We have mentioned the Toronto Summer Institute a few times on here, perhaps partly because it is where Kirk and I first made a connection and this blog was born. It has had a profound impact on our lives; we would both say it sustains our passion, nourishes our commitment to our work and to our community-building, and has been the birthplace of many important friendships.
The friendships are the piece that I am interested in today. I have just spent a week with Kirk and our friends Beth and Peter (living in different continents prevents that from happening as often as we would like) and I am once more amazed at the depth of relationship we all have. If we had met elsewhere, I am sure we would all have loved each other. But the Toronto Summer Institute (TSI) fosters a profound sense of community that accelerates and amplifies friendships as they form, so I am sure our connection is deeper than it would have been otherwise.
Kirk, Peter and Beth were here (along with our dear friend Heather) to facilitate an event which I had planned, and it felt like we managed to get a bit of that ‘TSI vibe’ in the room.
Though much of what we did was intentional to try to create the conditions for that sense of community to emerge, I am still figuring out exactly what it is that helped this event (and even more so, TSI) to achieve this.
We deliberately created a ‘sacred space’ where right from the start we explicitly invited people to look deeper and with fresh eyes at the issues we were gathered to explore.
I remember being very excited the first year I went to TSI that ceremony and ritual were very much a part of the format. Having previously studied this stuff in my arts-based masters degree, it was wonderful to feel the relevance of it in my current field of work. In fact, I think ceremony and ritual have a universality that transcend ‘fields of work’ and have a place wherever one human connects with another!
We invited people to look to their own stories and identities (rather than talking about people they are working to support or in ‘hypotheticals’) and we did this from early on in the event. I think this invites us to bring our whole selves into the room, and also to peel back our armour so that we are willing to share our vulnerabilities.
I remember this from TSI too. Within the first hour of my first TSI, I was crying with a new friend as she shared her story with me. We remain close friends today.
These events take a matter of days to experience, but a huge amount more to plan and prepare. In the process of planning logistics and practicalities, we could lose sight of the idea that a community really can be formed within a short space of time. And once we are ‘in’ the event, in the process of trying to achieve everything we set out to we could forget that a community, even a very short-lived one, needs a way to close and part company. A way to say goodbye.
And ultimately, we could congratulate ourselves when we do succeed in creating the conditions for community, but really it is down to the people in the room. I feel incredible gratitude to the people that joined us on our journey last week and for their readiness to let their guards down and trust one another. I also feel so very lucky to be part of the TSI family, and for the wonderful friendships I have made there. Kirk closes this post with a poem, then click the link to watch the closing song “Caledonia” led by the people who shared this sacred space.
Gathering together is more than just time,
Not just a group of people simply existing.
Indeed it is more, bordering on the sublime,
It is the essential fuel our hearts are craving.
When we share space with one another,
Whether to teach, learn, tell stories or connect.
With our entire selves we hold each other,
Certainly a practice worth striving to perfect.
This sense of hope, born out of invitation,
Permeates us to our very core.
Judgement, cynicism and fear’s emancipation,
Realizes power not seen before.
Within each of us, exists the ability to invite,
To be mindful that we all have our place.
Our human love, our fire, will inevitably ignite,
When we set and share this sacred space.