September 2023 Issue

by Molly Brown

Recorded by author

Click on image for artist’s comments and bio.

 The theme for this September 2023 issue, Metabolizing Grief to Nurture the Great Turning, grew out of confronting the many tragedies and injustices we on the editorial team (and everyone we know) are experiencing or witnessing today, and our struggle to honor and work with our grief in response to  it all.  Our team was inspired by a quote from Martin Prechtel that one of our members brought to us: “Metabolize your losses with grief and feed the resulting beauty to life.”  We can metabolize our pain for the world–in other words: process, digest, break down, and convert that pain into energy and wisdom–and thereby nurture the Great Turning.

We received a cornucopia of submissions, more than for any previous issue, with an abundance of poetry.  Then we faced the very challenging task of choosing what to include in this issue; we had to consult our submission guidelines again and again in making our decisions.  Please know that in addition to the heart-felt poetry and essays you find here, there were many more worthy submissions–some of which we may bring to you in future issues.

We share here essays and poetry that interweave experiences of loss, trauma, and grief with the effects of fully experiencing them, acknowledging and celebrating the courage, perseverance, and wisdom that grows with deepening awareness of the transformative beauty of our feelings, other beings, and our world.  

Gratitude can emerge in the midst of pain and loss, as the first stage of the Spiral suggests.  A poem by Susan Solinsky on the Buddhist practice of “Tonglen” introduces this section, followed by k.c.klein’s personal essay “Radical Gratitude in the Redwoodsand Katharine Burke’s reflections on “What Beans Tell Us.”  A poem by April Tierney, “A Progeny of Love,” reminds us of the close relationship between love and grief, guiding us into the next stage of the Spiral.

To Honor Our Pain for the World and metabolize it, we need to recognize and express it.  Amelia Brady’s poem, “Burning River,” cries out about an environmental horror.  Skye Cielita Flor & Miraz Indira’s essay, “The Joyful Lament: On Pain for the World,” explores how the capacity to be with our sorrows in community can bring people back to life, to tend to it again.  In her poem, “Lament of the Bones,” offered in English and Hebrew, Osnat Lev Ari decries the ways we separate ourselves from nature, even in death.

Yulia Smagorinsky’s essay “The Global Scale of Metabolizing Grief” suggests how releasing our pain to Earth could support Earth’s regeneration. Juliana Diniz explores how people’s seeming indifference to the suffering in the world is actually a defense against strong, painful emotions in “A Vote of Confidence in Human Goodness.” Kert Lenseigne’s poem, “holy communion,” serves as a benediction to this stage of the Spiral.

 Joshua Davies’ poem, “In My Undoing” carries us into Seeing with New (and Ancient) Eyes.  Beloved Elder in the Work That Reconnects  John Seed offers his reflections on “Hearing, Inside Ourselves, the Sounds of the Earth Crying,” while another long-time facilitator of the Work, Barbara Ford, honors uncertainty in her essay and poem, “The Empty Bowl and the Alchemy of Uncertainty.”  In “Realigning with Life,” NVC visionary Miki Kashtan shares a series of conversations about needs, impacts, resources, and choice.  Stephanie Yuhas writes about a magical, transformative Council of All Beings at Naropa University in “A Wake-up Call.” Matt Streit explores how  Embracing Extinction and Stubborn Optimism” can free us to act on behalf of life, and Molly Fisk closes this section with her blessing poem, “Explanation.”

Going Forth opens with a poem by Tet Koffeman, “we practised to love all the people.” In “Metabolizing Grief in Mental Health: A Provider’s Perspective,” Sara Thorsen and Krista Gaston tell about their collective of mental health professionals facing the challenges of global crises.  The second part of an interview with Michael Wellman focuses on “Resistance, Reskilling, and Re-Membering” as dimensions of the Great Turning.  In her essay and poem “Lighting a Candle,” Judy Myerson proposes a simple practice to bear witness to our collective grief, while Barbara Whitfield shares her practice, “On Taking a Poem for a Walk.”   Nicholas Tippins offers us eleven “Ways of Grieving” in a concluding poem.

Evolving Edge features a “Letter to Facilitators” by Priyal Shah, helping us all to see how the Work That Reconnects has inadvertently created spaces of marginalization, exclusion, and oppression–and what we can do about it!  

In our Resources section, Anna Switzer offers a new practice, “Wander with a Question.”  Allie Picketts shares “A Song that Reconnects,” the lyrics of which came to her during a five-week online Work That Reconnects workshop.  Karina Lutz recommends three poems on the Web that relate to our theme:  Jeff Conant’s “Bestiary for the End Times,” Ugandan artist Maya Adams’s visual poem “Climate Changed,” and Natalie Diaz’s “Alchemy Horse.”

And the Network News section introduces a new Weaver and announces the upcoming Gaian Gathering.

We hope you find food for heart, mind, and soul in this issue, as together we metabolize our grief (and rage and fear and despair) for the world to nurture the Great Turning to a life-sustaining, just, and thriving world for all humans and all life.


Gratitude

Tonglen

poem by Susan Solinsky

Radical Gratitude in the Redwoods

by k. c. klein
k.c.'s reflections on grief and gratitude during a Buddhist Eco-Chaplaincy retreat

What Beans Tell Us

by Katharine Burke
The author/gardener shares bean wisdom: At the end of the season come the seeds- carry your loss as desire.

The Progeny of Love

prose poem by April Tierney

Honoring Our Pain for the World

Burning River

poem by Amelia Brady

The Joyful Lament: on Pain for the World

by Skye Cielita Flor & Miraz Indira
Growing the capacity to be with and metabolise our sorrows, in community, is how we come back to life, and remember how to tend to it again. 

Lament of the Bones

poem by Osnat Lev Ari
in English and Hebrew

The Global Scale of Metabolizing Grief

by Yulia Smagorinsky
Yulia shares a perspective on our world today, suggesting that releasing our pain to Earth can support Earth’s regeneration.

A Vote of Confidence in Human Goodness

by Juliana Diniz
Juliana explores how to resist hyper-individualization and "unclog our emotional pores" as we confront massive suffering and loss in the world today.

holy communion

poem by Kert Lenseigne

Seeing with New/Ancient Eyes

In My Undoing

poem by Joshua Davies

Hearing, Inside Ourselves, the Sounds of the Earth Crying

by John Seed
John explores the importance and power of metabolizing grief in service to defending Earth.

The Empty Bowl and the Alchemy of Uncertainty

by Barbara Ford
Barbara reflects on the challenges and gifts of uncertainty in these very uncertain times.

Realigning with Life

by Miki Kashtan
Miki shares a series of conversations about volition, flow, needs, impacts, resources, choice, and the power of togetherness.

A Wake-up Call

by Stephanie Yuhas
A Council of All Beings at Naropa University helps students transform their despair.

Embracing Extinction and Stubborn Optimism

by Matt Streit
Matt suggests that instead of despairing and fearing the future, embracing all possible future outcomes frees us to act on behalf of life.. 

Explanation

poem by Molly Fisk

Going Forth

we practised to love all the people

poem by Tet Koffeman
in English & Dutch

Metabolizing Grief in Mental Health: A Provider’s Perspective

by Sara Thorsen, LMFT and Krista Gaston, LMFT
The Bloom + Grow Collective is a collaborative of mental health professionals passionate about advocating for and supporting the well-being of providers, based on the Spiral of the Work That Reconnects.

Resistance, Reskilling, and Re-Membering

interview with Michael Wellman by Molly Brown
The second part of our interview focuses on the Great Turning as explored in Michael's dissertation.

Light a Candle

poem and essay by Judy Myerson
Judy offers us a simple practice for bearing witness to our collective grief and loss, and illuminating our path to our collective evolution as a species.

On Taking A Poem For A Walk

by Barbara Whitfield
Barbara describes a practice she has discovered, and its wonderful effects.

Ways of grieving

prose poem by Nicholas Tippins

Evolving Edge

Why I Resist: A Letter to Facilitators

by Priyal Shah
Priyal addresses an uncomfortable truth: the Work That Reconnects has inadvertently created spaces of marginalization, exclusion, and oppression.

Resources

Wander with a Question

by Anna Switzer
A new practice to help a person gain insight into a meaningful question, with the natural environment providing guidance. 

A Song That Reconnects

by Allie Picketts
The story behind a song emerging from the Spiral of the Work That Reconnects.

Grief-related Poems on the Web

Review of three poems by Karina Lutz

Network

News from the Work That Reconnects Network

by Frieda Nixdorf and Jo delAmor, Staff Weavers
Announcing a new Weaver and our upcoming Gaian Gathering


Deep Times: A Journal of The Work That Reconnects

Vol. #9 Issue #2 – September 2023

Editor: Molly Brown
Editorial Team:  Carmen Rumbaut, Karina Lutz (poetry editor), Kevin Lay, Rebecca Selove, Carolyn Treadway, Erin Holtz Braeckman and Silvia Di Blasio.  More about the team here.

Graphic Design: Frieda Nixdorf
Webmaster:  Silvia Di Blasio 

Deep Times is published online twice a year by the Work That Reconnects Network.

The Network provides support, guidance, and inspiration to people all over the world in their work for the Great Turning. We welcome your donations to support the Work That Reconnects Network and Deep Times. The Work That Reconnects Network is currently a fiscal project of Inquiring Systems, Inc. so all donations are tax-deductible.

Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0.

Words that Reconnect and Leverage Shifts in Consciousness

In Evangelina (Valia) Papoutsaki’s lovely introduction to her blog post, “Words that Reconnect: Re-imagining Language for Social Change,” she asserts the power of languages to create and recreate cultures. “Every social movement…has brought forth a unique vocabulary that has transformed our collective consciousness.” And so has the Great Turning, with many of these terms emerging within the context of the Work That Reconnects, and many throughout the wider movement toward a life-sustaining culture.

With that in mind, Valia put out a call to facilitators and other network members to develop a glossary of the new (or renewed) words of our movement. She’s started a “living document” on her website, including the words collected so far, as well as several she has gleaned from her own reading and conversations. In a future issue of the Deep Times journal, we will publish an updated article and glossary on Valia’s Words that Reconnect project.

https://www.epapoutsaki.com/single-post/words-that-reconnect-re-imagining-language-for-social-change

Meanwhile, more words are coming in through our email: [email protected].  Please send more as you are inspired, by July 1 for inclusion here. We don’t expect language to stop evolving!

Valia is a former editor with the Deep Times journal, and is a scholar of social change communication among other topics.

Big thanks to those of you who have offered “words that reconnect” so far, check out the link to a sneak preview! 

Raising Children in the Midst of Global Crisis by Jo delAmor

Book Review by Molly Brown

In her just published book, Raising Children in the Midst of Global Crisis, Jo delAmor offers an inspiring and practical vision of parenting as a form of activism and liberation. She suggests parenting is a powerful way to seed a new Thriving Life paradigm into our world in deep crisis and travail.  Instead of parenting in a Power-Over-Paradigm (for which she uses the acronym “POP”), Jo proposes “New Paradigm Parenting,”  in which we learn alongside our children, healing the collective wounds passed down to us, and cultivating courage, creativity, and resilience in ourselves and our children. 

Jo’s approach is remarkably compassionate regarding the enormous challenges parents face today in raising children in the midst of crisis, collective trauma, and conflict.  At the same time, she summons us to find the strength and clarity needed to meet those challenges, through the kind of rigorous self-awareness that can move us beyond the conditioning of the Power-Over Paradigm.   

Jo doesn’t only write about New Paradigm Parenting, she also offers simple and age-appropriate practices for both parents and children to support this ongoing process, based primarily in the Work That Reconnects.  In fact, after the introductory chapters, the book follows the Spiral of the Work That Reconnects.  

It is so gratifying to see the Work applied in this way–to liberate both parents and children from Business As Usual in the neocolonial Industrial Growth Society so they can participate actively and creatively in the Great Turning to a Thriving Life Society.

Nuclear Guardianship

by Linda Seeley and Kathleen Sullivan

Linda Seeley (Seelie) and Kathleen Sullivan, long-time nuclear abolitionists, offered a workshop on Nuclear Guardianship and the Work that Reconnects at the Gaian Gathering. 

Nuclear Guardianship is a philosophy and action idea that entails the responsible care of radioactive materials produced in the manufacture of the twin technologies of nuclear weapons and nuclear power. The Nuclear Guardianship Project was first developed in the 1980’s by Joanna, her husband Fran Macy, and friends. It has been established as a community-based concept that works at the nexus of art, science, and spirituality to protect people and the environment from further radioactive poisoning and to educate present and future generations about the nuclear legacy bequeathed to them.

Nuclear Guardianship advocates storing radioactive materials in a monitored, retrievable configuration.

Nuclear Guardianship advocates storing radioactive materials in a monitored, retrievable configuration.  When the materials are stored where present and future generations can see them, the maintenance required for on-going isolation from the environment is more readily facilitated.  

As Joanna Macy explains: “No technology by itself can banish radioactive material. When we attempt to hide it (or hide from it), the radioactivity spreads beyond our control. . . We can contain the radioactivity if we pay attention to it.  The act of paying attention may be the last thing we want to do, but it is the one act that is required.  An increasing number of citizens and scientists are now recognizing that the only realistic, viable response to nuclear waste is on-going, on-site, monitored storage — keeping waste containment visible and accessible for monitoring and repair by present and future generations.” 

Persistent monitoring and maintenance are a clear necessity

Because of the uniquely vast temporal nature of many radioactive materials, radioactive wastes will require routine repackaging in order to ensure safe accommodation.  Persistent monitoring and maintenance are a clear necessity when it is recognized that no human-made containment vessel will ‘outlive’ the radioactive materials they attempt to contain. Put simply, Nuclear Guardianship acknowledges that there is no “solution” or safe “disposal” for the mountains of radioactive wastes that have been and continue to be produced in the development of nuclear weapons and nuclear power. 

When we see the earth as a living system…we know that there is no such thing as “away.”

The pursuit of a “solution” gives the nuclear industry — power and weapons — a reason to continue because someday there will be a declared end to the  long sought after solving of the radioactive riddle (what is contaminated is also contaminating). “Disposal” presupposes that there is a place we can put something and it will stay in that benign state forever. It will forever be away, out there, separate from us. When we see the earth as a living system, as Gaians do, we know that there is no such thing as “away.” There are only differing levels of what is above and below and around us, and how the whole mix interacts to make our–for now–habitable home on our one precious planet.

The legacy of nuclear power is the plutonium …that will have to be separated from the biosphere for at least one million years.

  As Seelie noted: “It is very important for people to know that the nuclear power industry has successfully brainwashed a whole generation of young people into believing that nuclear power can somehow address climate change. There’s nothing that could be further from the truth. The legacy of nuclear power is the plutonium and the other long lived nuclear wastes that will have to be separated from the biosphere for at least one million years. We need to recognize the intersection between nuclear waste and nuclear war. That is why this disinformation campaign is so important to the pro-nuclear people. They want young people to believe that the problem with the anti-nuclear power movement is that it’s populated mostly by old people like me (who don’t “understand” the promise of nuclear technology). We need our young people to step forward to join this movement, to help eradicate all nuclear power now, and to help stop making any more of the waste that is going to be with us virtually forever. The Biden Administration is providing billions and billions of dollars to keep old nuclear power plants going. And we have a nuclear power plant right here (Diablo Canyon in San Luis Obispo, CA) that’s built on 13 earthquake faults. Its reactor vessel is in danger of exploding if they have to shut it down quickly.”

We’re talking about deep time.

Kathleen remarked: “As Seelie says, this stuff can last for hundreds of thousands of years. Just the one element of plutonium, which is the raw material for nuclear weapons and the byproduct of nuclear power, has a carcinogenic and mutagenic lifetime of 240,000 years. So as Joanna says, we’re talking about deep time. Another thing that Seelie and I have learned about Nuclear Guardianship from our beloved teacher is how we need to press ourselves into service for Earth and for all life, to guard the biosphere from the radioactive materials, not dump it in a deep geologic burial ground. Not to dump it and forget it, but to store it in a way that involves reverence for life by monitoring and retrieving this material and packing it again and again and again, to isolate it from the biosphere. 

The “Poison Fire”…teaches us about our radical interconnectedness with all life.

The “Poison Fire,” as Joanna Macy mythically refers to radioactive materials, teaches us about our radical interconnectedness with all life. If plutonium gets into the air, gets into the water, gets into human bodies, it continues on for all those hundreds of thousands of years. We have to stop producing radioactive materials, and do the best that we can to guard them safely from the biosphere.”

Kathleen and Seelie urge all Gaians to learn the dreadful truth about radioactive violence and use that knowledge to further our collective work to protect our beloved, beautiful, fragile, resilient world. For more information about the dangers of nuclear power visit Mothers for Peace www.mothersforpeace.org.  

For more information about nuclear weapons abolition, please check out the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons www.icanw.org. 


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


Linda Seeley has served as Vice-President and spokesperson for San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace since 2009 and has been a member of the Diablo Canyon Decommissioning Engagement Panel since its inception in 2018. She retired from a 32-year career as a certified nurse-midwife. Mother of 3, grandmother of 3, and great-grandmother of one baby boy, she understands the existential threat of climate change effects on the aging fleet of nuclear reactors. She is very concerned about the triple threat of sea level rise, vulnerable radioactive waste storage and the connection between nuclear power and nuclear weapons. Linda lives in Los Osos, California.

Kathleen Sullivan, PhD is the Director of Hibakusha Stories (a partner of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons), an arts-based initiative which has brought atomic bomb survivor testimony to more than 50,000 young people. She has supported the facilitation of hibakusha voices in conferences and UN forums on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, and is co-chair of the Nuclear Truth Project. Kathleen lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Undoing Oppression and Cultural Appropriation

By Belinda Griswold

Everyone, welcome and super warm welcome.  My name is Belinda Griswold. I use she/her pronouns, I live on Snohomish land in Skagit land in western Washington. I’ve facilitated the Work That Reconnects for many years and been particularly interested in the Work that acts as a movement tool and as a tool of undoing oppression with other movements and communities… I do a lot of work with historically white-led organizations on racial justice and other types of transformation within organizations related to equity and justice. [Belinda asks all in the room to introduce themselves and say where they are from.]

People living in different cultural contexts have extremely different experiences of oppression, domination, and liberation.

Part of the reason I’m asking this question is really relevant to the best practices for Work That Reconnects facilitators, to understand the cultural and geographic context that we’re operating in as facilitators. As I’m sure everyone in this room knows, people living in different cultural contexts have extremely different experiences of oppression, domination, and liberation. A baseline thing for facilitators is to understand where folks are coming from. We’re going to facilitate differently if we are facilitating a more homogeneous group of white people from the United States than if we’re facilitating an international group, and especially a group with people of color from all over the world, or indigenous folk from different places in in the colonized world, or in the uncolonized world. So I modeled that for you. I think that’s something that should always be done and is a kind of pillar of responsible facilitation. That does mean that we have to take time. 

I’m going to share a very simple kind of schema that I put together based on the work of a lot of people over many years, including my dear friends Carmen [Rumbaut] and Constance [Washburn], and many others who have worked to bring and to elevate awareness of oppressive dynamics and cultural appropriation in the Work That Reconnects. As facilitators of the Work That Reconnects, we can bring rigor to our facilitation practice, and that’s good.

What I’m learning is that some of the most fundamental best practices fit into these three categories: accountability, learning, and courage. There are many ways to talk about all of these learnings and resources

Accountability

What do I mean when I say accountability? For facilitators of the Work That Reconnects it, it has a particular meaning. A lot of it is about understanding our own social location, privileged and marginalized identities in our particular context, where we are living if we’re living in colonized land. If the land we’re living on is not the land of our ancestors, whose land is it?

How do we show up in solidarity with the people whose land we’re living on? Particularly for those of us who are not living on the land of our ancestors, there’s exploration around accountability with leaders of marginalized communities.  

I come at this from the perspective that the Work That Reconnects is an incredible tool for strengthening social movements for the just transition to a life sustaining society. These technologies that Joanna and many others have developed over decades are incredibly powerful tools. However, they’re not necessarily always taught or contextualized that way. So building relationship and having a sense of commitment to our communities that we’re actually living and working in is a pretty fundamental skill, in my opinion, to develop as a facilitator. If we are not engaged in our own communities and [working] for justice in our own communities, it’s difficult to bring that into our facilitation.

A commitment to see what we don’t currently see, or may not be able to see, in terms of power differentials in our communities and in our movements


Another dimension of this relationship building orientation is having a commitment to see what we don’t currently see, or may not be able to see, in terms of power differentials in our communities and in our movements. That’s kind of impossible, right? Like how the hell are you supposed to see what you don’t see? The first thing to do is to know that we might not see, and that can cause us to look in a deeper way, to investigate what kinds of power differentials we might not be able to detect, both in our communities and in the spaces where we’re facilitating.

We’re always asking folks how things are going and what they want and need to share with us as facilitators

Then this piece about feedback and acting on feedback is also from a systems theory perspective. If there’s not an opportunity for people to share feedback with facilitators, it’s not a healthy system, right? We know that systems are only healthy when there’s actually healthy feedback loops. And that includes for facilitators. So building it into our facilitation practice from the very beginning, that we’re always asking folks how things are going and what they want and need to share with us as facilitators is a practice grounded in systems theory and in holistic understanding of how human systems work. 

So that is a big one. Also, a lot of times people give facilitators feedback that’s hard to hear, They’re mad when they say it, or they or we are defensive, or it’s difficult to hear in some way. And it really is a core capacity of a strong facilitator that even if you don’t like the tone, even if you don’t like the vibe, even if you’re reactive to how it’s delivered, we still listen, and we do our best operationalize and act on that, particularly when the feedback is coming from folks who hold more marginalized identities than we do as facilitators.

And then finally, with regard to accountability, one of the great things about the Work That Reconnects is there’s a lot of heterogeneity [among our participants.]. What I’ve learned is that if we don’t design our sessions with accountability [for that heterogeneity] in mind, we’re going to cause harm, more than we might if we use accountability as a fundamental tool for how we design our Work That Reconnects gatherings. Things go better, people learn more, it’s more supportive, and it’s less harmful. So that’s what I mean by that. 

It’s a lot about designing so that we are taking power differentials into account and not … delivering content from one particular social location.

Back in the day, we always used to facilitate using this pronoun “we”. And white people would be in mixed race groups of people – this is in the US context – using the word “we” and talking about experiences of “we.” That use of that pronoun, speaking for ourselves and not speaking for ourselves only, but basically speaking as if other people shared our experience, was really not an accountable thing to do, because it wasn’t asking, this is how I’m seeing things. What about other people in the room? So, it’s a lot about designing so that we are taking power differentials into account and not kind of flattening them out, delivering content from one particular social location. 

Learning

Let’s talk about learning. Continual learning is a fundamental good practice for facilitators across all sorts of disciplines. It’s particularly important in the Work That Reconnects because the Work That Reconnects came out of a very particular moment, movement, person. And times have changed since the Work That Reconnects came into being in its beautiful way in the 70s.

Although we have all these incredible texts, and practices and community, there’s a real need for ongoing learning by facilitators in particular, I think, around how are people in my community, in my country, talking about equity and justice? And how can I weave that into the Work That Reconnects? I urge all facilitators as kind of an underlying dimension of your work to be engaged in continual learning. 

And back to what we talked about a minute ago, in terms of accountability, if we’re constantly asking ourselves, what am I not quite seeing? What might I be missing as a facilitator? That will guide our learning in a way that I have found to be tremendously helpful, to just keep asking myself that question.

It’s an incredibly important skill for facilitators to be able to notice when our nervous systems get ramped up

Learning also is a body thing. It’s a somatic thing. It’s not just a cognitive thing. And there’s a lot of conversation in the Work That Reconnects and other spaces about learning how to keep our nervous systems chill. Sometimes people use the word regulated, but I don’t think that’s the best word because I’m kind of an anarchist. I don’t know if I want to be regulated, but I do want to be chill. And I think it’s an incredibly important skill for facilitators to be able to notice when our nervous systems get ramped up into fight, flight, freeze, or appease and be able to have some agency to respond in different ways.

Also, for those of us who hold a lot of privileged identities, or even just a couple of privileged identities, we’re going to make mistakes when we’re trying to facilitate from a more justice-focused perspective. That’s how it is. And we can actually learn from them.

In some places, maybe more in the US than other places, there’s a tendency to get tight and try to do it all right, and perfectly. And that just never works because making mistakes is human. And making mistakes is particularly common among people who have more social power, because we can’t quite see what we’re doing a lot of the time. So I urge new and emerging facilitators to be like, “Yep, that’s gonna happen.”

Courage

Bravery is being willing to hold an experimental lens, and hold the spaces lightly enough that you can change course

So the last piece of this kind of core set of best practices or principles is around bravery. It’s not easy to be a facilitator. It’s not easy to say something when things go sideways in this Work That Reconnects space that you’re facilitating. As a facilitator who is aware of and attentive to power dynamics, being brave enough to be like, “I really don’t want to put the brakes on this whole thing right now, because someone said some really weird thing, but I’m gonna be brave and do it.” The core thing about bravery is being willing to hold an experimental lens, and hold the spaces lightly enough that you can change course and be brave and name things and pause when things feel weird or get weird.

A lot of times in earlier days there was so much loyalty to the methodology and to the spiral that something would happen, and someone would be like, ooh, that felt weird or that felt like that was a micro aggression, or even a macro aggression. And it would be like, “Sorry, we don’t have time for that, because we’re doing the spiral.” This bravery part is really connected to never saying that. In the sense that if people are raising issues, or your belly is telling you, “Hey, there’s something alive here in terms of power dynamics in this room,” then be brave enough to name it. Be brave enough to pause. You don’t have to do it perfectly. Imperfect interruption and pausing is way better than none at all. When we name power and identity differentials, when we see them, and we ask others, like participants and co-facilitators, it creates so much more of a brave space.

I think most folks are working with group commitments these days. And if you’re not, then those are certainly available. When we say affinity groups here, that means allowing folks to gather by identity, so that maybe not everyone is in the same room all the time. And there can be learning and healing and nourishing among marginalized folks and the privileged folks. We [privileged folks] can have our own room for our kind of clumsy learning, and not drag our friends and colleagues with marginalized identities through our learning.


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


Belinda Griswold is a mediator, communications director, attorney, and WTR facilitator specializing in racial justice approaches for a wide variety of organizations and people. She is passionate about building organizational, personal, and community resilience as we push for a just transition in our movements and economies. Belinda lives with her family, pit bull, and pony on Snohomish lands in Western Washington, and has recently been honored to work on Indigenous-led river and salmon campaigns throughout the Pacific Northwest. Learn more about her work here: https://www.resource-media.org/staff/belinda-griswold/

Planning the Gaian Gathering

by Carmen Rumbaut

Recorded by Carmen Rumbaut

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

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

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

The Visioning Process

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

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

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

Differing visions were incorporated and synthesized

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

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

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

Reaching out to find speakers

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

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

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

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

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

Reconnecting

Different strata of the WTR community seemed to come together. 

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

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

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

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

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

Time Crunches

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

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

Lessons for the Future

What to Change

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

The Successes

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

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

Weaving Ancient Knowledge into our Current Lifeways

Becoming Allies through Self-Healing

by Lyla June Johnston

Excerpted (by Rebecca Selove) from Kathleen Rude’s interview with Dr. Lyla June Johnston .

KATHLEEN: Lyla June is an Indigenous musician, scholar and community organizer of Diné, Cheyenne and European lineages. Her research focuses on the ways in which pre-colonial indigenous nations shape large regions of Turtle Island to produce abundant food systems for humans and nonhumans. Her other messages focused on indigenous rights supporting youth, traditional land stewardship practices, and healing intergenerational and intercultural trauma. Welcome, Lyla June, to this gathering.

LYLA: We call ourselves Diné, which means “all the people, as my people and as my kin, my relatives.” And I have to honor that clan, which I get from my mother. We get our last names from our mothers and not from our fathers. So that’s the lineage that I carry. … I think the common denominator between all of the things I do is communications, transmitting knowledge, transmitting information, transmitting paradigms and ideas. I’m like a transmitter, I think, and a messenger. It’s what I think I do through a variety of media.

 KATHLEEN: What are some of the teachings that you feel are most important for humanity to learn now, and could help heal our planet, our relationship to the planet and our societies today?

We have to heal ourselves from our personal, racial, and collective existential trauma.

LYLA: Well, the first thing that comes to mind is self-healing, which is connected to becoming a more regenerative force on the planet. We have to heal ourselves from our personal, racial, and collective existential trauma. It’s like so many concentric circles outward, from our self, our family, our lineage, our homeland, our homeland’s interaction with other homelands. There’s so much work to do to unravel the trauma and unravel the points of contention, the points of self-hate, and the points of hate for others. 

How do we serve as a vessel that is here to give?

And I think the biggest thing, ideally, if we lived in a perfect world, is generosity, you know, transforming ourselves from beings of self-centeredness to beings of output. How do we serve as a vessel that is here to give? And so, in Diné culture, there are a lot of ceremonies that go into training someone how to be a generous person. What we do is we give the baby a little bit of salt, and that salt is held by the baby, and people walk around, and they will take a little bit of the salt. …it’s about teaching the baby to honor their joy and honor their laughter. But also that there is joy in giving, there’s laughter in giving, there’s laughter in community. And so that’s kind of a cool ceremony. 

And then another one is when you have your first menstrual cycle, you have a four day ceremony, and you grind corn for four days. This corn is used to create a very large cake about a foot deep. It’s made of corn cake, you bake it in the ground covered in corn husk; it’s delicious. After the fourth day after you grind all this corn, you bake it on the fourth night in the ground, and you sing all-night ceremonies, songs going into the cake, altering the consistency of that cake through our songs and our prayers. And then you give it all away, you can’t have a single bite. What we’re teaching the young woman is that you have the power to feed a nation, and that your womanhood rests in your ability to be a giver. 

And then there’s some nations where the manhood ceremony involves killing a first deer, right, and he has to give it all away, he has to give the deer – he can’t have a single bite. And that’s to teach him to be a giver. 

Self-worth in our [Diné] culture is defined by how much you can give.

I think our deepest psychosis is wanting to be hoarders, wanting to be takers, wanting to be dominators. It’s very common with a lot of men these days. They’ll say they want to build an empire, they want to amass, they want to retire early. It’s really, really self-centric. Self-worth in our [Diné] culture is defined by how much you can give. There was a competition back in the day, who could be the most humble, who could be the most generous, who could be the most brave, who could be the most honest, who could be the most meek. That is obviously going to run a [much better] society, because you have all these humans trying to give into the system versus taking out of the system…

KATHLEEN: Thank you. … the question comes up of cultural appropriation and how do we work with? How do we work with the teachings of the peoples who know the songs of this land that we’re on? And do it in a way that is respectful, and not appropriating? …

LYLA: That’s a great question, actually. I think the litmus test for “Am I appropriating, or not?” is, “Am I benefiting with self-gain from this knowledge, or not?”

I think the appropriation comes when you’re using someone’s culture as a footstool to get something else

I think the appropriation comes when you’re using someone’s culture as a footstool to get something else, like the Atlanta Braves, right? They have this terrible caricature of native people that they’re just taking. They don’t care about the people, it’s just for their logo, for their brand, for their beer, whatever, which is totally against everything we stand for, right? We’re not into zero sum games, we’re not into alcohol. We’re not into  capitalism. 

But let’s say you approach a community, and it’s about giving, you know, and you learn from it. The two temptations are to use it for money or to use it for reputation, right? A lot of people might take native knowledge and sell it for money. A lot of people might take native knowledge and then become the guru. Like, I’ve been taught by this person, and now I can teach it, and it’s like an ego boost. And so I think those are the two most extreme points. 

We need to know who we are.

But now going back to the realm of respectful interaction with communities. I really think this is a big one, so I’ll say it gently. I don’t think we should attempt to be native. We need to know who we are. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn from and be in community with Native people. But I think building up that indigenous route of who we are. So that when we step into the circle with Native people, we’re bringing our ancestors with us and our own medicine to the circle as wholly what we are. And that means researching like, Okay, what happened to the Scottish? What happened to the Polish? Who the heck are the Hungarians? Where are they? You know, what kind of medicine is there? What can I find? I’m being more European centric, but also my Aboriginal? Am I from Africa? What’s my roots there? You know, or maybe you’re Afro-indigenous? Or maybe you’re European indigenous, like me? What do you bring? … 

My big mantra is, you go to the communities, and you say, “How can I help, if at all?”

I think that the biggest thing about honoring the medicine of the land you’re on is seeing yourself as an ally of those nations. I think that’s the biggest, deepest way to not only not do something harmful, but to do something wonderful. My big mantra is, you go to the communities, and you say, “How can I help, if at all,” and when you say that, you open up a universe of possibilities, and you’re coming respectfully, because you are asking them to be in the driver’s seat of how you engage, and they’ll say, “Oh, great, someone wants to help. And they’re letting us say how they help.” Because a lot of times people come in with a prepackaged notion of how they’re going to help. So yeah, I think going into the communities as an ally going into the communities, as like a volunteer, is a big, big help, because, yes, you are going to help them with whatever project they’re working on. 

But perhaps more importantly, you’re going to show them they’re not alone in the world. And you’re going to show them that the people or the colonial culture that they’re surrounded by every day, [in which we’re just feeling suffocated, right. We’re just like, wow, this is so intense. Like, this is not what our and our world used to look like, right?] cares.  You’re showing them an olive branch and like, Okay, who there is hope, like, this colonial culture, isn’t necessarily going to just take. There are givers here, and they want to support me. And that is healing just as much just knowing there’s relatives out there who care, that volunteer work. Yes, you’re building the house, or your whatever. But more deeply, you’re building trust, and you’re healing the past in your healing, the family ties that we have lost. And I think that’s  an extremely potent to do,  is “How can I help if at all?”  even if it’s one day, a month, or whatever you can do. Just being in connection with the community around you.

KATHLEEN: Thank you. Well, wanting to respect your time and that you’ve given us so graciously, so Lyla, is there anything else that you would like to share with regard to anything that we’ve talked about, and knowing that there are people here who are very much involved in the Work That Reconnects and are committed to the great turning? 

And the more we clean out and hollow ourselves, the more Creator can work through us.

LYLA: Yes, there is something else I’d like to share. First of all, thank you, Kathleen. Thank you, everyone who has made this happen. I want to say that what I was taught is that we are vessels. We are porous beings, and things come through us. And the more we clean out and hollow ourselves, the more Creator can work through us. 

I believe that every single human being on this planet was born with great purpose. And every single being on this planet is sacred. And every single being on this planet is beautiful. And that your body, your mind, your soul, your heart, are all parts of this very sacred apparatus is able to connect to a wealth of ancestral, angelic, being, whatever you want to call it. It is an ocean of love that is trying to get into this world. It just needs vessels. It needs windows to shine through. And the more we can clear up our window, the more It can shine through. 

That clearing process to me is a process of self-love. Instead of blaming and shaming, “Why is my window so dirty? Oh, there must be something wrong with me. I’m such a terrible person.” – No. Look back to your childhood, what was going on there? Were you getting the love that you needed? Were you getting the support that you needed? Chances are, probably not, for most of us, right? So give yourself a break. Take some time to grieve what happened when you were [a child]. What kind of situation were you in? If you’re like me, you’ll say, “Oh, I had a perfect childhood.” Think again. Maybe not. Maybe that’s what we tell ourselves to not have to feel how imperfect it was. And that doesn’t mean our parents are bad, it just means they healed as much as they could. There were some things they couldn’t heal, and it’s our turn to fix those parts. 

Clearing our window is really about healing ourselves, grieving, and, most importantly, coming into a place of self-love.

Clearing our window is really about healing ourselves, grieving, and, most importantly, coming into a place of self-love. Because one of the greatest reasons why the Creator can’t shine through someone is because they won’t let him. They think, “I’m not worthy, too tainted, too broken.” Creator, being the respectful being that he or she or whatever is says, “Okay, if you say so. I can’t shine through if you won’t let me.”

 I had to see that that wasn’t my fault. A huge fundamental part of your window cleaning is: what happened to you is not your fault. And when you do that, a little more light comes through. My dream and my hope for each and every person here is that you get to a clear enough point where you are a hollow bone, that’s what our ancestors called it. “May I be a hollow bone. I am a beautiful being among beautiful beings.”

part of being what we are is being in service to the whole.

The more we allow ourselves to just be what we are is the moment that medicine just naturally starts flowing through. Because part of being what we are is being in service to the whole. This broken, imperfect person has a perfect intention in this moment to be of service to the whole and then you can open your wings up and you could say, “Create or use me, you.” That’s a powerful prayer. When we ask to be used like a vessel, he can play us like a flute. He can play us like an eagle bone whistle, and we can be that window that these forces are aching to shine into this world.


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


Dr. Lyla June Johnston (aka Lyla June) is an Indigenous musician, author, and community organizer of Diné (Navajo), Tsétsêhéstâhese (Cheyenne) and European lineages. Her multi-genre presentation style has engaged audiences across the globe towards personal, collective, and ecological healing. She blends her study of Human Ecology at Stanford, graduate work in Indigenous Pedagogy, and the traditional worldview she grew up with to inform her music, perspectives and solutions. Her doctoral research focused on the ways in which pre-colonial Indigenous Nations shaped large regions of Turtle Island (aka the Americas) to produce abundant food systems for humans and non-humans.

The Power and Pleasure of Omnibeneficence

A Visionary Message for Us from Woman Stands Shining (Pat McCabe, Diné, Lakota)

Excerpted and formatted by Martha O’Hehir

When I introduce myself,
I name my clans because they are my people,
The people who stand for me
And the people for whom I stand. 
When we meet, we say, “ I can’t be well if you’re not well. 
Is there something I need to do? 
Is there something you need?”

Every one of us was sent here with spiritual help swarming all around us.

We all have a name by which the spirit helpers call us by. 
It speaks to that unique, essential, piece that you bring.
Every one of us was sent here with spiritual help swarming all around us. 
Spiritual help meaning spirits, but also meaning, this natural world.  
This natural world responding to us, this natural world supporting us.
They say when you walk through the forest, the forest is aware. 
That includes the insects, the birds, everything, 
even the even the breeze, the wind:
all of that begins to adjust to incorporate your presence. 
So everything begins to recalibrate, to bring you into the life community. 
So, that’s part of why we say that we have that good feeling when we go out into nature, 
because we’re being enfolded into our place of belonging, 
deep inherent belonging, and we’re being supported with the recognition 
of that particular piece that you bring. 
When different animals show up, that’s part of that recognition. 
They are saying, “Let’s collaborate. Let’s cooperate, let’s contribute to this life community.”
And what does that really mean?

So I want to talk with you about how I came to start using and created this word, or how it came to me: Omnibeneficence.

Omnibeneficence…means to be a benefit and blessing to all.

And, what is Omnibeneficence?
It means to be a benefit and blessing to all.
So I always bring up my medicine wheel here to talk about this.

I hold up the Lakota Sacred Hoop,
the sacred hoop of life.</span
It holds up endless teachings on the nature of reality
With its four colors: the four directions each with its medicine, 
animals, spiritual helpers that we have encountered over time,
the four stages of a human life:
youth, mature (and childbearing), active, elder.

every single life form gets to have a seat on this Sacred Hoop

I look into the hoop and I am shown that
that every single life form gets to have a seat on this Sacred Hoop.
Every single one, including us. 
So we get to have a seat on the hoop. 
We’re not the whole hoop, but we do get to have a seat on it, 
which is a gift beyond measure. 

every single member has to uphold their part or the integrity of the hoop begins to fail.

So what does that mean? 
So, it’s a particular configuration, right? 
Every member must uphold its part, or the integrity of the hoop begins to fail. 
When I saw this vision of the Sacred Hoop, 
there were the peoples that had been annihilated: there were missing pieces on this hoop. 
There were the animals that were being brought to extinction. 
Those were like cracks in the hoop. 
That’s how I was seeing it. 
So, that’s why I speak this way. 
So, every single member has to uphold their part or the integrity of the hoop begins to fail. 
And so every single member has been given a way to uphold their part. 
A perfect design for upholding their part, a perfect design for thriving life. 
Because when the hoop is fully intact, and in its full strength, 
then every member is thriving, every member is experiencing Omnibeneficence. 

Barry Lopez would say that every member has an impeccable way to conduct life.
Impeccable in the sense that everything that they do 
has such a coherence and an elegance 
with all things around, furthering their life, 
their own kinds life, but also all the neighboring life around them. 
So there’s an inner relatedness, what Thich Nhat Hahn called “Interbeing.”
Not just humanity:
the flying ones, the swimming ones, the plants,  the four legged, the creepy crawly ones:
All of us together is a single organism. The hoop is a reminder of this.

Ultimately we are all clan together

This brings us back to the clan relationships:
Ultimately we are all clan together, 
and I can’t be well if you are not well, Orca.
I can’t be well if you are not well, Hummingbird. 

Now, everything out there is doing one thing.
It’s making more life, making more life. 
trying to figure out how to throw the next seed where it’s going to have success and grow, 
how to further the next seven generations.
The plan is LIFE around here, friends. 
We humans have lost sight of that.

We feel like we can put many other things at the very center of our activities,
at the very center of our consciousness 
at the very center of our relationship,
other than Life. 
Okay. And we’re finding that out. 
It’s a powerful thing for me to think that  I’ve been given a seat on this hoop here. 
Somehow or another, as a five fingered one, I also have a thriving design for thriving life. 
A perfect design for thriving. 
But the question is, do I understand what that is? 
Well, I always start here talking about this because 
I don’t think I’m going to be able to catch on to what my perfect design for thriving life is 
until I understand how I am related to everything else, 
and how everything else is related to me. 

( At this point, McCabe explains how we are indoctrinated by “Modern Real Paradigm” to act as if we are separate, how we strive to make money to take care of our own needs, and not care much who is left scrambling below us, people or animals or nature, or soil. She discusses that even masculinity and femininity is distorted by the paradigm itself. This conditioning is counter to being a member on the sacred hoop, of being aware of our interbeing.)

The plan is life, it’s not beating another out. 
It turns out that the way of interbeing is like the organism of our body. 
It’s cooperation and collaboration. It’s coherence. It’s attending to the whole.

the logic follows that I have a perfect design for thriving life

Not only is every life form out there attending to its own contribution to the hoop, 
but it’s attending to its future generations, 
and it’s contributing to every other life form around it. 
So we call these ecosystems.
We could call them clans, maybe life clans. 
So each clan supports itself, it then begins to support the neighboring eco clan. 
Well, there’s a new word, “eco clan.” 
So we can really say that the way hummingbird takes 
attends to its contribution to the Sacred Hoop and ends up being a benefit and blessing to all. So that’s what I’m referring to when I use that word Omnibeneficence. 
Every single life form out there seems to know how to be of benefit and blessing to the whole. Wow. 
And I get to have a seat here. 
So I’m going to say the logic follows that I have a perfect design for thriving life. 
As a five-fingered one, my perfect design for thriving life can move into the place of being a benefit and blessing to all. 

I have that capacity, however impermanent as a human being, as a five fingered one, 
wherever I am, 
I have a capacity be of benefit and blessing. 
Omnibeneficence.

I encounter pretty frequently what I call “low self-esteem as a human species” right now. 
I hear people say, “Everything that we touch, we destroy. 
The Earth would do just fine without us.” 
And some people say, “In fact, she’s gonna do just fine without us, 
she’s gonna throw us off, ‘good riddance,’ 
and then go on her merry way, in a much better way.”
“And, you know, we deserve that fate because we blew it. And we’re a nasty species.”
 But this is not the mindset of the cultures that I have been brought into, one by blood (Diné) and one by ceremonial training (Lakota). 
That kind of thinking is not cultivated.

(McCabe describes her involvement in a dialogue group called The Language of Spirit, in which quantum physicists, linguists, native indigenous, elders, some Western educated, some drawing from traditional knowledge were all put in a talking circle. They used different words, but heard each other speak a common truth about interbeing. She also describes how the rainforest, with all its diversity and healthful medicine, is not a natural occurrence, but archeology shows it is the result of human cultivation. The five-fingered ones are ”seed-carriers.” She describes how, when the ships arrived in the Americas, the explorers thought there were no humans there because the land was unspoiled, not like the land they came from where human intervention left barrenness and depletion. In fact, there were millions of humans in the Americas, living in a way that supports interbeing. Living honorably as a unique member on the Sacred Hoop.)

At one point in the meeting (The Language of Spirit), a young person spoke up and said,
“Well, whatever happens, whatever’s coming, wherever we’re headed, isn’t doing the right thing, doing the right thing?

I intend to uphold the honor of being a human being. Come What May.

And that really struck me so deep. 
And it really changed a lot for me. 
The language that came for that is, 
“I intend to uphold the honor of being a human being. Come What May.” 
No matter what. 
And for me, understanding more and more about what this (the hoop ) is trying to tell me, 
helps me understand where that honor comes from. 
What kinds of actions speak to the honor of being a human being 
who has been given a seat on this Sacred Hoop? 
Knowing that I have a perfect design for thriving life. 
I am not a throwaway species. 
And in fact, I have a way of being a benefit and blessing to all. 
Omnibeneficence.
That’s a huge honor.


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


Pat McCabe, or Woman Stands Shining, is a Native American elder whose work explores the meeting point between ceremony and deep social healing. Pat was born into the Diné (Navajo) Nation, and has also received a spiritual training with the Lakota tradition. She travels and teaches widely on the indigenous science of Thriving Life. Her work seeks to revivify human knowledge and meaning-making, by restoring the holistic knowledge practices known to indigenous people.  “To be the disembodied intellect and observer rather than passionate participant, and harmonious co-Creator, has led to a great mis-understanding of who we are, where we are, and how it is.”–

Turning Vision Into Action

By Nina Simons
Transcript edited by Martha O’Hehir

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

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

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

Gifts of The Work That Reconnects

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

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

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

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

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

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

How We May Be Most Effective In the Times Ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

 The three pillars of prosocial behavior that she describes are : 

     1.Cultural Humility 

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

     2.Discomfort Resilience

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

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

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

     3.Fierce Compassion

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

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

Attentiveness

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

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

All of our visions are really needed.

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

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

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

Reimagining Leadership

You can lead from the back of the room.

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

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

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

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

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

The new forms of leadership are collaborative and relational.


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

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

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

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

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

Finding Your Way

Pay exquisite attention to what makes your flame grow brighter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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