Featured photo is from the restaurant at Le Monastère, where the 2016 Centers’ Gathering will be held.
Holistic centers, like plants, rarely flourish on their own. They grow in a dynamic ecology of participants, teachers, venues and more. The vision for a holistic center, while important, is simply a seed. It requires labor and love and a myriad of resources in order to develop. In nurturing a beautiful blossom, we risk forgetting the forest that supports the landscape around, which is so often full of aliveness, and other flowers of great significance too.
The Centers’ Gathering is an informal organization dedicated to serving the network of holistic centres around the world and fostering communication and collaboration between them. Christine Lines is the coordinator of the Centers’ Gathering website, and lives and works at the well-known Findhorn Foundation Community in the far north of Scotland. Christine is passionate about creating connections between the visionaries who work behind the scenes at these various centers.
“Sometimes people come to the Centers’ Gathering and suddenly realize they’re not alone,” says Christine. “It can be hard work, especially for centers run by an individual or just a small team.” There is often a great sense of belonging when participants discover there is a network they can learn from and contribute their own rich experience. “My first Gathering felt like a meeting of peers and like minded souls, new found friends following a similar calling, even though it sometimes feels like a crazy vocation!”
Throughout its 30-year history, the Gathering has been an intimate group of 30 or so people rather than a large-scale conference, however, the community is growing year by year. “More and more centers are emerging around the world and becoming aware of each other. I imagine this will only continue, the world is calling for a more conscious and sustainable way of life and these centers play a pivotal role”. Each year old friends return to reconnect in person and new friends follow the call, mingling together, sharing ideas, inspiration, gifts and challenges. “Each participant adds a new dimension and there is a great sense of reciprocal learning.”
The expanding network reflects the overall uptake in retreats worldwide and the Centers’ Gathering is just one of many networks. “The ones I’m most aware of include the Fellowship for Intentional Community and the Global Ecovillage Network. I’m delighted to more recently meet Retreat Guru and NuMundo. I feel inspired by them all and feel the vast potential of networking amongst networks.”
While most participants in the Gathering are from established holistic centers, people often represent emerging centers too or are simply curious. Three years ago when Esalen Institute in California hosted the Gathering, Isabelle Duchesneau was in the highly developed concept stage of a center in Quebec City. After opening last year, Le Monastère des Augustines is now hosting this years Gathering and Isabelle found the support of her peers an invaluable source of strength and wisdom along the way.
Over the years workshops have been held to support emerging centres, including in Russia and Eastern Europe when the holistic impulse was strong after being hidden behind the Iron Curtain for so long. “In 2013 and 14, ‘A Peek behind the Scenes’ was offered for people interested in creating a center. “The core team at the heart of the Gathering shared facilitation and together represented over 100 years of experience! It was a great joy to collaborate in this way and we had so much fun as well.”
The annual Gatherings have been focussed on establishing relationships, sharing best practices and offering mutual support. “We share in a very open and honest way and topics include fundraising, marketing, governance and decision making to name just a few.” While this is invaluable for the participating centers, Christine imagines a broader role that the Centers Gathering could play in the rapidly changing world of international retreats and centers of holistic learning.
“When we leave the Gathering we all become immersed in the day to day demands of our centers and I’d love to find more ways to stay in connection, nurture the friendships, develop our skills and build our resilience,” says Christine. “We’d like to offer regular webinars to learn about best practices and offer support through the year, go deeper into important topics, and build our online resources. Together we can help each center fulfil its purpose and potential and contribute to the shared vision of a more holistic and ecological culture.”
The annual Gathering is also a great opportunity to visit other centers. “We become ambassadors for each other”. There are opportunities to explore the landscape and culture, often outings and activities are woven into the schedule and contribute to the sense of fun. “It’s certainly not all hard work,” says Christine with a smile. “Each event is co-created by the participating holistic professionals and we shape the Gathering together according to the interests of the circle.” While one organization hosts the gathering, and there is a core team that takes care of the logistics, all of the participants “are part of the visioning process, and we take turns facilitating the sessions to share the leadership and responsibility.”
“I believe the potential of the network is vast. So far, it’s been an annual Gathering, but for me, it’s much, much more than that. It’s about strengthening the network of centers and their unique contribution” and Christine imagines a far more visionary role for the Centers’ Gathering. “At the next Gathering in Québec, we’ll be exploring our shared vision as a network. What is needed today, what is the true service offered by the Gathering?” she asks. “For me, it’s a great network of light, helping us to become more aware of ourselves, of each other, and the interconnection of life, that serves the awakening around the world. In society today, there’s so much more awareness around the environment, the economy, equality and the importance of becoming more conscious. There is more focus on connection and collaboration. I think it’s a really exciting time.”
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Christine has been a co-worker in the Findhorn Foundation ssince the summer of 2010 and calls the place her University of the Soul. Her current roles include Focaliser of the Guest Department which manages the core programs and Focaliser of the Global Network of Resource People. She represents the Foundation at the International Holistic Centres Gathering each year and is passionate about conscious communication and collaboration within the global community. Her own personal journey is one of deep healing, finding her voice and opening to the vast potential of love and connection.