Photo credit: Alice Meyers
“A place to show up, to be seen and to see others. To listen with my heart and to feel myself heard in the hearts of others.”
This quote from one of the Turning to One Another program participants speaks directly to just how important our work is, at the Centre for Earth and Spirit Society (CESS). Finding a place to be seen and to see others is surprisingly rare in this world. It is easy to get caught up in the practical aspects of running a non-profit. Recently I was sweetly reminded that CESS is about ‘depth and value’. These two words struck my heart in ways both personal and organizational and brought me to tears.
During this past year, we have witnessed how depth and value are coming through reflection and conversation with others, who are also searching for new ways of understanding and being in the world. Depth and value come by getting in touch with our deepest longings, our fears and joys, our desire to be with others who are seeking knowledge and inquiring about bigger questions in life. Depth and value are found when a safe container is created for somatic inquiry, and meaningful connection.
At the Centre for Earth and Spirit, we bring people together to connect and inquire on fundamental topics in a way that taps into the wisdom of the circle (or Zoom boxes of late). When we are invited to show up fully, we express from our hearts, and ‘feel ourselves heard in the hearts of others’.
This past year has been one of re-emergence and re-treat amidst consecutive waves of COVID. We are proud to have been steady and consistent in providing opportunities for people to connect with each other (Being Together), share meaningfully (Living Well Dying Well and Turning to One Another), celebrate (Coming to our Senses), and engage, learn about, and collaborate on meaningful topics relevant to these times (Earth & Spirit Café). We broadened our monthly conversations to call them Earth & Spirit Café, inviting speakers who have shared their knowledge on everything from equity in palliative care and community arts, legacy and celebration, psilocybin at end-of-life; to finding ceremony and ritual during COVID times. This new title and new direction has led to amazing Café-style conversations and shared experiences in an approachable format, with the feeling of an information hub. The Café on Conservation (Natural) Burials by our newest board member Sylvia McMechan, drew a group who are interested in helping us find our part and our voice in this movement.
This year, we have turned our attention to the long-term sustainability of our programming. We began by widening our circle to invite and mentor other facilitators who will contribute their knowledge and wisdom to programs such as Living Well Dying Well. We celebrated Abegael Fisher-Lang who completed the Train the Trainer program. We also expanded the number of Turning to One Another pods to engage more young witnesses and seniors. The very first pod — which began meeting, under the mentorship and guidance of Penny Allport, back in April 2020 — is still going strong, and members have renamed their group the Aging Tulips.
In 2021, we developed a positive relationship with Volunteer Victoria, becoming a member of their local charitable networking organization. With their kind support, we access wide-reaching portals and connect with volunteers and participants, including training and capacity-building workshops, at an affordable membership-rate. This relationship has helped us reach a wider community: board recruitment, finding facilitators & collaborators, and reaching participants for weekly, monthly, and yearly themed courses and events.
In addition to exploring depth and value through mindful program development, we have also devoted time and energy to fiscal accountability, protocols and processes — including Criteria for New Programs, and Onboarding of New Board Members.
Our work is offered because of a host of kind-hearted individuals. Thank you to Penny Allport who continues to lead with her clarity, vision, creativity and passion to all of our programming. Alice Meyers has taken on program administration and conducted research on a variety of topics important to our vision – inclusivity, equity and a decolonial lens. She has quickly become the heart of our programs, doing everything from holding beautiful presence on Zoom and creating engaging social media posts to expand our reach, to finding ways that we can deepen our de- and anti-colonial work. Renate Ringer provides a wise heart and clear steady presence in both the Living Well Dying Well and the Earth & Spirit Cafés, as well as offering comprehensive record-keeping and tracking of documents, as Board Secretary.
We continue to work in partnership with the Intensive Journaling program that has been offered to the most vulnerable and at-risk in our community; to great success and increased demand. Thanks to Bill Israel for his dedication and commitment to this work that has been supported by a grant from the Victoria Foundation.
We are immensely grateful to a handful of monthly donors who support our work and help us continue to make it available to those who might not have the means to participate. Ongoing support from the federal New Horizons for Seniors Program provides core funding for our programs for seniors, making them accessible to a wider community
In the fall of 2021, we said goodbye to Jo-Ann Bance, our mighty Treasurer who helped us steer our organization through developing financial tracking systems, as well as Penny Allport, who continues to guide and facilitate programming. We are very glad to welcome Sylvia McMechan to our Board who is passionately moving forward our work around Natural Burials and is currently supporting on the Finance Committee. As of May 2022, we are also very glad to welcome Jessica Easton, who brings a long-term commitment to healthy conversations around death and dying, and a wealth of ideas about fundraising and reaching community.
We continue to land into our earthly bodies, and with the return to in-person programming, we are thrilled to explore our land-based offerings, with a consciousness and respect to the Coast Salish (W̱SÁNEĆ, Quw’utsun, lək̓ʷəŋən) Indigenous communities who have stewarded these lands for millennia.
As societal cracks widen and our current political and economic systems falter, inequities and vulnerabilities have been revealed. The need for new ideas and ways of knowing has never been greater. The Centre for Earth and Spirit will continue to create offerings that connect people to their hearts and each other — individuals and collectives — ready for change.