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

Diving Deep: Interview with Cynthia Naydani of Ocean Sound Dive & Yoga

By Susan V. Cousineau | See her blog

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I interviewed Cynthia Naydani at her home in Ban Ko Tao, Chumphon, Thailand, where she operates a dive/yoga studio. Cynthia has not one but two Bachelor of Science Honours degrees, in Ecology and Primatology. Yet several years ago, on the verge of starting graduate school, she found herself in crisis as she came to realize that a life of academia wasn’t for her, and set about discovering her own purpose and direction. She talks about the challenges and joys of following a dream, the highs and lows, what it took to get where she is now – and the joy and gratitude that she’s found in creating her own meaningful work.

So, here it is: the minimally cut interview version (my questions in italics):

One of the things that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time is profiling some of the really, really cool women [Dec. 2015 edit: people in general] that I’ve worked with or that I know or hung out with. There’s kind of a laundry list on my fridge right now of women that I’ve been wanting to interview. I think it’s important for girls to hear these kinds of stories and see examples of others pursuing – and exceeding – their own dreams.

I feel really grateful that you thought of me and that you think my life is worth including in that list.

So you kicked ass in biology. And then how did you end up doing what you’re doing now? How did you transition into that?

I did two degrees at the same time. I was planning on going to grad school, I really loved what I was doing and I knew I didn’t want to go into consulting. I’ve always really thrived in academia and that’s all I really knew. The last year of my undergrad I started taking some grad courses, and that was all really good but I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to follow ecology or primatology. I was also interested in marine biology but I didn’t have a background in it, so I decided to stick with primatology for graduate work. One of my supervisors in my undergrad offered grad positions, and I picked one that would take me back to Belize, so I went to Belize after I graduated to assist in a field school as a teaching assistant and have a preliminary field season on a new field, establishing a new field site where I’d be doing my graduate studies.

So I was there for the summer and I was all set to start, I had my funding and stuff, and then that summer in Belize lots of things went – at the time I thought that everything was going wrong – the shit hit the fan in so many different ways that were totally unpredictable. I just felt like I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing. I kept having this sinking feeling when I thought about committing to grad school. I was 23, and I thought that that was it. School had been the only thing I ever knew but I just felt like it wasn’t the right path for me. I ended up calling my supervisor from the jungle a couple of weeks before the semester started and telling her I’m sorry, but I’m not going to do this.

So what went wrong?

Everything from tripping in the forest, falling on my machete and almost cutting my finger off, and not being able to go back into the forest and work to realizing that the project that I wanted to do actually wouldn’t be possible at that field site, to more personal things, feeling like the situation I’d gotten myself into really wasn’t worth it and wasn’t what I was meant to do. Personally and professionally. Now when I look back on the amount of things that went wrong and the wide variety of errors I really honestly feel like it was a sign, like the universe was telling me, “No, don’t do it don’t it do it”, and I was so scared, I was so lost. I was 23, school was the only thing I knew, and I was just like: what am I going to do now? I just felt like it was all over, you know, but I just knew that I couldn’t stay, my heart wasn’t in it.

You know that sounds so familiar. I’ve been out of academia for about 2 ½ years. After I got to the end of my Masters, I was just burned out, completely hit a wall, and it was really unexpected because it had been the only thing that I ever really wanted to do. And I’ve done it, checked the boxes, and now what, is it just totally not my thing or am I just tired, everything implodes, so yeah, for sure, I can relate to that.

It was the beginning of the hardest year of my life, for sure. To be 23 and think that your life is over for something like this.

It’s kind of cute, isn’t it?

Yeah, it is! but at the time it was super traumatic, I had no idea what to do, so I went back to Canada but I was very depressed, very miserable. I ended up just selling a bunch of stuff, my Jeep, all my stuff, just to make money. I knew I didn’t want to be in Canada so I went back to Belize, and I kind of told myself at the time that I’d go back to grad school, I’d just take some time off. I sat for my GREs because I kind of thought I’d go to school in America, but I just really didn’t know. So I went to Belize and basically just sat there for a year, just trying to figure out what to do.

So what happened in Belize? Is that where you got into diving, or yoga, or what happened there?

Well, I first got exposed to yoga when I was 15, because I was so unfit, and so unflexible, and I was riding horses and one of my instructors suggested I try yoga so I got a book on yoga for equestrians and tried some of the stuff, but I wasn’t really into it. Then when I started at the University of Calgary I started taking some of the yoga classes at the school and around the neighbourhood. But I wasn’t really committed to it, I wasn’t practicing a ton, but any time there was something difficult in my life, that’s when I felt like I was called back to yoga – even though I wasn’t really good at it at all, I didn’t even really like it, I didn’t know what I was doing, I had some videos and DVDs and books. When times were hard, that’s when I would practice, and then I would fall away from it for a few months. So when I was in Belize, yeah I was doing yoga, but I wasn’t very committed to it, I didn’t know what would end up happening with it.

You never know where it’s going when you’re in it.

Yeah, it was just what I was doing – I’d wake up in the morning and if I felt like doing yoga then I would, and then if I didn’t feel like it then I didn’t do it. So I hung out in Belize and then eventually it was time for me to leave. I’d started diving when I was in Belize for the field season, and I’d gone to Honduras and did my PADI course. I first went to Belize on the field course that I ended up being a teaching assistant on, and I really fell in love with the ocean there. It was my first time travelling, my first time in the tropics, my first time swimming in the ocean like that, and that was what really started the shift for me. I started diving, and I loved it, so that year that I spent in Belize I did a lot of diving. I still thought I’d want to do grad school in marine biology, or I told myself that because I didn’t really know what else to do, and I kept telling myself that and I knew I wanted to do something positive but I didn’t know what that would look like, I didn’t know how to do that. So then once it was time for me to leave Belize I thought that it would be a good idea to be a dive professional, so that for graduate positions if I wanted to work in the field – which is what I really loved then – I’d have good qualifications for that. And I’d been in contact with with some grad schools and professors at UBC and Dalhousie. I had a friend that had done his dive master training on Khotel, which is one of the islands here in Thailand, and I’d never been to Thailand and it seemed like a good idea, so I booked a flight.

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And there you are –

Here I am.

So how did that happen? How did you go from going to Thailand to do your dive master training to …

So I came to Thailand to do my dive master and dive instructor training, my professional training. That was a little over 6 years ago. And I was getting more and more into yoga, I was here, I was diving, I was doing yoga, I was working and I was really enjoying it. Right after I arrived here I met the man who was my boyfriend for most of those 6 years, and now he’s one of my business partners. Although we’re not together in that relationship, we’re still really close friends. He and I founded Ocean Sound. So we were both working and then we got job offers for Bali, so after a year here we moved to Bali. We lived there for 6 months teaching yoga. By then I was practicing every day and I’d really made a commitment: I just woke up one morning and decided I’m going to do yoga every day from now on and I’ve done yoga every day since. So in Bali we were working there for 6 months in a little fishing village but there wasn’t really enough work to keep us going. I ran out of money, we were running out of money, so we decided to go back to Canada – he’s Canadian as well. We thought we could go there and make some money – so we ended up moving to Vancouver, although neither of us had lived in Vancouver before. But we thought that it would be a nice place to live, it’s still by the ocean, we thought that maybe we’d still be able to dive but no – the water was way too cold, forget it.

And make some money in Vancouver, too, right?

Yeah, yeah exactly –

And that’s what we thought was going to happen until we got to Vancouver. I’ve got two university degrees, I’m applying to all these jobs, no one will hire me. I applied to restaurants, bars, and ended up working at a coffee shop that was killing my soul. Thinking about it now… I’d wanted to do my yoga teacher training for a long time, but because I’d been living in these remote places, I’d never had access to it and I’d also never had money and then we’d ended up freeing up some money. I also had a membership at a yoga studio that was right by our apartment so I started going two or three times a day, taking two or three classes. I practically lived there. Finally my partner told me, “You need to do your teacher training.” And I was working at this coffee shop – the very first day they made me sweep up leaves and throw them in the garbage. This was one of the pivotal moments of my life; I’d lived in nature for years and then all of a sudden I was being told to sweep up leaves that were outside and put them in the garbage. I decided to my teacher training because I couldn’t stand the thought of having a job that I didn’t adore and that I dreaded going to every day. After teaching diving, the thought of just putting up with my life, I couldn’t – it just wasn’t an option. So I did my yoga teacher training, and then started teaching, just volunteering, classes at Lulu Lemon, I taught yoga as secondary therapy at a women’s outreach centre, I was volunteering at the SPCA taking care of all the dogs, I was doing lots of stuff that fulfilled my soul – but nothing paid my bills. We weren’t running out of money but we had this money and asked ourselves, “What are we going to do with it? Are we going to stay here and spend it all really quickly because Vancouver’s really expensive, what should we do?” And then I woke up one morning and I was like, you know, life was good on Khotel – let’s go back there. And I sold everything that we owned on Craigslist, we bought one-way tickets, and came back to Khotel. We were on a layover in the San Francisco airport and we started building our website for Ocean Sound. We had talked about it and we thought, you know, this time let’s do things a little bit different. We don’t want to work for someone, we don’t want to be at anyone’s mercy, we want to take control of our lives a little bit more and do things our way. So we thought that we’d have this website because then people that we interacted with like our dive students and our yoga students could keep in touch with us more easily, and they could also refer people to a website rather than, you know, look up Cyn on Facebook. We’d have a proper business page. That was the original idea for Ocean Sound, how it started. And then it didn’t take long before we had our first booking of someone we didn’t even know, someone that found our website, liked it, and voila –

There you go.

Yeah, so for a couple of years we were just a booking website – we would book people to dive with Will and then I was teaching yoga at a different yoga studio and they would come, or find out about the yoga through Will and then come to my classes at the yoga studio and that’s how Ocean Sound was born.

That’s such a neat story – to see, to go through your website because I’ve been following your websites for awhile, like your vegan blog and recipes – oh my god they looked good. It’s been neat to watch the evolution of Ocean Sound but now to hear the whole story of how it came about.

Yeah, we never even knew that it would turn into this, and we didn’t even initially – there were lots of times that we – that people would ask, “Oh, do you guys want to have your own dive centre?” And we would say no, we don’t really need that, this way is really good – we just thought that it was good. And it was good, it was great, but it just kept growing and expanding, and we kept thinking about how we just really wanted to take care of customers, from beginning to end, arranging everything, and being able to make all the decisions that we thought would best serve people, and we were also getting quite busy. Will couldn’t teach everyone that was trying to book, he’s just one person, so we had to turn away a lot of people. It was just expanding and getting more and more, and we wanted to have our own thing. We have a third partner who’s lived on Khotel for about 14 years. He was one of the head instructors at the dive centre where Will and I both did our dive instructor training, and he was our friend, so we went out for dinner with him and said, “You know, we’re thinking of opening Ocean Sound, do you want to partner up?” Right away he said, “Yup, let’s do that!” So we talked a little bit, we finished dinner, we got on our motorcycles and started driving around looking for locations and maybe two weeks later we signed a lease on our building.

And is that where you still are?

Yup, yup, we’re going to stay there – it’s really nice, it’s just up the street from my house actually. I can see it right now from my window actually, my yoga studio is right there.

So how long have you been running in the shop, then?

It’s going to be our two year anniversary on May 1st [2016].

And where do you see it going from here? Do you have an idea or are you just taking it as it comes, day by day, year by year?

We’re happy where we’re at now, but we’re constantly evolving – it’s been really cool starting our own dive shop and yoga studio because the three of us have been able to build everything from the ground up, to decide every step of the way, how we think we can do things best – everything from checking in customers to the yoga schedule to the way that the courses are run and the order in which instructors do things, all of that. We’ve worked hard this last year, sorting all that out.

And you’ve got several instructors with you now, right?

Yeah, basically I run the yoga studio and they run the dive shop, and then the three of us all work together on the other side. I do all the meetings with the lawyers; I meet our lawyer every month, and do the bookkeeping; they have other tasks, like doing all the booking emails. I book the accommodation and pay the hotels. At the moment we’re just refining everything. I teach classes but the two of them don’t teach anymore, they work in the office, so we have a staff, a pool of instructors and yoga teachers that work full-time –

So it’s working –

Yeah, yeah, we’re expanding a little bit but our mission is not to get really big. We like to be small, we don’t want to take on more than what we’ve got at the moment. Things like I’m expanding the retail side of things and I’m in school right now, studying holistic nutrition through distance education. It’s something that I’m super interested in, as you know from my food blogs –

Yeah, like your chocolate avocado pudding recipe –

Yeah, you know what? I just had chocolate avocado pudding recipe for breakfast!

But of course you did – because you can!

I can, from avocados that are grown on the island, yup. So once I’m done school I’d like to open a restaurant down the road. But life is good. We love our company.

Snapshot, dreamy look in eyes!
So what is it that makes this meaningful work for you, and what were your major challenges to getting there?

I really feel like it’s my purpose, to do what I’m doing – I love yoga, more than anything. It really is the centre of my universe, the centre of my world, to share what I love – I can’t think of anything better. And not just to teach yoga, but the way the whole business runs. We’ve always built our business not on trying to maximize profits, not on trying to expand – we’ve always, always based our business on how we can best serve our customers. When I’m teaching a class, I’m thinking how can I best serve my students. When we’re making a business decision, what’s going to serve our customers the best? That’s how we make our decisions; that’s how I want to live my life: how can I best contribute to those that I interact with. And I really do feel that everyone – that we each have a purpose, and that purpose is something that fulfills us on a really personal level, something that makes us full of gratitude and joy. I give thanks every day. And I also think that each of our purposes is something that contributes to the greater good – I don’t think that anyone’s purpose is to destroy the environment, or start wars, or to harm other people, or to convince other people that you have to buy a certain product or look a certain way. That’s no one’s purpose, something destructive.

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From the time I was little I felt this – I mean, I loved animals, so I wanted to be a vet; when you’re a kid and you love animals, that’s the job you think of, right? And I wanted that until I started my first year of university. I always just wanted to make the world a better place. And I feel like I can do that now: that’s why this work is meaningful to me, I love it, it’s personally fulfilling, and I hope that I can enrich the lives of the people around me. And I think yoga is very beneficial itself, it helps people believe in themselves and feel good about themselves and realize that things that they think are impossible, are possible. That doesn’t just apply to the physical poses; it starts with the poses, like, you see a funky arm balance and something weird and you think, oh man, I could never do that. And then you start to work at it, you dedicate yourself, you show up, you fall down, you lose your balance, and you keep trying and then the impossible becomes possible. And then you think, Well, if I can do this on my yoga mat, why can’t I do it in my whole life? So yoga itself is very beneficial, and plus I hope that it does inspire. People say quite often to me, “Oh, you have a dream life”, and yes I do – life is awesome, and I’m grateful for it, but if I can live my dream then someone else can to. It doesn’t have to be yoga on a tropical island, it can be anything, whatever what makes your heart sing.

And I find that too, that what people struggle with is finding their specific personal thing that they want to do.

You know, there’s all those inspirational things, the memes floating around: but some of them are true. Like one I remember is that wherever your mind goes when you daydream, that’s what you should be doing. But it’s not easy: I had to give up everything that I knew, I spent a year in Belize, super depressed, and it sounds so nice: sitting in a tropical place on the water, and yet I was in some serious personal turmoil. I didn’t know what to do, I thought it was all over for me, and yet it wasn’t – it was just the beginning, and I’m so grateful for every mishap that’s occurred in my life because it’s all been bringing me to here, to who I am now and the work I get to do.

And your other questions about the challenges: the main challenge, I guess, was stepping away from a life that I knew didn’t serve me, but also having no idea what did, and no idea what to do next. You know, really making the decision, and I remember talking to my parents, talking to my friends, saying “I don’t think I can do this [graduate work],” and they thought that I would just get over it. When I didn’t and I made the phone call to my supervisor and said I wasn’t going to go through with [my project] everyone was just like, “What do you mean?”

Did you feel like you had a lot of support from your family, from your network?

Oh no, not at all – I mean, I was so entrenched in the world of academia, I pretty much lost all my friends, because I wasn’t part of the department anymore. There were whispers about me, rumours, and my parents, you know – they were scared! They didn’t know what I was going to do; they only knew me as a student as well. And my dad is from Egypt; he gave up everything to move to Canada in his 20s, and he worked so hard to give me everything that he didn’t have, education was so important to him, and it was really difficult and confusing for my parents. They were really scared for me, they didn’t know what I was going to do, plus the fact that I was so miserable: they didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t know what to do, and then, you know, I decided to move… so far away from them.

But now we have a better relationship than we’ve ever had my whole life, and they’re super proud and very supportive, so I’m so very grateful for that of course.

[So a big part of all this is just getting over the fear of starting, of not having it all figured out -]

One thing I think about this whole thing, people tell me this sort of thing quite often: a lot of people go travelling because, and you know I mostly interact with travellers, they’ve just been through this big life change or they’re contemplating a big life change, so they go out on a big pilgrimage looking for answers. I think that people are looking for change but they don’t really know where to begin, or what to go to next. And my advice – my unsolicited advice – is not to wait to have it figured out. Just get started. If you know something isn’t working for you, just leave it: even if you don’t know what to do next, what does serve you, just go – do what you need to do, give up the things that aren’t working for you, and you’ll create space and then you gotta have faith. Things will work out. Don’t worry about waiting until you have the next thing lined up. People are always saying “When this, when I have this amount of money, when I finish that, when this thing happens, when this is in place, when I know where to go next…” And that day’s never going to come. Because ultimately that’s not what stops us from changing out realities. What stops us from changing our realities is our fear of failure and so we try to avoid the failure by lining up everything so that failure is no longer an option. But I think that’s the wrong way to go about it: that’s not the way it works. The only way to overcome failure is to face it.

Keeping Calgary sustainable means keeping our small businesses alive

SteepsArticle by: Marta

Calgary is a forever growing city where some small businesses struggle to stay afloat with rising overhead costs.

Steeps, a teahouse, was a local business that attempted to become a local mainstay, but struggled with the rising costs of doing business in Calgary. Steeps served baked goods, homemade meals, and a great deal of tea to the folks downtown on the Mount Royal strip just off of 17th ave and 8th street. Unfortunately Steeps closed its doors early last year.

I sat down with the manager of Oolong, Chelsey McRedmond, to talk about what caused the closure and gain her insights on what could have been done differently to save her local business, offering lessons for aspiring entrepreneurs in our city.

Steeps1Oolong purchased Steeps in the summer of 2009 and kept the name and décor the same as before purchase. When asked about the ambiance within Steeps, McRedmond responds, “There were a lot of contributing factors to the Steeps vibe including the tea itself ( Camillia sinensus) which tends to create a very relaxed atmosphere and ambiance, food, décor, music, and last but absolutely not least the people”.

When asked why Steeps shut down, I didn’t get a quick answer from McRedmond but the jist of it was “We [the owners and staff] could no longer sustain ourselves.”.

Oolong opened another location in McKenzie towne on top of purchasing Steeps. When things slowed down economically and other tea franchises and corporations began popping up around the city, business slowed down immensely.

“The choice had to be made: lose all three tea shops, or close two and keep one, the original Oolong Tea House in Kensington location. We were faced with this difficult decision in 2013 and that summer Steeps and Oolong McKenzie towne closed their doors for good,” McRedmond says.

Businesses cannot thrive without customers. If the community wants places like Steeps to stay open, we need to support them as integral parts of our local economy. Many of us say that we want out precious tea shops and coffee shops and record stores to stay open but many of us buy our records online and buy our groceries at Safeway. Local markets can be pricey but they try to provide us with healthy alternatives. It doesn’t hurt to pay a little extra so that we don’t see another one of our local hubs get destroyed. The bottom line is that businesses need to make money to stay open so make sure that you are supporting the businesses you love so much so that they can stay open.

 

 

Committing to Place: Re-making the Urban Landscape (pt. 2)

Part 2: Re-making the Urban Landscape

(Read Part 1 of this article, Committing to Place: Intentional Rural Living)

By Alla Guelber

After five rejuvenating days off-grid at Breitenbush Hot Springs, my friend Lindsay and I – and five of our new friends from the course – loaded into a white van for the two hour ride into Portland to get dropped off at our next destination. DSC_1309

We arrived in South East Portland, where a remarkable gem of community living can be found innocuously concealed on a quiet city block. Our host, Jordan Fink, himself one of the original founders of City Repair, eagerly welcomed us to Fosterville.

Prior to arriving at Fosterville, I’d learned from their fundraising video (as well as online discussions with Jordan), that this was an urban eco-village of three houses, 12 people, 10 chickens, four ducks, two bee hives, and more than 100 species of plants and trees. With two combined lots, the ecovillage takes up nearly 1/3 acre of land. Started 10 years ago as one house situated on a gravel lot, it has grown through their collaborative efforts into a food forest, a resource for neighbors and other people in the community on sustainable living practices, a habitat for migrating birds, the home of the first fully permitted straw bale house in Portland, a gathering place for community and much more.

Welcome to Fosterville

Welcome to Fosterville

Lindsay and I were welcomed with open arms, as we were invited to join in for shared community meals, philosophical conversations, sight-seeing, a political organizing potluck, as well as to share our own work in community economic development and social permaculture.

Several days after we arrived, we hosted a Sunday afternoon workshop on meaningful work in the Purple ‘Art house’s living room, called Meaningful Work: Creating Opportunities in the New Economy. We had connected with our hosts initially through the Meaningful Work Project (an initiative that I founded in 2009, and Lindsay has been involved with consistently since she attended the first Meaningful Work Retreat in 2010).

Throughout the rest of the week, Jordan graciously toured us throughout the 20 year history of Portland’s urban revitalization. We visited the place that began it all, Share-it Square, where neighbours have gathered every year to host a block party and re-paint their intersection. In addition, they have created shared bulletin boards, the longest running free public tea station in the world, and an outdoor, covered play space for the neighbourhood’s children.

We stumbled onto Oak’s Bottom Forge, an urban forge, located in a visible storefront, where patrons can purchase hand-forged knives or take hands-on classes to learn how to do their own blacksmithing work.

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A community-run playhouse at Share-It Square in Portland.

We visited a number of other sites, showing the true power of community when neighbours feel empowered to gather and act toward a common goal.

Eager to create functional public spaces as well as experiment with green building techologies, Portlanders built benches and green roofs on neighbourhood notice boards until technology regulations caught up to allow for larger-scale projects that now pepper the Pacific North West.

A community message board helps neighbours connect

A pac-mac inspired Little Library offers up VHS for anyone interested in retro videos.

They are all examples of placemaking, one of the most effective tools available for community building that brings neighbours together as part of the project planning, consultation and construction processes. These projects have successfully made neighbourhoods safer by slowing traffic and lowering crime rates and helped to create resiliency through continued community engagement.

(left-right): Jordan Fink, Alla Guelber, Mark Lakeman and Lindsay Meads.

(left-right): Jordan Fink, Alla Guelber, Mark Lakeman and Lindsay Meads.

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Students at Oaks Bottom Forge learn how to work with metal

There is more to share on the many outstanding examples of community collaboration in Portland, but the question remained: what could be glean from all of this inspiration, and return back to our burgeoning city on the other side of the Rocky Mountains?

Inspired by our experiences in Oregon, we decided to partner with Kym Chi of Giggling Chi Tree, an artist and permaculture teacher as well as urban designer Natalia Zoldak to bring Mark Lakeman to Calgary.

We wanted to offer Calgarians an opportunity to hear firsthand about the way communities can gather to create long-lasting, tangible change on the neighbourhood level. Community bookshelves, impromptu street tea parties in the street, neighbourhood “water coolers”, community gardens, and more helped shape Portland’s vibrant, village culture. These smaller projects gave way to major changes in the public right of way, leading to ever-greater support for citizen-led projects from the municipal government. Eventually, changes to public ordinances and bylaws dramatically shifted what was possible in Portland, and led to the creation of the innovative green city we see today.

For the City Repair Calgary team, it’s realizing a long-time dream to bring Mark back to Calgary to share his unique brand of urban revitalization.

Please join us for two exciting learning experiences:

Cracks in the Pavement: Placemaking and the Remaking of a Modern City with Mark Lakeman

Thursday July 17, 7pm – 9pm | Doors: 6:30 pm
John Dutton Theatre, Calgary Public Library. 616 Macleod Trail SE
Advance Tickets: $20 Regular, $15 Student | Door Tickets: $25 Regular, $20 Student 100% Calgary Dollars Accepted

This presentation will provide an overview of how North American communities are retrofitting their neighborhoods through grassroots involvement. By gathering and discussing how they experience and feel about their own communities, residents are able to identify both strengths and places for improvement in the environments where they live. In short, we will look at how we can create the sense of living in a village in the city. This presentation will also illustrate detailed examples of new forms of shared community amenities, including urban agriculture, community gathering places, alternative transport amenities, youth-involvement projects and more.

More info and registration:http://cracksinthepavement.brownpapertickets.com

Weekend Workshop: Placemaking Nuts and Bolts with Mark Lakeman and Friends

July 18, Meet and Greet, 6pm – 9pm | Blank Page Studio | 1221 B Kensington RD NW
July 19 & 20, 9am – 5pm | ContainR in Sunnyside

Full Price: $250 | Student/Low Income: $150 | Scholarships available | Calgary Dollars accepted up to 25%

Portland’s Mark Lakeman and Mighk Simpson host a 2.5 day workshop together with local community experts. Over the weekend, we will learn:

-The foundations and theory of placemaking
-How to build more functional and creative relationships on the neighbourhood level
-How to assess the needs and wants of the neighbourhoods we live in
-To create our own placemaking activities or initiatives
-Ways to overcome and work with City bylaws and ordinances

To close our time together we will put our skills into action and facilitate a public placemaking festival at the ContainR site, in conjunction with the Sun and Salsa Festival in Kensington. This adventure has been designed for individuals or groups who want to make change at a grassroots level with the participation of neighbours and friends and through the deepening of relationships where they live.

More info and registration: http://nutsandboltsofplacemaking.brownpapertickets.com    

Poster-NEW

 

Committing to Place: Intentional Rural Living

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This gallery contains 7 photos.

“The most radical thing you can do is commit to your community,” said Mark Lakeman, one of the guest teachers in our 5-day long permaculture module at Breitenbush Hot Springs Retreat and Conference Centre. Continue reading

Using trauma to fuel the journey ahead

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By Susan Cousineau

It’s a kind of unexpected irony that those who learn to look after themselves first end up able to offer more to the world, knowing that their needs will be looked after. It’s those of us who are trapped in a wheel of trying always to give, give, give and end up with nothing left for themselves and nothing left to give, end up needing to draw from the world their sustenance and energy. Build stability and security into your life first – whatever that means to you – and the rest is more likely to follow.

 

The Permaculture Life Map, designed by Susan Cousineau. The large white arrow cutting through the right side of the map indicates a significant traumatic life event.

The Permaculture Life Map, designed by Susan Cousineau. The large white arrow cutting through the right side of the map indicates a significant traumatic life event.

Permaculture uses the concept of zones to design landscapes based on certain features (water, access, structures, elements). We first assess the needs and yields of individual elements, then position these according to how often we need to visit each element or feature for maintenance, repair, or harvesting. The objective is to increase the number and quality of connections that can be made between elements in a landscape. I wanted to adapt this concept to a map that could be used to understand the interactive roles of work, relationships, our own values and goals, and broad ideas, in relation to their importance in our day-to-day lives. Knowing the place that these aspects hold in our lives can help to place a past event or situation, which may seem overwhelming or profoundly negative, in a wider context.

A traumatic event or period (the large white arrow on the right side of the circle) cuts directly from the outermost realm of the unexpected and unknown, from beyond our comfort zone, directly to our innermost fears. This can profoundly shake up our internal sense of safety, security and capability in the world. We all cope with this differently.

In October 2013 I attended the Meaningful Work Retreat, The Quest for Meaningful Work: Aligning Passion and Purpose for the New Economy, in Canmore, AB. On the last night of the retreat, participants could host a discussion based on a topic related to our meaningful work journey through Open Space, a dialogue technology.

You choose your topic and a space in the building to hold the discussion, then go there and wait to see if anyone shows up. I wanted to know how people might have come to reference past trauma or difficulties in their own development towards meaningful work, and how these can be used in a meaningful, productive way that fuels rather than steals from the energy required to move forward. It occurred to me that the permaculture framework provides a starting point for understanding the potential value of unexpected or traumatic events in our lives.

During the discussion at the retreat, I used input from other participants to create a map of different aspects of their lives. While every map will be specific to an individual, we found a large degree of commonality in where we would place things like family, community, business, and abstract ideas. In a permaculture context, those things in Zone 1 (e.g. physical experience, spirituality, and relationship with and ideas about yourself) need to be looked after before you can do your best work on things in Zone 2 and outwards. It’s akin to building a solid foundation under a house or building. The key point, though, is that a traumatic event or situation brings in experience that we wouldn’t otherwise encounter, and as a result can provide insight, clarity, and wisdom that we could not otherwise acquire.

In rebuilding my own Zone 1:

  • In January I completed a 10-day course in a technique of silent meditation, called Vipassana. So far, after a month, I’ve been developing a habit of at least 30 minutes of meditation every morning. I’ll eventually get up to a full hour, but I work towards developing systems first, goals second. (See for example, Goals vs. Systems from Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert.)
  • Spending more time outdoors every day. Research, such as this Scientific American study, shows all the significant health benefits of time spent in the wild, and even impacts the core of our values.
  • Curbing my inherent cynicism and replacing it with actual questions, working towards curious inquiry rather than negative scanning
  • .Redeveloping a habit of budgeting and keeping better track of my financial situation. This has pushed me to align my day-to-day habits with my goals, and also keep track of potential income-generating opportunities.

One of the most concrete things that I’ve learned from this work over the last six months is that it’s better to deliver an imperfect product than nothing at all. I hope that this framework, even if imperfect and a work in progress, is useful to you in your journey towards meaningful work. I’d welcome comments and feedback on how to make it better or how you’ve applied something similar in your own life.

Blogs I find useful include:

A site simply chock full of awesome bits of history, inspiration, thoughtful reflection, her site is described as “a human-powered discovery engine for interestingness, a subjective lens on what matters in the world and why, bringing you things you didn’t know you were interested in — until you are.” Founded in 2006 as a humble email digest, with posts personally guaranteed to take no longer than 4 minutes to read, in 2012 Maria’s site was included in the Library of Congress permanent web archive.

See her lessons-learned story here: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/10/23/7-lessons-from-7-years/

  • Elephant Journal, A compendium of inspiring, thoughtful, and well-written posts from a huge variety of authors.
  • BrightCo, run by Rebecca Kantar, and an incubator/sourceboard for investors, entrepreneurs, innovators and their ilk
  • Team Pollenizer , An incubator for start-ups with a focus on building highly efficient, value-oriented operations.
  • Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits. I really appreciate Leo’s work on getting motivated, slowing down, living with less, and so on.
  • Ash Maurya/Alex Oskerwalder’s business startup canvas toolkit online scratchpad: The Start-up Toolkit.
  •  “Mr. Focus” Mick Liubinskas. I like his “What He Knows / What He Does / Who He Helps” style of header.