Last year we held a powerful conversation about ecology, cosmology and spirituality. The energy from that gathering turned into the Salish Sea Spiritual Ecology Alliance when a handful of us gathered in small circles with mugs of spruce tip or nettle tea and told our stories, expressed our fears, and wondered what we could do to effect real change. We each took deep breaths of relief when we realized that we were not alone in yearning for deep connection to each other, the earth and the Divine. Most of us, but not all, had left conventional religion behind, and were doing what we could to fill the void left in our souls by one of humanity’s most ancient institutions.
‘Place-based Activism and Spiritual Practice’ was not just the SSSEA’s next project, it was a labor of love gifted by countless hours of work by the organizers to its participants. I feel truly blessed to know each one of you. Thank you! Here are just a few thoughts in retrospect on the Convergence.
Starting on September 13, we embarked on a pilgrimage of body and soul. With our eyes to the sea, we accepted that the ocean is not always hospitable to our plans. Strong winds postponed our canoe trip. But gathered inside the Jericho Sailing Centre, we expressed our fears, ideas and possible solutions for the problems facing our oceans. It was difficult to acknowledge the pain without immediately jumping into fixing it. But we held the space. Douglas Tolchin shared a vision for a Bioregional Marine Sanctuary that would bring wild animals populations above 50% of historic levels. The room was buzzing with excitement. A livable future is within our grasp.
On September 20, we convened at Spanish Banks amidst the wind and rain that flapped our rented tents and tables and wandered in the woods. Workshops included foraging, forest ecology, forest play, meditation, yoga, storytelling, and building a forest defense campaign. At the end of the day, after much discussion and time in the beautiful Douglas fir forests of Pacific Spirit Park, we sat in a tight circle and talked about how the idea of nature had ironically further separated us from the world we live in. The sun finally decided to show up, and we craned our necks to absorb its light.
On September 26, we gathered at the UBC farm among new friends, rows and rows of kale, and intermittent clouds. Dawn Morrison challenged our assumptions about farms being the center of food systems, and we sat with the hard truth that colonial violence included agriculture; that food sovereignty meant restoring First Peoples rights to traditional food systems and practices such as gathering, fishing and hunting. We talked about the power of our food purchasing choices, and food as a locus for being an activist. We talked about our rituals surrounding food. We learned to slow down, to focus on each bite of food, to eat mindfully, to treat each meal as a kind of sacrament. We enjoyed a 6 course vegan meal prepared by local chefs from Maple Ridge. As the sun set, and we sat eating together, the bright almost full moon rose above the warm glow of the greenhouse. The night air was crisp with the coming fall. It was a perfect place to celebrate the changing of food into bodies.
On October 4, we gathered at Saint Paul Anglican Church’s labyrinth space. The labyrinth is modeled after the labyrinth at the Chartres Cathedral in France. We set up an altar in the center, and as participants entered each with given a rock to help them focus their intention for the gathering. We walked the labyrinth in silence. It was powerful to see so many walking together. Like an intentional city street where the chaos feels like a symphony of bodies. Then we gathered in a large circle, ritually setting our intention and placing our rocks in a bowl of water. The water was blessed and then our officiants used cedar branches to bless each of us. For the next two hours we were led by amazing facilitators of intentional dance Alicia Graham and Loretta Laurin.
It is hard for me to describe the beauty of this time. When we started the music, we were to sit or lay down on the floor, we were to enact each of the five elements: water, fire, air, earth and spirit. As a very self-conscious dancer, I started sitting down with my eyes tightly shut. Hoping to avoid any disappointed glances. But as the time and music went on, and I settled into stillness, and saw just how accepting and loving the space was. I was able to bring myself to my feet and dance around the outside of the labyrinth, slowly and cautiously at first, and then with more confidence. We did a number of amazing exercises such as partner mirror dancing and trying to keep between two people while dancing. During one exercise, half of us were asked to dance while the other half observed. We were to practice seeing and being seen, and to express in our dance something like our fears for the state of the world or sadness, or loneliness. Having just gone through a very difficult break up and consistently feeling the weight of the problems we face, this moment broke me open and I fell to the ground pounding the floor in rhythm to the pulsing music. I cried not just for myself but for the world. I was surprised by how powerful my reaction was. Then I felt the soft hands of another dancer on my back, and I was filled with a soft wave of comfort. I was not alone in my pain, in my loneliness, or in facing the problems of the world. I got up and joined the other dancers in an awkward but joyous dance of gratitude.
The SSSEA set out to create a sacred container for building community and deepening our connections to the earth through spiritual practice, and as the evening was wrapping up, I felt a wave of pride and joy as we performed and expressed those very goals. Not through academic papers, or even words, but with our bodies.
Thank you all who participated! It was a pleasure meeting you, and we hope that you will join us for our next visioning session in the beginning of November. Take care of yourselves, and don’t hesitate to reach out to any of us for a listening ear, support of company.