Each morning after breakfast, through the glass doors to the courtyard, we watch two robins fetching food for their fledglings — the nest, the three open beaks nearly invisible through glossy leaves and pink camellias.
One morning we see baby birds fluttering in the grass, fallen from the nest before they’ve learned to fly. Their parents flit from one to another, trying to feed them. One dies, then the second, the third. We bury the bodies.
Within weeks we see the robins building a new nest. The eggs hatch, and this time the fledglings fly – the way lupines blued over mountain meadows the spring after fire swept down hills into Tassajara,
the way I twice relearned to walk – in my twenties after a bike accident fractured my pelvis, and again, decades later, when a titanium hip socket renewed my love of locomotion —
the way we meet our fear of invisible droplets that can lead to death, and begin to venture out after sheltering in place, hungry to touch and be held, still not knowing what is safe.
Recorded by Carmen Rumbaut
Tova Green is a resident priest at San Francisco Zen Center, where she teaches and co-leads Queer Dharma and Unpacking Whiteness groups. She first participated in a workshop with Joanna Macy in 1982 in Boston, MA and led Despair and Empowerment workshops in Australia, Japan, the Netherlands, and the U.S. in the 80’s and 90’s. Tova’s essay “Power and Privilege in Indra’s Net” appears in A Wild Love for the World, Joanna Macy and the Work of Our Time, edited by Stephanie Kaza. She is a poet and cellist.
In October, 2020, Work That Reconnects facilitators Sarah Nahar and Mordechai Liebling sent the following invitation to the facilitators’ network:
You’re invited to sign up for a small group process, guided by experienced facilitators, to move through a despair and empowerment spiral to process the intensity of the current moment–the societal impacts of this US presidential election in the midst of climate chaos–and recenter, reground, and refresh in order to take empowered action.
I contacted Valerie Martin, with whom I co-facilitate a monthly Gathering for Gaia web-based Work That Reconnects workshop and quickly confirmed that she and I would sign up for the training. We both appreciated and enjoyed the training and the outline Sarah and Morechai provided for the workshop we led on Nov 19. I learned later that over two hundred people joined one of the mini-workshops that were offered over three weeks in November, many experiencing the Work That Reconnects for the first time.
The following article draws from my interview with Mordechai in January 2021, and Sarah’s comments on my interview notes, about the training they offered.
Sarah and Mordechai introduce themselves:
Sarah Nahar (she/her) is a nonviolent action trainer and inter-spiritual theologian. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Syracuse, New York (Haudenosaunee Confederacy traditional land) focusing on ecological regeneration, community cultivation, and spiritual activism.
Rabbi Mordechai Liebling is the Director of the Reflection and Renewal Process at POWER Interfaith, the largest faith-based community organizing network in Pennsylvania and a trainer for confronting racism, antisemitism and Christian hegemony.
A spiral process is something the Work That Reconnects community had to offer as a major resource in the lead-up-to and wake of the election.
Mordechai told me that in September, 2020, he and Sarah were both attending a Tzedek (a Hebrew word meaning justice) Lab training (www.thetzedeklab.com) They knew each other from previous workshops and events associated with anti-racism, anti-semitism, and climate chaos. During a breakout group they began talking about the upcoming Nov. 3 U.S. election. Mordechai recalled that he and Sarah agreed that people would have a lot of feelings about the election, regardless of the results. Their conversation led to a plan to equip other facilitators to use the Work That Reconnects in mini, emergen(t)cy type workshops over three weeks after the election. “A spiral process is something the Work That Reconnects community had to offer as a major resource in the lead-up-to and wake of the election,” Sarah noted. They designed the script and training for the Post-Election Spiral Process over the next month, and offered it twice in October.
During the training, which was attended by several members of Deep Times Editorial Board, Sarah told us the idea for the mini-spiral was inspired by two streams of work: one is the Evolving Edge Anti-Oppression Resource Group, which sees our current time as providing opportunities to facilitate in such a way that explicitly connects the struggle of the people and the struggle of the Earth, bringing together anti-oppression principles and practices and the Work That Reconnects. Second was a gathering with Joanna Macy at Ghost Ranch in January 2017, during which concerns about Trump’s election were addressed. Mordechai attended this event with 50-60 others. From the start of their planning the mini-spiral, Sarah and Mordechai knew its core was going to be a process that Joanna Macy laid out at that retreat at Ghost Ranch in January 2017. Mordechai said that Joanna facilitated an exercise during which she introduced four questions to bring to the surface “what has prepared you for this time.” The questions are:
What are your gifts from your tradition, lineage, teachers, family that have prepared you for this time?
What are your gifts from the Earth that have prepared you for this time?
What are your gifts from your visions, dreams, calling, intuition that have prepared you for this time?
What are the gifts from the work, leadership, experiences you have had that have prepared you for this time?
“…we will help people to name, grieve, perceive, and breathe these connections with the aim of returning participants more refreshed and grounded to be courageous in the face of oppression in their daily lives.”
Sarah and Mordechai thought the exercise and questions seemed perfect for helping people process the election. During their October workshop training, they told us that the goal of the mini-spiral was to offer “invitations to political ecology – a willingness to go right through the compression point of the election to illuminate how people are relating to each other in the living body of Earth.” They said that “as facilitators we will help people to name, grieve, perceive, and breathe these connections with the aim of returning participants more refreshed and grounded to be courageous in the face of oppression in their daily lives.” They supported Work That Reconnects facilitators who wanted to pair with a non-Work That Reconnects facilitator to offer a mini-spiral together. This was a way to cross-pollinate with facilitators skilled in other modalities, and introduce them to the Work That Reconnects. They encouraged facilitators to offer a mini-spiral in partnership with someone who was different in at least one structural way, such as a different generation, or from a different cultural or ethnic background, to model the generative possibilities that come from working together across differences.
An enchanting component of the training they offered was breathing together as a way of showing support and appreciation for offerings of participants in a group. Mordechai said he learned this from Rabbi Tamara Cohen who is also in Philadelphia. We were instructed to look at one other person in gallery view on Zoom while holding our hands with palms facing the screen. We were to open our hands and extend our fingers while breathing in, and close our hands gradually while exhaling. Our goal was to match the pace of the breathing of the person who was our focus for the practice. We did this for three breaths, enjoying the sense of communion with one another, seeing as more and more hands opened and closed simultaneously.
Mordechai gave Sarah credit for the bulk of the logistics, which provided a website where facilitators could sign up to offer the mini-spiral at a specific time, access to moderated Zoom space, ways for people who reached the general site to sign up for a specific session and then be connected with facilitators for that slot. He and Sarah indicated they had help with logistics and scheduling multiple meetings from Jo DelAmor, Jonathan Nahar for the ongoing technical assistance on the forms, and Lydia Harutoonian for the graphic design work.
A week after the final Recenter, Reground, Refresh post-election workshop was held, Sarah and Mordechai sent an email to facilitators of at least 16 groups (one in Spanish): “The aftermath of the election continues to unfold in various ways, but I have no doubt that the over 340 registrants and especially the approximately 210 participants are moving in the world with a sense of greater centeredness, groundedness, and feeling just a wee bit more fresh!” They remain grateful to all the facilitators who signed up, and community members who assisted behind the scenes in graphic design, registration design, and tech support.
The post-election workshops serve as examples of the capacity of the spiral to focus on and address the interwoven dynamics of historical injustice, climate disruption, and current dangers our country faces…
Though this experience ran November 4-25, Sarah has received a few notes since the Jan 6 post-election violence at the capitol related to the ongoing relevance of re-centering, re-grounding, refreshing, and most of all recommitting to action that reduces violence and oppression for the sake of people and the Earth. She and Mordechai encourage the facilitators’ network to use the Work That Reconnects process to respond to the escalating threats to democracy. The post-election workshops serve as examples of the capacity of the spiral to focus on and address the interwoven dynamics of historical injustice, climate disruption, and current dangers our country faces in fulfilling the potential of our democratic institutions.
As a co-facilitator of monthly Work That Reconnects workshops on the Zoom platform since August 2020, I have appreciated the smooth process we can offer because Valerie is adept with this technology. Each month she and I take time to review multiple resources, bounce ideas off each other about different ways to present each part of the Spiral, and select an opening musical selection and closing reading or song. Sarah and Mordechai and their team offered all these elements to facilitators and their partners in a beautifully choreographed package. They provided publicity for every November mini-spiral workshop through the Facilitators’ website. They established an online registration calendar so people interested in participating could view dozens of dates and times a mini-spiral was being offered, and register with their contact information getting emailed to the workshop presenters. The October training Sarah and Morechia offered reflected their extensive experience, skill, deep understanding of the Work That Reconnects, and their passion for helping facilitators and workshop participants use the cauldron of current events to ReCenter, ReGround, and ReFresh. We are grateful for their gifts.
Recorded by Carmen Rumbaut
Rebecca Selove has worked as a clinical psychologist in community settings and private practice for several decades. Currently she is a public health researcher focused on cancer-related disparities. The foundation for her love of Earth was established during her childhood on her family’s dairy farm in West Virginia. She was blessed to be surrounded by animals, flowers, clouds, creeks and mountains on a daily basis. She read her first Joanna Macy book in the mid-80’s and has been facilitating WTR-inspired workshops since the early 90’s. She lives and gardens on an organic farm in Tennessee.
I have been taking a deep educational and personal dive into trauma in the past year. The Covid pandemic, the social and political upheavals, as well as the continued “natural” disasters due to global climate change have revealed deep seated trauma wired into my nervous system. Even with years of “work” on myself and many resources such as nature connection, yoga, mindfulness practices and the Work That Reconnects, I am still getting pushed outside of my resilient zone and into fight, flight or freeze responses. I am white, privileged and still able to earn a living without risking my health, but the current state of the world is much harder for most people and it is creating more trauma on a global scale.
We are collectively acting out generations of trauma, continuing to harm not only ourselves, our fellow humans, our democracy–but also our Mother Earth.
We all have experienced trauma and stress and how well we are able to process it has a huge influence on our lives. We act out unprocessed trauma for years to come. We are collectively acting out generations of trauma, continuing to harm not only ourselves, our fellow humans, our democracy–but also our Mother Earth.
Millions of people around the globe are being traumatized by abuse, wars, climate disasters, oppression, racism, mental illness, disease and isolation. We as a species do not act wisely under ongoing stress. When we go into fight, flight or freeze, which are responses to traumatic events and ongoing stress, our thinking brain quite literally goes off line. This was helpful when we needed to get away from a tiger immediately, but it is not helpful in figuring out ways to deal with climate change, social injustice, species extinction and racism.
We humans need to learn and share ways to rewire and regulate our nervous systems as well as nurture ourselves so we can function in ways that will help humanity and the planet thrive. I am learning this is possible and essential if we are going to create the world we want for future generations.
Facilitators can focus on the capacity of WTR to build resilience, foster wellness, calm nervous systems, and empower wise action.
The Work That Reconnects is in fact a body of work that builds resilience and empowers wise responses to the crises of our time. And as more and more people worldwide are affected by the world’s many crises, they are coming into workshops stressed and traumatized. WTR facilitators need to be more “trauma informed” as we do not want participants to get retraumatized or “ triggered” by the Work. We want them to experience the Work as a process for building their resilience in the face of the Great Unraveling. Facilitators can focus on the capacity of WTR to build resilience, foster wellness, calm nervous systems, and empower wise action.
I have recently been trained in the Community Resiliency Model (CRM) of the Trauma Resource Institute. I chose this model out of the many I have tried in the past year because it is simple, science based, tested all over the world and it works. Debra Clysedale, a long time somatic therapist, and I are planning a series of 5 webinars March 29th to April 26th noon- 2pm PST to explore the neuroscience of trauma and practice the 6 core skills of CRM related to the WTR Spiral. Learning and integrating these skills and understandings into WTR facilitation can enable facilitators to create a safer and more transformational space for building resilience.
Here I will not talk in detail about the CRM tools as it is best to experience them live. Check out the Trauma Resource Institute website. I want to outline, through a CRM trauma informed lens, what I understand as some of the resilience building skills that are already part of the Work That Reconnects’ core philosophy and practices as well as how to use them in a more trauma-informed way.
Core WTR Beliefs and Practices that Build Resilience
“If the world is to be healed through human efforts, I am convinced it will be by ordinary people, people whose love for this life is even greater than their fear.” ~Joanna Macy
WTR believes in the innate wisdom, resilience, courage and capacity of people to act on behalf of life in meaningful ways. This is revolutionary and shifts the focus from what is wrong with us to what is right with us. A key to building resilience is seeing people as resilient and helping them see themselves as resilient and empowered in the face of disaster and trauma. Those who have been traumatized often feel they have no choices and are powerless. It is important when leading WTR to clearly give people choices in how or if they participate in a practice. The WTR trusts each participant to find what they need within themselves and does not tell them what to think or feel.
Feeling pain for the world is natural to us as the food and air we draw upon to fashion who we are. It is inseparable from the currents of matter, energy and information that flow through us. .. We are not closed off from the world , but integral components of it., like cells in a larger body. When that body is traumatized, we sense that trauma too. (Macy and Brown, 2014)
WTR normalizes our responses to stressful and traumatic experiences. Humans respond to these experiences in similar ways. Our responses and our feelings are common reactions and do not make us weak but rather are a reflection of our deep humanity and interconnection to the greater web of life. Growing our capacity to be with the emotions caused by stressful experiences expands our resilience zone and thus our ability to act on behalf of life in difficult times. It is important that facilitators acknowledge the normalcy of the emotions and the responses of fight, flight, or freeze to the stressful events of our time. There is nothing “wrong” in these responses and there is much “right” that can come from our post-traumatic growth.
Living systems evolve in variety, resilience and intelligence; they do this not by erecting walls of defense and closing off from their environment, but by opening more widely to currents of matter/energy and information. (Macy and Brown, 2014)
Reconnecting to ourselves, to all humanity and to the more than human planetary community is the core work of WTR. Connection is healing and powerful. Feeling connected to ourselves, co-workers, friends and family gives us strength and makes us feel safe. And our connections to the earth, nature, animals, as well as spirit enables us to act with the greater intelligence of the whole living system. When we do not feel alone, when we feel connected, we are more resilient. The Work That Reconnects is a needed gift to the world at this time.
Life can only take place in the present moment. If we lose the present moment we lose life. (The Buddha)
Being present to what is or being mindful is a core underpinning of WTR. The Work is deeply informed by Buddhist practices and philosophy and many start workshops with meditations for getting in touch with the breath and the body. It is only in the present moment that we can know what is true. Awareness of the breath, body and body sensations are keys to being present and touching into our emotions. And for some people who have experienced trauma, asking them to close their eyes, be in their body and be aware of their breath can be scary. There are many ways to come into the present moment. We can ask participants to feel their bodies in the chair or the temperature of the room. We can ask them to look around the room and notice different colors or walk around feeling their feet making contact with the earth. We also can be sure to ask people what feels pleasant or joyful at any moment to counter our habit of focusing on the negative or painful. Both are usually present. Being able to be with both or moving between the two means we are in our resilient zone.
Art is a constant agent of transformation and is indeed the Soul’s drive to health. (Cathy A. Malchiodi, PhD.)
Poetry, art, music and movement are woven into the fabric of the Work That Reconnects. Making art, masks and drawing our feelings are creative outlets which allow us to tap into that which is larger than ourselves and are powerful healing tools for stress and anxiety. The arts take us out of our habitual thinking and the grip of the Business as Usual world. Readings of poetry can shift our perspective. Shared songs, dances and music can bring us together to form community and feel safe by very literally syncing up our nervous systems. These are very ancient technologies used to overcome trauma and stress around the world. Joanna Macy often has started workshops with the Elm Dance, which creates safety and group cohesion.
The Resilience Spiral
The Spiral is a resilience building process. We expand our resilience zone by going around the Spiral repeatedly, resourcing ourselves and deepening our capacity to be with our pain, then seeing with new eyes and going forth.
Gratitude is a revolutionary act and a healing act as well.
One of the first tools for building resilience is to identify a person, place, animal or spiritual belief that resources you, uplifts you, nurtures or sustains you. These resources calm our nervous system and bring us into our resilient zone where we can respond intelligently to the ups and downs of life. In WTR when we start with gratitude we are helping participants find that resource which opens their hearts and also helps them be with the pain for the world without being pushed out of their resilient zone into fight, flight, or freeze. Gratitude is a revolutionary act and a healing act as well. It improves mental and physical health and it enhances self esteem and empathy as well as helps in overcoming trauma. Gratitude practices and solidifying our resources are important for working with Honoring our Pain for the World in a safe way.
Honoring Our Pain for the World
As facilitators of the WTR we know the transformational power of being with our pain, grief, rage, fear and despair. Our grief, as we know, is the flip side of our love, our rage is our passion for justice, our fear is our courage, and our despair is an opportunity to open to new possibilities. This transformational process is an amazing example of human resilience and it requires that we stay present to our feelings and stay in our bodies. This is possible if we are well resourced and do not get “triggered,” retraumatized or pushed out of our resilience zone, which can shut us down and take us out of our bodies. Since we are living in such traumatic and stressful times, more people are experiencing stress reactions. But brains/nervous systems can change and given resilience tools and identified resources WTR participants can navigate this transformational process. Our ability to be with the feeling without getting overly activated allows us to be more fully present and of benefit to ourselves, our communities and the planet in these uncertain times.
Seeing with New/Ancient Eyes
WTR practices and teachings help us experience our interconnectedness with all of life. This understanding of interbeing is ancient, all indigenous cultures around the world have known this and now “western” science is catching up and rediscovering Oneness.
My nature connection has been a primary resource for dealing with my early childhood trauma. My best friend as a child was a tree. That Copper Beech tree held me, consoled me and made me feel not alone. I also connected early, as a baby in an incubator, to the Earth and understood at some very deep level that she was the ultimate mother. Practices for touching into interconnection and sense of belonging to Earth are important resources that WTR provides for all experiencing trauma and stress reactions.
Belonging to the human community is also a resource and through WTR workshop practices we come to understand with New Eyes our interdependence with our fellow humans. As mammals we are wired for connection so when we feel disconnected we can get very fearful, pushed out of our resilient zone and then lose our cognitive ability to think or act in the best interest of ourselves or life itself. The WTR practices that help participants reconnect, feel community support and feel heard are key to building resilience, calming the nervous system and bringing the thinking brain back on line.
At the end of a workshop or training we facilitators aspire to send people off with a heart full of active hope, an inspiring vision, some next steps and with gratitude for their lives, interconnection, creativity and capacity to be of benefit to the Great Turning. Yeah!! These are great for building resilience but, as we know all too well, we can get out there in the “real” world and so easily get overwhelmed, pushed out of our resilient zone, with all the demands created from both personal and global crises.
There are many skills and tools from WTR that support resilience and empower going forth. Facilitators can remind participants of them before they leave.
The Spiral is an amazing resilience tool which we can use in all aspects of our lives. People can review the practices they have done in the workshop and talk about how they can use them in their day to day lives to rewire their nervous systems to be more resilient, less anxious and more effective. Gratitude practices; remembering what resources us, journaling, dancing, singing and being in the body. Honoring their Pain for the World so that they find their love, passion, courage and creativity; Seeing with New and Ancient Eyes, reconnecting to nature, seeing allies everywhere, systems thinking, connecting to that which is larger than ourselves. Going Forth, envision the future you want, follow your bliss, stay connected, take action together.
Review the healing and calming practices they experienced that they can continue at home; Gratitude, art making, music, movement, poetry, presencing, breathing , mindfulness, nature connection, being present with awareness of the body and sensations.
Facilitators can offer participants this list of the Help Now skills from the Community Resilience Model. These science-based simple activities regulate the nervous system and bring us back into our resilient zone. These are useful to give at the start of a workshop so participants can practice them when they feel they are getting pushed out of the resilient zone while doing the Work.
Drink a glass of water.
Look from side to side slowly, noticing what’s around you.
Listen to the sounds around you
Feel the textures of surfaces; desks, chairs, clothes, trees, water
Take a walk noticing the movements of your arms and legs and your feet touching the Earth.
Push your hands or your back against a wall, a door, a tree. Notice the contact with the surface and note the muscles pushing.
Ways to stay connected: Provide contact information and if possible before leaving have participants take time to network and create a plan to reconnect.
This has been a revelatory process for me to look at the Work That Reconnects through the lens of building resilience in the face of trauma and ongoing stress. The WTR is a powerful set of practices and concepts that have helped countless people transform their lives, reconnect to others and the Earth as well as to their own aliveness. In other words, it builds resilience!
There has been a tendency to focus on the Honoring Our Pain stage of the Spiral as the most important part of the WTR. Yes, it is essential for us to feel our pain and it is critical that we stay in our resilient zone where we are able to stay present with the pain and bring our best thinking and creativity to bear on the issues facing us. To do this we need to resource ourselves using the other parts of the Spiral and WTR practices such as gratitude, arts, movement, silence, nature connection. We can come to see ourselves as resilient, able to travel through the Great Unraveling towards the Great Turning with open hearts, no matter how painful.
Constance Washburn is an activist, educator, director and facilitator, and a student of the Work That Reconnects since 1991, attending many intensives with Joanna Macy. She has lead WTR retreats and workshops in Northern California since 2013 and served as a Weaver for the Work That Reconnects Network since 2016. Constance is a founding member of the Elders Action Network, a Buddhist practitioner since 1968, and a Community Dharma Leader.
I breathe in and allow gratitude to fill every cell of my body. Breathing out, I smile. Breathing in, I breathe the breath of the trees. Breathing out, I gift my breath to the trees. Welcoming each new day, I ground myself in gratitude and connection within the web of life as I step into my many roles: mother, weaver of connections, healer of life, farmer, cook, friend, sister – these lists are long.
When my oldest son was born, we lived on a biodynamic farm. He spent his first four years in vegetable fields, amongst cows and pigs, horses and turkeys, dogs, cats and chickens. There was a lot of promise then, that he would grow up ready with skills for the Great Turning.
I move in and out of states of panic at the sheer impossible task of raising kids in these times. What will there be left for them?
Since then, so much has changed. We no longer live on a farm, but in American rural suburban-sprawl. The public school system is busy filling my children’s heads with knowledge they may or may not want to own – and I have long lost the cultural sense of entitlement of treating my children’s heads like empty vessels. So they are growing up not learning the skills I believe could be so useful in times to come. And I move in and out of states of panic at the sheer impossible task of raising kids in these times. What will there be left for them? How can I possibly prepare them in any meaningful way for a world that is falling apart? I am sitting with this fear and this not-knowing often. I am allowing the fear and the pain to break my heart open, so that I may feel again into what is present right now.
Where the heart breaks open, new roots can grow. Photo by Julia Smagorinsky
The past decade has been a time of intense inner transformation and healing for me. Leading my fearful self one step at a time through an emotionally excruciating divorce, I seem to have come out stronger. More connected to my own inner rhythms and needs, more connected to my intuition and to the voice of the Earth. Able now to hold space for others. To give again.
And with it, my understanding of my role as a mother has changed fundamentally. I now see my primary role in holding space for my children to experience emotions.
I am no Earth mother. I am not a self-effacing, deeply nourishing woman, who is able to put herself aside in order to give all of herself to nurturing others (Blackie, 2016). But somehow, that is what the world expects of all of us mothers. While bizarrely many of us these days were also raised simultaneously to follow in their father’s career footsteps – in my case everyone expected me to be a successful scientist. Success and perfection – just do it all! Be the perfect mother and housewife and have a full career, too! Until we break and burn out and all that is left is a raging mess unable to nurture anything.
How can I break through the ever-perpetuating passing along of the intergenerational trauma that I carry in my soul and in my cell tissues?
The German/European culture I was born into is a culture of violence and domination. I come from a long line of victims and perpetrators and I am very aware of the thread of superiority and dominance woven into my fabric. At the same time, I am a person who always feels a bit too much. I feel the assault on the Earth as an assault on my own female body. I feel very acutely that the rape of women and children, slavery, and the desecration of the oceans, the stripping of the face of the Earth to her bones – are all symptoms of the same disease. How can I break through the ever-perpetuating passing along of the intergenerational trauma that I carry in my soul and in my cell tissues? As I begin slowly to heal some of this trauma in myself, I eagerly reap and sow the seeds of this healing, so that my children and their children and their grandchildren may continue to heal and to offer healing to the world. It will be a long intergenerational process for sure. There must be layers upon layers of trauma carried over from my ancestors and buried so deeply in my soul that I am not even aware of them and may never be. And I know that all that buried pain finds ways to be passed along. But there is hope. If I offer my healing to my children, they may be more able to uncover the next layer.
So I breathe. I breathe with my children and for them. I ground us in the breath of life – in connection to forests, oceans and grasslands. I ground us in gratitude for life. I breathe and I hold emotional space for my children. Breathing through my children’s emotions, holding space for what comes up. Breathing through my emotions as I am triggered, helps my children process their own. And I am working hard to move away from power-over parenting styles, moving away from controlling children’s emotions and behavior. And while I don’t make my children learn random skills any longer, I do make sure they go outside. Often. And I give them free range. They get to explore heights and water, darkness, space and time and their own bodies.
Mother love. Photo by Julia Smagorinsky
I have no idea if this will possibly be enough. There are no answers to the burning question of how to raise children in these times, how to prepare them for what may come, and for what will fall away. My hope rests on the tiny seeds I may be able to sow in their souls, by disentangling myself from the firm grip of cultural expectations and becoming more fluidly one with my intuitive power.=
I recently came across an alternative mother-archetype. A deep sigh of relief welled up from my inside. Aaaah, finally, an image of a mother I can relate to: The Creative Rainbow Mother – a maternal archetype that originates in the Mayan tradition. Lucy Pearce(Pearce in Blackie, pp. 206-207) describes this as follows:
The world says you should have a nice tidy house, live only for your children. But as a creative woman, I can’t live like that. I say, sod the washing up, go get your hands dirty, write at this moment, because it matters, and the children can eat some crackers for now. That’s so hard for most women, because we’ve been socially conditioned to do what is expected of us. And if I put my own desires, dreams, visions and priorities ahead of those laid down for me by our culture, if I follow my creativity and the wisdom of my body, I might not look like what I’m supposed to look like in your eyes. And you’ll judge me harshly for it.
[The Creative Rainbow Mother] regularly needs to descend into her creative depth; she can’t live, otherwise. She has the energy of the seer, the priestess, the artist, the poet. That sort of woman, in order to be a mother effectively, inspires her children rather than doing everything for them and living through them. (…) The Creative Rainbow Mother regularly feels the need to fly free. And if she can’t… well, the flip side of her is the Crazy Woman: depressed, unable to touch her power, tied, numb, (…).
It was an exhilarating surprise for me to learn that the family law in this part of the US in the 21st century fully supports children’s rights to both parents, and thereby the emotional well-being of all involved. Sharing custody week-on/week-off respects my children’s relationship with their father, allows me to focus on my children when they are with me, and offers me lots of quiet time alone. I now know that I easily burn out if I am constantly around people. I am a sensory and energetically sensitive person and my neurological system tends to go crazy when under constant input. I also have a lot of inner drive and energy to create, to heal, to grow food, to write and play music, to dance and to create healing, artistic landscapes. Allowing myself to fully be and to express what wants to live through me, and allowing time to nurture myself, time to rest – I am finding a balance that allows me to show up with greater presence in my children’s lives.
I am learning to let myself be guided by voices of life, rather than the expectations of my culture.
In the sacred calm, my intuition can speak, and I am learning to let myself be guided by voices of life, rather than the expectations of my culture. I always had this strong sense that my children are older than me, in terms of their soul development. They are the wiser, older souls; they are leading the way—and I am here to serve them as best as I can. And there again, my biggest role is to presence them, to hold space, to breathe for them, to tune the energy, so that their souls can fully live into their bodies and into this time.
It is our children who carry the gifts for the Great Turning. And it is an honor to parent any child in this time.
When I turn this realization into a practice of filling myself with gratitude for the presence of these wonderful teachers, who are my children—something fundamentally shifts. It is our children who carry the gifts for the Great Turning. And it is an honor to parent any child in this time. Humbly, I can create a space in which energies can align and my children can grow fully into embodying their purpose. Like a cow licking love and life into a newborn calf’s fragile body – motherly, loving touch serves to presence a young body so that the soul can fully grow into it. Sherri Mitchell writes:
As we move through these challenging times, it is important to remember that none of us are here by accident. We entered this world with the express purpose of facilitating the changes that are manifesting during this time, and we brought with us the gifts needed to accomplish that task. None of us are out of time or out of place, though many of us remain out of step with our true path. (Mitchell, 2018)
Our task as parents then would be to allow our children to fall into step with their own true path.
It is the fractal property of the spiral that offers me sustenance. I walk through the WTR spiral simultaneously on different time-scales: in a moment, in 7-year rhythms, when attending a WTR workshop. The biweekly rhythm of my family’s custody agreement offers me a framework to weave in and out of the different stages—I gather what I perceive and go forth into the presence of my children, approaching them with deep gratitude and humility. When they leave to be with their father, I enter into a stage of presencing the pain of the world and my own intergenerational trauma, and I open into seeing with new eyes, connecting to deep time, connecting to my ancestors, perceiving with more diverse senses and overcoming cultural and social conditioning, finding my intuition and my power.
Our biggest role as mothers may well be to find our power as women again, rooted in the Earth, allowing life’s wisdom to flow freely through us. Honoring ourselves. Loving ourselves fully in all we are and do.
During a WTR online workshop I recently attended, Jolie Elan (Go Wild Institute) made the suggestion to include “Nurturing Life” as a fourth dimension of the Great Turning. I feel endless gratitude for this suggestion that so deeply honors the feminine qualities of nurturing and giving, of showing up with unrelenting reliability to the same repetitive tasks and filling each one with love and warmth, caring and beauty again and again. We wake up the children and cook the same soup, we wash the laundry again and scrub the floor again, and now we sit with our children in front of screens to assist with their schoolwork during quarantine and we seed flowers and sing the same song and tell the same story and cook another meal – and maybe we write another article. And we love ourselves some more. And we step out of the masculine measures of success and know we are doing enough.
I honor you, nurturing parents everywhere!
Sharon Blackie. (2016). If Women Rose Rooted. September Publishing.
Lucy Pearce (2016) in Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted, p. 206, 207. September Publishing.
Sherri Mitchell. (2018) Sacred Instructions – Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based Change. North Atlantic Books.
Julia (“Yulia”) Smagorinsky (ki, she, he) is a farmer, mentor, writer, mother, and facilitator and a registered facilitator of the Work that Reconnects Network. Yulia is a passionate advocate of the rights of nature. Ki is the founder of the Emergent Abundance Farming Collective, sharing food, knowledge, skills, information, access to land and sources of healing with the local community. Yulia is actively creating platforms and pathways to hold space for others to heal, to listen deeply and to transform. Ki is the founder of Widening Circle LLC, offering classes, WTR workshops and consulting services toward healing and transforming ecological, social and emotional systems. Yulia lives with her two sons in south-eastern Pennsylvania. Contact here: https://workthatreconnects.org/user/juliawideningcircle-com/.
The Work That Reconnects Network is a vibrant global community with 180 registered facilitators from over 15 different countries, 9,000+ friends and newsletter subscribers, and over 9,500 followers on Facebook.
The Work That Reconnects Network provides support, guidance, and inspiration to people all over the world in their work for the Great Turning, in diverse communities, schools, universities, businesses, government agencies, and NGOs.
The Work That Reconnects Network functions as a vibrant living system, providing communication, education, mutual support, and collaboration in creating curricula, practices, books and articles, music, poetry, and art.
To build a network of facilitators and community members in the Work That Reconnects for optimal communication, collaboration, inspiration, and mutual support, and to contribute to the Great Turning.
To promote the Work That Reconnects in the world by building relationships in person and via social media, an interactive website, a periodic journal, and other means.
To develop a support system with funding and staff to enable the Work That Reconnects Network to fulfill its vision.
Openness, transparency, connectivity, collaboration, inclusivity, diversity, kindness, service to the welfare of all beings of the three times and to the healing of the planet.
Although networks arise from the self-organization of all members, The Work That Reconnects Network is guided and supported by the Network Weavers Team, comprised of Network Weavers serving in a volunteer capacity and paid Network Staff serving in a part-time capacity. Current Network Weavers are: Werner Brandt, Molly Brown, Paula Hendrick, Kathleen Rude, and Constance Washburn. Current Network Staff are: Silvia Di Blasio, Frieda Nixdorf, and Jo delAmor.
The Network Weavers Team holds monthly online meetings to make decisions by consensus. Weavers and staff also participate in various committees that support Network programs. If you want to be involved in the Weavers Team, please let us know via our Contact Form. We especially welcome international Weavers (from outside the USA).
A new and improved website launched in September 2019 with greater accessibility and resources for our global network, including multilingual and international resources.
Educational webinars and interdisciplinary experiences for and by WTR facilitators to foster cross-pollination and collaboration.
Deep Times journal, published twice a year, with articles, essays, poetry, artwork and resources to inspire and inform our Work That Reconnects global community.
The Network is currently engaged in a fund-raising campaign to support these projects, including Deep Times journal. We welcome all donations, large and small.
Opportunities To Get Involved
We welcome volunteers experienced in the Work That Reconnects to help expand the Network and its activities. Please use the Contact Form to let us know if you want to help in these areas:
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Fund-raising and grant-writing to support the website, journal, scholarship fund, and other Network endeavors
Organizing and creating/facilitating webinars for facilitators and/or friends of the Work That Reconnects.
Image description: A block print on white paper. The print is rectangular and the background is gold. White calendula flowers vine around words that read: “Gather the seeds, the petals. Then you’re ready for what comes.”
Audio read by author
Calendula is growing everywhere in my neighborhood. The seeds are in the cracks in the sidewalk. I’ve been collecting as many as I can for future gardens and future medicines. Calendula can be used to aid digestion, build immunity, and more.
Audio version of biography
Marissa Perez (she/her, age 26) is a mixed white/Puerto Rican printmaker, comics maker, and youth worker who lives in Portland, Oregon. She teaches zine workshops and printmaking classes at the Independent Publishing Resource Center in Portland, OR and puts up posters about cats in her neighborhood. You can see more of her art here:https://cargocollective.com/marissabperez
Image I. A digital manipulated picture that appears to be forest and trees on the bank of a body of water. The image is reflected on itself across the center vertical axis. The trees are in yellow while other aspects are in maroon, gray/black and other tones with a washed out effect.
Image II. A digital manipulated picture of a pair of folded hands in pink colours in front of the heart of a female torso. Smoke or energy floating out from the heart in the centre. A dreamlike surrounding of green colour.
Image III. A digital manipulated picture that appears to be forest and trees on the bank of a body of water. The image is reflected on itself across the center vertical axis. The trees are in yellow. Below the yellow trees, another element is reflected across itself on a lower horizontal axis. It appears to be more trees in blacks and greys and a middle portion of reds and maroons in computer rendered, almost fractal-like designs.
Image IV. A digital dreamy manipulated picture of a pair of folded hands in front of the heart of a female torso. Dandylion seeds and red organ-like shapes surround the heart. Some of the dandylion seeds are piercing the heart of the red torso. The image is made up of pinks, blues, reds and white.
Image V. A digital manipulated picture that appears to be forest and trees on the bank of a body of water. The image is reflected on itself across the center vertical axis. The trees are in blue and the water and island in the background appear pink. Below the blue trees, another element is reflected across itself on a lower horizontal axis. It appears to be more trees in blacks and greys and a middle portion of greens in computer rendered, almost fractal-like designs.
Audio read by author
Our minds are often set on creating happiness for ourselves, very often at the cost of others because we don’t recognise and acknowledge our interdependency and the deeper connection we have to each other. If we had more compassion with ourselves, each other, the planet, its animals and the whole, we would create more sustainability, because we would think with a mind set on the whole, and not just ourselves. If we had more compassion and a stronger notion of interdependence and connection, Compassion could become the thread that would weave ourselves with each other and the planet instead of the opposite where compassion is absent, and where we hereby tear our connection to eachother, the earth and it’s animals apart from ourselves. For me Compassion and Interdependence is therefore crucial ingredients to creating sustainability.
Audio version of biography
Karina Kristoffersen McKenzie makes digital art, prints and textiles based on teachings of Tibetan Buddhism. She lives by the sea in the southern part of Norway. Karina attended two schools of art in Norway. After this she earned a Master in Psychology from Sweden meanwhile earning the degree as Art Therapist from the Institute of Art Therapy in Denmark. She has exhibited in London, New York and Venice and has made the tapestry interiors of Spiregården yogasenter in Kristiansand, Norway. Two of her pictures have just been included in the book Be Kind: The little book filled with love, hope and kindness to lift your spirits from Tecassia publishing this summer. She is exhibiting her art at the ECOFeminism festival in London in November this year.
Beloved Descendant, Mandala 2160 Surya Brahmana Arhaant III
“flow like a forest of kelp through cycles of time with faith in your ancestor’s bones roar more; unleash your full force!”
﹣ Arunima I, of the Storm.
Change is a force / kills false impressions / dances tandav on graves. Invites us folly to surrender to the wild indeterminacy of her powers. When you’ve received a colonialized education, you’re used to finding comfort in knowing enough. If our world were to flood, they would have us think that to survive means to be prepared enough, to possess enough, have enough / control over these ecosystems of death. Let us take flight from this. Let us ask instead, how will change possess us?
* * I. Journey: to grieve with courage.
I was living by the waters of Pacific Island Aotearoa. Certainly secure that we were on solid ground. The security of material and economic privilege is so strange / you become a frog comfortable in increasingly warm water / Did you know that powerlessness is taught and learned? When womxn bodies sense a threat, we can freeze dead in our tracks: we are nervous systems. This is not a system failure: preventing the leaking of energy / this is how we persist.
How have we arrived? You and I are millennia old. 202 years ago, the white man took on the burden of civilizing our families, our elders, our babies. Now, our survival has come to depend upon systems of learning created for earning, instead of learning to learn. We’ve been told that if we cannot / stop “producing,” we will perish. So we have become the best race at designing new technologies, efficiently utilizing our minds to labor for capital and accumulation. But Beloved, our liberation, foreign to these foreigners, lives beyond the patri-colonial designs of modernity.
Our Poorvaj have learned by // travelling // wailing. When colonial certainties collapse, the ruins of this structure expose the rotting, necessary. Modern citizens put a lot of faith in the four walls of concrete buildings. Our territories will protect us from the danger of / that which is / stranger. This is a false and comforting impression.
A few minutes after I say “they wouldn’t risk sending us home,” our leaders announce that we have four days to leave the island country. While Aotearoa is one of the safest places in the world right now (and to come, as we shall see) College authorities do not know how this crisis will unfold. Borders are rapidly closing now. We used to have “countries” back then and “going home” from abroad meant usually crossing borders. Everyone else in my group called “the United States” / the name colonists gave Turtle Island / home. Lesson I: Corona has little trouble flowing through bodies. Our group is atop a blue ice glacier when our program gets shut down.
The rush of our departure from Aoraki Glacier slows me down: this inertia will soon haunt me, too. A few hours.. or days.. pass as if a strange dream. A few of the Americans in our group have prepared to leave as soon as we get word. Of course, they are nothing if not efficient. Whereas, swimming in ambivalence and strong attachments, I am currently unaware of how fierce high tides are. After a 10 hour bus-ride to the nearest airport, 6 hours on the airport floor, and 2 hours in a propeller plane journeying to the capital, we arrive in some hostel. Sharing bunk beds / I am once again in inanimacy and strangely unpleasurable intimacy with these strange white cyborgs and their deadening / claims to occupation of space.
Audio read by author
II. Entropy: What lies beyond conquest
Where do we go from here? The Government of India has barred all passenger planes. Chaotic change is here and I have no safehouse to retreat to. Aotearoa is fast approaching national lockdown. I call the embassy and a disembodied voice indifferently says, “ask your university to arrange accommodation until further notice. We have no information from the government at this time.” They managed to say, “we couldn’t care enough to get you home.” without uttering one word. Keep working. Our International Scholars office buys me a 36-hour flight departing.. tomorrow. I look up the airline to confirm flight details. As of yesterday, the airline is bankrupt. This flight was to refuel in Australia; the country is not allowing any travellers to leave or transit through its gates. Maa and I decide to try an Air India ticket. I should’ve booked these quicker. There’s one flight going to Mumbai! And just as I try to click buy, she’s gone. Faster than I am.
Chaos is holding my hand now. Inviting me to cultivate a relationship with change and her ruthless grace. Aims for my belly button / rams her horns into gut / piercing pain / I’ll wait / I want to go home and home is family.. South Asia / A pool of my blood is collecting. Still, beside myself / managing this unfolding / I’ll prepare to wait it out until they allow flights to run? Yes.. what else could I..? / Oh god.. My insides are cracking open. It hurts to keep fighting for control.
** We remain very ill equipped for the reality of change.
Focus. try to / see clearly. This crisis is as much about a crisis as it is about continuing to dwell in colonial imaginations of crises. It is time to exorcise this all-consuming exercise for control.
Beware. Be less certain that you will always have the walls of your home to protect and serve. Seas of people among us who had homes yesterday are turned into refugees today, held by strange lines / limits borne of men’s imaginaries / What shields from the indeterminacy of chaos? What you deem / hoarded / yours, may become a burden, you stand to lose when change comes.
Security will mean bodies in / us / in / voluntary cages. To control is to possess security only until wild times rage. When walls built for protection turn to asphyxiate us, revolts will come.
“the natural order is disorder.” ﹣ Zaheer, Book Three: Change Episode 10.Long Live the Queen. The Legend of Korra.
Change takes off. Her pauses do not allow time for the kind of painstakingly deliberated replies, which it is our colonial gift to provide, in the interest of stability / “in control” / pretenses of remaining unaffected, unchanged by her departure. How will we stay alive? The floodgates open.
Audio read by author
III. Surrender: care flow tend ing
My entire being shakes. Finally. Let go. Relief arrives when you stop trying / struggling to float. I invite hands to hold me as grief flows. I am honest about the uncertainty of my situation with conspirators / a comforting outpouring of messages / con-spirare, to breathe together with. Multiple offers to stay in houses. A kindred settler spirit says, “do not worry, dear. If you choose to return to Turtle Island, you will be cared for.” We are all in the business of caring, tending to. So what if this body becomes the first terrain to call my home? There is security in their, too, in the sense that dimming, darkness, forces of death are supreme / they render bare all uncertainty.
The Black officer at LAX’s Immigration, Border Patrol and Customs entrypoint has a beautiful smile. I tell him so. He blushes, and we are both pools. Soon after I arrive, I begin training. In the arts of undoing / preparing to receive death / the chaos that has only just begun. There is no planet-saving, no more civilizing conquests here. My queer water-body is an ancestral reverend / learning to harness the limitless imaginaries that our poorvaj’s prayers breathed into us. Learning melanin-richness, she holds / this infinite pluriverse / matters of love / dying matters / with grace and agility. As changes reap a late spring harvest of death, we dance wild with grief. We must. Care for those patriarchal, colonial, capital’s designs do not consider: all beings, more or less.
we survive, through intimacy with force: chaos, we thrive in. with care: we prepare for chaos.
Our bodies transform. We are sacred forms. our desires are ascetic; we exorcise domination and relinquish his narratives of control. We are sacred seeds. And we take root among the stars, Beloved.
Audio version of biography
Arunima Singh Jamwal (Pronouns: All interchangeably, 21) In Sanskrit, Arunima means the first ray of sunlight and red glow of dawn. Arunima draws creative strength from their Sikh, Scythian, and Suryavanshi ancestral lineages and Queer kinships. As an animist and affective anthropologist, Arunima writes to unveil hidden presents and liberating possibilities. Arunima works to bring healing and balance to bodies, cultures, and communities suffering from colonial-capitalism, intergenerational traumas, and cycles of violence. A’s favorite spiral is the Māori koru that always brings us back to our point of origin and calm harmony.
Presently a settler-immigrant on the Cowlitz’s lands in Portland OR, Arunima loves listening to plants and podcasts. When not writing, trail-running, or coordinating community-based Climate Justice initiatives for Lewis & Clark College’s Sustainability Council, Arunima can be found immersed in a melanated feminist book, reading about healing justice circles, or curating The Gurh Life at Instagram.
Image: A round embroidery showing a yellow and orange California poppy with a green stem. The Hebrew word “דַּיֵּנוּ” arches overhead in black. Yellow dashed thread circles the piece inside the wooden embroidery hoop.
Dayenu Origin: Hebrew “It would have been enough for us”. Context: A song sung on the Jewish holiday of Passover, recounting the miracle of liberation from the Narrow Place and celebrating each small miracle within. Passover fell in the fourth week of shelter-in-place in the year 5780/2020.
Dear one, I could tell you of my suffering, and keep telling you. I could tell you of my wholeness, and keep telling you. I want, I yearn, I long and every day there’s something that gives me reason to say: it’s enough, for today. A new growth of poppies emerges after the rain. The house finch sings on the telephone wire. The neighbor plays the saxophone in the nearby park. I list these moments of wholeness, of sufficiency, recite them like a prayer. Nearly five months have passed, and looking back through lists of solace I’m faced again with what I’ve lost, what I once held close to my chest, cradling my “enough.” And beneath that, a constancy, a stream of contentment in small moments, shifting in form but insistent in their message of belonging. A friend holds my gaze from ten feet away, and I am not alone. The summer heat brings freckles to my skin and stone fruit drips its juice down my chin. The toddler next door blows bubbles from the front porch, blows me a kiss. If I can find today’s “dayenu” – if I can be open to it in spite of all that’s gone – I have a raft on the river of my grief.
I think of you, and all you’ve lost. All that you keep losing. What remains? Who remains? Can that be enough, for today?
With you, Riv
Audio version of biography
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Riv Ranney Shapiro (28) (they/them/theirs) is a queer Ashkenazi multi-modal artist, educator and ordained Kohenet (feminist Jewish ritualist) living on Chochenyo Ohlone land. Their creative work is process-oriented and often participatory, reveling in the intersections of ancestors, interspecies relationship, justice, queerness and spirituality. Blending the roles of Educator, Priestess and Artist, Riv is dedicated to sharing the wisdom and the medicine of their Jewish ancestors through adaptive, accessible, and liberatory means. “Slow Down”, their feminist adaptation of the Avinu Malkeinu melody, has traveled across religious and continental boundaries to be sung in communities across the world. In 2020 Riv was selected as a Rising Song Fellow with the Hadar Institute and Joey Weisenberg, and they look forward to deepening their songwriting and leadership in that container. For music, film and Kohenet services, visit rivshapiro.com.
Wow, Look at that! It’s the sky, it’s blue. And look at the ocean, We don’t have that anymore.
And at the mountains, And at the trees, We don’t have those either. We don’t have any of this anymore.
Excuse me! Ok so if you could just Hang on, don’t buy that! Stop, wait! Don’t just throw that away!
Umm Hey Stop No wait No No stop No STOP
Please start making changes…
It doesn’t need to be drastic,
It doesn’t need to be large, It just needs…to be everyone.
Even if this won’t change your life,
It will change mine.
Audio version of biography
My name is Percie Littlewood and I am 11 years old. I am going into 7th grade. I live in the Bay Area in California. I have lived near the beach my whole life and love the ocean. I love to travel with my family to places abroad. I enjoy scuba diving with my Dad in Monterey Bay and being out in nature. I was on the slam poetry team for two years in my school. I can always be found reading and love books.