Weaving with a common thread: community, creativity & compassion

Weaving with a common thread: community, creativity & compassion

This summer I travelled home in many ways. Home to the place where I know the skyline and the smell of the ocean like I know the curves of my children’s faces. Home to myself, that revolutionary adventurer who I’ve been searching for (forgetting that I can’t misplace who I am, silly me). Most of all home to the common thread that has woven its way through my life: community. Not community as it is used to describe special interest groups or target markets where everyone looks the same and the conversations are safely surface. I’m talking about real community, or a family, as my friend Darice pointed out to me on our road trip is what I actually mean when I say community. Community is diverse (in age, genders, ethnicity, ability, resources, locations, perspectives), eclectic, warm, crafted with love, invested in each other, open to new ideas, willing to be vulnerable, a place where you can be truly seen and have support in doing the work of your heart.

And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart,
even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.

~Kahlil Gibran

In July I went to Hollyhock on Cortes Island to be part of the Summer Gathering with a dynamic group of change makers. The first gathering was 28 years ago when Rick Ingrasci along with his wife Peggy Taylor of PYE Global invited an eclectic group to throw a culture changing party and they have been hosting it there (+ a Winter Gathering on Whidbey Island) every year since. This year the theme was Paying Attention to What Matters: Community, Creativity and Compassion three things our creative community does so well (along with cupcakes). Since I’m hosting our Maker’s Retreat at Hollyhock this October and want to create similar gatherings for the creative community I was invited to present on the Maker Movement and get a chance to participate in an event that has sparked so many connections. This was a chance to come full circle since I lived on Cortes Island 11 years ago for one of the most important summers of my life.

Throughout my adventure one theme came up over and over again: we are all connected and our threads are interwoven with each other’s. The role of makers and creators is to show how we can weave those common threads into one blanket by handcrafting lives and communities rooted in creativity and compassion. This is not a new teaching but one we often need a reminder of, thankfully there have always been those who recognize creation as being a way to make love visible who help teach us what really matters.  Makers are the storytellers of tangible history.

Weaving with a common thread: community, creativity & compassion

After arriving on the coast and spending a night in Vancouver with a dear friend I took a ferry to Vancouver Island to meet up with a relative and stay at a little trailer in the midst of Wildwood where he lives in a sustainable forest farm where the oldest trees are up to 1800 years old. As we walked in the patient green light of the deep woods my relative spoke quietly of how the Nuu-chah-nulth people of Vancouver Island called the interconnection between all things (human, plant, animal and spirit) “tsawalk”, meaning “one”. We talked about how deeply we all miss that sense of connection that used to be such a fundamental part of being human and that relearning how to live in community and collaboration with everything is the cure.

Late that night I read in Merv’s book about Wildwood:

“It is important to realize that relationships exist between all things and no one thing can exist in the forest alone – and that includes us.”
~Merv Wilkinson, Wildwood: A Forest for the Future

Getting to Cortes Island is it’s own adventure. I got a ride to the ferry in Campbell River where I took another ferry to Quadra Island then caught a ride to the next ferry that would take me to Cortes. Since I don’t drive I was just looking for a ride to Hollyhock when a lovely woman named Kelly Terbasket asked if I needed a lift. We had a wonderful talk about community and connection which was the first of many. Later that week in her presentation she shared a word that the Okanagan First Nation use to describe themselves “Syilx” which she translated as “sharing one skin”.

Syilx: The root word “Yil” refers to the action of taking any kind of many-stranded fiber, like hemp, and rolling it and twisting it together to make one unit, or one rope. It is a process of making many into one. “Yil” is a root word which forms the basis of many of our words for leadership positions, as well. Syilx contains a command for every individual to continuously bind and unify with the rest. This command goes beyond only humans and encompasses all stands of life that make up our land. The word Syilx contains the image of rolling or unifying into one, as well as the individual command which is indicated by the “x” at the end of the word which indicates that it is a command directed at the individual level. The command is for every individual to be part of that stranded unified group, and to continue that twisting and unification on a continuous basis.” ~The New Internationalist Magazine

Jeannette Anderson, also of the Okanagan Nation, writes in her essay “Sharing One Skin” why we need communities of heart to help heal us. This links with what I believe is the deeper promise of the Maker Movement and what we are building for OMHG-by using our heart, head, and hands we can lovingly craft communities where we can remember we share one skin, that our lives and work are one big blanket of interconnection.

[Without community] I do not see how one remains human, for community to me is feeling the warm security of familiar people like a blanket wrapped around you, keeping out the frost. ~Jeannette Armstrong

My week of gathering at Hollyhock was a reminder of what it feels like to be woven into the fabric of community, stitched together with compassion and creativity, to be welcomed into a family. There were grandparents and children, leaders in mindfulness and magic and meaning of all ages. The structure of the gathering gave us all an opportunity to deeply connect and share what is most valuable to us. Every morning there were three 20 minute presentation followed by shorter Ignite talks then after lunch there were two 90 minute Open Space sessions where everyone was encouraged to post a topic, workshop or lecture. From diversity to healthy vulnerability to making on the beach each day was self organizing and full of conversations. We talked, laughed, cried, sang, danced and learned together. As always the deepest moments were small ones sharing stories over morning coffee, eating meals all cooked with love and goodness from the Hollyhock gardens, hugs with new friends or talking until late at night around the campfire with our legs sharing one blanket.

Weaving with a common thread: community, creativity & compassion

On the last day of the gathering Michael Lerner, founder of Commonweal closed with a moving talk on the common threads that bind us weaving in myth, poetry, and bits of all the stories shared during our week. Again the symbols of blankets, threads and (comm)unity tied it together. One of the poems that he shared so perfectly captured the thoughts in my heart:

Your love
Should never be offered to the mouth of a
Only to someone
Who has the valor and daring
To cut pieces of their soul off with a knife
Then weave them into a blanket
To protect you.

Now is the time for all of us to recognize our own potential as creators and makers of the world. We need the valour and daring to each find our common thread, the one that winds through our hearts and out of our hands, to make visible pieces of our soul and then turn them into quilts of goodness together.

That’s why I want to speak to you now.

To say: no person, trying to take responsibility for her or his identity, should have to be so alone. There must be those among whom we can sit down and weep, and still be counted as warriors. (I make up this strange, angry packet for you, threaded with love.)

I think you thought there was no such place for you, and perhaps there was none then, and perhaps there is none now; but we will have to make it, we who want an end to suffering, who want to change the laws of history, if we are not to give ourselves away.
~ Adrienne Rich

I am home from Hollyhock more committed than ever to a joyful handmade revolution, to making this community a gathering place and cooperative network, but also to taking our connections offline where we can truly become a family for each other. This October at our Maker’s Retreat up to 80 creative leaders will come to draw inspiration from the simple brilliance of the summer gathering and work together to make a movement threaded with love-you are invited to help craft this first event.

Making a life of meaning from pieces of our soul is hard work, we need community to patch where we’ve worn thin, remind us that we are all connected, and ask one of the most important questions of all:

what kind of world are we weaving with our common threads?


  1. Karen says:

    I’m now more inspired than ever to move forward with my projects, reminded that I am making meaning that binds us and frees us. Thank you for this beautiful invitation. October will be a beautiful, revolutionary month.

  2. Jenelle Montilone says:

    We are the storytellers of tangible history.
    There is beauty and truth in your words here Jessika.

    I shared this bit on my blog last year and it fits so well here, I hope you don’t mind I share it.
    “As a human being, exploration is part of our innate make up. The challenge today is to rekindle & redirect our adventurous spirit towards a more just society that fosters sustainable growth and innovates new & creative solutions. Cultivating (reconnecting with) community is the best place to start; including buying local, handmade, and honoring the value of craftsmanship and creativity.”

  3. colleen attara says:

    Jess…..this is beautiful. i can feel the shift in you and your convictions growing stronger from here. What a summer you have had…on your terms and so very heartfelt and meaningful.

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