How to Marry your Business Partner: Weaving a ritual container for right relationship in business

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By Alla Guelber

The bride and groom enter the room from opposite corners as the upbeat electro swing of the Formidable Vegetable Sound System’sGet Together” pipes in.

He nervously adjusts his large white and blue top hat while looking out on to the assembled room of fifty or so friends, family, colleagues and clients, takes a deep breath and approaches his bride. She is resplendent in a flowing green and blue gown, decorated with a profusion of flowers and sprigs of greenery, carrying curly Russian kale, plump golden beets, spry little radishes and more, assembled in an ambitious mid-winter bouquet of last fall’s bounty.

“We are gathered here tonight in the presence of Gaia and all of our relations on traditional Blackfoot Territory.  We are joining in ceremony similar to one celebrated by countless cultures around the world… gathered to witness and support the creation of a fruitful and symbiotic relationship,” says the officiant.

They approach the rest of their wedding party: the best man, dressed as a voluminous yellow chicken (this is, of course, longstanding friend and mentor Rob Avis of Verge Permaculture), and me, the mastermind and maid-of-honour for this most lovely and unusual of celebrations.

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The reGenerate Design business wedding party. Photo courtesy Chad Chudyk

And so, with great pomp and circumstance, Mike Unrau, in the guise of the Fantastic Mr. Fox, opened the Business Wedding Ceremony for reGenerate Design, represented by the business’s principal owners, Lindsay Meads and Adrian Buckley.

Thus begins a community ritual several months in the making to celebrate two friends and business partners committing to working together, not only in right relationship with each other as colleagues, but also in alignment with their shared values in ecology, permaculture, and community.

Ensconced in a warm community space in downtown Calgary as winter winds howl outside on the first Saturday in February, Lindsay, Adrian, and their friends, colleagues and family members set strong intentions for a business that not only creates right livelihood for its owners, but sends out wider ripples true to their business mandate of holistic design solutions and empowering people to be leaders for positive change.

Plant nerd jokes, permaculture theory, well-wishes and light-hearted humour all interweave in a tight circle of connectivity, creating a ritual container to hold the larger-than-life endeavour of the “Great Work” that permaculture designers like Lindsay and Adrian take on as their chosen meaningful work.

Mike continues: “Both Lindsay and Adrian deeply respect the earth-based traditions in their personal and professional lives; Lindsay comes with a rich history in urban design and environmental geology and Adrian comes with experience in botany and community design. Together, they share a deep passion for ecologically and socially regenerative systems.”

Weaving community
As friends, colleagues, and co-conspirators, Adrian and Lindsay arrived into my life at approximately the same time. I met Adrian at the inaugural Calgary Harvest pick in October 2009 (Calgary Harvest is an urban fruit recovery initiative). At the time, Adrian was also actively starting a new permaculture design company called Big Sky Permaculture. In the spring of 2010, Lindsay attended the first-ever Meaningful Work Retreat that I organized, where Adrian was a guest presenter.

Fast forward to 2015. As their business “matchmaker”, I reveled in the joy of their individual journeys toward meaningful work converging in such a momentous occasion.

“The wedding ritual is one of the most powerful rituals in Western society,” says Sarah Kerr, owner of Soul Passages and founding director of the Holistic Death Network in Calgary. Sarah is a death midwife, celebrant and facilitator who offers nature-based spiritual support to individuals and communities navigating illness, death and loss.

A week prior to the business wedding, we all had a sense of the importance and gravity of the words spoken during the ceremony, and it took Sarah’s deep experience and insight to ensure that we created an appropriate ritual container.

“By formalizing their business partnership in a community ceremony, Lindsay and Adrian honoured the sacred aspect of their work. The ritual invited their human community and the larger living world, to participate in and support their endeavour,” Sarah says.

Sarah’s teaching reminds us that as we move forward in the work of ensuring that humans are a regenerative force on the earth, it is important to remember to weave ourselves back into an intimate relationship with the earth that sustains us.

“As healers and visionaries for a new world, permaculture designers and change-makers of all kinds have an opportunity to create appropriate rituals. These ceremonies help to anchor us in the wisdom and tradition of the infinite healing powers of the Earth, and honour those who have come before us,” she adds.

At this challenging junction in human history, the work of earth repair and people care can be deeply supported by personal and community rituals that anchor and sustain us in this transformative work.

Spades in the soil
Returning to the community room, warmed with repeated peals of laughter, the Fantastic Mr. Fox continues with an effusive, even theatrical flourish:

“If the sun is the guiding light, then ethical protocol is the torch that holds the flame.  In the permaculture tradition, ethics are the greatest manifestation of principled action to benefit the planet and people.”

Partyguests-AG“I am to remind you of the serious nature of the relationship you are now about to enter.  Therefore, if any persons can show just and sufficient reason why these two businesses cannot be joined in a business merger, let them now declare reasons, or from this time forward, forever keep their spade in their own soil.”

Peals of laughter erupt from the room. A little girl in a bunny costume darts across the room. Bright eyes and red cheeks spread out amongst our brightly coloured guests donning various stages of earth-themed costume radiate warmth, love and support.

At that point, inspired by the Celtic ritual of the warming of the rings, we passed around the Unanimous Shareholders Agreement. The business partners asked each person in attendance bestow their wishes upon this agreement to help and support the business in moving forward.

Asking each business wedding guest to spend time offering their blessings and positive intentions into the Unanimous Shareholders Agreement created an additional layer of structure and support into the ceremony.

“Ritual provides a structure through which energy can flow. People aren’t very often given structures through which they can flow love and support – and this ritual was about sharing love and support. This energy is real, real and it matters. That’s why the community warming of the rings – or the business agreement in this case – is so powerful,” Sarah explains.

Sharing Vows
Adrian and Lindsay wrote their own business vows, and, at this point in the ceremony, they recited them in unison in front of their assembled guests:

“We engage in transparent communication based on mutual respect.

“By continually understanding each others’ gifts and talents, we balance and support each others’ professional growth.

“We maintain a healthy degree of separation between our professional and personal lives. The business creates meaningful, fulfilling and sustainable livelihoods for us.

“We are professional, organized and unrushed. Our approach to problem solving is solutions-oriented. We activate and inspire people to create positive change in the community.

“We have fun!”

Mike then continued: “I now call upon you both in the presence of family and friends, and in the presence of this land, to benefit future generations, and deepen our connection to Mother Earth, and commit to the important work of being a regenerative force on the great lands and waters of this abundant world. Please repeat after me…”

Lindsay repeated: “I commit to you in a business partnership / until such a point / when it is better for the both of us / and for the world / for each of us to move in our separate ways.”

Adrian followed, “I commit to you in a business partnership / until such a point / when it is better for the both of us / and for the world / for each of us to move in our separate ways.”

With this statement, the audience lets out a deep sigh.

And the final icing on the cake, Mike said, “Now, I shall ask you to exchange your business cards, to finalize this business merger.”

Adrian and Lindsay exchanged business cards, and Mike added:

“As life is not without death, with these cards, Big Sky Permaculture will now serve as business mulch and sprout anew as reGenerate Design through both of their mycelial networks.”

“In the name of Bill Mollison and Jane Jacobs and by the power vested in all of us collaboratively, I now proclaim reGenerate Design Ltd. to be a new business. I now pronounce you business partners in right relationship to each other and your business. You may pound your fists!”

Business bride and groom sign the Unanimous Shareholders Agreement

Business bride and groom sign the Unanimous Shareholders Agreement

And so, with some fist pounding and the signing of the Unanimous Shareholders Agreement, the deed was done.

After the ceremony, we enjoyed three sisters burritos, honouring the sacred New World triad of corn, beans and squash, and a lovely potluck, as well as local mead and beer. We doled out small potted plants as prizes for best costumes. Adrian, Mike and several other friends performed live music, and the evening concluded with a DJ.

The business wedding served as a memorable, meaningful and creative way to recognize a significant commitment and transition in the lives of two business partners.

As Rachel Carson famously wrote in Silent Spring, “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”

And this well-intentioned, at-times silly, at times immensely deep ritual in the dark time of winter served to anchor in a new awareness for valuing age-old ritual. It planted seeds of structure, intention and support to lend energy and direction for the business’s continuous thriving. The partners in reGenerate Design and others like them engage in meaningful work that is far more than drafting and landscape design. Through their concerted efforts, they are contributing to the healing of our world, and the more that they and others are supported by community, as well as ritual process, the stronger their work will become.

This article is also posted at: http://regeneratedesign.ca/archives/787

New imagineCALGARY Partner Redefining Meaningful Work

The Meaningful Work Project recently joined ImagineCALGARY as a partner. This profile was written by Patricia Marcoccia from Axiom News. The original article is posted here.

Ed Whittingham, Executive Director of the Pembina Institute, joined the 2011 Meaningful Work Retreat to offer his insights on running the largest environmental non-profit organization in Canada, and his personal journey toward meaningful work.

Ed Whittingham, Executive Director of the Pembina Institute, joined the 2011 Meaningful Work Retreat to offer his insights on running the largest environmental non-profit organization in Canada, and his personal journey toward meaningful work. Photo by Mark Unrau.

Alla Guelber knew after she completed her undergraduate degree in applied communications that a traditional PR career was not in the cards for her. But she didn’t know where or how to find the kind of meaningful work she was looking for.

What she did know was that she was passionate about the growing movement of the emerging “green” economy. While studying a master of arts degree in environmental education and communication, Alla saw many opportunities for employment in the environmental sector, but many of these jobs consisted of merely accounting for gaps in current systems as opposed to being truly innovative.

Alla opted to merge her interests into a master’s thesis called The Quest for Meaningful Work: Personal Journeys in Creating Occupations for People and the Planet. She has since expanded her inquiry into a grassroots initiative called the Meaningful Work Project (MWP).

“Meaningful work is a universal human desire,” she says. “I wanted to expand the definition of meaningful work so that it’s not only about that personal satisfaction and that sense of being of service to others but also being of service to the planet.”

MWP is a new imagineCALGARY partner. In its early stages, the MWP team is still figuring out what form the initiative will take. One of its most successful aspects to date has been an intimate, multidisciplinary retreat that brings together people on various legs of their own journeys to find meaningful work.

People often feel a sense of relief in the workshops, Alla explains, because they have the opportunity to share with others who are experiencing the trials and tribulations of this challenging transition.

“You’re going through a transition where your world feels upside down and nothing seems to make sense anymore, and you feel like you want meaningful work but you don’t know what that looks like,” she says.

“With the topic of meaningful work, people are reluctant to share what they’re really experiencing. There’s a stigma against people who challenge the status quo,” she adds.

Alla is compiling many of the stories she is encountering of people who are creating new paths to fulfill their personal and “planetary” ambitions. Danielle Carruthers, who completed the workshop in 2010, transitioned from her job in banking to starting a social business incubator called the Sedge. The team is currently spending the year working on incubation in Chile.

“What is it going to take to be able to transition all aspects of our society away from dependence on fossil fuels? It’s going to mean a massive reconfiguration of all that we do and the way we live our lives,” she says.

For more information on the upcoming retreat, Aligning Passion and Purpose for the New Economy running Oct. 25 – 27 in Canmore, AB, visit www.meaningfulworkproject.ca/meaningful-work-retreat-2013/.

To learn about becoming an iC partner click here. You can also share your feedback, thoughts and ideas on Facebook and Twitter.

Commitments, Contradictions and Experiential Learning 101

Article by Susan Cousineau

Susan Cousineau

Susan Cousineau

Well, it’s been a few months. Since my last post, I completed my Permaculture Design Certificate in Jordan and spent my summer first working on a permaculture farm on Denman Island, then on a small start-up organic farm in Armstrong BC (where, in fact, I remain quite contentedly for the moment). I started off charging forward with the joyful prospect of heaping permaculture skills onto my academic background in evolutionary ecology. Heady stuff.

I just want to run out and do everything at once: designing sites, building swales and hugelkultur beds, harvesting water, and basically getting down-and-dirty adding hands-on work to my list of experience. As many of us do, I tend to fall into the classic trap of trying to do everything at once; and to just keep adding skills and experience(s) rather than develop existing ones.

Geoff Lawton, one of the founders of the permaculture movement, teaches the Berkley compost method at  permaculture course in Jordan.

Geoff Lawton, one of the founders of the permaculture movement, teaches the Berkley compost method at permaculture course in Jordan.

This summer was no exception. While I did add a heap-load of skills to my repertoire (and work on some muscles and a tan), I’ve been struggling to process what the few months have meant to me in terms of learning, personal growth, professional growth, and so on.

Some themes keep re-emerging::

 1) Test what you “know” by doing things. Do something. Do anything. The learning is in the doing, not in what feels like “learning”. As a scholar I’m great at getting caught in this trap: the potential for further learning is endless. It’s the doing that needs to be plugged in to make the learning stick.

2) Commitment. Choose something. Anything. But do it, keep moving forward, and all the things you were trying to choose between will either fall away, or fall into the framework of what you commit to. I kept getting hit over the head with this one this year. Everyone from my friends and family to distant voices of past exes to a radio show host used words and phrases like “making a commitment”, “setting down roots,” and “choosing a focus.” I learned a little more about why these phrases keep resonating with me; but also that sticking to an overarching commitment can result in conflicts between the minor goals (e.g. stay in one place and build on basic farming skills, versus drive across Canada and the US on a 6-week road-trip to learn about some alternative approaches to food security and production). And that contradictions are okay. Which leads to . . .

3) We are all full of contradictions. Recently CBC radio host Brent Bambury was discussing with director Errol Morris his documentary “The Unknown Known” on Donald Rumsfeld. Morris was reflecting that Rumsfeld seemed to have little comprehension of the magnitude of his decisions or influence during his time in office; that he seemed to frequently contradict himself without any awareness of having done so. Bambury goes on to quote F. Scott Fitzgerald: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” He then rephrased this to: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and to know and acknowledge that you are doing so.” I guess that tells me I have a great mind, because I can never seem to move forward for the number of contradictory thoughts guiding my decisions! But recognizing the contradictions, and choosing which is more (or less) important to you, is part of life and successful learning.

Trying out the authentic camel-riding nomadic life-style in Jordan.

Trying out the authentic camel-riding nomadic life-style in Jordan.

4)    Understanding is dependent on the perspective you choose from which to view an experience. For example, looking back on the last few months, I could choose to view them from a perspective either of success or failure. First, I learned a lot, made some wonderful friends, spent a lot of time working outside, ejected some logistical fallacies and developed a much greater sense of practicality. On the other hand, I didn’t gain any financial ground, and feel like I’m about where I started in terms of gaining security, stability, forward direction, and so on. Either point of view could be taken as equally valid. Holding those two contradictory possibilities in mind is important so that I avoid deluding myself into a false sense of security that “everything works out” (sometimes it just doesn’t); or into an equally destructive sense of failure that “nothing ever works out” (sometimes it does, it just takes a little longer, or comes about in unexpected ways). Reality is a slippery fish!

Looking back I recognize the optimism of someone with a lot of ideas – and ideals – and not a great deal of time spent putting those ideas into the ground. In all honesty, after more than half a year, I still don’t have any kind of feeling like I’ve “gotten it together” or am ready to offer anything like a usable product to the world – but I do have a more grounded understanding of my own knowledge and experience gaps.

Along with that understanding came a greater humility, and simultaneously a greater confidence in my willingness to try things, watch them fail, try again, and keep working on learning. Things happen more slowly than we’d like them to. Our ideas, and ideals, exceed our abilities. That’s the point.  Otherwise we’d be stagnating. Physically putting our ideas and experience to the test is ultimately – for me, at least – the only way to go.

Synchronicity examined: One would be a fool not to listen

Spring blossoms emerge from the wetland

Spring blossoms emerge from the wetland

It was three days before I was supposed to submit the final (final, final, final) version of my thesis in early February (and by final, I mean that I’d run out of time for further revisions, so it really had to be final. For now. Until I write the book).

I received a brief message from an acquaintance in the permaculture community: “I follow this blog. He reminds me of what you’re doing. Check it out. www.RightLivelihoodQuest.com.”

Seriously? How come I had never come across this before in all my prior research?

Once I visited the website, I was completely blown away by the similarities – or perhaps it would be more accurate to say synchronicities – between the Meaningful Work Project, and my graduate thesis entitled “The Quest for Meaningful Work” and “The Right Livelihood Quest“.

I found Simon Goland, who describes himself as “an Educator, a Facilitator of Learning, an Organizational Development Specialist, and a Coach – all rolled into one.” True to his multi-dimensional biography, Simon combines his eclectic career and personal experiences to guide participants in a process of seeking the very core of our right livelihood, the deep-seated underlying themes that compel us in our lives to both be of service to the world, and contribute to our own personal growth, learning and development.

Picking up on the work of Gregg Levoy in his book Callings, Simon discusses the power of “the call” to launch us on a quest for that right livelihood.

On the Right Livelihood Quest website, he writes:

“You might not even be able to clearly articulate this call, yet you know and sense that something is ready to be born. To emerge. You just know. A change is coming, whether you know where it might be taking you or not. 

I would say that you are ready to say yes to the call, to respond, start a dialogue, and embark on a journey.Boats on the water

The Right Livelihood Quest is such a journey. It takes 4 weeks, combining guided individual inquiry and experiences with a weekend-long retreat at the end, with a small group of like-hearted and like-minded others.

And by the end of this journey, you will be transformed.”

As I eagerly scanned the website, I found more clues to Simon’s perspective and the similarities in approach and background to my work. Simon developed an educational approach which incorporates a number of different perspectives including ecopsychology, living systems theory, and his understanding on the limitations and possible expansion beyond the concept of communities of practice. Simon defines right livelihood as follows:

“Right Livelihood means expressing your Life Purpose through your work and your life. It means knowing who you are, why you are here – in the biggest possible scope – and aligning your life to your vocation, purpose, and values. It is a journey of ongoing refinement of your calling, self-expression, meaning, and contribution.

What did this mean for my thesis? With only a few days to go before final submission, I only had enough time to add his website and a reference to his work to the addendum of the document, recognizing that my research would have to continue beyond the scope of my thesis. Clearly, I needed more time to further compare our research and inquire into opportunities for future information exchange and collaboration.

To say that I liked what I saw in Simon’s work would be a gross understatement. He was able to articulate many of the ideas I had grasped at and found elusive and tenuous for the past three years. He could eloquently express some of the ideas I had only begun to explore, that still hung on the tip of my tongue that I sought to link to the larger systemic issues afflicting our economy, society and environment. I saw the valuing of language and dialogue, and references to the Art of Hosting. I was so elated to find someone who spoke my language.

Actually, quite literally.

I also found out that Simon and I have a similar cultural background, and both speak Russian as our first language. And have relatives in Israel. And immigrated to Canada in the same year.

Oh, and he did his MA at Royal Roads University too. Just in a different faculty.

And of course the synchronicities kept coming. The next workshop he was hosting would be on Whidbey Island, in Washington State, at the end of March, a time when the blossoming West Coast in springtime gloriously emerges from their mild winter.

I had visited this magical island – and stayed at a retreat centre a mere 20 minute walk away – was where I had recently attended The Self as the Source of Story, another absolutely transformative workshop just 3 months prior with Christina Baldwin. (I wrote about that experience in a recent blog post).

And it was the week before my 29th birthday.

This was one of those times where I could not ignore all the signs and messages. The message from the universe was clear: just listen to it. And so I decided to go. And see what the Right Livelihood Quest was all about.

And so my own quest, the quest for meaningful work. Or right livelihood. Or whatever you want to call it continues.With still more input and insight from a fellow seeker who has walked this path of hosting, facilitating, teaching and encouraging the journey toward right livelihood for far longer than I, and who has gleaned immense wisdom as a result.

Now what?

I’ve been sensing that something new was about to be born, to emerge for quite some time. First it was the initial iteration of the Meaningful Work Retreat. Then it was my graduate thesis. And now…there is something else coming. Something new that builds on all of the learning and inspiration of the past three years, added to, and enriched by, encounters with the most wonderful, soulful and supportive people I have had the pleasure of meeting. Simon is one of them. He adds to the big pot of stew that I’ve been cooking steadily on low heat for these three years. More and more rich ingredients keep simmering in there. But it’s not boiling over yet. The path forward is still unclear.

More to come about the journey as it unfolds.

As spring emerges on the West Coast, I see new beginnings unfurl for the Meaningful Work Project

As spring emerges on the West Coast, I see new beginnings unfurl for the Meaningful Work Project

 

Autumn Re-focusing

The Colours of Fall

Larch Valley near Lake Louise.

The Bow Valley, as seen from Mount Yamnuska

Ribbons of gold unfurl before our eyes as we make our way up to the sky. Lower on the prairie, the bright lights of poplar and aspen are still interspersed with vivid green, but in the high alpine, the larches are already glowing a deep, orangey amber.

As the landscape explodes in one last profusion of colour before the winter slumber, we in the city are buzzing around with that certain zeal of activity that only autumn brings.

We’re buckling down for the winter, committing to work and projects, and staying in one place to get it done. It’s that familiar yearning for summer’s long days and carefree interludes, that longing for friends gone their separate paths. Wistful goodbyes and exciting new beginnings.

How is your meaningful work journey unfolding as we head into the season for harvesting our bounty and preparing for a time of hard work and re-focusing in the clutches of winter?

MWP roots in Waterlution and IMPACT!

Certain times in life have a way of catalyzing, jump-starting a new path. This late-summer, I revisited some of the familiar roots of the different people, projects and organizations that have fuelled my personal and professional explorations into meaningful work.

Meaningful Work – for us! Mike and I are proud to announce that we’ll be continuing our collaboration as co-facilitators in our new capacities as Hub Managers for Waterlution‘s new initiative, the Hub Network.

The Waterlution Hub Network is a cross-Canada support and programming platform for young leader and multi-stakeholder engagement in regional water issues. Each Hub is an active community of practice, offering regular programming and network development opportunities for youth and diverse stakeholders working on (or simply interested in) building a sustainable future for water.

Our connection to water has been an important source of learning and inspiration for both of us, and we will seek out opportunities for cross-pollination in the future.

Mike shares his experience in organizing a custom workshop – Meaningful Work for Water Professionals at the Canadian Water Network annual conference last year.

Catching up with Dev Aujla of Dream Now

While in Ontario, I also worked as an alumni facilitator at the IMPACT! Youth Conference for Sustainability Leadership in Guelph from Sept. 14-18. Two years ago, attending this gathering of nearly 200 inspiring, pro-active students from across Canada was one of the catalysts in launching the Meaningful Work Project – as well as start-up funding through the IMPACT! Alumni Fund. (Learn more about about the roots of MWP)

There, I had a chance to catch up with my old friend (from our days with SYC), Dev Aujla of Dream Now, who has been actively exploring how we can Make Money while Making a Difference. An inspiring speaker and thinker, Dev has a new book coming out on creating meaningful work in early 2012.

New Stories!

What’s your Meaningful Work story? How have you found ways to align your values and your work? What have been your greatest challenges and your biggest successes?

Thank you for your submissions! We are grateful to our friends below for so candidly sharing their personal meaningful work journeys:

Winter Sleep

Many of you have been wondering about our upcoming Meaningful Work Project events. In the interest of personal sustainability, I am going to focus on the academic portion of MWP in the coming months, and return to organizing and facilitating more educational programs in late 2012.

If you are interested in connecting with fellow participants from past Meaningful Work events, we are more than happy to support you in keeping the Community of Practice continuing to grow and thrive.

Have a lovely fall season!

~ Alla