I have been wanting to offer some reflections from the experience of being a presenter at Hollyhock. As compassionate leaders from various professions and walks of life have found their way to Cortes Island for these intimate programs, we have pondered a series of questions. Paced over these last three years, I have been grateful to guide what is sometimes called Circle of Trust experiences. We all arrived bringing our heartbreak, vision, and hope. We recognized one another in our tragic tales of what we are witnessing and in the profoundly encouraging reports of what is possible. Tears, challenge, fear, and warm laughter sustained these gatherings.
Questions were evoked from our diverse contexts of leadership.
- How do we honestly and directly face the degree of suffering and not have this exceed our holding capacity?
- How can we sustain ourselves with these broken hearts?
- What alchemy of the soul creates the conditions for anger and defiance to coexist with active hope?
- From where among us does a vision for a just world arise?
- Where do we find safe spaces for the activist and mystic in each of us to rediscover and celebrate the wisdom we find in that encounter?
Hollyhock has provided a place to consider these questions; yet it has offered more than this. It has been a catalyst, a foretaste, and a model for transforming work. Indeed, Hollyhock makes a bold claim. I offer a few reflections on the claim and what I have experienced.
Hollyhock exists to inspire, nourish and support people who are making the world better.
Exists to Inspire
To inspire is to breathe in: that is the literal meaning. It is our first act as we enter this world: a big breath as our lungs expand in this new shocking environment. In that impulse to take that first breath, we begin a lifelong process to breathe into reality who we will become. We need safe spaces for ongoing inspiration: life-giving and brave enough to allow for an experience of rebirth and renewal. Hollyhock has been intentional to provide the necessary conditions to trust, breathe and rediscover more of who we are.
Exists to Nourish
Nourish is a lovely word. If you have been to Hollyhock, you can readily think of the tasty and nourishing food! It is remarkable.
When I consider what is nourishing, I think about the productive and beautiful Hollyhock garden. The soil is lovingly fed with organic material and all the nutrients essential to grow good food. It helps me to understand how Hollyhock serves as a composter for human experience! What has accumulated as the life learning of each participant breaks down in the heat of authentic and joyful community. What is left from breaking down is what will nourish the world. We need the inoculation of shared learning where this composting process can condense our experience into effective and faithful action.
Exists to Support People
I have experienced loving support from the Hollyhock team in many ways. Yet, the most profound has been to witness how the community supports local and global movements for change by caring for each person and group who arrives.
It is evident that Hollyhock is informed by a movement model of social change. Every social movement that has made the world a more just and hospitable place has been animated by active respect for human identity and integrity. These movements have developed in stages (what follows is inspired by the process of movements outlined by my mentor and friend Parker J. Palmer). It often begins when individuals find a painful realization of the tension in their integrity or wholeness: between their hopeful idealism and the cynical reality of the world as it is. In this dissonance between their inner and outer worlds, they commit to find authentic life.
These individuals seek out others and form supportive gatherings and communities that help sustain their work, testing their understanding in safe, private gatherings. This creates confidence, collaborative learning and the necessary skills to go public with their vision. Together as a movement, they then find moral leverage to advance the work of transforming society.
Hollyhock continues to provide this critical gathering place for individuals to find one another and to gain support for what they are being called to be and do.
Jean Vanier with the Pope
The day before I began the last program I facilitated at Hollyhock in May, 2019, one of my cherished teachers died. Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche was a well-loved philosopher, theologian and humanitarian. I never met Jean in person yet I was so glad to have a phone conversation with him a few years ago that I recorded and posted here. His thoughtful book, Community and Growth, serves as an ongoing reference for those of us who co-founded our intentional community. During the Hollyhock program, I put up an adapted quotation from the book. I did so to honour Jean but also because these words helped me to understand the value of Hollyhock, and other places like Hollyhock, in the struggle for a better world.
“I have more and more need of ‘intermediate communities’- places where I can find a certain inner freedom as I make decisions with others.
I need somewhere where I can find my inner liberation through a network of relationships and friendships, where I can be truly myself and express myself without trying or pretending to be anything other than I am.
It is in these intermediate communities, where I can find also meaningful work in the world.
In these communities, I will be able to uncover courage and shed some of the fears that weigh me down and prevent me from discovering my deep self.
It is only when I discover that I am heard and loved, and that I can do beautiful things for another, that I begin to get in touch with what is deepest in the other person.
Only then will we be free to choose a way of life together which is truly our own: not that of the culture around us, nor something set up in reaction to it, but one which is born of real choice of life, in response to a shared aspiration or a call.”