How to Marry your Business Partner: Weaving a Ritual Container for Right Relationship in Business
By Alla Guelber
He nervously adjusts his large white and blue top hat while looking out on to the assembled room of fifty or so friends, family, colleagues and clients, takes a deep breath and approaches his business-bride. She is resplendent in a flowing green and blue gown, decorated with a profusion of flowers and sprigs of greenery, carrying curly Russian kale, plump golden beets, spry little radishes and more, assembled in an ambitious mid-winter bouquet of last fall’s bounty.
“We are gathered here tonight in the presence of Gaia and all of our relations on traditional Blackfoot Territory. We are joining in ceremony similar to one celebrated by countless cultures around the world… gathered to witness and support the creation of a fruitful and symbiotic relationship,” says the officiant.
They approach the rest of their wedding party: the best man, dressed as a voluminous yellow chicken (this is, of course, longstanding friend and mentor Rob Avis of Verge Permaculture), and me, the mastermind and maid-of-honour for this most lovely and unusual of celebrations.
And so, with great pomp and circumstance, Mike Unrau, in the guise of the Fantastic Mr. Fox, opened the Business Wedding Ceremony for reGenerate Design, represented by the business’s principal owners, Lindsay Meads and Adrian Buckley.
Thus begins a community ritual several months in the making to celebrate two friends and business partners committing to working together, not only in right relationship with each other as colleagues, but also in alignment with their shared values in ecology, permaculture, and community.
Ensconced in a warm community space in downtown Calgary as winter winds howl outside on the first Saturday in February, Lindsay, Adrian, and their friends, colleagues and family members set strong intentions for a business that not only creates right livelihood for its owners, but sends out wider ripples true to their business mandate of holistic design solutions and empowering people to be leaders for positive change.
Plant nerd jokes, permaculture theory, well-wishes and light-hearted humour all interweave in a tight circle of connectivity, creating a ritual container to hold the larger-than-life endeavour of the “Great Work” that permaculture designers like Lindsay and Adrian take on as their chosen meaningful work.
Mike continues: “Both Lindsay and Adrian deeply respect the earth-based traditions in their personal and professional lives; Lindsay comes with a rich history in urban design and environmental geology and Adrian comes with experience in botany and community design. Together, they share a deep passion for ecologically and socially regenerative systems.”
As friends, colleagues, and co-conspirators, Adrian and Lindsay arrived into my life at approximately the same time. I met Adrian at the inaugural Calgary Harvest pick in October 2009 (Calgary Harvest is an urban fruit recovery initiative). At the time, Adrian was also actively starting a new permaculture design company called Big Sky Permaculture. In the spring of 2010, Lindsay attended the first-ever Meaningful Work Retreat that I organized, where Adrian was a guest presenter.
Fast forward to 2015. As their business “matchmaker”, I revelled in the joy of their individual journeys toward meaningful work converging in such a momentous occasion.
“The wedding ritual is one of the most powerful rituals in Western society,” says Sarah Kerr, owner of Soul Passages and founding director of the Holistic Death Network in Calgary. Sarah is a death midwife, celebrant and facilitator who offers nature-based spiritual support to individuals and communities navigating illness, death and loss.
A week prior to the business wedding, we all had a sense of the importance and gravity of the words spoken during the ceremony, and it took Sarah’s deep experience and insight to ensure that we created an appropriate ritual container.
“By formalizing their business partnership in a community ceremony, Lindsay and Adrian honoured the sacred aspect of their work. The ritual invited their human community and the larger living world, to participate in and support their endeavour,” Sarah says.
Sarah’s teaching reminds us that as we move forward in the work of ensuring that humans are a regenerative force on the earth, it is important to remember to weave ourselves back into an intimate relationship with the earth that sustains us.
“As healers and visionaries for a new world, permaculture designers and change-makers of all kinds have an opportunity to create appropriate rituals. These ceremonies help to anchor us in the wisdom and tradition of the infinite healing powers of the Earth, and honour those who have come before us,” she adds.
At this challenging junction in human history, the work of earth repair and people care can be deeply supported by personal and community rituals that anchor and sustain us in this transformative work.
Spades in the Soil
Returning to the community room, warmed with repeated peals of laughter, the Fantastic Mr. Fox continues with an effusive, even theatrical flourish:
“If the sun is the guiding light, then ethical protocol is the torch that holds the flame. In the permaculture tradition, ethics are the greatest manifestation of principled action to benefit the planet and people.”
“I am to remind you of the serious nature of the relationship you are now about to enter. Therefore, if any persons can show just and sufficient reason why these two businesses cannot be joined in a business merger, let them now declare reasons, or from this time forward, forever keep their spade in their own soil.”
Peals of laughter erupt from the room. A little girl in a bunny costume darts across the room. Bright eyes and red cheeks spread out amongst our brightly coloured guests donning various stages of earth-themed costume radiate warmth, love and support.
At that point, inspired by the Celtic ritual of the warming of the rings, we passed around the Unanimous Shareholders Agreement. The business partners asked each person in attendance bestow their wishes upon this agreement to help and support the business in moving forward.
Asking each business wedding guest to spend time offering their blessings and positive intentions into the Unanimous Shareholders Agreement created an additional layer of structure and support into the ceremony.
“Ritual provides a structure through which energy can flow. People aren’t very often given structures through which they can flow love and support – and this ritual was about sharing love and support. This energy is real, real and it matters. That’s why the community warming of the rings – or the business agreement in this case – is so powerful,” Sarah explains.
Adrian and Lindsay wrote their own business vows, and, at this point in the ceremony, they recited them in unison in front of their assembled guests:
- “We engage in transparent communication based on mutual respect.”
- “By continually understanding each others’ gifts and talents, we balance and support each others’ professional growth.”
- “We maintain a healthy degree of separation between our professional and personal lives. The business creates meaningful, fulfilling and sustainable livelihoods for us.”
- “We are professional, organized and unrushed. Our approach to problem solving is solutions-oriented. We activate and inspire people to create positive change in the community.”
- “We have fun!”
Mike then continued: “I now call upon you both in the presence of family and friends, and in the presence of this land, to benefit future generations, and deepen our connection to Mother Earth, and commit to the important work of being a regenerative force on the great lands and waters of this abundant world. Please repeat after me…”
Lindsay repeated: “I commit to you in a business partnership / until such a point / when it is better for the both of us / and for the world / for each of us to move in our separate ways.”
Adrian followed, “I commit to you in a business partnership / until such a point / when it is better for the both of us / and for the world / for each of us to move in our separate ways.”
With this statement, the audience lets out a deep sigh.
And the final icing on the cake, Mike said, “Now, I shall ask you to exchange your business cards, to finalize this business merger.” Adrian and Lindsay exchanged business cards, and Mike added:
“As life is not without death, with these cards, Big Sky Permaculture will now serve as business mulch and sprout anew as reGenerate Design through both of their mycelial networks.”
“In the name of Bill Mollison and Jane Jacobs and by the power vested in all of us collaboratively, I now proclaim reGenerate Design Ltd. to be a new business. I now pronounce you business partners in right relationship to each other and your business. You may pound your fists!”
And so, with some fist pounding and the signing of the Unanimous Shareholders Agreement, the deed was done.
After the ceremony, we enjoyed three sisters burritos, honouring the sacred New World triad of corn, beans and squash, and a lovely potluck, as well as local mead and beer. We doled out small potted plants as prizes for best costumes. Adrian, Mike and several other friends performed live music, and the evening concluded with a DJ.
The business wedding served as a memorable, meaningful and creative way to recognize a significant commitment and transition in the lives of two business partners.
As Rachel Carson famously wrote in Silent Spring, “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”
And this well-intentioned, at times silly, at times immensely deep ritual in the dark time of winter served to anchor in a new awareness for valuing age-old ritual. It planted seeds of structure, intention and support to lend energy and direction for the business’s continuous thriving. The partners in reGenerate Design and others like them engage in meaningful work that is far more than drafting and landscape design. Through their concerted efforts, they are contributing to the healing of our world, and the more that they and others are supported by community, as well as ritual process, the stronger their work will become.
Alla Guelber is an environmental educator, community organizer and facilitator based in Calgary, AB, Canada. She is founding director of The Meaningful Work Project, hosting educational programs to guide the quest for meaningful work of service to people and the planet. She has written for Alberta Views, FFWD Weekly and Corporate Knights magazine.
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