A good friend of mine forwarded an e-mail about the Undivided program last fall, and I was immediately intrigued – in my mind, there is no doubt that justice work and contemplation go hand in hand. Why? I’ve been committed to working on social change for most of my adult life, but am prone to burnout and have been trying to figure out how to re-engage in a meaningful and sustainable way. It’s become increasingly clear to me in the past few years that having both a strong inner life and supportive community provides the resources needed to sustain engagement in social justice work. I thought the Undivided program looked like a great opportunity to explore both these areas.
While the program is supported by the BC Conference of the United Church of Canada, I wouldn’t describe myself as religious. My family observes Christian holidays and I spent a few years attending church in elementary school with a friend (largely so I could sing in the choir), but it ends there. However, I am always seeking to deepen my relationship to the divine and sacred, especially in community, and have struggled to figure out what that looks like for me in Vancouver. The Undivided program seemed to speak to this element as well.
I found the first weekend retreat, held on unceded Coast Salish land at the beautiful Camp Fircom on Gambier Island, to be a wonderful, thought-expanding experience full of great people. Spaces that encourage reflection are always valuable, and being able to explore a range of contemplative practices was a great reminder of how easy it is to bring ritual into my everyday life in simple ways. I especially loved the practice of each one of us reflecting on and sharing who supported us to be there. Together, we looked at a brief history of social movements, which I felt helped ground us in the very real and ongoing work people are doing around the world, together, to make it a more just and peaceful place.
My favourite part of the retreat’s activities was the anti-racism workshop led by Natasha Aruliah, who facilitated a series of activities on implicit bias, dominant and marginalized identity formation and reflecting on our privilege. Within social change work, I feel these are the most important conversations to be having, especially as a white woman. (Natasha provided us with some highly recommended and excellent resources for white people looking to situate themselves in this work.) While I’ve been in a listening and learning space on these issues for the past few years, the retreat (and especially Natasha’s teachings) helped me see that it’s time for me to take action and join the movement against systemic racism in a more concrete way. I look forward to making these intentions a reality as we begin designing and implementing our social change and contemplative projects as part of the Undivided program.
I am very much looking forward to the rest of the program, and send my gratitude out for all those who helped make it happen.
By Jenna Dunsby