter from Kalani Oceanside Retreat popped into my inbox and I scrolled down the page, viewing the different events. The heading “2010 Retreat Center’s Conference“ captured my interest immediately.
For two years I’d been the Retreats Manager of Byron Yoga Centre in Byron Bay, a small beach town and conscious community on the most easterly point of the Australian mainland. I lived in a beautiful place and loved my work, however I had the growing sense a new phase in my life was on the horizon.
Reading the description of the conference it was clearly an opportunity to meet my peers and I felt a strong intuition to participate. “Connect with Retreat Center Managers from different parts of the world. Learn and grow from participating in conference sessions on sustainability, marketing in a down-economy, connecting to the world-community, continued personal transformation, sharing what works and what doesn’t and “holding space” for a world in need of change and growth.”
Within a few hours Kalani had confirmed my place and my previously booked ticket was re-routed to London via Hawaii. Changing my original departure date by just a few days, the conference fell perfectly into place with my plans to visit family in the UK.
The conference marketing clearly described an annual event and I googled for more details. Although I couldn’t find a relevant website, I felt a sense of trust in the people I would meet. A few weeks later, I stepped off the plane into the tropical climate of Hawaii and felt embraced by the warm Aloha culture.
I felt relaxed from the moment I arrived at Kalani and met the other participants, dining in the lanai overlooking the beautiful gardens, lounging by the pool in between interesting conference sessions and exploring the volcanic Big Island. We shared a passion and delight in our vocation that formed an immediate bond of joy and friendship.
I began organising retreats about eight years ago, originally for my Buddhist teacher, then for my yoga teacher, following my interests and intuition. My work had become closely interwoven with my spiritual path and now here I was meeting my peers from other holistic center’s around the world, sharing ideas, insights and experience. I could hardly believe my luck!
The delightful Tiki, Manager of Kalani and our host for the five days, mentioned Ralph White would be arriving midway through the conference. She described him as “the grandfather of retreats” and I felt intrigued to meet this person. I didn’t realise who the quiet stranger was sitting on the minibus to the Lava Tunnel until later that day.
I soon realised Ralph wasn’t a quiet man at all and many an interesting conversation began amongst our small group of participants. With a fascination for Western mystical traditions, he was interested in my pilgrimage across Spain walking the Camino de Santiago the previous year and shared stories of his own travels, spiritual path and work at The Open Center in New York.
During one conversation Ralph mentioned, “I was a focaliser at Findhorn in the early 70’s” and fond memories of my experience week at the Findhorn Foundation, the spiritual community in the far north of Scotland, the previous year came flooding back. I had the sudden insight, “I would love to be involved in a similar role.”
In 2009 I’d visited Findhorn for the first time and joined in their welcome program, ‘Experience Week.’ It was a heart opening experience, introducing me to the founding principles; co-creation with nature, work is love in action and inner listening. The joy of sacred dance, fun of discovery games and depth of connection with the other participants left a lasting impression.
Keen to return, I also felt committed to the seasonal retreats organised in Byron. Ralph’s comment the following year renewed the seed of interest in Findhorn where Experience Week is held almost every week of the year. I loved creating the sacred space for a retreat and ‘holding guests’ during their experience. Yearning to do this more often I felt inspired by the opportunities of a larger center.
On Friday the gathering came to an end with hugs all round and I felt slightly envious of the people returning to their community. I was on sabbatical from my work as Retreats Manager during the quiet season when we offered yoga teacher trainings instead of yoga retreats. The organization was changing in ways that I felt would impact the retreat experience, I was questioning the future and contemplating new projects.
Although there was an extensive history of meetings in different locations since the 1980’s, no website yet existed and Stefan and I, a participant from Queenswood in Canada, volunteered to create an online presence before the next annual gathering, officially called the International Holistic Center’s Gathering.
A few days after my flight from Hawaii to London, I woke up with the words, “Findhorn Life Purpose” on my mind. I immediately went downstairs to check the Findhorn website for the dates of the next Life Purpose workshop. By divine intervention it was the first date I was free, after time already planned with family and friends in Europe, and contemplating the opportunity to return I soon booked my place.
A few weeks before arriving at Findhorn I resigned from my role at the Byron Yoga Centre, realising that I wanted to live and work in a community that offered a range of programs beyond yoga and all year round. I felt that Findhorn was a model for other intentional and educational communities around the world and the environment where I could most learn and contribute.
And so two months after the conference in Hawaii I was on my way back to Findhorn, now with the freedom to stay for an indefinite period of time. The workshop was an intense week of sharing and process, skilfully held, and essentially helped orient me back to the importance of being rather than doing, something I believed in very deeply through the retreats I’d shared with others. It also helped with ‘letting go’ of the life I loved in Australia and taking one step at a time into the unknown.
After the recent travel, I was keen to stay still and join the month long program of ‘Living in Community’ as a guest (LCG). This required the stepping-stone of either Spiritual Practice or Exploring Community Life. I chose the first option and this introduced me to Cullerne, one of the three gardens within the community, responsible for providing local, organic produce to the kitchen for both staff and guests.
July and August were two utterly enjoyable months of LCG working with the wonderful team of Cullerne gardeners who quickly became friends, weeding, hoeing, planting, pruning, composting and harvesting, welcoming guests from other programs every day, in all weathers. I felt so connected to the earth it was a delight, the physical work helped ground me and the daily attunements, such an essential aspect of Findhorn life and a natural part of every shift, helped align me with spirit.
Ralph and I were in occasional contact and talked about the idea of Findhorn hosting the 2012 Center’s Gathering. In the early days of the Findhorn Foundation, the three co-founders Eileen and Peter Caddy and Dorothy Maclean, described the connections made with other centers around the world during their meditations as a ‘Network of Light’. Over the years people were drawn to Findhorn, the community grew and today Dorothy refers to the Foundation as a ‘Center of Love’.
The Center’s Gathering seems to be a physical manifestation of the ‘Network of Light’ as people from different holistic center’s around the world come together in the spirit of love and collaboration, with a dedication to service and the new consciousness emerging.
During these summer months I noticed that after my completing two months of LCG, the bi-annual three-month Foundation Program – Living from Purpose and Soul, was due to begin. Although it was an investment of both time and finances, it felt the best way to move more deeply into the community. The timing of my arrival in July made this unfoldment possible and seemed perfect for a reason.
In the three month Foundation Program different members of the community shared sessions with our group and it deepened my understanding of and commitment to community life and service. It was an intense group process designed in three parts, relationship with self, relationship with others and relationship with the world that was an absolute gift of experience.
After a visit home to Australia I’ll be joining Cullerne in the spring as a member of LEAP, the Living Education Apprentice Program and pathway to a possible staff position. Attending the Gathering created an unexpected change of direction from the beaches of Australia to gardening in Scotland and if there’s one thing Findhorn encourages, it’s listening to the still small voice within.
I’m looking forward to the next gathering in May 2011, at Harbin Hot Springs, and re-connecting with the beautiful people I met last year in Hawaii and after that there’s the gathering in 2012, at Findhorn.
I imagine it’s going to be very special as it coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Findhorn Foundation, a year of celebration for a community that came forth from humble beginnings and now continues to evolve as a spiritual community, education centre and eco-village that is increasingly relevant in today’s world.