Selfless Service and Silence | A Volunteer Experience

Cortes Sunrise, Hollyhock 2013. Photograph by Catherine Wiggins

Memories of my four week Volunteer experience immediately bring me to a sense of calm and contentment. That is the gift of Hollyhock, and what a gift it was for me to spend four weeks on the spectacular island of Cortes in Beautiful British Columbia.

British Columbia is my home. I have spent many happy hours on the island of Quadra, which sits to the west of Cortes Island at the mouth of the Johnstone Straight. Until 2013 Hollyhock was a mystical centre in my imagination only which all changed when I arrived at the parking lot on a wet October 8, reporting for duty as a volunteer. I had met a handful of fellow volunteers at the ferry terminal on Quadra Island, forming friendships that would become invaluable throughout our stay on Hollyhock and beyond.

Our work started the following morning. We had arrived part way through a silent retreat taking place at Hollyhock and we were required to respect the guest commitment to silence by remaining quiet in common areas. I now realize that this was a perfect transition strategy from the business of the Vancouver life to the serenity of Cortes. While we could communicate in our accommodation or in our training sessions with our host, we enjoyed extended periods of silence in those first few days, allowing the business of our minds to slow and allowing us to use our senses of sight and sound and smell to experience our new, temporary, surroundings. On arrival day the rains were hard, but the next morning the sun shone and the air was perfumed with damp earth, salted air and aromas from the ever-productive kitchens.

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Tools of the Trade “The Breakfast Bell”  Photograph, Catherine Wiggins

Our charming volunteer host, Kate, worked closely with us to build our team relationship; expose us to the Hollyhock culture of selfless service; and introduce us to the supportive and nurturing environment. The volunteer program gave us all structure and responsibility throughout our stay, but we were also given time to explore the island to ourselves, to connect with the Hollyhock guests and presenters and to rediscover ourselves. Each volunteer was at Hollyhock for differing reasons whether it be wellness, inquiry, transformation or personal growth.

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Tools of the Trade “My Blundies”  Photograph, Catherine Wiggins.

My four week stay on Cortes Island was a joy and a gift.  I look longingly at the 2015 calendar, and see that the program has expanded to a six-week experience.  What a gift that would be.  How I would love to pull on my Blundstone boots again and walk through the woods to work every morning, enjoying the sunrise and the silence of Cortes.  How I long to ring the bell to call the guests and staff to breakfast, lunch and dinner.  How I long to run to Smelt Bay again to watch the sunset or sit in the hot tub looking at the stars.

Thank you Hollyhock for inviting volunteers in to your community and sharing your dreams, values and  beauty with us.  I will not forget it, and I will be back.

Catherine Wiggins attended Hollyhock in the Volunteer Service Program during the 2013 season. This highly interactive 6-week program allows one to work on the Hollyhock team while enjoying life on Cortes island.  More info here.

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