Connecting to What Matters: An interview with Greg Flynn and Shannon Patterson

Last week, I was able to talk with program leaders Gregory Flynn and Shannon Patterson about their upcoming program, Renewal: Connecting to What Matters. I had the pleasure of interviewing them together, which allowed me to watch the exchange of ideas between them—I’m sharing highlights of that conversation here. I hope you’ll join Greg and Shannon at the Whidbey Institute, October 1 through 3.  —Marnie Jackson


Marnie: What would you say to someone who’s wondering, “is this program for me?”

Shannon: It’s hard to imagine people not feeling overwhelmed by the pandemic and its continuing to go on. We don’t have a map or a model for how to survive, and dare we even think about thriving, during a pandemic. How do we care for ourselves? How do we continue to navigate this in ways that sustain us? The retreat will provide a place to slow down and connect to what matters so that you’re building your own map or model as you go—rooted in what matters to you. 

Greg: Yes, it seems there’s more endurance that we need to find. It’s neither a sprint, nor a marathon, but an ultra-marathon. The people I know who do those tell me that even during ultra-marathons, they stop. They lie down, they look at the stars, they take in their surroundings. What does it mean to pause, in a very intentional way, and connect to the things that matter to our hearts and our souls, to help inform that question of “how do I navigate this in ways that renew and sustain me?”


Marnie: I know I’ve had both more disruption, challenge, and uncertainty and more time alone than usual over these last 18 months—time to reflect, to ask myself what’s in integrity for me, what parts of my life do I want to return to and what parts do I want to reimagine? What do you say to those people who’ve experienced high levels of stress and more time alone than they may have experienced before? Does this program speak to them?

Shannon: I think so. Namely because this is an opportunity to reflect together, in person. That’s something we haven’t been able to do very much at all. Greg and I want to support people in being in inquiry together. We learn so much from sharing and hearing stories—ours and others’. 

Greg: I also had a lot of time to reflect and be in inquiry around what I want to bring forward, yet I feel that slipping through my fingers as our collective energies tell us to forget the past 18 months and get back to normal. Even amidst the uncertainty we’re facing now, there’s a pull to get back to what we knew. I feel we are being asked to find new ways, to do things differently, and I don’t know how we are going to do that if we keep getting pulled “back to normal”. 

One of the things COVID did to us was it put us all in our homes. As much as we can connect via Zoom, there’s nothing like connecting on Whidbey Institute’s land. There’s nothing like being in that space together, and even just saying something out loud to a group of people. It’s amazing what can happen within us and between us between Friday and Sunday. 


Marnie: In terms of meeting real people, in a room, in our bodies, that’s something that has been largely missing for many, many months. How are you going to balance that kind of intimacy, of gathering together, with physical health and safety as well as the sense of safety, emotionally, that might be fragile after so many months of being protective around our personal space? 

Greg: We have been wrestling with this as we invite folks to the retreat—especially in the midst of the uncertainty the Delta variant is stirring up. I can feel the uncertainty in my own body, so I can only imagine what it’s like for someone looking to invest in a retreat. On our side is that we have acres and acres available to us at the Institute, and the beginning of October tends to be such a beautiful time. We can be outside in ways that allow us to have intimate conversations, and still have privacy, while also coming together in a space where we can share conversation. With access to Thomas Berry Hall and that big bank of doors that open to the courtyard, we can gather indoors in a space that still feels nurturing, with air circulating, even if it’s raining. We want to ensure that as people come in, their individual concerns are heard and those needs are met. And, we are able to provide individual accommodations.

Shannon: When it comes to emotional safety, we’re committed to having the conversations around what people need, and ensuring we respect each other’s needs. We’ll engage in good listening practices that center on holding each other’s experiences with care and curiosity. 


Marnie: It sounds like you’re really inviting the “whole” person to come, not to try to be the perfect participant for the perfect weekend but instead to have an experience that’s tailored to the needs of people and how they arrive. 

Shannon: Definitely. I think that the retreat itself is part of the experience of navigating our world. Navigating the retreat is like a little fractal experience of what we’ve been doing, and how we do that is important. How can we be together in this? 

Greg: I’m a big believer in creating micro-cultures that defy the dominant culture that we live in, that are places to practice the ways of being that we long to show up with. I know it’s only a couple of days but even over a few days we can all practice how we might want to feel on the next Monday. We can make that little connection point, feel it in our body. 

Shannon: We’ve been involved with Holistic Resistance over the last three years. The sense of space, and listening, and acceptance—we intend to hold space in a similar way. There’s so much acceptance, room, freedom, connection, realness, and wholeness in how they gather people. 

Greg: We are there to create a supportive environment for people to connect to what matters to them. We don’t have any agenda about what matters, beyond believing the kind of space that we create matters. 


Marnie: Is there a certain kind of participant you want to reach, or a certain circumstance from which people are coming to this work? Or is this going to appeal to people from a breadth of circumstances and experiences? 

Shannon: I hate this question (laughter). It takes me into all of the confounding stuff around marketing. The “who’s your audience?” question. Humans? But really, I think this is for people that have some sense—maybe not full recognition, but a sense—that they need a pause. I’m watching airplane passengers freak out, Olympic athletes do unprecedented things, and I’m thinking that we all need a pause to renew ourselves. I think our retreat is for people who are feeling some longing to rest and renew. People who are drawn to the questions in our retreat description. 


Marnie: Thanks, Shannon! Greg, can you tell me why you like working with Shannon and what she’s going to bring to this offering? 

Greg: Shannon’s capacity to sit and be with a room of complex human beings (any room with human beings in it is complex)—to be with all of the possible things that are in that space and help each person be felt, and seen, and heard—is astounding. She shows up with kindness and heart. I always feel seen by her myself. I love working with her. The questions she brings, the ways she peels back the layers for folks. 

When I’m up at 50,000 feet, Shannon can get us closer to the ground. Her reflections help bring so much clarity. She’s fun, and she’s creative. There’s always a lot of joy with her, and I think everyone who doesn’t know Shannon yet will leave with a new friend. 

Shannon: That was powerful to receive, thank you! 


Marnie: You set the bar high, Greg! Shannon, can I ask you the same question? What do you like about working with Greg, and what will he bring to this weekend? 

Shannon: Well, sometimes I get too close to the ground—way down in the practicalities and the weeds. Greg helps me look up to the bigger picture by saying, “Well, yeah, but what about the rest of all this?” I value that he can always pull me out, and up, and because of that he can help me and others be bolder and braver in our aspirations for ourselves. That helps me stay connected to what matters, too. Greg brings perspective and creativity to what we do together. He helps me find an extra gear in myself. He also makes doing so fun and easy. 


Marnie: That was so fun, and I appreciate that you were able to share that with one another and with me. Thank you! I have a final question: what’s the question you might wish I had asked, that you’d like to answer?

Shannon: Why come? What’s the benefit? We supported a lot of people online early in the pandemic, with weekly calls, connecting to what was happening. We were struck again and again by how much profound relief people found in just having that space for themselves and with each other, the sense of not being in it alone. Seeing what people were able to connect to—in themselves, or between one another, or to a new idea. Those are the things we look for in all our work. 

Community has become scarce in some ways. When you come to a retreat, you connect with people from who knows where, and something important and meaningful happens in that space. I hope people will leave feeling that. I think this way of gathering helps make ripple effects in how we think about what’s possible in our world. 

Greg: I would love to share something about when we get to see ourselves in each other. I’ve had so many experiences where I learn something new about myself through listening to someone else speak to their story. In mens’ work, with the Mankind Project, you’ll often hear people say, “thank you for doing my work.” We get so much from each other but it can only happen in that kind of space when we come together. 


You can learn more about Renewal: Connecting to What Matters here. You can learn more about Greg and Shannon by visiting the Connection Works website. If you are interested in joining but are not yet ready to commit, please email [email protected] and/or [email protected]


August 18, 2021