Stepping into the role of Executive Director of Centers Gathering last year after a seven year apprenticeship, I was given the Network Weaver Handbook written by June Holley. The phrase resonated with me deeply and became the title of my dual role as staff in the Findhorn Foundation in the far north of Scotland, where I’ve been living during this time.
In the style of artist or writer in residence I dreamt of being network weaver in residence on my travels and this year it became a reality. Each year the Centers Gathering moves location and in 2017 the Big Island of Hawaii called us to this remote archipelago for our annual event.
After five days at Hawaii Island Retreat in the north, several of us travelled east for a post gathering gathering at Kalani Honua, beautifully living up to it’s name ‘harmony of heaven and earth’. In the Findhorn Foundation we’re inspired by living heaven on earth and I felt a sisterhood between our communities.
I’d originally booked in for a three night stay yet with only a one way ticket to the island knew upon arrival I felt called to stay longer. I’d given myself a two week open window, time to integrate and follow up on the experience of the Gathering, and time for personal reflection. Friends were staying on as well and I enjoyed the comfort of my hale for six more nights, enjoying the gorgeous ocean views, soft warm breezes and the sound of the tiny yet very loud coqui frogs at night.
Joel, Executive Director of Kalani, was delighted saying, ‘It’s like having extra leadership on property!’ Tiki, adorable host of the Gathering here in 2010, delighted in welcoming us back and introduced us to the ohana, the beautiful hawaiian word for family. She sent us off on weekend outings to the warm pools, tidal pools, lava trail and snorkelling in the tropical seas, and we came back happy and exhausted at the end of each day ready for another deliciously abundant meal.
Monday morning we joined the weekly community meeting and I loved the welcoming Hawaiian chant and informal nature; within a light structure it was held pop up style and felt positively ‘grass roots’ up rather than hierarchical down.
I felt a strong sense of community glue at the start of the week, welcoming new volunteers with a floral lei, celebrating birthdays, witnessing each other in appreciative notes from the week before, practical announcements shared with a sense of fun. Witnessing the community throughout my stay I experienced a palpable sense of cohesiveness.
I joined Tatyana, HR Director of Esalen, in conversation over breakfast with Delton, HR Manager of Kalani, and with great enthusiasm we compared notes on our volunteer programs, staffing, differential pay and related topics, fascinated to learn from each other. Later on he asked about our meeting culture, do we pay our staff to attend them, how long are they, how often are they held? The comparison was eye opening for me as I reflect on my own community from afar wondering how effective the many meetings really are for our evolution.
Along with Cheryl, Program Director of Esalen, Tatyana and I joined Joel in his office along with Ali, Kalani’s Director of Storytelling, as she talked us through the ‘deck’. This for me was a cool alternative to what I’d previously known as a powerpoint presentation. The visuals walked us through their Renewal process and with Esalen and Findhorn both long established communities in a renewal process of our own it was a lively interaction between peers. We know the conversations between us are only just beginning and a strong connection is in place.
Over the coming days our group of nine from the Gathering became just Ralph and I. As co-founder of the Gathering over 30 years ago it was a great opportunity for me to spend more time with him. Native of Wales, co-founder of the New York Open Center, born storyteller and most well read person I know on mystical and esoteric subjects he’s an interesting man with a lightness of spirit.
Meeting Ralph at my first Gathering seven years ago was a pivotal moment. Listening to him sharing about Findhorn in the 70s, I recognised a calling with myself. A few weeks later I woke up with the words Findhorn Life Purpose on my mind. Online, I discovered a workshop of that name and booked my place. I thought I might stay a few months and return to Australia, my beloved homeland of 20 years after emigrating from the UK in my mid 20s. My soul knew otherwise.
Returning to Kalani in this seven year cycle, to the island chain more remote in latitude and longitude than any other place on earth, mid way between Byron Bay Australia and Findhorn Scotland, I needed space for deep reflection. My heart feels a deep connection with both places and each one has shaped who I am today in profound ways. My new role gives me the freedom to live in either, however, the mind couldn’t rationalise. My soul needed to guide the way.
I immersed myself in daily yoga classes, drawn to the gentler style of yin yoga in the morning or candelight restorative yoga at night. I swam in the saltwater pool surrounded by protective palms and graceful bamboo, the reclining buddha gazing in tranquility. I walked the grounds delighting in the tropical fragrance and radiant beauty, soaking up the soft sunshine on my bare skin.
I felt nourished by the warm connections with the new community around me, friends with open hearts happy to be sharing the Hawaiian lifestyle and curious about life in the Findhorn community. Spontaneous conversations bubbled over with volunteers, long term staff or guests enjoying the Kalani Experience and smiles were ever present. One evening we screened the Findhorn movie The Story so Far, Ralph found it particularly poignant, Joel was inspired by the nature connection and everyone present deepened in connection.
I still felt the need for more time and Joel was open to establishing a community exchange program between Kalani and Findhorn, saying, ‘It’s already well underway!’ With new groups arriving I moved into another hale, closer to the dining lanai in the central area, nestled in the jungle and even more homely than the one before.
I relaxed into my second week and felt one of the family. Shaped by my seven years at Findhorn one of the great gifts of living in an ever changing community is feeling a sense of resilience, openness and trust. Over dinner, Terry who lives here with his wife Sandy spoke of developmental psychology and how women mature into universal care as men develop into universal justice. This gave me insight into my network weaver role and deep belief in the interconnection between us all.
Tiki had booked me in for an introductory session of watsu, a gentle form of aquatic bodywork, and by divine synchronicity it was on the day I made a clear decision about my personal life, which then has a ripple effect on which country I live. Friends intuitively understood my need for quiet rather than conversation and the warm saltwater washed away tears as I was supported by the loving arms of the watsu practitioner and light leg weights. Floating through the water like a soothing embryonic dance I felt peaceful and free.
Days later I read the guidance from Eileen Caddy, co-founder of the Findhorn Foundation, in her book of daily meditations Opening Doors Within. The words for that day reaffirmed my soul. ‘Step right out of your depth and do the seemingly impossible. Live on the brink of something completely new. Be not afraid of the unknown. Simply take one step at a time in absolute faith and confidence, knowing that every step will lead you to the wonderful new heaven and earth.’
My reflective journalling had been supporting me along the way and one afternoon I joined a writing workshop with Will. Having long felt a writer at heart I embraced his words, ‘If you write you’re a writer.’ I marvelled at the varying styles of the seven around the table as we bravely shared our free hand creativity aloud to one another and listened to the feedback from our peers, encouraging us all.
During my extended stay I enjoyed a well attended class in hula dancing. With a PhD in Hawaiian culture the teacher Ryan deepened my understanding of the volcanic land and the aliveness of Pele the fire goddess. I remembered his words, ‘Discipline is the dancing partner of wildness.’ He mentioned in conversation afterwards it’s a quote from the mythologist Martin Shaw.
Day by day I wove the various classes between conversations, meetings and meal times, calls overseas, emails with Findhorn, follow up with the Centers Gathering tribe, relaxation at the black sand beach or soaking in the hub tub under the stars. I had time just to be, reflecting on life from afar, trusting in my decision, and vocation in life. I leave this afternoon and this is my love letter to you all dear ohana, thank you for holding me at another pivotal time in my life. May our paths cross again.
Tina Tuohy, Director of Guest Services, wrote, ‘We all have a renewed desire to participate in the monthly webinars, so we’ll have a chance to see one another virtually! It’s been a joy to have you at Kalani, and wonderful to see the sparks of creative and cooperative support among our Centers colleagues. I know Joel is especially inspired and excited, as I am.’