By Erin O'Neil
"During these challenging times..." How often have you heard this phrase recently?
Planetary eco-meltdown, world-wide economic recession, global inequity, war, social injustice, poverty, the list goes on. Reflect for a moment, though, on the big picture. Now is also our chance to step up. A wise perspective might see the human species being called on to sow seeds of change, hope and optimism in time for the fruits to make a difference. As our perspectives, like our information, become more global, reality reminds us that solutions are inevitably local and personal.
Now, more than ever, we need places where we can build our capacity to be better global citizens. These places are rare. For more than 25 years, Hollyhock on Cortes Island in British Columbia has offered guests an experience that sends them home transformed and inspired to engage in making the world better. Hollyhock is a non-profit centre offering cutting-edge programs with world-class instructors, a gathering place for pursuit of advanced knowledge and deep insights. New learning for new times. And all of it happening amidst the kind of breathtaking island beauty that makes you remember why it's good to be alive.
Glance through their catalogue, and you'll find an impressive array of programs and enticing unstructured ways to enjoy what Hollyhock has to offer. In a world where loss of biodiversity is precipitating a crisis of epic proportions, Hollyhock aims to nurture the biodiversity of the human organism, enabling people to feed their diverse skills and passions and grow new ones. Workshops in arts, health, relationship, yoga, and wisdom practices mix unapologetically with business, leadership and social change programs. Part of Hollyhock's charm is that it's hard to define - an alchemical mix of part university and conference facility, part spiritual centre, part sweet holiday getaway.
Some of the courses offered this spring include Cultivating Women's Leadership, June 5-10. The program is co-led by Toby Lynn Herzlich, a facilitator and trainer with the Rockwood Leadership Program who trained women in the Middle East, Bosnia, the U.S. and Canada. Nina Simons, a social entrepreneur and co-founder of the Bioneers Conference, is the other presenter.
A Way with Words: Writing and Meditation (May 22-27), is led by Ruth Ozeki, a writer, filmmaker and author, and practioner of Zen Buddhism. Poet, clinical counsellor and Zen priest Kate McCandless is the second presenter.
While they take their mission very seriously, the staff at Hollyhock and the whole property are imbued with realness, a culture of fun, healthy irreverence, and an un-contrived, hip joie de vivre . And they're attracting a more diverse crowd than ever before. Gatherings of web, media, and environmental activists return to the campus for strategy and network-building conferences because the setting helps catalyse new visions. Hollyhock is also proud of having expanded their scholarship program over the years, which in 2008 granted over $97,000 to 116 people.
Something else they take seriously is the issue of sustainability. Part of their strategy is to make the Hollyhock experience count and go for ripple effect.
"We're going for maximum impact. Yes people are travelling, but they're learning, connecting with new people, having meaningful experiences and returning home to spread seeds of change, like guerrilla gardeners," says CEO Dana Bass Solomon.
While laying no claim to perfection, the facility is an impressive model of sustainable practice. The kitchen, organic garden and dining room are a cozy, closed loop system - compost nourishes the garden that provides for the kitchen, feeds the guests, whose scraps go directly to the compost heap.
Rex Weyler, an original member of Greenpeace, has been the driving force behind Hollyhock for the past 25 years. "Seminars in the practical, creative and healing arts: was one of Hollyhock's first slogans. And it has always been about a balanced life.
Among the people who have led courses at Hollyhock are Dr. Andrew Weil, Alan Watts, Alan Ginsberg and poet Robin Blaser, winner of the Griffin Prize in 2008.
Hollyhock is a place where the ecology of human well-being is naturally nourished. Set and setting are ideal for germination, growth and infusion of perspective and purpose. The stunning, abundant organic garden at the heart of the centre is a potent symbol for what happens to those who make the worthwhile journey to this west-coast paradise. Imagine waking to the aroma of your early morning coffee mingling with the low-tide scents wafting from the water's edge. Beginning your day with yoga, or a dip in the briny blue. Vibrant organic feasts prepared by gifted hands and smiling hearts. Sublime bodywork in a forest sanctuary. Maybe you attend a provocative evening lecture, or kayak off into the sunset in search of bioluminescent plankton that only reveal themselves in the dark. Moonrise viewed from a hot tub. Starlit walk on a hushed path to your comfy bed.
If we want a more sane, just and peaceful world, Hollyhock is a place that can kick-start us to do our part. This one of a kind campus is an institution the planet can't afford to lose.