Radical Collaboration: Swami Lalitananda

“Stimulating, invigorating, expansive, interconnected” – these are a few words that come to mind as I reflect on my six days at the Holistic Centres Network (HCN) Gathering on Cortes Island in May. “In the spirit of collaboration….” is the HCN’s motto. “Radical collaboration” is one of Yasodhara Ashram’s key themes for 2019. A perfect match.

Although the HCN has existed for 35 years, starting as an informal gathering of leaders from Esalen, Omega and the New York Open Center, it has evolved into an international collection of retreat centre – from small privately run start-ups to established spiritual centres like Yasodhara Ashram that were founded in the pioneering atmosphere of the 1960s.

The gathering gave us a chance to be together, to reflect on the times we’re in and to question what is being asked of us now. There were presentations and discussions on distributive leadership, money and our attitudes toward it, diversity – equity – inclusivity, programming, marketing, technology, environment and much more. We had time to interact in break-out focus groups. My particular delight was to find other ashrams and Buddhist centres with similar concerns of carrying our precious lineages forward while continuing to adapt and evolve. Friends from five of these centres agreed to stay in touch, to continue to inquire and support each others’ next steps. Interestingly we were all either going into a consulting process or were just emerging from one. (The Ashram is meeting with volunteer consultants – thank you! – this week to take next steps with a strategic planning process.)

The theme – Intergenerational Transfer of Leadership – was timely. Hollyhock, where the gathering was held, led the way by presenting their recent shift from long-term founding members to the next generation. All involved were candid about the tensions and sensitivity needed to retain core values while introducing new ways. Much to think about!

I am filled with optimism that these centres of Light are indeed sparkling in the world and that there is so much desire to help each other, so much generosity and transparency and such openness to share mistakes that lead to learning. I also witnessed some amazing examples of leadership – from different centre leaders and especially from Christine Lines, the executive director of the HCN, who emanates the spirit of the network and manifests it with effortless grace. We are pleased to have her resting at the Ashram for two weeks to reflect and absorb her learning.

My gratitude also extends to Swami Dhumavati from Kashi Ashram in Florida, who tipped me off about this wonderful opportunity. We met in Toronto at the Parliament of World Religions last fall and she, too, came to Yasodhara Ashram for a few days to broaden her scope of how other ashrams work. These interconnections feel like the start of something great!


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