Miki Kashtan’s Work of Reconnecting

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By Paula Hendrick

Recorded by author

I’m excited to share about a body of theory and practice that beautifully complements the Work That Reconnects: the work of Miki Kashtan.

 Miki is a practical visionary, known to many for her work in applying Nonviolent Communication (NVC) principles for systemic transformation. It would be impossible for me to capture the nuance, breadth, and depth of Miki’s teachings – nor can I communicate the living energy of her writings, webinars, and coaching – so I hope you will take a look at the resource list below. 

 Miki frames her analysis of “the mess we’re in” in terms of patriarchy. According to Miki, “we made a fateful decision at some earlier points in our social evolution, wherever and whenever we took what I call ‘the patriarchal turn,’ to declare ourselves separate from life and, at least in the Western ‘branch’ of patriarchal societies, superior to the rest of life and with the mandate to control and use it for our own designs.”

This trinity of scarcity, separation and powerlessness underlie multiple oppressions.

  In patriarchy (and more profoundly within capitalism), resources are viewed as scarce (so we need to compete for them); humans are profoundly separate from each other and all other beings; and individual humans, in their isolation, are powerless. This trinity of scarcity, separation and powerlessness underlie multiple oppressions. Miki suggests that our goal in dismantling patriarchy is liberation for all who are oppressed.

 I have to really stop and think about the world I live in when I read this: “The social contract, that imaginary construct on which liberal democracy is based, is about how to create a society that functions at all when the starting point is solitary and self-interested individuals.”

 This world that most humans now inhabit, and that all of us are impacted by, is the opposite of the relational world in which humans evolved. In that world there was no shame in having needs, and human communities continually responded to individual and collective needs in what Miki calls “the transformational field of mutual influencing.”

Mutual Influencing

In fact, at the very moment that my action affects person B, I am being affected by person B.

Here’s a little story about how the idea of “mutual influencing” landed in me when I first encountered it in Miki’s teaching. Joanna Macy, in an online conversation with Jonathan Rose at the Garrison Institute last year, shared this teaching: As activists, we must not simply think that the actions of Activist A (myself, perhaps) affect someone else (B) who then affects C, and that’s how change happens. In fact, at the very moment that my action affects person B, I am being affected by person B.

 I immediately applied this concept to my regular walking practice of “moving through the world with agency.” (A practice inspired by the field of Somatics.) Because I have tended to doubt whether my actions really make a difference (there’s that patriarchal conditioning of powerlessness), I consciously walked (outdoors in the summer, in my bedroom in the winter) holding an intention that I have an impact as I move through the world. This practice seemed to set me up well for good focus and self-confidence as I moved through my day.

 As soon as I added the idea of “B influencing A,” holding the understanding that I was in fact changed moment by moment by the beings I touched, this practice of walking through the world with agency changed. The feelings in my body dramatically shifted as I opened an inner space of receptivity – when I allowed the possibility that I also might be changed, moment by moment. I released a bit of the unconscious, conditioned stance of “I am separate,” in particular that I am separate from other people.

 I believe I was getting a taste of what the experience of “mutual influencing” might feel like.

The Gift of Mourning

 In Work That Reconnects workshops, when we collectively Honor our Pain for the World, we intend to create ritual space in which we feel safe enough to be touched and moved by each other. And out of this sacred space of “mutual influencing” arises creativity and energy for change in our world.

We need to mourn how terribly far the world we live in is from the world we want to create.

Often, deep grief arises in these rituals. Miki credits Joanna Macy for helping her understand the profound need for, and value of, mourning. We need to mourn how terribly far the world we live in is from the world we want to create, a world in which we would feel truly at home. I’ve seen Miki repeatedly come back to mourning in her coaching, often to support an activist in mourning the difference between how they responded in a given situation, and how they wish they had responded.

 Mourning seems to open an internal world, and a relational space, that patriarchy treats as a form of weakness. It’s a space of vulnerability where we re-establish (or perhaps experience for the first time) tenderness with ourselves.

 Miki teaches that if we can’t bring the qualities of tenderness, vulnerability and a practice of mourning into our work for the world, we will be reinforcing the energies of dominance/submission and separation that lurk within conversations and actions that might otherwise serve healing and transformation.

 I’ll let Miki speak at length here.

 patriarchy rests on an incessant drive to control that of which we are afraid, [therefore] it became clear that one clear step forward, in any circumstance, with anyone we’re with, and with full embracing of the consequences that we may not like, including risks to our very life, is to embrace the triple path of tenderness, vulnerability, and mourning.

 What the three have in common is that they sidestep any attempt to control or be “strong” in ways defined by patriarchy. They are antidotes to separation, cruelty, shaming, and fighting. 

 Tenderness, towards self and other, allows us to metabolize our own and others’ failures to live up to our values and to recognize our embeddedness within systems that dramatically constrain our options and capacity for choice. 

 Vulnerability breaks down the cycle of escalation that responds to harshness with erecting protection and distancing. Sharing our vulnerability in the face of distance and judgment breaks down barriers and allows the magic of connection to surface again. 

 Mourning is the gift that allows us to combine parts of ourselves and even to come together in community when separation, breakdown, and even harm happen. We can mourn instead of fight, punish, or shame ourselves and each other. 

Sept 6, 2021 Blog: Visionary Functioning: Shifting Resource Flow Systems from Incentive to Willingness

 (See Miki’s article “The Power of the Soft Qualities to Transform Patriarchy” for more on these themes.)

Studying Miki Kashtan’s writings and attending webinars with her is a wonderful “Seeing with New and Ancient Eyes” process for me. There’s so much more I could write about, but instead I’ll recommend you visit www.thefearlessheart.org website. She blogs about her understanding of social trends in response to, for example, the pandemic (great stuff there). She reports on her international travels and teaching (she was born and raised in Israel, lived primarily in the US for many years, and has spent most of the pandemic living in community in Europe). You’ll discover teleconferences on Reckoning with Collapse, Facing Privilege and Overcoming Patriarchy. You’ll learn about her Vision Mobilization process for organizational and community development, and her recent work on Needs Choreography, a methodology for creating the “Transformational Field of Mutual Influencing.”

Miki describes our collective task as “restoring reverence for life, seeing all as kin, seeing no one and nothing as ‘other.’”

Miki describes our collective task as “restoring reverence for life, seeing all as kin, seeing no one and nothing as ‘other.’” It’s a work of reconnecting that we are all attending to. Miki skillfully shows how to grow in vulnerability, tenderness, and interconnection – that we may become more courageous and effective agents of transformation. 

Resources

Personal and Collective Practices for Embracing a Collaborative Future video recording. A wide-ranging exploration of patriarchy – highly recommended

At thefearlessheart.org you’ll find Miki’s blog, books, recordings and other resources.

What Could Possibly Go Right? podcast: Vicki Robin interviews Miki Kashtan. 

The Highest Common Denominator: Using Convergent Facilitation to Reach Breakthrough Collaborative Decisions, Miki’s latest book.


Paula Hendrick first learned of Joanna Macy when Joanna’s article “How to Deal with Despair” appeared in New Age Journal in the late 1970s. She participated in her first Despair and Empowerment workshop, led by Sarah Pirtle and Joe Havens, in 1981. She currently serves as a Network Weaver with the Work That Reconnects Network. Paula lives in Massachusetts with her partner Carol Harley and is enrolled in Miki Kashtan’s leadership coaching program, Responding to the Call of Our Times.

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