“Placemaking” was the official topic of the week-long retreat that has just come to a gentle close. But the phrase has never felt quite right. Volker Hann, the host of 5-acre Wasan Island where we gathered, hinted at the inadequacy of the term: “Am I a placemaker? Or am I placemade?”
Sitting on a rock one morning as we gathered around to hear her story, Vanessa Reid talked about cultivating “homefulness.” That feels more accurate to what we explored and experienced during our time together on the island.
This sense of homefulness necessarily started with ourselves, discovering that our bodies are our first and most important home, and finding that our narrative of self is most alive when it is rooted in richly storied places and ultimately in the Earth. In this way, “homecoming” was the first of four patterns that we moved through.
We grew from there into the pattern of “belonging.” Here, my colleague and co-host Michael Jones asks: “What if we imagined our world as a circle of belonging? What relationships with life would we hold most sacred?” Through this, we found that our interactions and our rituals can be infused with a reverence that includes lightness and play.
We moved into a homeful ability not only to be together but to create together, with clarity and joy. In fact, we cleaned together, connecting in new ways with the place that held us — and, of course, with ourselves and each other. In this, Michael asks: “How can the places where we find ourselves speak through us in ways that support life’s conscious evolution and help manifest what we came to do?” This is a pattern not only of generativity, but of “regenerativity,” as we and the world around us are healed within a greater sense of wholeness.
With all of this, there was fertile ground for a pattern of “transformative celebration,” in which something new and important can emerge, like “bright green blades of grass, making a place for a new and raw, unformed impulse of life to burst through.” The seed, for us, was when Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, a First Nations leader who was with us, shared the native prophecy that there are two paths to choose from: one in which the light-skinned race continues on alone, to our destruction; and the other in which we walk in step with indigenous peoples to a thriving future for all. This prophecy inhabited each of us profoundly during our days together. What emerged was collective clarity and commitment around the work of bringing indigenous and non-indigenous people together into an exploration of what a shared path of homefulness might look like, rooted in history and reverence, bursting forth into something joyful and alive.
What was also clear is that this was what the island was calling us to do. Wasan — whose name means “a good place for transition” — is itself in transition at this time. The foundation that owns it and generously supports conversations like ours can no longer afford the expense. After heavy-heartedly contacting real estate brokers to sell the land, the island’s stewards decided instead to invite other, like-spirited foundations to share both use and stewardship of this place. Leaders of those foundations will begin to gather on the island this evening for several days of dialogue about what that will look like. Michael and I have been asked to stay so that we can share the story, patterns and practices of placemaking with them. My heart races as I feel the responsibility to speak for the others and for the island. And then I remember that the island will speak to these new arrivers, too.