Honoring our pain for the world in an interconnected world includes honoring the pain of moral injury that we all share, consciously or not. Here’s how the Moral Injury Project at Syracuse University defines and describes moral injury:
Moral injury is the damage done to our conscience or moral compass when we perpetrate, witness, or fail to prevent acts that violate our moral beliefs, values, or ethical codes of conduct.
Moral Injury breaks the spirit. It makes people question their ability to do the right thing and leaves them contaminated with the feeling that they’re “bad,” “disgusting,” or “beyond redemption.” They may feel that they have an evil twin lurking inside. Moral Injury often leads to self-harm. People turn to alcohol, drugs, and self-isolation to avoid the pain of their feelings. (1)
Military service people have suffered moral injury in wars and military actions for centuries, but only recently has this wounding been recognized as distinct from PTSD (although it can accompany PTSD) and as needing spiritual healing. This is an issue so close to my heart–the harm we do collectively sending soldiers off to war, into situations where they have to violate their moral values to follow orders or survive. Are we not then complicit in the moral injury they suffer?
Many indigenous cultures recognize moral injury, calling it by other names. They recognize when a member has fallen out of harmony and needs to be restored through ceremony, chanting, drumming, and community support.
The Moral Injury Group at the Philadelphia Veterans Administration Medical Center offers a 12-week program that works with veterans, both individually and in group sessions, to help them explore the moral and spiritual dimension of their military experience, and appropriately address moral and spiritual pain and struggle. (2)
Many of us, both soldiers and civilians, are suffering moral injury by witnessing—and in some cases participating in—acts of violence and oppression.
In today’s world, we all live within systems of oppression, racism, exploitation, extraction, and consumption that likely violate our deepest moral values if we allow ourselves to take it in. Understanding the concept of moral injury can reveal how many of us, both soldiers and civilians, are suffering moral injury by witnessing—and in some cases participating in—acts of violence and oppression. When we learn about the many environmental assaults going on today, do we not suffer moral injury?
The Water Protectors engaged in civil disobedience at the Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota have been subjected to “harm compliance” by police, who inflict extreme pain and injury on peaceful protestors to force them to give up. I believe all parties involved—Water Protectors, police, journalists, and other observers—are likely suffering moral injury as a result.
In the Work That Reconnects, as we honor our pain for the world, let’s explore ways we can bring moral injury into awareness and into practices like the Truth Mandala. Simply explaining the concept may be liberating for people, giving them a name for an inchoate feeling they’ve carried within them. Offering community support for talking about the moral injury they’ve suffered can be a first step to healing. We can also design community healing rituals to help everyone feel at home once again in the family of all beings.
Molly Brown co-authored Coming Back to Life: The Updated Guide to the Work That Reconnects with Joanna Macy and edits Deep Times journal. Molly brings ecopsychology, the Work That Reconnects, and psychosynthesis to her work writing books and essays, teaching on-line courses, phone coaching, talks and workshops. Her six books include Growing Whole: Self-realization for the Great Turning and Lighting a Candle: Collected Reflections on a Spiritual Life. With Mutima Imani and Constance Washburn, Molly co-directs Spiral Journey, a Facilitator Development Program for the Work That Reconnects MollyYoungBrown.com.
Edited by Molly Young Brown and Carolyn Wilbur Treadway Psychosynthesis Press, 2009
Twelve years ago Deep Times editors Molly and Carolyn edited and published Held in Love. We bring it to your attention now because it is especially relevant to the “Sacred Wisdom, Sacred Earth” theme of this issue of Deep Times and to connection with the sacred that is so much needed in these troubled times.
Held in Love is a moving collection of stories, poems, and artwork from 72 writers and artists who share experiences of connection with a loving Source within and beyond themselves—in times of hardship or unexpected grace, alone, in nature, or with others. These writings and images offer examples of ways love can guide and sustain us through the challenges of the Great Unraveling and the Great Turning.
Endorsements for the book:
Joanna Macy: “Here in many voices, forms, and stories we encounter afresh the mystery at the core of our existence—the mystery we belong to and essentially are. This beautiful, humble, and amazing book sings my heart and mind awake.”
Bill Plotkin: “We are each uniquely who we are by virtue of our relationships to everything else, including the mysterious totality that holds everything. Not only are we not alone, we are in an intimate dance with all things, a dance that defines us and supports us. In this wonderful collection, Molly and Carolyn have gathered from a host of colleagues poignant stories and poems describing how people discover, often unexpectedly and astonishingly, their full belonging to Earth, Universe, Mystery, Community, or Self.”
Bill McKibben: “Thank you for doing this book. It is a goodhearted, wholehearted one.”
Order Held in Love online or through local brick-and-mortar bookstores everywhere. For more information about the book, visit PsychosynthesisPress.com.
Molly Brown, editor of Deep Times, co-authored Coming Back to Life: The Updated Guide to the Work That Reconnects with Joanna Macy. Molly brings ecopsychology, the Work That Reconnects, and psychosynthesis to her work writing books and essays, teaching on-line courses, phone coaching, talks and workshops. Her six books include Growing Whole: Self-realization for the Great Turning and Lighting a Candle: Collected Reflections on a Spiritual Life. With Mutima Imani and Constance Washburn, Molly directs and teaches Spiral Journey, a Facilitator Development Program for the Work That Reconnects MollyYoungBrown.com.
Carolyn Treadway is a therapist, pastoral counselor, social worker, and life coach, now retired after more than 60 years of facilitating change and growth in people’s lives. She “speaks for Earth” as a climate leader and mentor (trained by Al Gore and the Climate Reality Project), anti-nuclear activist, conference planner, workshop facilitator, writer, editor and photographer. She has been part of the Work That Reconnects since the early 1980’s. With her husband Roy, she lives in Lacey, Washington. Their three children and four young grandchildren constantly fuel her motivation to preserve our precious Earth. Contact her at [email protected].
Becoming Gaia: On the Threshold of Planetary Initiation, by Sean Kelly. Integral Imprint Publishing.
Sean Kelly’s new book, Becoming Gaia: On the Threshold of Planetary Initiation, is not an easy read, but it is an important one, because “it takes enormous courage to face our fear.” He helps me find the moral and physical courage Joanna Macy calls forth in the story of “The Shambala Warriors.” https://vimeo.com/191169785
Sean Kelly is steeped in the Work That Reconnects and understands Joanna Macy’s call to a new lifeway for western industrial citizens. He also understands history and post- and meta-modern philosophies and theologies. His grasp of the science of climate change and the current Great Dying is evident. He joins others who see these as the End Times.
I struggle to read his book because the words and ideas are big and they are true, and they are sometimes scary. I have to read slowly and ponder deeply, especially the beginning chapters of the book. It may not be good news, but at least, I am facing reality. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I am afraid. I am always given food for thought for where we are and how we got here.
I find in Kelly’s book… a way to face and embrace this “planetary initiation.”
At the same time, for practical reasons, like trying to live in the face of global extinctions, injustices, pandemics, genocides, and economic inequities, I have to find a way to get up in the morning. For this, I find in Kelly’s book, especially the last chapter, where he makes distinctions and connections from the perspective of the Work That Reconnects, a way to face and embrace this “planetary initiation.” He brings Joanna’s life message to light in a way that helps me live in the moment while accepting all the pain and joy, the beauty and the moral injury, with integrity, face on, no denial.
I immediately recognized the last chapter, “Living in End Times: Beyond Hope and Despair,” as the long essay that was initially published online as a response to Jem Bendell’s rather earth-shaking essay/blog of the summer of 2018: “Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy.”(1) In that essay, Bendell outlined that our planetary jig was up, by our own doing. Kelly’s response did not negate Bendell’s “terminal diagnosis,” but it brought forward important messaging about how to live and face death in the end times. In other words, how do we prepare for “a good death”?
I recommend reading this last chapter first because, as a WTR facilitator, these words are immediately accessible: easy to understand and useful for workshops. Then, begin at the beginning of the book, and take as much time as you need to ponder and absorb Kelly’s foundational ideas.
Sean invites us to think of “going forth” more as “planetary hospice workers.”
As facilitators of the Work That Reconnects, we are already hearing less and less about successfully bringing about a Great Turning before the Great Unraveling is complete. There is little time for correcting what is mayo mana, for rethinking our bad ideas that brought us to this moment. Sean invites us to think of “going forth” more as “planetary hospice workers.” Reading this book can prepare us to speak to this new consciousness of a destiny that defies hope and calls for courage as we go forth “to love for the sake of life, and live for the sake of love.”
(1) Bendell, Jem. (2018). Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy. https://jembendell.com/2019/05/15/deep-adaptation-versions/.
Martha O’Hehir is an interfaith eco-chaplain and a facilitator for Joanna Macy’s Work That Reconnects. Her primary gifts are her voice, writing, and analytical skills. She has employed these as a musician, liturgist, educator, curriculum writer, retreat facilitator and editor. As an eco-chaplain, Martha joins fellow seekers attracted to Spirit through the Integral Christian Network and Wild Church. As an editor and writer, she serves the American Orff Schulwerk Association and the Work That Reconnects as a member of the editorial boards of their respective journals, The Orff Echo and The Deep Times Journal. In recent years, she has been exploring the kin-dom of plants and their medicine as a way of growing into a more grateful and earth-loving lifeway. Her greatest joys are receiving inspirations from Spirit, journaling, and knowing that her children and former students are blessing the world.
What you encounter, recognize or discover depends to a large degree on the quality of your approach. Many of the ancient cultures practiced careful rituals of approach… When we approach with reverence, great things decide to approach us. Our real life comes to the surface and its light awakens the concealed beauty in things. When we walk on the earth with reverence, beauty will decide to trust us. The rushed heart and arrogant mind lack the gentleness and patience to enter that embrace. –John O’Donohue
A couple of years ago, I found myself in a most beautiful encounter with wild baboons in the Cape Point Nature Reserve in South Africa where I live. As my friends and I sat quietly, the baboons chose to approach us with both curiosity and gentleness. It felt like they were approaching us in the way we would approach them. Respectfully, careful not to spook us. What ensued were incredible moments of what I can only describe as intimacy with the wild that touched me deeply–hard to put into words. It brought to mind John O’Donohue’s words above. The experience made me ponder the notion of reverence and what is needed to cultivate this kind of approach to the world, to myself, to others. How would it be to approach the shy, wild, or wounded parts of ourselves with reverence rather than judgment? What would happen if we looked at each other more often from the place of openness, curiosity, and awe that reverence seems to hint at? And whilst being aware that this will be an ongoing dance between forgetting and remembering, how can I embody more often my reverence for life in what or who I encounter? I only need to spend a few hours with family to realize that this is anything but easy. Like many other important things in life, for me, increasing the possibility of experiencing this reverent approach requires a slowing down and quietening so that I have space to notice what is in front of me and space for choice to see it afresh. Without that space, I see and react to things from a place of habit and jump into the all too familiar, comfortable and well worn groove of the stories I have about myself, others and the world. Comfortable because I know them so well and thus feel in control. As O’Donohue says, the mind can be ‘arrogant’ in assuming it knows everything there is to know about what’s in front of us! This is hard-wired into our neurobiology for survival and it takes a lot to continuously challenge our own perception and to realize that things are not as they are but as we are. All that we have experienced, and, as epigenetics show us, all that our ancestors experienced, shapes the lens through which we perceive the world around us.
Reverence requires some ‘unknowing’, a widening of our perception, an allowing of the mystery of the present moment
So reverence requires some ‘unknowing’, a widening of our perception, an allowing of the mystery of the present moment. I am reminded of moments when I am dancing when I have caught a glimpse of my own sacredness or beauty and the miracle of being alive in a body, when I’ve looked at my moving hand in awe and seen it for the miracle of life it is, when I have seen the billions of years of evolution that went into its making, when I felt the connection to all the ancestors who are part of this hand, when I realized anew that this hand will one day no longer exist..
And then there are the moments of grace when I catch sight of others and see them as more than the person I know, more than a mix of appealing and annoying traits, more than the particular behaviour they engage in. Of course, all too often, I am swept up by the busyness of my thoughts and the perfectly and strategically arranged pathways to the known they lead me on. No space for reverence or unexpected beauty there. It’s no accident that these moments of opening to reverence happen most often when I am dancing, moving mindfully, or in nature. There, my mind is quieter, I am more connected to my other ways of knowing, my senses, my imagination. And the more I learn about how the brain works, the more I recognise how much practice, commitment, and dedication it takes to continuously see beyond our own biases, stories, and assumptions. It’s for good reason that John O’Donohue mentions the ‘careful rituals of approach’.
What’s your experience of approaching–life, the world around you, other beings, yourself–with reverence? In what situations, with whom, have you practiced this or where might you want to bring this way of being into play?
Petra Bongartz is a passionate curator of spaces that invite us to be human together. Through movement, creative, relational, and embodied enquiry, she facilitates reconnection with our own wild intelligence. She is a practitioner and facilitator of the Work that Reconnects. Alongside her studies in Movement Medicine, Processwork, and other modalities, she draws on many years of experience of facilitating diverse groups in Africa, Europe, and Asia, whilst working in international development. Originally from Europe, she now lives in South Africa and is most at home in the forest, connecting with all creatures great and small.
As a Work That Reconnects facilitator and a biological anthropologist, I love to add some science into my offerings, especially for the Seeing with New/Ancient Eyes and Deep Time phases of the work.
Pablo Carlos Budassi, CC BY-SA 4.0 creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
This prayer, recitation or meditation honors the sacred power that resides within Nature. The practice is an exploration of our own human location in deep time and deep space, our intimacy and dependence on the microcosmic and macrocosmic turnings of our universe. It encourages the practitioner to follow a journey of deep centeredness and vast expansion of their conscious connection to everything.
The specifics of the recitation, and how you envision each step you take, should be informed by the best scientific consensus available, and may therefore change as scientific understandings change. If some aspects of this recitation are unfamiliar to you, think of it as an opportunity to explore and learn more about your self, your world, and your home in the universe. Once you know about each step and what it means, you may choose to ‘skip over’ or consolidate steps that feel less vital to you, as long as you remember they are there.
Choose a beneficent wish or blessing, to hold respect and gratitude and wonder in your heart and mind as you move through your recitation.
Choose a beneficent wish or blessing, to hold respect and gratitude and wonder in your heart and mind as you move through your recitation. In Novasutras circles, we use “May __________ abide in agaya and ubuntu.” (Agaya references the joy, creativity and wonder of the living world; ubuntu is a word from southern Africa that emphasizes interdependence, community and care.) In more general settings, I often work with “May _______ be suffused with compassion and loving kindness,” for each of the sub-categories. “May _________ receive my respect and gratitude,” is another way to work.
Feel free to vary the blessing, day by day, in ways that feel most appropriate to you and your experience. Other options (to be used alone or in combination, perhaps just with All My Relations) include:
May ________ be well. May we be free from physical and mental suffering.
May ________ know joy. May we be free from useless fear.
For human levels, you might include: May we have the devotion, strength and energy to be agents of positive change.
Below you will find an outline of the journey, down into the microcosm, then back up through all our relations that make up the living Earth, then out to the macrocosm. Each of the descriptions offered is a useful example, based on current scientific understanding of the wondrous and beautiful origins and evolution of life and the universe. You may choose to rephrase these based on your understanding (or to be understood by a group sharing the practice).
It is important to acknowledge that “Western” science is only one way of knowing, and that indigeneous and other faith perspectives also hold great value and insights. You might invite a conversation about these alternative ways of understanding our relationships to Nature, or invite participants to relate their specific cultural stories about how life came to be.
As you go through the Recitation/Meditation below, do your best to envision as many of the things within each categorical blessing as you can, while moving through them with a gentle rhythm. Do not forget to always include yourself, and think of “we” when moving through the organism-macrocosm levels.
One could go into more detail with each on organism-macrocosm section, referencing example organisms, if you wish a longer meditation session. For instance, at the first mammals and all their descendants, you could pause to offer specific blessings to the humpback whales, the coyotes, the pikas, the aardvarks, the koalas, and so forth. You could also only do a sub-section, or choose a few favorite milestones, when a shorter meditation time is available.
The Recitation/Meditation/Prayer to the Sacred Infra-Natural
Start with self
The complex being that is me.
Descend to the Microcosm
My many interacting organ systems
Each of my organs
All of my tissues
All of the cells that make up my body, both those with my own genes, and those symbionts that reside on and within me (I also sometimes say “those microbes who dwell with me and do me no harm”)
All of the networked organelles and processes within my cells
Each of the molecules that is currently a part of me
The atoms within me
The particles within my atoms – the familiar neutrons, protons, electrons [along with all those leptons and bosons that we’re beginning to detect and understand]
The quarks and quanta that make matter and energy possible
Return to Self
You might choose an alternative blessing or offering of gratitude as you step back up the scale to the self.
The particles within my atoms
The atoms within me
Each of the molecules that is currently a part of me…
On up through organelles, cells, tissues, organs, organ systems, to
The complex being that is me.
All My Relations: Ancestors and Descendants (1)
My parents and all their descendants (siblings)
My grandparents and all their descendants (aunts, uncles, first cousins)
All my great-grandparents and all their descendants (second cousins)
All my great-great-great-great-great grandparents and all their descendants (seven generations) (2)
The first humans and all their descendants (all humans) (3)
The first apes and all their descendants (all apes, Hominoidea)
The first monkeys (anthropoid primates) and all their descendants
The first primates and all their descendants (all Primates)
The first Archonta and all their descendants (primates + tree shrews + colugos + bats)
The first placental mammals and all their descendants
The first mammals and all their descendants (all mammals)
The first amniotes and all their descendants (mammals + reptiles + birds)
The first tetrapods and all their descendants (amniotes + amphibians)
The first bony fishes and all their descendants (Osteichthyes)
The first vertebrates and all their descendants (all vertebrates)
The firstBilateriaand all their descendants (vertebrates + insects + spiders + tardigrades + worms + molluscs + bryozoans and other bilateral animals)
The first animals and all their descendants (all animals)
The first Opisthokonts and all their descendants (animals + fungi and some other small groups)
The first Eukaryotes and all their descendants (Opisthokonts+plants: things with nucleated cells)
The first Life on Earth and all their descendants (all living things on Earth: Eukaryotes, Bacteria, Archaea, and perhaps Viruses)
Expand from biosphere to macrocosm
Our shared biosphere (4)
The Earth and her entire atmosphere
The Earth-Moon system (in its dance)
The inner Solar system, from its bright center, through the rocky planets, to the asteroid belt
The greater Solar system, out through the gas giants, the Kuiper belt and out to the heliopause
The sphere of our radio transmissions, nearly 115 light-years out (in September 2021) and growing each second at the speed of light (5)
Our stellar neighborhood, of all the easily visible individual stars
Our arm of the great Milky Way galaxy
The whole spiraling system of the Milky Way galaxy, from its massive core to its associated “clouds” of stars
The dancing gravitational partnership of the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies
Our local neighborhood of galaxies
The great Virgo supercluster of galaxies
The visible universe
Return to Biosphere
Walk back through the Virgo supercluster, local galactic neighborhood, Milky Way, spiral arm, stellar neighborhood, radio bubble, heliopause, inner Solar system, Earth-Moon system, Earth and biosphere. Again, you might choose an alternative blessing or offering of gratitude as you work your way back.
Return through Relations to Self
Walk back through all Life on Earth, all Eukaryotes, Opisthokonts, animals, Bilateria, vertebrates, Osteichthyes, tetrapods, amniotes, mammals, placental mammals, Archonta, Primates, anthropoids, apes, humans, seven generations, great grandparents, grandparents, parents. Come back to your self.
Close with gratitude
Expand with gratitude to all that is around and within you: the co-creators that have supported you and made your life possible. Rest in knowing that you are part of the unfolding co-creation of the universe.
(1) Tree of Life (http://tolweb.org/) is a good place to get the background on this section. Remember that “all their descendants” may extend even farther into the future than it does into the past. This entire walk goes back about 4 billion years.
(2)Assuming no interbreeding, you would have had 128 such ancestors. If they had an average of over 2.3 offspring who also survived to reproduce, this would be a set of at least 350 distant cousins alive today.
(3)Fossil and genetic evidence suggest the first members of our biological species, Homo sapiens, lived in Africa about 300 thousand years ago (https://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/human-fossils/species/homo-sapiens). The first members of our genus Homo, probably Homo habilis, lived as long as 2.4 million years ago. Our ancestors and the ancestors of what became modern chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and bonobos (Pan paniscus) parted ways somewhere around 6 to 8 million years ago.
(4)Considered to include not only all living and previously living matter, but also those components of the lithosphere (minerals), atmosphere (gases) and hydrosphere (water) that are actively influenced and regulated as part of the metabolic cycles of the sum of all organisms on earth. It’s quite a lovely and complex place.
Michelle Y. Merrill, Ph.D., is the founder of Novasutras, an ecospiritual organization helping people through the Great Turning. Her background in anthropology, evolutionary science and sustainability education led her to conclude that there is an unmet need for an egalitarian spiritual movement with scientific sensibilities to support change agents. Michelle studied the social behavior of wild bonobos in the rainforests of Congo and orangutans in Indonesia in the late 1990s, gaining a recognition of the importance of social affiliation and cultural learning in all of us apes, while witnessing the loss of rainforests, their inhabitants and indigenous cultures.
Networks are the only form of organization used by living systems on this planet. These networks result from self-organization, where individuals or species recognize their interdependence and organize in ways that support the diversity and viability of all. Networks create the conditions for emergence, which is how Life changes. – Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze, “Lifecycle of Emergence: Using Emergence to Take Social Innovation to Scale,” BerkanaInstitute.org
To design and build an international self-organizing non-hierarchical network of facilitators and community members in the Work That Reconnects for optimal communication, collaboration, inspiration, and mutual support.
To promote the Work That Reconnects by building relationships in person and through 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.
The Work That Reconnects Network provides support, guidance, and inspiration to people all over the world in their work for the Great Turning, specifically by making Work That Reconnects available in diverse communities, schools, universities, businesses, government agencies, and NGOs.
The Network actively seeks to incorporate anti-oppression values and learnings in all of its communications, and to support the ongoing development of Work That Reconnects workshop practices along these lines.
The Network functions as a vibrant living system, providing communication, education, mutual support, and collaboration in creating and disseminating curricula, practices, books and articles, music, poetry, and art.
The Work That Reconnects Network seeks to embody these values: Openness, transparency, connectivity, collaboration, inclusivity, diversity, and kindness, all in service to the health and vibrancy of human communities and all the living systems of planet earth.
The Network recognizes the current state of crisis and unraveling of local communities and worldwide living systems and particularly supports activism with eyes wide open to our situation.
We believe that contemplating and experiencing, with others, the Spiral of the Work has profound contributions to make.
Hello everyone this is Helen Sui from China.I’m a full time coach, trainer and facilitator. Before then I was working in an English language training organization for over 19 years. I enjoy teaching, coaching and leading training and workshops. I do training on the topics of management, leadership and self exploring, discovering and development. The day I got to know Active Hope, The Work That Reconnects, I fell in love with it. Covid-19 brought the online opportunity to bring the work to China in a much broader way and it supported thousands of people through the mess, which strengthens my determination to bring this work further and deeper in China. It’s not widely and well known in China yet meanwhile it’s moving forward gradually but non-stop. It feels like the heartbeat, which is not always noticeable but always there. I believe the web is vibrating and the ripples are passing on and on and on… I look forward to getting deeply immersed and involved in the work. I look forward to getting to know and meeting more Shambhala Warriors.
Working primarily in the East Bay and Sonoma County in California, I work as a group process facilitator as well as a one-on-one spiritual and somatic counselor, focusing on the relationships with self, with community, and with the planet. I have deep roots in intentional communities and group decision making as well as in using theater and ritual to support social change, embodied mindfulness and personal growth. I’ve taught, trained and facilitated most of these practices since the early 90s. In groups my primary paradigm is the Work That Reconnects, mixing in my theater, group process, nature awareness and counseling backgrounds. Much of my work involves helping people harvest from expanded consciousness work, whether individual or group experiences, in order to make lasting change. As part of this I use the Work That Reconnects to support groups in the integration process. I appreciate that the Work helps people find their way through their pain to finding a path toward engaging in our world. I facilitate in order to help people do that, using community as a core piece of the work.
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.
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.
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.