Grounding the Work That Reconnects at Ghost Ranch

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by Rachel Marco-Havens

Rachel writes about her experience during a January 2017 retreat at Ghost Ranch near Abiquiu, New Mexico, which Joanna Macy led in the days just prior to the presidential inauguration. 

When I began my journey to Ghost Ranch, I’d already woven a little bit of the Work That Reconnects through many of my recent experiences. I had a hunch that healing would occur, but found my heart and mind blown by the time I departed the ranch. 

I had tightened many of the connections between the different aspects of the work I have been doing, bringing my Dharma study directly back to the center of my recent focus on Women’s Leadership, environmental, youth advocacy and community engagement.  This task has always been difficult, as my spiritual practice was suffering under the onslaught of the relative reality of political and social illness. I felt all of it come together and my heart began to find its place again with Joanna’s work and the incredible community of support in all of those sharing it with me. 

I came to the Work That Reconnects open and filled with appreciation and gratitude for the opportunity. My system was drained and my heart heavy with the weight of what was beginning to feel like an insurmountable burden of need which was heightened by the recent election and impending inauguration of an extremely dangerous “Commander-in-chief”. 

I spent my twenties in a Tibetan Bhuddist Monastery.  Owning our pain for the world became a major part of my Dharma practice, while I worked to find a way to recognize the pain, transform negative energy, stay grounded in the prayer, and still find joy. For many years, it was difficult for me to take direct action without distracting or polluting my true knowing that we grow whatever we put our focus on. So much of my work was rooted in prayers and I felt that was the most productive way that I could support positive change. 

I had spent many years in the awareness of suffering and the cause of suffering and it is difficult to hold a full connection to the understanding that–within all of the suffering–there are opportunities for uplifting and enriching the whole.

Within all of the suffering, there are opportunities for uplifting and enriching the whole.  

To immerse in the pain of the world with Tonglen practice of sending and receiving–calling in the suffering and transforming the black tar of pain into golden joylight and sending it back from the heart–is profound. And yet there comes a time for action. 

I had to disassemble my misconception that there was a choice to make between prayer or direct action. I felt my own productivity would wane with focus on pushing against structures of perceived power that I have little faith in toppling,  yet an environmental emergency drew me to buck the systems of my own disbelief. I jumped into civic engagement and advocacy with both feet to protect the water in my Community. After two years of constant volunteer advocacy work, I was exhausted. Self care and inner work fast climbed to the top of my list of priorities.

Seeing with new eyes the interconnectiveness of all that is, the Work That Reconnects began to enrich my ability to hold this work in a container of trust and belief that we can actually change the course of the domestication we have all been subjected to, that we can come to see the tender hearts of even those constricting their own hearts. My own judgement and misunderstanding was real and true as I looked into the eyes of fifty or so beautiful beings working just as hard as I am to make sense of it all.  Once again choosing the path of allowance gave me a new sense of empathy for everyone struggling to find their place on this grand and miraculous universe we live in. 

I chose the people of color group to work within and saw a whole new side of my own damage within the constrictions of patriarchal systems of control and suppression. I saw my own heart, battered and worn like grooves on a record beside the hearts of other people of color honoring the pain of this “reality.”

I saw my own heart, battered and worn like grooves on a record beside the hearts of other people of color honoring the pain of this “reality.” 

I grew up in a privileged place of wide-minded medicine women. Beyond the “truths” of race and socio-economic confines, I had a life many would beg for a glimpse of. My privilege lies in an incredible toolbox of methods of awakening ideas and philosophy. Because of this, I had not really noticed my own confines. I just assumed I was a lucky girl all of my life. In all of that I had missed the massive amount of protecting and adjusting of my own energy necessary to exist as a strong brown woman in a society which has never really accepted women like myself. I just didn’t realize how constricted I was, or better said, how much work I had to do to see that I too experience this side of systemic racism. 

I never realized just how much work I have had to do to stay alive and awake–as though I needed to experience the darkest places of racial and civil injustice to have lived any of it. Our working group came to love and understand eachOther with perspectives I had not pondered enough in my life. I felt myself breathing through the contrast between my open heart and the revisiting of angry walls I have built and deconstructed so many times before. 

There is great strength in vulnerability and when we allow ourselves to see our own vulnerability, we are able to understand others’ fragile hearts and how they might be processing the work to protect them. 

The fact that I grew up one of the very few people of color in a small town in the Catskills does not take away from the truth of the color of my skin and how it affects the way I am perceived and how I walk in the world. My privilege is real, and so are the disadvantages I have lived through. And how I go out into the day is my work. My truth is my truth, and justifying or explaining it becomes a drain on the work to find acceptance of myself and others.

Going forth: Joanna’s work has a brilliant way of showing us methods for unpacking the layers of our own self constrictions. Limiting beliefs and fear based systems hold us in our own little bubbles of protection.  The punishing god trip offers justification for dismissing and justifying the judgments we lay on people in our lives. And it is imperative that we allow room for ourselves and all others to be exactly who we are. 

Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.

As we individually give ourselves permission to be open to an expansive world view, our hearts are able to recognize that it is not our place to give anyone else permission for who they are. It will never be my place to tell anyone else what is right for them even if what feels right to them may be something with which I do not agree. 

Do unto others as they would have you do unto them. 

This was tremendous breakthrough moment for me as I had never looked at it that way. It is not my place to construct a container for how anyone else perceives my insensitivity. I cannot ever determine how another perceives my intention. It is not my right. If I blame you for how I feel I will never be truly accountable for how I come to an energetic exchange. Yet if I express my will to prove my worth to anyone else I make the conversation about me from a contorted place. 

I am responsible for how I treat the planet, my beloveds, my family, my friends and colleagues, so that what they feel in my presence is co-creative. It is perfectly okay to stop and look at what I give to the whole even when I don’t like what I see. And it is not for me to decide how I am perceived. It is my responsibility to hold others’ perception as a mirror for my energetic countenance. 

So as a Buddhist practitioner it is a blessed opportunity to meet people in this way while reconfirming my belief that we all have a desire to be love. Let us take our work to the world with open hearts for eachOther’s pain, love ourselves through it and honor ourselves and the earth for who we are. We have the power to see ourselves in perfect imperfection. 

We are all love and we can find that when we recognize that we all have the power to be open to love and nurturing. Our hearts need that nurture– it is nature and if we look to the perfection of our earth mother she will continue to teach us that we each have a piece to this puzzle. 

None of these words make sense, and yet to me right now, they make perfect sense. 

May we find eachOther in the clear light of interdependent origination* and recognize the potential possibility in the emptiness of all phenomena. 

*Pratītyasamutpāda, commonly translated as dependent origination, or dependent arising, states that all dharmas (“things”) arise in dependence upon other dharmas: “if this exists, that exists; if this ceases to exist, that also ceases to exist.”

Editor’s Note: Click here for another article reflecting on the January 2017 Ghost Ranch retreat with Joanna Macy.

Rachel Marco-Havens
 is a multi-platform “solutionary” artist, performer, community activator, facilitator and storyteller. She jumped onto the merry-go-round of this movement in response to an emergency effort to protect her community’s water from a corporate water grab. She has worked to bridge the intersections within the environmental, social and spiritual justice movements in her own region and beyond. Rachel serves on the Advisory Board of the Center For Earth Ethics and as a Representative for Wittenberg Center focusing on Indigenous and Environmental issues at the United Nations, and works with the International Indigenous Youth Council and Earth Guardians’ New York Chapters.

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