Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit with staff of a few unique organizations in central Vermont, including a conversation with Peter Forbes at the Center for Whole Communities in Fayston. What Peter, his wife Helen Whybrow, and their colleagues have created at Knoll Farm, a working organic farm, is truly inspiring, not just for the beauty of the land it occupies and the amazing views that are afforded of the surrounding mountains of Mad River Valley, but also because of the thoughtful attention that has been given to every detail of the Center and the programs that it offers.
The Center for Whole Communities is focused on reconnecting people to land, to one another, and to community as a way of healing the divisions that exist between those who are working for social justice and environmental conservation. To this end they have created a setting and experiences that carefully tend to this mission of reconnection, from immersing people in the landscape, to engaging them in dialogue and storytelling, to grounding them in creative expression and contemplative practice.
One of the phrases that really stuck with me during my conversation with Peter was the Center’s stated goal of “reciprocal transformation.” The idea is that one person’s transformation is necessarily caught up in another person’s transformation, that one person’s well-being is intimately connected to and really dependent upon another’s. That transformation goes beyond the personal to the interpersonal really resonated. Personal transformation strikes me as a rather shallow endeavor and meaningless if it occurs in isolation (I’m not sure that that is even possible). I am reminded of the Gregory Baum quote that was so often mentioned when I worked at Silveira House in Zimbabwe – “We come to be who we are through conversation with others.”
More than anything, this speaks to me of the power of reclaiming direct (over mediated) experience, of people and of place, as a means of breaking through patterns of oppression and degradation.