Turning Vision Into Action

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By Nina Simons
Transcript edited by Martha O’Hehir

(Nina Simons delivered a final blessing to the community in the Gaian Gathering)

I want to welcome you into sacred activism, describe how the Work That Reconnects has been helpful to me, and share some observations about how we can be most effective in the times ahead.

I’ll also share what has helped me remain hopeful in spite of incredibly daunting circumstances and existential threats, and some of what’s helped me turn vision into action.

Gifts of The Work That Reconnects

The Work That Reconnects has altered my perspective on time.  When things feel too fast and frenzied, I remember to think in “world time,” to think in an expanded sense of time. 

If we could have public expressions of grief, we could greatly diminish the amount of violence almost immediately.

I’ve also been strengthened by experiencing and co-facilitating Truth Mandalas. One of the greatest causes of harm in our cultures, societies, and peoples is our lack of familiarity with and inability to understand and work with the language of our emotions. If we could have public expressions of grief, we could greatly diminish the amount of violence almost immediately.   And similarly, if we could reconcile a right relationship to anger, which is our body’s way of telling us that a boundary has been trespassed,  we could collectively exert our power and authority to propel change much faster. I also think that if we look at the rise of authoritarianism in the world, it is due to fear of losing something and the need to blame others in an effort to quell the fear instead of facing the fear, instead of experiencing the fear, and honoring that it has something to tell us. So, I think the Truth Mandala has been extraordinary.

One of my favorite other teachers is Karla McClaren, and if you don’t know her, I commend  her work to you. She wrote a book called The Language of Emotions and runs online trainings through The Empathy Institute. 

We must deeply honor  the sacred in our work as the single most important element of how we transform vision to action.

Lastly, I want to pay homage  to Joanna Macy and Work That Reconnects for the f ull integration of the sacred and arts into activism. We must deeply honor  the sacred in our work as the single most important element of how we transform vision to action – by honoring what is most sacred to each of us and letting ourselves fully experience that as a call to purpose, as a call to serve what we most love and are most devoted to. 

How We May Be Most Effective In the Times Ahead

The world is changing, and in particular, our social ecosystems are changing, and therefore, also what is needed from each of us is also changing, to be most effective at change making in this wild, tumultuous time we face.

First, I believe that, in one way or another, we are all traumatized at this time, whether it be from the loss of people dear to us, recently, or the ecological harm we are perceiving as climate change is ramping up, coupled with the incredible pain and frustration and fear that comes from how slowly our institutions are responding to it. I think all of that creates trauma. For myself, facing the loss of 75% of the birds in northern New Mexico over the last couple of years, is an incredible source of grief, and I weep about it often. I also redouble my efforts to feed the birds and make sure the bird baths are full and revel in those winged ones that are left. 

It behooves all of us to be trauma informed, not only about our own traumas, first and foremost, but also about the traumas of anyone we are relating with. There is an interactive sense of how do you deal with trauma, and there’s also collective trauma. Right now, with all the wars going on in the world, compounded by the climate catastrophe, there is a very available sense of collective trauma going on.

Three different octaves of trauma at once, in this time: Individual Trauma, Collective Trauma, and Ancestral Trauma.

There is another layer of trauma which Thomas Hubl talks about, in that we are all, as a species, being called to interact with three different octaves of trauma at once, in this time: Individual Trauma, Collective Trauma, and Ancestral Trauma. And really, if you consider where your ancestors came from and what their history has been, and given that science has now proven that intergenerational trauma is passed on through our DNA, that’s a whole additional layer of trauma. Hubl has a lot of teachings about how to interface with each of these, as do others, like Gabor Maté.

We are dealing with a species-wide state of trauma.

Another thing to bear in mind about trauma is the high percentage, perhaps even 1 in 5 people in the US, who come from a family where someone in the family is alcoholic or addicted. There is also a huge prevalence of mental illness, domestic violence,  or physical abuse in  many families. Add to all that the traumas suffered by descendants of enslaved peoples, immigrants and Indigenous peoples, and we are awash with it. We are dealing with a species-wide state of trauma. It behooves us to acknowledge, learn about and investigate this.

I’ve received some insight about this from Professor Kamilah Majied of CalState University, Monterey Bay, through what she calls the “three pillars of prosocial behavior.” At our core, what we need to overcome, to effectively turn vision into action, is the conditioning that tells us we are isolated, separate from each other and the entire Earth community – the hyper-individualism which is so prevalent in the Western world. We need to shed this so we can effectively collaborate, conspire, collude and work together, en masse, to effect change.

 The three pillars of prosocial behavior that she describes are : 

     1.Cultural Humility 

It’s easy to assume others might have a cultural background like our own, especially  if one is born into the privilege of white supremacy culture and benefited from having white skin. In fact, white people (and people of all backgrounds) need the wisdom of other cultures right now. White people especially, though, need to practice humility, deep listening and curiosity. We all need to do this, to learn, enter relationships and ultimately, to collaborate and become allies.

     2.Discomfort Resilience

It’s far too easy to be reactive these days, and we see examples of it all over the place.

Many of us need to turn down our reactivity, recognizing that we can live with discomforts, like many people who have lived and are living with far greater discomforts the world over, throughout most of their lives.

Van Jones offered a valuable teaching on racial equity, on white supremacy and on how to become a good ally. He said, “There is no way to work on racial equity without walking through a room full of garden rakes.” If you imagine yourself walking through a roomful of rakes, you can’t get through it without stepping on a rake, and when you do, the handle is going to pop up and hit you.  And it is true. I got smacked in the head a few times, and felt embarrassed, kerfuffled, shamed, but it was all so worth it. There is nothing I am more proud of in my journey to sacred activism than embarking upon that work and immersing myself in it.

     3.Fierce Compassion

People are living with so many wounds–childhood, ancestral, and current, daily wounds, the “microaggressions.” I’m not fond of this word because it minimizes the impact of these events for many people of color in our society. The microaggressions are deeply impactful and hurtful.

We need to cultivate fierce compassion for ourselves, for immigrants fleeing war and lack of water, and ethnic cleansing. We need to cultivate compassion for ourselves. Many of us have been raised in a culture that habituates us to self judgment, and shame. Towards thinking “I am not enough,” and blaming ourselves when we do something wrong. Because of this, we need fierce compassion towards loving ourselves. 


To move from vision to action, it is helpful to be mindful of where we put our attention, especially now, with so many things vying for our attention, and so much distraction. It is an essential practice. For me, it has meant practicing putting my attention and my care into expanding my love for the world, into leading from my heart and not my head.

I used to think that if people knew how much I loved this world, they would think I was crazy. Now, however, I believe we all have to reveal how devoted we are capable of being to whatever calls us. It may be a species, a place, an element, child care, birthing centers, refugees, education, parenting or hospice care.

All of our visions are really needed.

  One thing that gives me hope and I have to remind myself of all the time, is that we are living in nothing less than the complete reinvention  of our society. That means all of our visions are really needed. All of our hands, helping to reform and defend what it is we most love and cherish, are needed. It means that keeping silent and being a bystander is no longer a viable option (if it ever was).

I want the children of tomorrow to know we all did our best. I want the children of all species to know that when push came to shove, we all stepped up on behalf of what we care most deeply about, whether that’s abortion and reproductive rights, women’s sovereignty, Indigenous rights, defending our democracy or healing our fractured culture.

We need to remember that the Earth herself is sacred. Over the course of the last few years, because of the danger of wildfire where I live, I learned a ritual and created an altar around a tree near my home. Many times a week, I put flowers around the base of the trunk, and pour water or sometimes wine around it. I pray to that tree, asking it for forgiveness and for strength and protection. I send my prayers down into her roots and into the mycelia in the soil, and up through her branches to the star people, and to the mountain nearby. As I do that ritual more and more, it is deepening my embodied sense of how native people relate to the Earth as a living being, and of how sacred she truly is.

Reimagining Leadership

You can lead from the back of the room.

I want to say a few words about reimagining leadership and how important it is in transforming vision to action. Bioneers has offered me an amazing  opportunity to meet hundreds, no thousands of leaders modeling new forms of leadership. Our collective reinvention means you can lead from anywhere in the room. You don’t have to be the charismatic, dominant, tall person in the front. You can lead from the back of the room. 

I believe that we are all leading in our own particular ways. Parenting is profound leadership and we need to restore it to its appropriate value. So is making art, and convening your neighborhood, and serving whatever you love in whatever way you can

For me, the nexus of Indigenous, People of Color, women’s  leadership, and climate change is where I most want to serve. And so I practice being a good ally by showing up in whatever ways I can.

 I used to think I was not an activist because I didn’t go to demonstrations and get arrested. I’ve come to believe that’s just one of many forms of activism. Speaking your truth, teaching, singing songs, writing your poetry, strengthening other people’s vision and leadership, are all forms of activism. There probably are as many forms of activism as there are humans on the planet.

It’s important to remember that in the United States, we are in a very privileged position. We live lives of relative comfort. We can leverage that privilege to serve the transformation, to advance the Great Turning that is happening in throughout our lifetimes.

The new forms of leadership are collaborative and relational.

The new forms of leadership are collaborative and relational.  They are not power over, they’re about power with and power through. They involve sharing authority and being willing to say, “I don’t know” or being vulnerable when you’re not sure what’s the next right step. They involve collaborating with others who are different from you generationally, by culture, or in their faith. Diversity lends strength to our collaborative efforts. Where our culture tends to separate us, we need to seek ways to be connective tissue, to bridge and find common cause with others.

We are reinventing leadership by leading from the heart, and by paying attention to our dreams, to our intuition, to our body’s wisdom, and by caring for ourselves along the way.
There has been a pattern of the self-sacrificing leader and “working until you drop.” We cannot sustain that. We are engaged in a long-haul process, a long-distance run. We need to care for ourselves with the same exquisite attention we give to caring for what we love, or we won’t be our most effective selves, and we will deprive ourselves of the joy that comes from flourishing and regenerative leadership. 

Leadership can be regenerative when we are serving what we are most committed to.

Leadership can be regenerative when we are serving what we are most committed to. That tends to regenerate us, but we need to pay attention. When we need rest, get rest. When we are not sure how to proceed, we need to honor that and ask for help.

Many of my favorite species rotate leadership when they migrate. Geese do that, and elk do it too. We need to learn that from our species mentors in the natural world, how to lead for the long haul, how to migrate long distances. When leadership is not alone, it is much more fathomable, it is much less scary. And let’s face it, we are living through scary times. There’s a lot to be fearful of, but when we are together, when we can voice our fears and express our grief, and communally discuss and share those emotions and ride them in the ways they are intended to inform our sacred activism, we become much stronger. We become much more resilient.

Finding Your Way

Pay exquisite attention to what makes your flame grow brighter.

If you are not sure yet what calls you the most, check out the Bioneers newsletter, the podcasts, and the new platform called Bioneers Learning where you’ll find online trainings on practical hands-on skills, rites of nature, inner work, Sacred Activism and leadership, and on The Language of Emotions. If you immerse in this field of possibilities, and then pay exquisite attention to what makes your flame grow brighter–it will guide your quest. Sometimes, it glows brighter only for an instant. If you are not paying attention inwardly at the same time as you are witnessing possibilities, you might miss it. And that would be tragic. So, pay exquisite attention.

Bioneers is an amazing resource for finding  out what kinds of people and efforts you might want to devote yourself to in this time, to inform and transform your vision of the beautiful world we are all dreaming into action.

Some of what gives me most hope right now are the acts of sacred activism of young people–which are extraordinary–and of Indigenous people, especially Indigenous youth and women who are leading incredibly devotional, passionate, effective efforts to move the needle on climate change. There are social movements like the Working Families Party that are coalescing people across difference. The Othering and Belonging Institute is a remarkable resource for this, too. The work of Saru Jayaraman organizing workers- when you look at the plethora of worker’s strikes that are going on, and the labor unions, and the uprising of people’s demands for fair living wages, and busting monopolies, there is a tremendous amount of good work happening.

But you won’t find it through the mainstream media. So choose your sources well, as we can resource ourselves regularly with articles, videos and podcasts that feature the new world being gestated, readying to be born. 

And since the mainstream media mostly covers the bad news, that’s part of the reason we started Bioneers 35 years ago, to surface all the extraordinary leadership and responses and the effective actions that people and communities are taking. Black Lives Matter started a whole fleet of movement efforts that integrate healing and trauma work at the same time as they are bringing people into community for effective action and policy change.

The next really visionary leader is a collective, because none of us can do this work alone.

I think it was Thich Nhat Hanh who said that the next buddha is likely to be a sangha, and what that means is that the next really visionary leader is a collective, because none of us can do this work alone. Being in a collective is such a joy. Being in a collective that’s diverse, that’s caring in the same direction, and that’s collaboratively imagining both the world we are dreaming into and also how to get there, is so fortifying. I commend that approach to you.

Invest in your heart to move from vision into action. Trust that your passion for whatever aspect of this world you care about most is what will lead you into right action and the right community to act with. 

Pay attention to all your ways of knowing. Our minds are not enough to get us there. They’re helpful, but even Einstein said, “The mind is a faithful servant, and the heart needs to lead.”

Listen for your dreams, for your intuition, for the guidance of your ancestors.  And, if you can find some form of meditation every day, it will help you find inner balance and equanimity so that all the turbulence that’s out there in the world can be easier to face.

 When we fill our hearts with the work towards the world we are co-creating, that’s what can help us turn down the volume of all that chatter and all that chaos. The cause is not served by attending to chaos. The world we want to co-midwife into form is served best by giving it our full attention, our love, our care, and our devotion.

This article is an edited transcription of a talk given at the Gaian Gathering of the Work That Reconnects Network in November 2023.  A video of the full talk is available on the WTR Network website here.

Nina Simons, as a co-evolver of Bioneers, is deeply committed to reinventing human civilization: healing and addressing the wounds of patriarchy, racism, colonialism and capitalism; changing the world by changing culture, stories and archetypes; and encouraging the power of the grassroots to innovate and mobilize change. Nina cares passionately about strengthening the leadership and resilience of innovative, nature-informed, creative frontline and entrepreneurial women, especially Indigenous and other women of color. She wrote Moonrise: The Power of Women Leading from The Heart, and Nature, Culture and the Sacred: A Woman Listens for Leadership. She offers workshops on Relational Mindfulness and Power and the Deep Feminine. 

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