Planning the Gaian Gathering

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by Carmen Rumbaut

Recorded by Carmen Rumbaut

The Gaian Gathering (GG) started as independent trickles of ideas that came together in an emergent manner, with each person adding ideas, opinions, and suggestions. 

Jo del Amor remembered discussing the idea of a global gathering since 2019, when Molly Brown had a dream vision about regional gatherings that was manifested in the second half of 2019. The term “Gaian Gathering” started then and conversation continued for years but the capacity and the bandwidth to manifest it did not appear until 2023, partly because of the pandemic. 

Constance Washburn first imagined a four-day summit with four or five speakers spread out over a day. She wanted not only Work That Reconnects (WTR) speakers, but others who had been influenced by the WTR work and by Joanna Macy. 

The Visioning Process

The idea of GG was included in the 2022 yearly visioning process.  The past two years had seen much growth in the Work That Reconnects Network organization (WTRN) and its capacity building. Constance reached out to key funders to raise money. That funding allowed the Network to hire a Gaian Gathering Coordinator. In January 2023, the Gaian Gathering Committee (GGC) was formed. The members of the GGC were: Jo del Amor, Constance Washburn, Shayontoni Ghosh, Barbara Ford and Georgie Toner. They began with money in hand, ready to begin concrete planning. They sent out their vision in many directions and received an incredibly large response that required processing. 

The Weavers were informed and a survey gathered information from the WTRN community about what they wanted. 

When the position of an organizer was advertised, an overwhelming response was received from 28 qualified, creative and intelligent applicants from all around the world. The Committee took much time and care in interviewing and vetting the candidates. They decided on Shala Massey, who brought considerable creative vision and skills. As a Sociocracy facilitator, coach and trainer, Shala brought incredible energy to the team. She set about work immediately – creating timelines, gathering information, getting acquainted with the Network and setting about the grand plan. She was a joy and a pleasure to work with and brought much to the process of coordinating this epic event.

Differing visions were incorporated and synthesized

Different ideas that were part of the overall vision of the network were incorporated: 

  1. create an inclusive, diverse, and connected global community space 
  2. support communities of practice in local areas
  3. offer experiential events for doing the practices
  4. give a gift to Joanna Macy; gather gratitude from people around the world and deliver it to her
  5. bring existing WTRN people together with a sense of community and connection in line with the WTR Network mission to provide support, connection and inspiration to the global WTR community
  6. reach out to new people who were not familiar with WTR
  7. present a structure with the most global appeal, such as considering time zones
  8. holding space for creative and organic ways of presenting the Spiral
  9. have ritual space

Feedback was continually woven in, forming something that emerged organically from many conversations and depended also on the deep work that had already been done over many prior years. 

Reaching out to find speakers

The GGC intentionally sought out a wide diversity of perspectives, cultures, regions and ages as they gathered the speakers, presenter and facilitators for the gathering. They looked for presenters and facilitators for each part of the Spiral and also for inspirational speakers through brainstorming that brought names into a complicated spreadsheet for review and comment. The list combined leaders and facilitators within the WTR and those whose work had been influenced by Joanna Macy. It brought in the varied perspectives of the individual GGC members. They also kept in mind that the deep roots of the WTR community are also constantly growing, changing and evolving through people working at the edges of WTR and experimenting with new structures. Everyone added to the spreadsheet then votes were taken, sorting out the priorities. 

The GGC started with a basic structure that they wanted to fill in, and then looked for people and offerings for each phase of the spiral. The plan co-evolved. They sent out invitational emails to speakers while still creating the list, knowing that responses take time. The coordinator, Shala Massey, took on the task of sending emails, waiting for replies and sending another email. The process took on an energy of its own, self selecting due to who was responding. The GGC looked at where the resonance was happening.

Special Projects Appearing On Their Own, Specific People for Specific Functions

The Bestiary is one such example. A conversation began about how to incorporate meaningful grief rituals for each of the time zone blocks on Day 2, which was dedicated to Honoring Our Pain for the World. The Truth Mandala was already planned for one of the time zone blocks. As the committee began brainstorming about what could be scheduled in the other block Shayontoni Ghosh shared an idea about creating a collaborative theatrical expression of the Bestiary poem, written by Joanna Macy. Jo suggested reaching out to Hector Aristizabal, because of his extensive experience incorporating theater into his WTR facilitation.They reached out to him. He and Shayontoni started to collaborate, along with a few others. This resulted in one of the best pieces of the event: well facilitated, well crafted and meaningful in different ways. Joanna Macy participated fully, following the writing prompts and sharing her new poetic expression and dancing along to the guided movements. During the whole group share, she and Hector got to connect with each other, sharing their love and appreciation for each other’s work. 

Planning was also done to consider Joanna’s health and what she would need in order to be present during the five day event, and this also involved finding technology help to connect through the internet. A long-time-facilitator and dear friend of Joanna, Linda Seeley, was able to come and stay with Joanna for the 5 days and help her get online to participate in the Gathering.


Different strata of the WTR community seemed to come together. 

“The reconnecting piece was really important. The old school, the people that were around the beginning, thinking they weren’t part of it anymore, and then coming back, and then new people discovering it.” Constance

Jo noted that the gathering served to bring the WTR community together in a whole new way and helped participants understand how the WTR Network works and what it is all about. Many of the participants were either new to the WTR community or had been dwelling on the edge of the community, not sure how to engage. Coming together in this way and having the visceral experience of connecting with and practicing WTR with people from all around the world in this way brought it into focus and nourished our sense of shared community.

Coming together with a rich diversity and strong commitment to social justice within our WTR practice and community was also deeply healing. Years of work by many dedicated WTR facilitators has raised awareness and helped the WTR community to confront the implicit bias woven into the original body of the Work. Some participants expressed that they worried that WTR wouldn’t be able to survive and adapt in the face of these challenges over the past several years and how gratefully relieved they were to experience this collective recognition of Undoing Oppression as a foundational teaching of WTR during the gathering. 

Joanna, herself, happily acknowledged that the WTR  had grown stronger and reached more people through this necessary commitment to Undoing Oppression. Throughout the gathering and in the weeks that have followed, Joanna has expressed her delight in and gratitude for the GG to many different visitors.. Seeing how the Work has spread so widely and is being adapted all around the world in ways that keep it vital, alive, and growing brings her abundant joy that radiates through the Zoom screen and continues to fill her up as she reflects on it.

“A healing happened; a reckoning and a reconciliation.” Jo

Time Crunches

Considering the amount of creativity in imagining the details, making group decisions, bringing in all the necessary people and parts, hiring a coordinator who was familiar with the WTR but new to the community, finding the appropriate technology and expertise, plus managing the funding and costs, the GGC members were amazed at the resulting program. This was also during a time when the reconstruction of the WTRN website had gone into overtime and was unexpectedly overlapping with the timing of the GG. 

The team agreed that Shala’s confident calm was tremendously helpful. 

Lessons for the Future

What to Change

  • Start the whole process earlier. 
  • Hire the coordinator earlier.
  • Attract in more attendees 
  • More emphasis on the arts. “We could have had more dance parties. More celebration. The arts are such an important part of the Work That Reconnects including poetry, music, the visual and the video arts.” Constance
  • Gather information on its impact. Be able to track whether people were able to connect, and take that connection beyond the GG into their community, be it geographic, linguistic, or work community. How to gather and digest the data.
  • Organize and support local gatherings simultaneously happening around the world, coordinated with the Gaian Gathering, thus supporting diverse communities of practice.
  • Find more ways to help the neurologically divergent to attend and participate.
  • Incorporate more language accessibility for non-English speakers.
  • Shala was incredibly helpful. How to find another person just as good or ask her to return.
  • Find a platform that is more intuitive and easier to use than Whova.

The Successes

  • Leaving the material accessible on the Whova platform after the GG was complete helped more people view the presentations and even for those who had attended but wanted to watch every event
  • Continue having the material available on the WTR website behind a donation “trellis” requesting support.
  • Exceeded expectations in terms of the depth to which people committed to being there and participating

In conclusion, the Gaian Gathering was a great success and the team involved is eager to organize the next one!

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