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THREAD #111

Refuge of Hope

March 30th, 2017 by Jennifer Neutel

Jodi Lammiman and Amy Spark co-created Calgary-based Refugia Retreats in August 2016, forming a space that combines environmental concerns, spirituality and self-discovery.

Refugia provides opportunities for tough conversations and deep dialogue.

“Refugia was born out of desire to see more spaces that offer opportunities for retreat in Alberta and particularly to create a space that invites people into thoughtful dialogue and action around personal, social, and environmental change,” says Jodi.

Jodi and Amy shared more about their personal and professional roots in a recent email interview with Calgary’s generative journalism co-op, NewScoop.

NewScoop: What about Refugia Retreats is most energizing to you right now?

Jodi: Refugia Retreats is myself, co-creator Amy Spark, and food wizard Carla Bitz. The three of us meet weekly to dream and plan and organize our upcoming events as well as the continued inception of Refugia as a business and eventual retreat centre. I love that I get to co-create something beautiful and different and creative with two of my favourite people. Our dreaming and planning is very energizing to me.

Equally energizing is the actual facilitating of retreats. When people are in the room together, sharing honestly and listening together, I get this sense that we are co-creating something beautiful which has the power to be both holy and transformative. This happens on both an individual level but also on a communal one. Each time it feels like such a gift to get to be present to people's stories, to be present to what’s happening internally for me and to the collective story of life that we are all engaged in.

Amy: Being on the Refugia team is like being on the top of a mountain. I can see down many sides of the mountain into various valleys, and see the amazingly positive work that is going on in many different sectors and organizations in Calgary. However, those working in those sectors and organizations rarely get to see what’s going on in other valleys, so they start to get discouraged. 

I’ve worked for small environmental non-profits, and it’s hard to see the big change you’re making. But being with Refugia, I get to see the positive strives forward, and even contribute to that forward momentum by supporting those who are trying to make change in their communities and themselves. In a sense, we get a glimpse into all the amazing things that are going on in Alberta.

Can you tell me about your connection with Calgary?

Jodi: When I moved to Calgary 17 years ago, I felt like the city adopted me. As a child growing up in the American Midwest, my family would visit friends every other summer in Calgary and somehow Canada felt like home to me. There was an inclusivity I experienced here that I didn't experience at home, and on some level, I felt as though I belonged here.

Amy: Chronologically, I’m a fourth generation Calgarian. Emotionally, it’s the place that holds my heart. I grew up splashing around in Fish Creek, and I am so grateful for the loving, outdoorsy, adventurous childhood my family gave me. I love the dry air, the way we call it Cal-GRR-ee instead of Cal-GARY. I love the extensive bike path network. Our urban sprawl frustrates me but overall, I think Calgary is a city filled with compassionate people. Compassionate, but busy.  

How would you describe your faith, or the role faith has in your life?

Jodi: Faith has always been an integral part of my life. Growing up, my faith context felt narrow and restrictive and these days my faith is much more expansive and inclusive. I really live by the belief that God or the Divine or however you want to name Him (or Her) is love and we get to participate in that love when we live our lives in ways that are grateful, inclusive, and respectful both of other people's journeys and of the planet that we inhabit.

Amy: I’m a scientist at heart, but equally a spiritual person. My faith and my passion for science have never been in conflict.  In fact, they foster one another. Science is a path through which I can think through and tackle interesting questions. Faith is a path where I’m given the permission to ask these difficult questions. And to be okay if I don’t know the answer, or the answer is unknowable. I grew up in the United Church, being taught that it’s okay to be a person of faith with questions. I still go to church occasionally, but I’m finding more physical practices like yoga and hiking are feeding my soul more these days.

Part of your vision statement is “a holistic community that seeks to question the industrial growth narrative prevalent in Calgary…” Can you share more about the industrial growth narrative? How can this narrative be shifted?

Jodi: The industrial growth narrative is one that promotes the ideas of business as usual and of infinite growth. On a large scale the industrial growth narrative has to do with the consumer-based and extractive ideologies that we’ve embraced and woven into the institutional fabric of our society. And on a personal scale we also often buy into the belief that as humans consumerism will make us happier. Both perspectives stem from a belief that the earth has the capacity for infinite growth. This puts forward the belief that there will always be enough and that what we do to the planet (and to ourselves by over consuming) doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have consequences. Well, I think we’re learning that this belief is a false one. Ecologically and sociologically the hazards of climate change are increasing. As our planet warms u, it affects everything from birds and bees to the increase of natural disasters and environmental refugees.

As the consequences of climate change increase there is also a growing realization that our consumerism and the way we inhabit this earth matters. We as a people are beginning to acknowledge the truth that what we do to the earth, we also do to ourselves. We can move away from the narratives of consumerism and industrial growth by waking up to alternative narratives. Some examples of this can be seen in eco-psychology, The Work that Reconnects, and Matthew Fox’s notion of Creation Spirituality  - not to be confused with Creationism. These frameworks begin by inviting us to see ourselves as whole beings, intimately interconnected to the earth and other humans, rather than merely consumers. Once we start to recognize our worth and connection, we can begin to make choices that are more compassionate, thoughtful and reflective about the way in which we inhabit and belong to the earth and its community.

Amy: Part of the industrial-growth narrative is the proliferation of binary thinking, which leads to the notion of trade-offs or off-sets. “Well what do you want? Technological progress or a clean environment? Health care or low taxes? Nature or culture?” It propagates this idea that humans and the environment can’t mix.  Or they can’t mix in a way where the environment wins. It’s a common assumption that if there are humans present, the environmental costs have to be “mitigated.” When did we start to see ourselves as such a parasite? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say humans can’t have a negative impact on the environment. What I’m actually saying is our impact on the environment doesn’t have to be negative.  It doesn’t even have to be neutral. Humans can clean water, build animal habitats, grow gardens, aerate soil, foster life. We so often see ourselves as a toxic force upon the earth. I think what was so powerful to me is when I realized I’m not inherently toxic. Perhaps the narrative can shift from parasitic growth-imagery to one of symbiotic relationships. We need the planet to survive - yes - but the planet can also be made better and cleaner by our actions.

The Work That Reconnects workshops you host has roots in the teachings and experiential methods of Joanna Macy – a scholar of Buddhism, systems thinking and deep ecology. What about Joanna Macy’s approach most resonates with you?

Amy: Macy speaks of three “stories” of our time: Business As Usual, which emulates the growth narrative) the Great Unraveling , the “doom and gloom” narrative, and the Great Turning, the story of hope.  What I find most compelling about Macy’s work is that she emphasizes that these stories are happening at the same time. As citizens, we engage in all three stories at once. People (or society as a whole) may vacillate between the stories, perhaps even within the same day.

For example, we might watch the news and adhere to the Great Unravelling narrative, hop down the street for a drink with friends to embrace the Business As Usual narrative, while tweeting about a cool social initiative that’s embodying the Great Turning. This three-pronged approach helps me frame questions and issues by examining which lens or story I’m viewing the issue through. For example, in Macy’s framework, climate change is indeed a crisis but it is also an opportunity to work collectively to develop solutions that are more positive than what we currently have.

Jodi: Macy’s approach holds a reverence for life underpinned by the understanding that life is both sacred and uncertain. She somehow manages to allow these two pieces to co-exist without denying mystery or uncertainty, but by inviting us to enter fully into life.  I really appreciate that Macy’s approach addresses each of these stories. It doesn’t deny that we are living in the midst of a difficult and uncertain time, but at the same time it focuses on The Great Turning by engaging participants of her work in activities that allow us to practice gratitude in the midst of uncertainty.

Gratitude can be a radically subversive and thoroughly spiritual practice. In a society that often tells us that we are what we buy, gratitude takes us out of that feedback loop. It gives us the opportunity to see and engage the world with new eyes. It invites us to recognize that this is an amazing time to be alive and to acknowledge our place in the midst of this time. Life needs us and we need it. It acknowledges that while we belong in this wild, beautiful world, belonging to something also must lead us to work on its behalf.

What is something you are seeing happen in your community, or the world, that gives you hope for the future?

Jodi: The Women's March on Washington is at the forefront of my mind since it happened recently. There is a mobilization happening all over the world, where we are waking up to the realizations that we belong in this world. We have a place and a role. There is work to be done on behalf of life: human rights, the planet, etc., and that we are all interconnected. Whatever affects one of us will affect all of us, whatever we do to the planet we do to ourselves. It gives me great hope to begin to recognize my own connection and to see others waking up to theirs by mobilizing and working for change across the planet. I experienced this myself when I went to "The Work that Reconnects" intensive with Joanna Macy last year. There were 45 individuals there from all over the world and it was inspiring to hear what each of them are doing. It's both comforting and hopeful to think of each of them out in the world doing their part and to know that that's what we are also trying to do here.

Amy: Alberta’s curriculum redesign gives me hope. Both FNMI (First Nations-Metis-Inuit) perspectives and climate change are being integrated as threads throughout the curriculum.  Not as subject areas, not as teachable moments, but woven into Alberta’s narrative.  I think it’s incredibly important and courageous work.  

The above story is written and published in collaboration with NewScoop YYC, a generative journalism cooperative based in Calgary. 


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