Sitting in the audience of the Universal Hall I was filled with anticipation, combined with appreciation for simply being here, as Michael Hawkins led us in a moment of silence to begin the day. Jay Ramsay then recited a beautiful poem, Olympians, which touched upon spontaneous interventions of spirit, accompanied by the gentle drumming of Herewood Gabriel that deepened the impact of Jay’s words.
Michael gave a warm welcome to Robert Holden, who offered the first presentation of the week, Loveability – to Know How to Love and Be Loved. Robert encouraged a focus on receptivity and I felt immediately captivated by his presence. His words, “Love is always present even when I’m not,” seemed to resonate around the Hall, a beautifully decorated stage for the occasion. The ever-present candle was centrepiece and abundant floral arrangements created a sacred space for us all to dive deeply into ourselves and connect with each other.
Sharing love — Robert Holden
We were invited to share an experience of love in our lives in the last seven days with the person next to us and there was an immediate soft buzz in the air as people engaged in the discussion. After all, “Love is our destiny.”
The background to Robert’s presentation was a colourful and concise slideshow. He guided us through his ideas with ease, intellect, humour and depth, interspersed with inspiring quotes ranging from poetry, music, science and mysticism.
The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.
The lyrics displayed on the screen, from the song Nature Boy written by Eden Ahbez, sang to me, “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” Love is at the heart of our curriculum, I thought. How wonderful!
“Your life is all about love and even when it isn’t it still is really.” Robert’s first principle was greeted with the laughter of recognition. Is it a word, an idea, a feeling, or an energy? He shared a touching story about his then four-year-old daughter, who upon learning that her daddy was writing a book felt keen to learn how to write. “What would you like to begin with?” he asked. “Let’s start with love,” came the young yet wise reply.
Love is real
We were led to the conclusion, “The beauty of love is that it cannot be defined.” So then what? Robert’s first conscious enquiry into love began when his father passed away and the question arose within him, ‘What is real?’ The response came, ‘Love is real.’
The second principle shared was the miracle of self-love, knowing that we are love, and the tale of the two selves. The unconditioned self, or soul, has the basic truth, “I am loveable” grounded in self-acceptance. The learned self, or ego, has the basic fear, “Am I loveable?” based upon self-improvement. However, “The final and only act of healing is to accept that there is nothing wrong with you.” There was something familiar and reassuring about his words that I found grounding and encouraging – to recognise ourselves over and over again, without judgement.
Robert spoke of God and love in the third principle. “To learn about God we don’t need to learn about religion we need to learn about ourselves.” He shared a simple yet touching prayer by Macrina Wiederkehr, “Dear God, show me the truth about myself no matter how beautiful it is. Amen.” Throughout Robert’s presentation I had a deep sense of his lifelong exploration into love and could feel the foundation for our weeklong conference being laid with thoughtful care.
A poem from Hafiz, interweaving both teaching and practice, introduced the fourth principle – loving others. “It happens all the time in Heaven… How can I be more loving to you, how can I be more kind?” Robert posed questions through quotations in a masterful way and I felt a reminder of the tools in my toolbox. I’m sure I was not alone in believing, trusting, knowing that more love in the world is possible, that we all have our role to play, amidst the challenges.
We must celebrate a last supper with our ego, again and again and again…
The fifth principle introduced the importance of love and forgiveness, which Robert described as, “An angel you pray to when you need a miracle. It is an act of grace that sets us free, a shift in perception from fear to love.” Which led naturally into the final principle, love and our destiny, and a quote from Erich Fromm that love is, “The only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence.”
The ripple effect
Are we willing to truly love enough? How can we overcome separateness? How can we achieve union? I felt these questions would be ever present throughout the week and asked myself, ‘How can I be more loving and is that enough?’ The impact of one person loving more and the ripple effect was captured brilliantly in a short video clip that Robert shared. It began as a message from one Israeli, to the people of Iran, a message of love, that grew from people to people, nation to nation, and in those few minutes I felt inspired that this conference is real and practical and offers the potential for global change.
“The decision to be the presence love is the most powerful influence you can have in any situation in your life and in the world.” Robert received a standing ovation and I contemplated his words as the Hall emptied for the traditional tea break.
When people returned we each received colourful shapes of paper at the door. The melodic sounds of the flute played by Barbara Swetina welcomed us back, creating the space for Judy McAllister to lead us in sacred ritual.
The invitation was to be light and playful, combined with a sense of respect, as together we worked with five primary streams – love, magic, miracles, ancestors and future generations. These five horizontal alters lay upon the floor, to become vertical anchor points for the energies invested in them.
Judy described the ingredients to weave our magic spell and guided us through a meditation, connecting with the time when we said yes to being here, in this centre of love and light on the planet. We were asked to turn our attention to the quality of love, however we understood it, then to moments of magic, and the presence of miracles. Finally we turned our attention to those who will come after us, the future generations, as they face the world we leave behind us, and to the ancestors.
“Which of these banners would you like to contribute to?” Judy asked. We wrote our messages and steadily streamed down to the floor to pin our offerings to the fabric, as Herewood played the wooden zylophone. I felt a sense of pride in our community, in the detail and effort that had clearly taken place behind the scenes.
The banners were raised like masts on a ship against the five columns of the Hall, the group energy interwoven in our hopes, dreams and intentions for the week, to the exquisite sound of Sheila Pettit playing the harp and singing The Circle of Angels. The unifying power of music felt strong, reflecting the essence of the morning and the healing light of love.
To create a more upbeat energy to help propel everyone to lunch, Barbara led us into a three-part harmony, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for… This is the time and this is the hour, all together we have the power.” With smiles, hugs, dancing and applause, the morning reached it’s conclusion and I left the Hall humming with inspiration.
The power of love — Philip Newell
The evening presentation by Philip Newell, Love Force – The Greening Power of the Soul, continued the theme with a different tone. “Love has the greatest energy for transformation,” he said and we were encouraged to have an awareness of and commitment to honouring the heartbeat in each other.
“Are we prepared to take on the cost of love? We are being called to listen within the vastness of the universe and within the intimacy of our hearts.” Inspired by the Burmese Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, Philip spoke of a three-fold path to support us: “The courage to see our interwovenness, one person, one nation cannot be well when others are suffering; the courage to feel the brokenness of the world as our brokenness; and the courage to act, to bear the cost of this moment in time in action.”
“How shall we use this time of manifestation for healing the whole?” he asked. “We are living in the most radical change of age. It is great work to release the essential unity in a radical new form. We need to dive deeply into the treasure of our traditions and create open systems.”
In the words of Carl Jung, “We must celebrate a last supper with our ego, again and again and again.” Philip asked, “Can we choose to bring our attention to the heart of another right now, and then again twenty seconds later? Do we want to create communities where that happens again and again?” Yes spoke the voice of my heart and as the lights dimmed we listened to a chant from Hebrew, Jesus and the Koran, inviting us into peace and together we sang as one.