Together, apart

Together, apart

Our March 2020 quarterly learning group was unlike any our team has held before: fully online. Some folks had major Zoom fatigue after spending a full two weeks in remote conversations, while others were just getting used to connecting through the computer as a new part of daily life. Still, we managed to learn, laugh, grieve, play, work, and reflect together and by the end of our three-hour call we felt collectively nurtured and restored. Good work, humans—it’s an honor to be in this work with you.


March 26, 2020

Humans. Being.

In my work life, I am primarily a writer. For almost seven years I’ve written on behalf of the Whidbey Institute, where my colleagues and I string words together to convey the meaning of what we do here—connecting with Earth, and with one another, to grow our collective capacity to live with generative mutuality in an increasingly complex society on an increasingly impacted planet.

That’s a mouthful, and it’s the kind of writing that feels wrong for this moment. Today, my heart is holding to one-syllable words. Food. Home. Health. Rest. Books. Love. Friends. We can take none of these for granted. Read More →

March 23, 2020

March 12 COVID-19 Response Update

Last night the leadership team of the Whidbey Institute made the difficult decision to pause all in-person programming in light of emerging data about the spread of novel coronavirus. This important decision feels aligned with what we’re learning about the projected course of this virus and our responsibility to protect public health: through social distancing, including through the cancellation or postponement of public gatherings. This decision is centered on our commitment to the health and wellbeing of our program participants, staff, and communities as well as the health of those in our regional communities and beyond.  Read More →

March 12, 2020

COVID-19: Update for Program Leaders

This post may include outdated information. See the latest updates on our evolving response here

As leaders bringing people together in physical space, the Whidbey Institute team shares many of the tensions you may be feeling right now. Our work is to navigate these tensions, together. Read More →

March 4, 2020

COVID-19: A Generative Response

This post may include outdated information. See the latest updates on our evolving response here

We at the Whidbey Institute are working to make a safe, proactive, and appropriately-scaled response to the spread of the novel coronavirus. Our thoughts go to the communities, both internationally and here in Washington State, where this illness has taken lives—and to all our communities and their most vulnerable members. Keeping our program participants, program leaders, neighbors, and team members safe is essential. Below, you’ll see facts about COVID-19, information about our response, guidelines on when to stay home, and a temporary revision to our cancellation policy as well as information on how to contact us or learn more about the virus.  Read More →

March 4, 2020

From Seed to Seedling

Our autumn board/staff retreat, brilliantly facilitated by incoming Board President Larisa Benson and staff member Meg Gluckman, gave the Whidbey Institute team an opportunity to reflect on the life cycles of our work. We played with questions of germination, emergence, growth, harvest, and death. We looked at what’s being nurtured from seed to seedling, what’s abundantly mature, and what’s being composted to nourish the new. We looked at the projects, ideas, and ways of working that we’re ready to let go of and the projects, ideas, and ways that want to emerge.

One thing that is abundantly clear to me in my communications role is that telling a true story—in the moment, as it unfolds, with all its beauty and flaws—matters more than telling a perfect story. So much has changed at the Whidbey Institute since I arrived six years ago, and how we share what we’re up to needs to change too. It’s time for our blog to take center stage, as a place where you get the day to day stories from behind the scenes.

Whidbey Institute is unfolding its butterfly wings as a transformational learning center, truly embracing its values of transparency, authenticity, and vulnerability. We learn better when we learn together, unafraid to be imperfect on our collective journey of growth and change.

You can expect to see changes on our website in the coming months, harvesting our work, our learnings, and the gaps between what is and what can be in the areas of equity, climate action, self-organization, and more. You can expect to see regular blog posts from me and my colleagues, and you can expect to see programming that aligns more and more with our deep purpose to nurture the conditions for transformation in service to a future in which people and planet thrive together.

I, for one, can’t wait. Thank you for being on this journey with me.

—Marnie Jackson



February 6, 2020

Hilltop Reflections: Greeting the new year in Legacy Forest

by Marnie Jackson

I welcomed the new year with a day of rest, reflection, and solitude in Hilltop Cabin. The cabin, owned and offered by Whidbey Institute founders Fritz and Vivienne Hull, is nestled in the center of our 106 acre conservation forest near Storyhouse Meadow.  I arrived in the cozy, bright space and had a quick orientation from Fritz, who showed me the amenities—heaters and a wood stove, a little kitchen for making tea and warming up my lunch, and a fantastic library of works from poets, philosophers, naturalists, and eco-theologians. When I asked him if he had any particular advice for me to make the best use of my day, he encouraged me to spend time among the trees. 

My day began simply enough, and I spent my first hour riffing through the notebooks that Fritz and Vivienne have compiled on subjects like Celtic Spirituality, the Life Wheel, and the life and work of Thomas Berry. In that reading, I was struck by a profound sense of continuity. The Chinook Learning Community, founded by Fritz and Vivienne in 1972, didn’t just give way to the Whidbey Institute—it became it. Thomas Berry Hall was not named by accident, but as an entreaty to remember and carry forward the work of this man who wrote, “the natural world is the larger sacred community to which we belong. To be alienated from this community is to become destitute in all that makes us human. To damage this community is to diminish our own existence.” The Hilltop Cabin itself has a clear purpose and its construction and siting was sincerely intentional: it is a place for immersion in nature, for reflection on Self and Earth, and for rediscovering how to be human in these times. 

The Hilltop Cabin has a clear purpose and its construction and siting was sincerely intentional: it is a place for immersion in nature, for reflection on Self and Earth, and for rediscovering how to be human in these times. 

I had come prepared, with colored ink pens, a blank journal, washi tape, and dozens of year-end journaling prompts. Fritz and Vivienne had provided even more resources, including a wicker basket of art supplies and reams of blank paper. I was ready to sit and reflect, making a fresh start for a new decade with clarity of purpose and power of intention. Then, a funny thing happened. After sitting and doodling for half an hour, I felt complete with my journaling. 

As a professional writer, I spend most of every day putting words to paper. As a mother and partner, I had spent the week between Solstice and Christmas drawing, painting, and creating vision board collages with my family. I was all journaled out, and therein lay another gift of Hilltop Cabin—the freedom to discover what I needed most. I didn’t need a colorful calendar, a cheerful goal list, or a revised personal purpose statement. I needed to be quiet—in body, mind, and heart. I needed to be alone in the woods.

I took my camera and my coat and made my way down the forest path to a stone circle, ringed with trees and lying just a few dozen yards from the Hilltop Cabin. A weed-suppressing barrier had been laid down, and white stones had been placed atop it. I noticed the persistence of new plant life, pushing up between the stones and reaching little green needles toward the light. 

Plants are agents in their own lives. I once read that the compounds released by plants into the atmosphere actually change the quality of the light those plants receive, increasing photosynthesis by diffusing light in the forest. A Guardian author summarizing these findings wrote, “plants have evolved a clever trick to redirect sunlight and bring the weather they want down into the forest understory.” These trees are not inanimate features of my habitat, but co-creators of ours

Therein lay another gift of Hilltop Cabin—the freedom to discover what I needed most.

I sat on the Earth in the center of the circle, contemplating the coolness under my seat and the vastness of the forest canopy. I listened for birds, close in and far off, and for the tiptoe of who-knows-who—Doe? Squirrel?—through the underbrush. 

After some time, I stood and continued my walk, eventually finding myself back at the cabin. It was now midday, and I warmed up tea and soup before settling on the couch with a novel I’d been longing to reread for years. I made it through 75% of the book, then dozed off for my first nap in at least a decade. I woke up refreshed, to the sound of a woodpecker knocking nearby. 

By the end of my 9 hour stay in the Hilltop Cabin, I felt like a human BEing—just being. No doing, planning, producing, delivering, or performing. It was not what I’d set out to achieve during this one precious day alone, and yet it felt like the most important possible work.

After a day of solitude in nature, it felt right that I got on my bicycle to return home. I couldn’t imagine climbing into a car, closing the door to the forest, and turning on a gasoline engine at the close of such a day. If my day alone taught me anything, it is that the patterns of human activity that are at odds with nature are at odds with our own being, and that what is healthy for my planet is indistinguishable from what is healthy for me. 

Hilltop Retreats are offered to the public. Visit the website to learn more and book your day-long retreat.

January 9, 2020

Daring to Love Fiercely

I recently had an opportunity to connect with program leaders Plácida Gallegos, Akasha Saunders, Steve Schapiro and Carol Wishcamper (pictured above, left to right). Their program, Dare to Connect WE-LAB, provides a space to explore and support participants’ capacity to embrace differences and to connect with one another across those differences with curiosity and love. The program is coming to the Whidbey Institute in March, 2020 and registration is open to all.

During our conversation, I not only got a feeling for the facilitators (a fantastic team) and the program (a wonderful offering) but I also became convinced that there is little the world needs more than work like this. Supporting people across diverse social identities and circumstances in creating brave, vulnerable, and authentic connections can help us begin to heal the rifts of racism, sexism and other oppressive systems in our bodies, hearts, communities, and societies. Read More →

December 18, 2019

Forever Protected: 106-Acre Conservation Easement Finalized

On November 29, 2018, a longstanding dream came true with the establishment of an expanded, comprehensive conservation easement at the Whidbey Institute. We owe a debt of gratitude to Board Chair Kate Snider, the staff and board of the Whidbey Institute and Whidbey Camano Land Trust, the Island County Commissioners, attorney and neighbor Doug Kelly, and many other neighbors and friends who brought this project to completion. Read More →

December 19, 2018

Liberating Structure | November 2018 Newsletter

In this issue: Gala photos, exploring liberating structure with Evolution at Work, a conversation with volunteer Tom Buxton, community announcements, and more! Click here to view the full issue and read on.

November 19, 2018