The Burning Flame

by Simon Goland, August 7, 2010

Today’s Reflection is about the Summer Gathering event I just attended at Hollyhock. Though I have a sense of incomplete thoughts, because the experience has not yet fully settled within me. And probably won’t, any time soon…

Summer Gathering is an event that has been running at Hollyhock for the past 17 years. Perhaps 25. A long time. The premise is simple. Most conferences are not that interesting, and the really juicy stuff happens during the more personal interactions, hallways, celebrations, and party time. This is how the event is structured and planned, to be “A Better Party.” Throw in a location like Hollyhock (, a group of incredibly diverse and passionate activists, change agents, and artists, and it becomes a recipe for a potent and magical time.

The theme was Decisive Decade. Undoubtedly, this is what we are facing in our immediate future. All of us. Whether we want it or not.

“The Universe operates on a basic principle of economics: everything has its cost. We pay to create our future, we pay for the mistakes of the past. We pay for every change we make… And we pay just as dearly if we refuse to change.” – Brian Herbert & Kevin Anderson, “Dune: House Harkonnen”

Because of the richness of the experience, and the variety of activities, conversations, presentations, small group sessions, tears and pain, laughter and inspiration, I am still digesting everything that occurred and the implications. It might continue for a while longer; in the meantime, some of the key moments that stand out. Pieces of the puzzle that combine into a rich tapestry of the human spirit, in its best and worst.

Talking with Samantha, the Executive Director of Lumana (, and hearing the passion in this 20-something woman who is dedicated to empowering villagers in Africa, through education and entrepreneurship skills. After such a conversation, I am filled with hope for the future, seeing this new generation of young activists, deeply committed to making a difference in our world. Also slightly envious, thinking about how clueless I was when I was her age – about anything of real meaning and value.

Or Project Somos (, ran by Heather and Greg from Vancouver, whom I met at the Summer Gathering of last year. They are establishing a village for abandoned and orphaned children in Guatemala, progressing with passion, vision, and commitment.

Another fascinating story came from Susan and her Sound Essence Project (, with focus on Mongolia. Her work there is about preserving and documenting the disappearing cultures and tribes; the story of how she even got there is absolutely stunning. “Being led” barely comes close.

No shortage of beautiful people who are engaged in making a real difference.

“Freedom is an elusive concept. Some men hold themselves prisoner even when they have the power to do as they please and go where they choose, while others are free in their hearts, even as shackles restrain them.” – Brian Herbert & Kevin Anderson, “Dune: House Harkonnen”

Yet, there is always another side to the coin of human accomplishments. It is not a pretty one. This time, the focus seemed to gravitate to oil and plastic. It was highlighted during one of the sessions, where Chris Jordan ( talked about his second Journey to Midway ( and the heart-breaking images of dead albatross birds, filled with plastic they mistake for fish in the ocean. Manuel Maqueda (, who is now a leading world expert on plastic pollution (, followed with a brief overview of plastic (“Plastic is forever,” “None of us really recycles, because putting things into different bins is NOT recycling” and “The only way to deal with plastic now, instead of ‘reuse, reduce, recycle’ is ‘Refuse’”). Then, images of the BP oil spill by Kris Krug (, and eventually a story by Anita Burke, comparing this spill to what happened during the Exxon-Valdez spill, on which she worked directly at the time. Her story about the supposedly-harmless oil dispersant that is being dumped into the water of the Gulf of Mexico and how they were told the same thing during the Exxon oil spill still sends chills through my bones (“They told us that it is a harmless chemical. What a joke! Out of the team I worked with then, I am the only one left alive”).

5 days of such deep and rich fluctuations, between pain and joy, sadness and inspiration, hopelessness and hope. No wonder I am still recovering.

Excerpts from “The Invitation” by Oriah Mountain Dreamer 

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, and if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide or fade it or fix it.

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live, or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done for the children.

It doesn’t interest me with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else fails away.

The question of what sustains people from the inside, when facing such deep pain and despair, and how to keep going, has been on my mind for some time now. While I might not have The Answer, it is somehow less important to even have one. I am grateful for the experience of being with people, who face the same pains, yet still get up in the morning and marching on.

Onward. There really is no other way.

A sunny week to you all, inside and out.