Aravinda: Good afternoon to this conversation between Patricia St. Onge, Ann Marie Davis and Aravinda Ananda. Let’s take a moment for each of us to introduce ourselves.
Ann Marie: My name is Ann Marie Davis and I’m a writer. I have written a book of poetry under the name of AM Davis called “We Have Always Been the Universe” and I am currently working on a novel, tentatively entitled, this is kind of a long name… “You Were Always Waiting For This Moment.” I have been a writer. I actually went to school as an artist and I have spent years kind of just hopping from job to job where I was always I guess underutilized and just doing office work, never doing what I wanted to do, never having enough bandwidth to do anything creative when I got home. I took care of an ailing parent for years and it took a huge toll on my health and I spent some time regaining my health after she passed away and one day I thought the thing to do was to just get a job and get on my feet. And one day I got a job and something told me to leave it and I did. I just felt it in my body that I was not supposed to be there and it was so strong that I was living month to month on that salary getting… and people around me were ill and I was getting repetitive stress injuries and I left the job, and it was a bumpy road to kind of learn how to stand up straight and that’s what I did. And somehow I ended up… I started a novel a few years ago and then ended up at Canticle Farm through knowing Joanna Macy and through her knowing my work and her assistant wanting to support me – her assistant is named Anne Symens-Bucher, I hope I am saying her last name right. And yea, I’m here and Joanna Macy made all that stuff make sense to me when she drew the picture of the eye looking out of the Earth, saying that we are walking around as aspects of the earth and I was like, OK now that makes sense. If you know, Nature/Mother Earth didn’t want me working at that job and wanted me to tell stories, now that whole meandering process of my life is starting to make sense and that’s how I got here.
Patricia: [Mohawk greeting]. Hello my name is Patricia. I am Haudenosaunee and French Canadian and I am adopted Cheyenne River Lakota. I am a grandmother and a mother and a partner and I have a wide circle of friends and community. I live in a small community called Nafsi ya Jamii which is Swahili for “the soul community” and this community emerged out of a conversation based on a Howard Thurman quote that says “Don’t ask what the world needs, ask what makes you come alive and go do that.” So we gathered our community together, our family and friends, and as people started to answer that question this beautiful space emerged at a time when we were able to help our neighbors stay in their house by renting their backyard and so over the last five years it’s grown to include three properties and we have a little farm and a ceremony space and a sweat lodge and a meeting room and we gather together for meals and for study and for ceremony. So that’s who I am.
Aravinda: Wonderful. My name is Aravinda Ananda. I live in Massachusetts. I’ve spent most of my life in this part of the world, and I call my life’s work Living rEvolution – helping to shift the human-Earth relationship… beyond environmentalism of just making the human impact less bad to how can humans be a force for good, mutually enhancing and repairing and healing, partnering with the Earth in its self-healing. I currently do a lot of work in different areas from growing food and reconnecting people with the Earth through food, through community conversation and meditation. I also do a fair amount of facilitation of the Work That Reconnects with my life partner, Joseph, and one last thing about me is that I really enjoy sharing love with the world through food and things like brewing kombucha.
Aravinda: Now that we’ve heard just a little bit about the three of us, we wanted to turn next to how each of us became involved with the Work That Reconnects? Ann Marie do you want begin or we could shift the order if you don’t want to speak first?
Ann Marie: I can speak first.
Ann Marie: So I was over at a friend’s house. I have a friend named Babsie and she studied under Joanna Macy and I would go over her house and help her bake. She makes cookies and cakes and she has this home baking business and I found out about her on a skills sharing network and she would talk about systems theory and Joanna Macy and she asked me to read some of my poetry and I did and she said that Joanna Macy would love my work and I didn’t know who she was but she took me down to one of Joanna’s teachings that she has – she has a sit and a teaching on Thursday at this center in Berkeley, and so I went down there and I did some of Joanna’s work and I gave her my book and she called me on the telephone a couple of weeks later saying, “do you want to come over to my house and read poetry to me?” [Laughs] And then I went over to her house and read poetry and she said she really enjoyed my work, and she said “You must keep working. You must keep writing. The world needs storytellers.” And I took a three-day workshop of Joanna’s after I met her and like I said, my whole way of looking at myself shifted when I started to look a little bit at systems theory and I went to two ten-days since then and when I talk to my friend Babsie, I still go over her house and bake, in fact I’m going this week – she has community cafés where – she makes yummy Viennese treats – she’s Austrian – and every time we sit around talking about systems theory, my mind just gets long – I go out, I go… I can’t stay in my head when I think about this way of looking at the world, that we’re so intertwined. The last workshop I went to, I helped facilitate it, and yeah, that’s it.
Aravinda: Great, thank you. Patricia, would you like to go next or last?
Patricia: Sure. Either one. It doesn’t matter. If you’d like to go next, I’m happy to wait. Or I’m happy to.
Aravinda: Go for it.
Patricia: I had actually never heard of Joanna Macy… She had recently invited a cohort of People of Color to come and do the Work with her and in the middle of the process, I was speaking at an International Women’s Day event, and Ratasha Huff who was studying with Joanna came to me after I spoke and she said “You know, it felt like something was missing in the Work That Reconnects and what you just talked about feels like what’s missing.” And I had talked about is the significance of race and culture on social change work. So she, Ratasha, invited Joanna and me and a few people to come together so that we could meet each other and learn about each other’s work. So the work that I do, I call Deep Culture work, and it’s helping people see what’s underneath racial/cultural identity that’s more than, you know like in an iceberg what’s above the surface is about 10% of the iceberg, and so the things we often identify as culture are also about 10% of what culture really is, and it so profoundly informs how we move in the world and yet, we often don’t pay attention to it and particularly white people struggle to pay attention to it because it feels invisible to them. And so Joanna and I met. We had a great conversation. She gave me a copy of her book Coming Back to Life and I gave her a copy of my book, Embracing Cultural Competency and she asked me to work with the first cohort of People of Color to help them incorporate the Deep Culture into the Work That Reconnects. So I met with them, she was meeting with them on the weekend and then I would meet with them on Wednesday evening, and that was a very beautiful way for me to learn about the Work. I also went to a weekend workshop during that time so I’d have a sense of what/how it was being presented. When it was time for the second cohort of People of Color to come together, Joanna asked me to facilitate that work with her, which I did, and then the third cohort, she and I coached two young People of Color to facilitate the whole project. So that was how I got introduced to the Work That Reconnects.
Aravinda: Great. Thank you. I came to the Work That Reconnects through research for a book that I was working on at the time, titled Living rEvolution, also my life’s work. And I was talking with a friend who recently had attended a workshop with Joanna Macy and thought that I would really enjoy the Work and Joanna happened to be coming to Massachusetts that fall and so I checked it out and I was very interested. I got a couple of her books and I ended up not only attending the workshop with her but bringing my husband and my mother with me to the workshop. We all kind of fell in love with the Work. All three of us were there for the weekend workshop and I had the privilege of being able to continue on for another five days with Joanna. After that, the next time that Joanna came back to Massachusetts, we skipped the weekend part of the program that she was offering, and my mom, my husband and I all went to the five-day program with her, and then I also had the opportunity to go up to Guelph, Canada when she was there and have five days with her. So, I just really loved the Work at first experience in a lot of ways and since I lived in Massachusetts and Joanna was in California, I then got connected up with a regional network in the northeast called the Interhelp Network that is over thirty years old, it has been in existence for a long time. It’s primarily about doing the Work That Reconnects together. It was involved in some of the early origins of the Work, and both my husband and I have been on the Interhelp Council for the last five or six years and we’ve also started doing a bunch of facilitation ourselves, including we’ve led three young adult immersions in the Work That Reconnects and we’re about to lead a fourth one coming up next month. So, that’s some of how I came to the Work That Reconnects.
Patricia: I forgot one piece which is that right when Joanna and I were co-facilitating, she was finishing up the new edition of Coming Back to Life and she asked me to write a chapter on the Work That Reconnects in relationship to communities of color and so I felt really honored to be able to contribute something to the book.
Aravinda: Excellent. So, the last structured question for this conversation is that the three of us have been invited by Molly Brown, the editor of the Deep Times journal to produce a special issue of the journal looking at race and culture and their influence on the Work That Reconnects, and so the next question is just why did we say yes to this invitation.
Aravinda: So, I mentioned these young adult cohorts, immersions in the Work That Reconnects that I have been involved with, and on the co-facilitation team starting in 2014, and they really shifted my experience with the Work. The first cohort that we led, it was a group of fifteen young folks age 18-30 there was only one participant of color in that group and she withdrew after the first meeting and it was really painful for a lot of folks in the cohort, some of whom were very good friends with her and so it brought up for us, what is it like to be in Work That Reconnects spaces if you are the only, or one of the only people of a marginalized identity. And so this actually started stirring up some of my own work on identity which I hadn’t really attended to for much of my life. I come from a mixed raced family: my mom’s family is black and my dad’s family is white… my skin is very fair so I have an enormous amount of skin privilege and I think I have operated quite easily in white-dominant spaces. Since this first cohort, my relationship and ways that I saw the Work were really shifting and I started to see things, notice things, that I hadn’t noticed before and so that kicked me off on a journey of exploration with rethinking the ways that I was approaching the Work and some things about the Work itself. The second young adult cohort that we led, we again had only one participant of color. She stayed through the cohort for the whole time and I feel was very generous in sharing some feedback and also everyone in the group provided our facilitation team with some really strong feedback and requests for anti-oppression awareness to be named at the start of a group’s time together. They had suggested that Chapter 12 in Coming Back to Life , the chapter that Patricia mentioned on learning with communities of color, that it should have been Chapter 1 in the book instead of Chapter 12. And so our facilitation team really took that to heart and we did a lot of I guess internal reorganization about how we were approaching the Work in terms of framing. And for the third cohort that we ran, we started experimenting… with shifting some of the framing. And the way that we have run the cohorts is that the first experience is part of a larger intergenerational group and so for that first meeting with the third cohort when we were trying to bring in some of this new material, we got a lot of pushback from primarily older folks in the group – older, all identified as white folks. So I got strong feedback in both directions – one that I couldn’t continue to facilitate this Work with integrity unless I attended to this feedback that I was receiving and also that I really needed to grow in my skill if I was going to be able to do it. So I had a lot of personal motivation on this topic. I had the pleasure of attending two facilitator gatherings – one in September 2016 and one in February 2017 – looking at some of these issues within the Work That Reconnects. And I’ve had a great desire to share learning with the wider community about it, but I’ve struggled… with how to talk about it and how to articulate it. So when Molly proposed working on this Journal with Ann Marie and Patricia I just felt so grateful and relieved and excited at this opportunity, so that’s some of why I said yes.
Ann Marie: I can go next. Thank you.
Aravinda: Fabulous. Thank you, Ann Marie.
Ann Marie: You’re welcome. I think that when Molly asked me to be an editor, I said yes immediately because there was so much that I knew needed to, I knew that the Work That Reconnects needed a lot of work around white supremacy. Just because white supremacy is so ubiquitous in everybody’s experience from the time we are born, you know, it determined where I was born because my mother had to go to a different hospital, because she was African American, than where she worked. I just know that my experience from a very early age has been different than from white America and I know that my perspective is much broader because I live in two worlds. You know, I live in the world as a descendent of a slave, and that’s very… and I see the remnants of that every day of my life, whereas white people, I believe, not because of anything they’ve done, but just because they’re born in this culture where the momentum is there already. The momentum of white supremacy is already there in this culture that we’re all born in. So I’m not… so that momentum just gets picked up by everybody born, no matter how well-intentioned and it’s internalized. It was internalized by my parents being the descendents of slaves and the descendents of stolen native people and the descendents of their oppressors’ rapists. I’m visibly black and mixed race due to those circumstances and each one of those situations has influenced my existence and when I went to the Work That Reconnects I do a lot of filtering like oh, that, when they did one thing in particular, the Gathering the Gifts of the Ancestors, you know I filter out that some of my people were… you know they were hunter gatherers for a long time and they didn’t go through the different phases that white culture calls normal, they have stayed hunter gatherers for a long time and worked with the land differently and settling and doing the kind of farming that Europeans did. And I also… it was also very difficult being in those two 10-days because of the way that white people doing this Work… the way that they handle racism sometimes is well-intentioned but very painful for People of Color and I thought this would be a chance to address that audience that is trying to deal with issues of white oppression and are doing it in ways that need, still need some work because they still need a lot of healing and also to just… I, yeah, maybe even to keep reiterating the point that race is everybody’s issue. It’s not an issue for People of Color, but it’s an issue for everybody. And white people are impacted by racism in really intimate ways as it forms their egos and it’s very damaging and it’s very deep and it can’t be just brushed aside and left behind because we’re not in a post-race culture and we won’t be until we make efforts to heal what white supremacy has done to everybody. So I said, “yes.”
Patricia: Thanks Ann Marie, and Aravinda. So when I was invited to be on the editorial team, I wanted, I was curious to see what it would be like to work with both of you and I was interested in exploring that. Also I’m, I’m so aware of how unconscious bias works and I’ve been working with it a lot in my own life and also with lots of different communities and groups and organizations and that’s been my experience with the Work That Reconnects is that a lot of people are operating from a place of unconscious bias and I thought Deep Time journal is a great venue to elevate some of those unconscious ways that we engage into a higher level of awareness so that people will be able to notice it more easily and readily and my hope is that that will impact our capacity to do the Work in a way that is more culturally based and I agree with Ann Marie that very often that notion of racism or race gets relegated to communities of color, like that’s a problem for them… for us. In reality it’s a problem that was established by the owning class of white men who started the United States, that some people call founding fathers. So it’s embedded in our history from the very beginnings, from the moment of contact between Westerners, and again primarily men, and indigenous people on this continent, in Africa, in Asia. Everywhere that settlers went, well first conquerors and colonizers, and then settlers, the same patterns of behavior and attitudes toward the people who were already there emerged. And it continues to be infused in so many of our interactions because it was normalized from the very beginnings of these interactions, and so I see it a lot in the Work and the people who are facilitating the Work and in the people who are participating. And it lands and impacts people in very significant ways and I think that the Work That Reconnects because it’s rooted in a systems approach is a perfect context in which to look at systemic forms of oppression, and so I think that, I am hoping that this issue will be a way for people to begin to explore that from a place of curiosity and I really hope that it doesn’t come from a place of shame, because nobody is served by that. And so, the way, I’m really interested in and excited about the way we are laying out the issue because I think People of Color would benefit from, or could benefit from a kind of support and guide for how to navigate the Work. And so your story Ann Marie is pretty common, I mean Aravinda your story of one or two People of Color in a group of twenty or twenty five seems to be what the formula is, certainly was in my weekend workshop. And last summer when we did a ten-day that Joanna asked a couple people to help co-facilitate, People of Color, there was a very intentional commitment on her part and Anne, Anne’s part to make the group more diverse, and so that changed the way the Work got done. I think, so I think that this is an opportunity to explore and to kind of spread the seeds of exploration of what it means and it builds on the two meetings that folks had to, to look at this question of decolonizing the Work That Reconnects and I deliberately did not want to call this issue “Decolonizing the Work”, because decolonizing has now become this high fashion terminology. Everyone’s trying to decolonize everything and we’re doing it generally with colonized minds, and so the decolonizing process – people don’t understand what the colonizing process is – and so it’s difficult then to try to decolonize anything if you don’t understand in the first place what the elements of colonization are, and so I think it’s become sort of a hip thing, particularly since Standing Rock and I am not interested in feeding that frenzy, and that’s why I want to look at… why I’m excited that we’re calling this the issue that really explores the impact of race and culture on the Work That Reconnects.
Ann Marie: I wanted to say something that struck me when Patricia was talking. If as we are doing this Work That Reconnects and as we are attempting to save ourselves from ourselves and save the planet from ourselves, if we don’t understand how we got here through, I believe, I am not a scholar, I’m a poet, but I see patriarchy and I see white supremacy on this… that’s behind the momentum of the planet dying the way it is, and if we can’t really just dig into how we, how so much of that is us… as a Person of Color that is assimilated into this culture, if I don’t look at the ways that I have internalized it, and if white people don’t see just how pervasive that mindset is, all we’re going to be doing is putting bandaids on a problem because this world that we created, I believe, is a physical manifestation, an out-picturing of our mindsets and beliefs and thinking, ways of thinking. All of us. Not just certain people who have a lot of money and power, but I believe that the Earth, that, that we are, if we are as we believe, you know, parts of the Earth running around on the surface, our thoughts have driven us to the point where we are melting the ice caps because of our belief system that just, in ways that we haven’t examined, that just goes out into the world and just decimates it until it looks like our thoughts is what I’m trying to say. What we’ve done is an out-picturing of our thoughts. And so we’ve got, we have to know ourselves.
Patricia: Yep, I would just add Ann Marie that I also think capitalism is the third stool. So it’s you know, misogyny, racism and oppression and capitalism.
Ann Marie: Yeah… Yes…
Aravinda: Yes. Yes to all of that.
Ann Marie: One of the things that is really difficult to talk about to white people for me is how they consider the cure for white supremacy as rejecting themselves as being white and taking on aspects of different cultures. I have seen that a lot in progressive communities – people, white people adopting culture from People of Color and it’s always been… I don’t know, it’s probably someone said it and it rang true with me, that the way to heal being part of the white supremist culture is to realize that you know before white people were relegated to the concept of whiteness, they were indigenous to somewhere and they had practices to heal them from trauma, they had culture to nourish them, and in this time they have cultures that they can reconnect with without appropriating from People of Color. And I have always been that with white people not wanting to hear that because they’ve invested a lot, maybe invested a lot of energy into whatever culture that they’re, what I call, appropriating. And I don’t even think that when this happens that it’s even healthy. One, because I think that when there’s just some kind of action and reaction to hurting people and… at this point in history it’s not the time for people of European descent to take anything else from People of Color. And it’s just a painful act for People of Color and whether White people want to believe that or not, it’s still a painful act. When I reached a certain age, when I started seeing patterns, it became painful for me to see White people appropriating from my culture and I think that just on an energetic level you cannot get any kind of good medicine from the culture that you are taking from when you are hurting the people. For that reason alone, I believe that people who do appropriate may think that they are getting medicine, but I think energetically it’s, it is a net loss. And there are other reasons too, but I think at this time I just wanted to put it out there that there is a lot of pain when I go to gatherings and somebody whips out a Djembe drum and I don’t, even if I… I will just be blunt and say that personally, I don’t get the same kind of healing from it that I do when I hear… just like when I play it myself, or when I’m in a circle with other people of African descent playing the djembe drum, I get medicine from it or I get healing from it. I remember once when I was just listening to these drums in the background at an event and I said to another Black woman, “Why is that, what’s wrong with those drums?” And I’m not trying to cruel or anything, but this is what I said, and I turned around and it was a person of color leading them, but it was White people playing the djembe, and I think that there might be some kind of… there is something standing between, like when you have this energy floating around of… of taking, there’s something standing between you and whatever it is in the culture that is supposed to heal, there is something standing between you and that healing. And that is why the drums were just irritating instead of healing when I heard it. And I say this a lot and it hasn’t landed on fertile ears from white people so far. I mean they haven’t taken it in at all. I mean, and I don’t know, some do, you know, but most of the people who are engaging in taking culture from other people, which is what I call it, and there’s probably some momentum behind why it’s so irritating and hurtful to me now that in 2017 that momentum is just, one of the things that needs to be healed.
Patricia: Yep. I would say that in my observation one of the reasons that when we appropriate other cultures we can’t get the medicine is because we’ve confused the yearning, which is really authentic. So, all of us in one way or another – some voluntarily and some by force – have lost touch with our indigeneity, which is when you say “everybody is indigenous to somewhere,” that’s, I agree with that, and that indigeneity is what gets lost when you are stripped of your land, when your children are taken away, all of the ways that we colonize people. But it’s also taken away when you voluntarily move on, when you reject your ancestry in order to assimilate. It’s a very… You know it’s not the same process because you are not being forced to do it, but it is a process of losing your sense of self. And so when people, as people are recognizing that they’ve lost that, and so often you know in my experience White people will say “well, I don’t have a culture” and that’s why they’re drawn to other cultures, and in my experience it’s indigenous culture, but I know that it happens in other cultures too… So when we can’t understand that there’s the yearning, which is real, and the ways that we attempt to address that yearning or fulfill that emptiness that we feel from being separated from our indigeneity, we try to fill it with what looks familiar or looks accessible and so that’s why you have people doing African drumming or trying to do ceremony – indigenous ceremony – who you know, people who are playing other people’s instruments but also doing other people’s ceremonies and practices. And I think that it’s important for White people to understand that they’re moving away, they’re moving against their own need. The need to find, to reconnect with their indigeneity is real; the attempts that they make at it are often not. So that’s why they can’t get the medicine, or that’s why they can’t… the hole that they are trying to fill doesn’t get filled by somebody else’s culture. And so I’m excited that Pheobe, that we’ve asked Pheobe Tickle to write an article for this edition because she’s wanting to address that in really practical ways and I think that that’s exciting and I think as White people begin to recognize that it’s not that their yearnings are something that’s wrong, it’s the path that they take to try to fulfill that yearning that does damage to communities of color and I agree that it also does damage to their souls.
Ann Marie: Yea. Thank you.
Aravinda: Yea, thank you.
Ann Marie: Another thing that I notice when I am, maybe not specifically in the Work That Reconnects, but when I’m just going through the world, I do this thing that’s not very healthy, but it seems like I am kind of an accountant for people, for what seems to be unfairness. Like, I look at everything that’s going on in my family and probably a lot of families with, just, like with my ancestors having been slaves. I had one of my great great grandmothers is, I don’t remember, I just remember her face. Her mother was stolen from her tribe when she was five. She was indigenous and I knew her daughter, and they took her and I saw a picture of her – she was dressed at the turn of the century like a White person. And she suffered. I mean, the suffering is so deep and great and I feel like that I carry those things around in me and I just carry that pain around in me. And I think of my great great grandmother – the daughter that I knew, and I look at my, her, one of her daughters – I didn’t know my grandmother, but I knew my grandmother’s sister and she looked White, so I know that in rural Arkansas, that she did not have an equal relationship with a man, she was raped in order for my aunt to look white and nobody could talk about it because they were my dad, and everybody in the family was so traumatized by living in that culture that they could not bring themselves to think about it because it’s so dangerous to get angry that you could get lynched. And so I look at how my family walks around and I look at what we commonly call white privilege, I may be even rethinking that term because maybe we’ve all been wrong and there’s no privilege, because I just act like the karma police when I’m saying… You know karma isn’t real, that my family suffered more and then white people run around with a lot of living on the best land, having opportunity, having freedom, and maybe it’s not apparent that… I’m not saying that… I don’t want people to suffer, but it seems like Black people don’t get away with anything. You know? Like when I was a child, I couldn’t be a child. You know I had to, you know I’m not allowed to, like I was taught in so many ways how to act when I’m in public, you know this fearfulness because we’re not allowed to like just be free children. You know we’re taught ways of going through the world cautiously and not have the freedom of just running and screaming and having a good time or we’ll be thought of as threatening, and yea. But maybe, I don’t know, I just walk around with the feeling that karma is lopsided, but, somebody tell me that I’m wrong. I don’t know. OK. But that runs through my mind a lot, when I’m just, as a citizen of America that doesn’t feel like a citizen very often.
Aravinda: That’s real, Ann Marie what you were just naming about a citizen who doesn’t feel like a citizen. I think that that’s real in Work That Reconnects spaces because the greater social systems that we are a part of show up in Work That Reconnects spaces. Work That Reconnects spaces don’t exist in isolation from all of the cultural conditioning that people have received over their lifetimes and so there’s a real inequality in that respect. I have a lot of appreciation for the way that I’ve heard Sarah Thompson talk about, she said “While we’re all in this together, we’re all in this together differently.” And so I think that that really comes to bear on the Work That Reconnects because there is a lot of emphasis in the Work That Reconnects in us all being on the same planet and a part of the same planet and all in this together in that way. And at the same time it’s true that because of systems of oppression and social conditioning, we experience things differently, dramatically differently. And so there are a number of pieces up for me, one of which is integrating a greater awareness in reality into the context in which the Work That Reconnects is being done. So I’ve, aside from a trip to Canada, which is still North America, I’ve only done the Work That Reconnects in the United States. Things may be very different in other countries, I’m curious about learning what it’s like in other places. But there is this history of colonization, brutal colonization and slavery in America, and that wasn’t the history that was taught to me in public school when I was in school and so there is just this wild myth, I think, in reality and worldview that doesn’t match up with how things have gone out, dominant worldview in play that doesn’t match up with how things have played out. And so, yeah, that is present in the Work That Reconnects. So one of the ways I would like to see the Work shift and evolve is with the framing and naming. The Work That Reconnects currently, the way it is framed, clearly names capitalism, and so bringing in those other two systems of oppression that were named earlier either as patriarchy or misogyny and white supremacy and racism – it would just make the Work that much more richer, for me, if it incorporated that aspect of reality. And then the second piece for me about how people experience the Work differently based on their social conditioning is not only of great interest to me but also care and concern. Given my care and empathy for people, I want to only grow in that, and so one of the things that I am exploring with my upcoming workshop and working with my facilitation team, we’ve been working on some community guidelines that we’re going to propose to help set up a transformative learning community, so that when things arise, dynamics arise, harmful oppressive dynamics arise in our interactions, as they are likely to do so because the social conditioning comes with us everywhere, how can we engage them and be with them and not ignore them, and so this is really new for me, but it, it speaks to, I’m not remembering which one of you said it earlier, but the piece about healing. When harm has happened, how can we move toward healing and repair, and so naming it feels like a good first step, but that’s not the only step, so I just have so much curiosity around the Work That Reconnects that has this foundation in a systems approach, moving toward greater integration with exploring how systems of oppression operate and how they show up in workshop spaces and how can we dismantle them when that social conditioning shows up. So, those are some of the things that I wanted to bring in.
Patricia: I think you’ve really framed it well, what the challenge is, and in my experience, the naming it often falls on the People of Color in the space which is very exhausting and so I think there’s an element of the Work that needs, and it, the fact that it’s rooted in a Buddhist worldview is helpful in that way, but I think that there needs to be more explicit, or it would be useful to have more explicit conversation about mindfulness. I think the Work That Reconnects can sometimes take you out of the space that you’re in and into the world, like the work has to be done in the world to other people or for other people or with other people, and the mindfulness in the space itself can be lacking. So, looking at what it means to be mindful or to pay attention to the dynamics that are happening in the room, and to create – I think the agreements is a really important way to – it can be a very useful way to get to some of this stuff. And I think having those agreements be really concrete – like, what’s the language we’re going to use when we notice that there’s oppression happening in this space. So that people not only know that they have permission to talk about it but that they get support creating the language that is then a shared language. So everyone agrees that when something happens, we’re able to say, whatever, you know: “Can we take a time out?” “Can we pay attention to this?” Whatever it is. Or “I’m noticing this…” Some concrete language that then gives people something to hold on to so that they can actually move forward and not feel paralyzed and because as Ann Marie said early on – People of Color are always the ones who are noticing, because that’s the legacy. When you think about power, people in power rarely recognize their power, but people who don’t have power in a particular dynamic, never forget it. They just can’t, because it’s so… they feel it at every level, and the same it true in group dynamics when you have a community gathered and something is going on, the people who are perpetrating, don’t notice it. So that’s a practice and a discipline that you, that we have to cultivate to be able to pay attention in a way that recognizes both the intent and the impact, so that, and by having shared language, I think it helps people feel like they have permission, and more than permission, they have an invitation, to actually pay attention in a different way so that they can address things as they come up. And it falls on the facilitators to not be so inflexible. You know, sometimes a facilitator comes in, “here’s our agenda – from 9-3 we’re going to do blah, blah, blah” and they break it down, and then something inserts itself, and they freak out. That’s my experience with Western colonized facilitators. Is that time becomes the prime focus and they lose all kinds of opportunities because their agenda is getting messed up. And so I think that that’s one really concrete thing that facilitators can do is look at how am I holding time and how am I holding the agenda so that what, and what is the objective, what kind of learning am I interested in seeing happen in this space. And if it’s collective learning, and if it’s restorative, and if it’s not extractive, and if it’s not colonizing, then they’ll be able to make more space for the things as they come up to be addressed, because I would say, even as we notice things, we often don’t create the space to address them, and so noticing them is not that helpful, if they don’t get addressed. It’s sometimes helpful for the people who are, you know in a dominant group, but it’s not that helpful for the whole group.
Aravinda: Thank you.
Anne Marie: Thank you. I am wondering how. I know that I have witnessed how painful it is for people to notice that they have been affected by racism and that even if you say well you were born in it and it has the momentum of 600 years, as soon as I bring up racism, people are triggered, I’m talking about White people, and there is so much pain that they experience, that I just want to get up and leave the room and let them process it among themselves and not be there, for, for me to like take care of them or whatever it happens and I don’t how, it depends on where people are psychologically, but I don’t know how somebody is going to notice that, that they’re in a position of power even, because it’s so painful, why would somebody be ready to go through that, I don’t know.
Patricia: Yea. Yep. That came up last summer at a ten-day that I was part of the facilitation team. Some, the young, Ann Marie you were there, the younger women of color came to me and said, “We’re having all kinds of things going on here that nobody seems to be paying attention to.” So we talked about it over lunch and then Joanna was incredibly gracious when we said we’d like some time in the agenda. So she said yes and so we started to tell what the experience was – that the women were having and what we noticed – that was so interesting – was that when they spoke in front of the whole group, they didn’t share the same things, that they weren’t comfortable sharing the same things that they had shared over lunch. And so they ended up softening the telling and moving right to the healing. So, they would say you know “this is the thing that happened,” and then, you know “this exercise helped me move through it.” And so after everybody had spoken, I noted that the conversation in front larger group was very different from the lunch group, and one White guy from the group said “I really appreciate that recognition… you know you telling us that.” And he asked, “what can we do when someone tells us something that has been painful for them?” So he was asking the very question that you are asking Ann Marie, and what came out of that was a recognition that white people, because white culture is so hyperindividual focused, when People of Color experience a dynamic in the room, often they’re able to see it as a collective experience. Sometimes they experience it just very personally. But often they experience it more collectively. So when they report out what’s going on, they might start with “this is what happened to me,” but they then sometimes can see it as an element of the group collective behavior, and so they… so my suggestion to this young man and to the whole group, was that when somebody says “you did this or you said that and it bothered me or it hurt, or you know it felt racist, or sexist or whatever, homophobic, or xenophobic, or ableist or ageist or whatever it is, that you hear it and then take it. Not just hear it, but really take it in. Then, in your mind recognize that it is part of a bigger system that you’re in, that you’re swimming in. Look at it through that lens of systemic oppression, so that you can have some distance from it, or a different lens on it is more accurate than distance, you can look at it through a collective and historical lens, so that it doesn’t bring you right to shame or defensiveness, it could bring you to curiosity or it could bring you to a kind of historical awareness, or whatever, it might generate a different response than personal shame. Or defensiveness. Because those two are paralyzing and they are useless for everybody in the room. And so once you are able to lift it up into a structural or systemic lens, then you can take it in again, personally and say, “so what’s my role? So I don’t have to take the whole weight of every, of conquest, and of slavery and misogyny and of all of that. I don’t have to put that all on myself. I can hold what I just did, in that context and then begin to address it, recognizing that it is not just me that’s an idiot. It’s me that has a colonized mind that has hurt somebody else who has also got generational trauma.” So it helps to give it enough spaciousness so that you can engage it, rather than be afraid of it. So I hope that that’s one of the things that the facilitators of the Work That Reconnects are able to really get trained up in is figuring out how to recognize when dynamics are in the room and then how to hold them in a way that you can move through them toward healing rather than get paralyzed by shame.
Aravinda: Yes. Thank you for that.
Ann Marie: Yes. Thank you. Yea, I don’t experience… You’re right Patricia – there are ways that I, that my mind has been colonized and experience, and I take a lot of things on, that are a result of systemic racism that has to do with this momentum of 600 years, but when I do that, I know I’m doing that. I know that, that I’m in this culture. I’m able to look at it instead of just staying in this hyperindividualistic mode. I don’t do that. I look at myself, because of what I have internalized, I can watch myself, and to take on things that have nothing to do with me as a human being but me as a part of the structure and I think that if I was really hyperindividual, I just don’t know. It would not be good, for me. And there must be some kind of freedom in not being hyperindividual and just realizing it’s part of a system.
Patricia: Absolutely. Yep. And I think because, because you’re African American, you’re bi-cultural. You have, you have both – the internalized oppression and the rootedness in your own cultural strength. And that’s how I feel about being indigenous. That I am, while I’m both the colonizer and the colonized in my own body, but I think it’s time for White people to let go of the anxiety that they feel about making a mistake. That the other part of Western culture that really is destructive to souls and spirits – it’s this idea, this fantasy of perfection – and so people get so afraid of mistakes that they don’t move. They don’t allow themselves to see what’s really going on because they live with this veil of – somebody called it “white polite” – and it’s pervasive. And I think the Work That Reconnects gives people an invitation to go deeper – to go deeper in their relationship with the world – and the world includes historically marginalized and currently marginalized communities. And there’s a difference between doing that on a philosophical level and doing it for real. So, my invitation to the Work That Reconnects is to stop trying to be perfect and work harder to be real. Because once we’re real with each other, these conversations can happen in a way that people can grow and actually create the kind of transformation that we’re all looking for.
Aravinda: Well that feels like an excellent note to potentially wrap things up.
Ann Marie: Yes, that sounds like a good idea.
Aravinda: Super, well thank you so much, I really enjoyed this conversation, there is so much rich stuff here.
Ann Marie: Thank you both too.
Patricia: I enjoyed it too.