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Beyond the Border

I’ve heard it said that one cannot see any borders between countries from Earth’s orbit.

It is very true that the dark black lines I can see in my atlas, which divide up people into coloured nation states, are not visible from above.

Yet, borders are still quite real.

They may indeed be invisible from a distance, but on the ground, they are impossible to ignore. National borders often define a cultural difference: sometimes subtle nuances and sometimes glaring contrasts. The differences can sometimes be traced to how the border has separated language, or politics, or a historical development to the present moment. I travel quite often for my facilitation work, and I notice how important borders can be. I often sense the strangeness of being beyond the border. I sense a tender relief and ease when the flight touches down again in Canada, where I feel most at home. The border is quite real to my experience.

These past years in the Courage & Renewal programs I’ve been leading in Canada, I’m noticing that as many as half of the participants are from beyond the border and are joining us from the U.S.

In these quiet circles, where the soul of each person is welcomed to speak, we hear stories of national and individual grief, bewilderment, courage, confusion, anger and hope that these U.S. participants carry with them

Questions arise:

  • Is it the contrast of being physically and culturally outside of the situation that allows the experience to be more fully named?

  • Is it the nature of a loving community that has participants from two national experiments and the new awareness that this provides?

I used to think it was because of the strong U.S. dollar and the currency exchange: programs seem cheaper north of the border when the costs are in Canadian dollars! I also believed it was because my mentor Parker Palmer and his work were better known in the U.S. than in Canada. This attracted U.S. readers of Parker’s books to find programs; they just happened to come to programs in Canada.

While these factors may be true, I now know much more is going on.

People say they chose the program and showed up because it was beyond the border. The consistent pattern is that it was being in Canada that was an important part of their decision to come. The flights were longer and more expensive, it actually wasn’t much cheaper than a program in the U.S., and it required an up-to-date passport!

Yet, consistently, they have described a change in themselves on being in Canada: a shift from being in the different social, cultural and political climate on this side of that border.

For several years now, I can’t think of an exception to date among the U.S. participants.

I can say that the stories have only intensified this past year.

Indeed, the explanation offered by participants is that recent political events and the daily media stories that are unfolding are deeply problematic and heart-breaking.

In the listening to these stories, an idea for a new program germinated. For several months, I nurtured it in my imagination. I began to wonder about offering a retreat that would provide an intentional invitation to U.S. participants to journey beyond the border. In that setting perhaps ongoing questions might be considered in a new way.

Questions that are often pondered in these circles: How do I stay active, aware, and engaged? How might being beyond the border serve my imagination and provide the conditions for my ongoing transformation? How do I find safe space to express my anger, grief, suffering, wisdom, joy and hope? What does my life want to speak?

The concept has now evolved into a program that will take place in late April, 2018 in a beautiful center in British Columbia, Canada.

Program information: Beyond the Border Program 2018

As the Canadian host/guide of the program, I feel that I’m not the one to bring the reflection pieces into the circle. Rather, I will help coordinate what participants might have to offer others: from whatever is serving them in these times. It could include poetry, prose, images, music, art, body movement, their own journal writing, soul stories, or whatever comes to mind. We will take these strands and weave a tapestry of truth in the loom that is called a Circle of Trust.


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