joanne sales



“What’s wanting to happen here?” - A Question That Brings Clarity
By Joanne Sales Published in The Beacon - April 2008

An Interview with Shivon Robinsong

Shivon is a kidney donor, founder of Hollyhock Education Center on Cortes Island and the Gettin’ Higher Choir in Victoria.

I met Shivon in the blueberry fields at our farm a few years ago, and I was struck immediately by what an amazing person she was. She started Hollyhock Retreat Centre on Cortes Island, she started the 300 person Gettin’ Higher Choir in Victoria, and then, last fall, she blew my mind completely when she gave one of her kidneys to a friend. I suspected that she had a unique slant on “conscious living” - and indeed, she does.

I asked Shivon what conscious living means to her.
“To me, being conscious is pausing, breathing, and tuning into the infinitely larger energy field of which I am a small part. A question I like to ask is - ‘What’s wanting to happen here?’ It’s a really different question than ‘What do I want to do?’”

As we talked, it became obvious that asking “What’s wanting to happen here?” has guided many important decisions in Shivon’s life.
When I‘m not caught up in the illusion of separation, I have faith that there is an infinite plan. By giving up thinking that I can control it, I find life is much more enjoyable. To ask ‘What’s wanting to happen here?’ is a way of opening up to that flow.”
I was fascinated by how Shivon arrived at the decision to actually give a living part of her body to someone else.
“Joel has been a close friend for 25 years. I had known that Joel had a congenital kidney disease. It weighed heavily on me that we may lose him too early.
“Last spring, he came over to my house. We were sitting at my kitchen table. I hadn’t seen him in a while. He told me that the doctor had said his disease was progressing, and that he would need to find a kidney soon. I immediately blurted out, ‘You can have one of mine.’”

At that time, Shivon didn’t even know if she had the right blood type, but after rigorous screening, it was determined that she could be a kidney donor for Joel. I wondered whether Shivon ever regretted the offer she made so quickly that day at the kitchen table.

“Absolutely not. Here was this dear friend, who I was so deeply linked to through our connection to Hollyhock. When it dawned on me, that a kidney that I had, that I didn’t really need, could actually save his life, when I asked “What wants to happen here,” it was startlingly clear. Take a kidney from me, give it to him and we will both be fine. It seemed a very obvious choice to me.
“I love to garden. Joel loves to garden too. If you have two prize plants, but they are very close together, you will happily make the decision that you’ll move this one over here, to bring this other part of the garden to life. Once I thought of it in gardening terms, any fears I had went away.”

So on November 14, at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, Shivon had one kidney removed, and it was placed inside her friend a couple hours later.
“When I first came out of surgery, it was one of the happiest days of my life - a deeply joyful feeling like after you have given birth. I cried tears of joy when the doctor came in to tell me how well it had gone, and that my kidney was springing to life in Joel. Whatever pain and discomfort I experienced was really minor compared to that.”

The kidney transplant was successful for Joel, and Shivon says she now feels better than ever. She has her friend back, and her good health.
I asked Shivon when she first asked the question, “What wants to happen here?”
“Well, the first time I remember having that feeling was in 1981, when I was first living on Cortes Island. My friend, Rex Weyler, had recently been told by a gypsy fortune-teller ‘Look for red hollyhocks… an important sign.’ He came to visit us on Cortes, and as we were showing him around the island, there in the middle of the garden of the former Cold Mountain Institute was a vibrant patch of red hollyhocks. We had a strong sense that there was something that wanted to happen there and wanted us to be part of it. The question was not ‘Do we want to do this?’ Rather it was ‘‘Are we willing to be part of what wants to happen here?’”
At that point, the property on Cortes (now Hollyhock) was for sale for over half a million dollars. Shivon pointed out that they hardly had any money.
“All I was able to say was, if this is meant to be, we don’t have to figure out the how, we just have to get clear about whether we are willing to be prepared for what it will ask of us.”

At that time, the property was in need of caretakers, so they applied for the job.
“The next thing we knew, we were moving in. That seemed like a step in the right direction. It was a harsh winter. We got a crash course in what it would be like to be stewards of this property. Pipes burst, trees fell on buildings. So it’s not as though having this approach makes it all easy, all clear and smooth all the time. But it helps get the ego out of the way. In resolving conflicts for instance, it helps when I can remember to ask ‘what wants to happen here?’ instead of ‘how can I get what I want?’ And then the answer to ‘how can I be in service of that?’ often becomes clear too. Peace is always the answer.”

The vision on that day beside the red hollyhocks in 1981 was to create a learning centre that would bring together the outer work of environmental activism with the inner work of personal and spiritual development. Today, Hollyhock is Canada’s leading educational retreat centre.
In 1989, Shivon had an encounter with breast cancer, which she says gave her “another opportunity to listen to what was wanting to happen.” Another chapter of her life opened. Happily for the rest of us, Shivon started choirs!!

Her first choir in 1994 was on Cortes Island. “I came to choir directing as a wounded musician, you could say - wishing I had another voice. But I felt a rush of joy upon hearing that the sound we made together was far more beautiful than any of us could make alone. I realized how much more we can accomplish by putting our voices together than we can individually. I believe in the power of many voices.”

In 1996, she formed the Gettin’ Higher Choir in Victoria which has grown to over 300 people - now the largest choir in Canada. “Anyone who wants to sing is welcome, whether or not they think they can sing.” In 2004, Shivon and her choir partner, Denis Donnelly, began a choir leadership training program. Now there are non-audition community choirs in the Comox Valley, Port Alberni, Errington, Qualicum Beach, Denman Island, and scattered throughout North America. Shivon and Denis call them "ubuntu choirs - “a community of choirs who believes that the joy of singing is a universal birthright.”

Again, Shivon says, this was something that was wanting to happen. “As the choir grew, I saw that it was an ideal vessel in which community can form. The hunger for community is everywhere. Singing itself is a spiritual practice, and so is coming together with a group of people every week with the sole intention of creating harmony. Harmony thrives on diversity. So creating harmony is a wonderful training ground for building self awareness and awareness of others. The skills we gain in singing in harmony, we can use to build harmony in other areas of our life.”

“What’s wanting to happen here?”
It’s a question that makes us more conscious, and obviously bears good fruit.

Look for Shivon's workshop schedule at
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