Draft-Activism Inside the Tiger’s Mouth

Recorded by author

Many years ago, Katrina was gifted a drawing of a rampant tiger, exquisite, strong. The caption in beautiful script read: “The best place for meditation is in the tiger’s mouth”. The artist, Khemananda, was a Thai monk and social justice activist who was seeking asylum on the intentional community, Bodhi Farm, where she lived. As both an activist and meditator, Katrina found the metaphor equally apt.

Bobbi was simultaneously gifted Joanna’s book, Despair & Personal Power in the Nuclear Age (Macy, 1983), reading it during a forest meditation retreat, weeping with gratitude. We soon partnered with others to form ‘Interhelp Australia’ (1) and invited Joanna to visit. Pat Fleming, previously trained by Joanna in the UK, guided us in leading ‘Despair and Empowerment’ workshops across the country. These inspired and built networks, culminating in Joanna’s hugely successful 1985 Australia-wide tour which birthed the ‘Council of All Beings’.

The year 1985 was a crossroads moment for activism here. Australian post-war activism had ‘won’ on many social justice fronts – rights for women, workers, lesbians and gays. Activism had also removed our troops from the Vietnam War, protected the Terania Creek and Daintree Rainforests and Tasmania’s Franklin River. 

Katrina, John, Bobbi at Joanna Macy Intensive, 1985

As voting rights for indigenous Australians were won, and land rights limped onto the national agenda, for us it was also a time of realising more about the multiple and intergenerational traumas inflicted during the past 200 years of colonisation. We needed ways to reflect on our ongoing part in this as white people.

Meanwhile, individualist market-driven ideologies pushed governments towards economic and social policies that undermined previous social contracts, inflicting accelerating traumas on the earth, her creatures and her poorest peoples. As mainstream media took up the populist slogans of global capitalism, progressive movements and ideas faced stiffer headwinds.

‘Despair and Empowerment’ and ‘Deep Ecology’ workshops were enormously empowering, yet rarely allowed time to immerse in the Going Forth section of the work. What other ways could we sustain activists in ‘the mouth of the tiger’ across all domains of change from those campaigning on front lines, to those changing hearts and minds through cultural / spiritual activities, to those beavering away at lonely desks?

We discovered that it was sometimes our wounds which drew us to be change workers, or set the frantic pace of our work. We needed more ways to explore healing within our social context, to create a positive and sustainable culture of activism.

Katrina’s share house in the tiny Northern NSW village of The Channon became a fertile hub that supported social change. From here, our team published a quarterly magazine, Interhelp News, while collecting and distributing written ‘tools for social change’, as well as continuing to lead Work that Reconnects (WTR) workshops. We organised and facilitated seventeen annual ‘Interhelp Gatherings’ soon renamed ‘Heart Politics Conferences’2, which generated gatherings in other parts of the country, including Maleny where Joanna was the keynote speaker in 1997. Katrina published In the Tiger’s Mouth: An empowerment guide for social action (Shields, 1993), still a relevant resource for activist wellbeing. 

Joanna Macy wrote in her preface to In the Tiger’s Mouth: “We need a recipe book that connects the personal with the political, the inner with the outer. We need a compilation of easy, practical methods for embarking on social action, and sustaining and enjoying it, so that it is no longer seen as a daunting, demanding exercise in self-sacrifice. We need pointers for finding our own deep sources of energy and vision, so that our work for the world runs like an ever refreshing stream through our lives….so that the greatest challenge of our time can also be our greatest joy – to join together in the healing of our world”.

Heart Politics c.1996. Carson, Richard Jones, Christabelle, Chamarette, Katrina

The 4-day residential Heart Politics gatherings (2) facilitated experiential immersion in these and other ‘nourishing recipes’ for up to 90 participants each year. They were not-for-profit events held in nature-suffused, low-cost venues with a sliding fee scale to subsidise young people and those on low incomes. Fran Peavey, US Interhelp colleague of Joanna’s and author of Heart Politics (Peavey, 1986) was the keynote speaker in November 1989. Amazingly, especially to our two young German participants, the Berlin Wall fell during this Conference, to much cheering and joyful weeping.

Was this the longed-for end of The Cold War? Partially. But, as Fran later taught us to chant with a raised fist and her cheeky grin, “The People, united, sometimes win and sometimes lose!”. We learned that hard lesson in 2003 when 36 million people around the world, marching against the impending war on Iraq, were ignored by their leaders. With climate change looming as the greatest challenge modern humans have faced, we were certainly on this journey for the long haul.

Heart Politics gatherings were for anyone responding to their impulses for positive social change and environmental protection – from tentative beginners unsure of their contribution to seasoned activists in need of sustenance to isolated individuals working for change within system.

The four-part spiral of the WTR was an organising principle in the design of these process-oriented events; after our traditional ‘Welcome to Country’, we began with ‘The Milling’.  We built a strong safe container for a holistic activism, welcoming the presence of strengths, vulnerabilities, creativity, sensuality and spirituality, as we explored our responses to challenges in the world and the roles and actions to which we were called.

An important part of creating that safety was an agreement that there would be no recruiting for causes or debating about issues. Participants came as individuals, not as representatives of an organisation. This was an opportunity to explore the personal dimensions of political and social action in its many forms, in an open-hearted way, with a strong emphasis on compassionate action (towards oneself and others) and non-polarising change methodologies. 

Joanna’s three-part model was one of the frameworks for personal enquiry into our activist roles. Were we drawn to contribute via ‘Holding actions in defence of life’, or ‘Transforming the foundations of our common life’ or ‘Shifting our perceptions and values’, or a combination? Another helpful model we explored was Bill Moyer’s Four Roles of Activism (Moyer, 2001)– the effective and ineffective expressions of the roles of Rebel, Citizen, Change Agent and Reformer. 

Storytelling and listening were key elements of the conferences. The beating pulse of our gatherings were the Heart Circles. They derived from the Truth Mandala and New Zealand Maori welcoming circles (4). Each participant spoke their heart truth in that moment. Between speakers, poetry or fragments of song were offered. 

 Spontaneous ‘Out of the Hat Stories’ were rich and moving. Each year, some participants’ names were drawn from a hat, an invitation to succinctly encapsulate a ‘success or challenge’ of that year. If your name was called, you could decide whether to speak or pass. If you passed, you had one more opportunity to speak before the next name was drawn out. Few people passed, and it was amazing how often a story was just the right one for that moment. 

Many of us were trained in Playback Theatre (5), where our audiences’ stories came back to them as moving, funny and beautiful improvised theatre, illuminating the human condition while building empathy. Story-telling processes helped less articulate people to give voice and context to their hopes, challenges and successes.

Throughout the gathering, facilitators and/or participants offered short workshops, skill development or discussion groups. Sometimes pre-programmed, or using Open Space Technology9 where participants designed their own learning. 

Daily support groups with trained facilitators were reflective spaces to process responses. A ‘Listening Post’ comprised of two members of the organising group and two participant volunteers offered yet another way to raise any problems or offer suggestions. The whole conference modelled creative processes interspersed with times of hilarity, relaxation, singing and sharing culture, inspiring healthier ‘ecologies’ in activist movements.

The ripples of participants’ experiences, the facilitation skills and tools learned, and particularly the deep listening ‘Heart Circles’ spread into many other networks and forums for change workers in Australia and New Zealand. This immersion in experiential learning and culture-building worked directly against the dominant culture that had taught us to solve problems abstractly, competitively and alone. Collaborative intelligence gave rise to fresh ideas, strengthening networks and generating surprising synergies. Many activists planned annual leave around this opportunity for re-inspiration, renewal and recommitment.

‘Support and Accountability’ groups and ‘Clearness Processes’ were another important way our Interhelp team sustained each other through ups and downs.  We met regularly in groups of four or five, bringing good food and our intentions for positive participation in our communities and environments. Members’ helpful perspectives came from current experiences in activism on diverse ‘fronts’. Each person in turn held the focus, reflecting on directions, goals, effectiveness, rough points and growing edges. Our companions, taking into account all the dimensions of our lives, stood so close behind us, “the only way we could move was forward”; except for those inevitable times when we needed to fall back into supportive arms – and rest. 

Tova Green, another US Interhelp member, attended several Heart Politics Conferences, becoming part of our organising team while living in the share house. The above quote is from her book Insight and Action.10 Fran Peavey’s excellent activist tool, ‘Strategic Questioning’11 is also in this book. 

We later formed The Social Change Training & Resource Centre, providing activist groups with training in good meeting skills, conflict resolution, strategic planning, strategic questioning, and more. Other workshops continued the theme of activist support and burnout prevention, using WTR processes: ‘How to ‘Burn without Incineration’, ‘Taking Heart in Tough Times’ and ‘Our Power and Our Passion’. These introduced elements of the WTR to participants from professional groups, NGOs and Government Departments, reframing language to make it contextually relevant but equally powerful. We validated pain for the world, introduced systems thinking and networking across ‘silos’, helping people ‘see with new eyes’ while embedding empowering processes for going forth.

Few significant systemic problems and traumas are solved in one lifetime. Generational perspectives help long-haul social activists persevere through many setbacks. A lifelong effective activist friend says, “We can live to change the world for the better. Even if you could convince me that we are doomed, it would make no difference. I’d still do my work because I derive more satisfaction from acting for positive change” (Carson, 1998). Resilience is even more necessary now when immediate coronavirus-caused chaos is backgrounded by the slower deeper crises of climate change, calling even more urgently for us to ‘hear within ourselves the sounds of our earth crying’ (Hahn).

Crises present opportunities for our collaborative intelligence to discover emergent possibilities we can’t see alone, giving form to impulses to help and heal, directing tentative steps towards regenerative life-sustaining systems. 

Whatever your journey on this uncertain terrain, we hope you find good comrades to share it. Tell your stories, support each other’s highest values, share your knowledge and skills, ask questions, listen, learn together, grieve losses, celebrate every small success and remember to have some fun! While the state of the world calls loudly for billions of ‘ordinary activists’ to step forward, it calls equally strongly for giving caring attention to activists’ wellbeing. Even in the Tiger’s Mouth, we can thrive.

End Notes:

1.Interhelp USA – https://interhelpnetwork.org/about-us-2/the-history-of-interhelp

2 The term Heart Politics Conferences had more resonance, as the New Zealand network discovered.

3 Members of the core organising team came and went over 17 years some not already mentioned are Simon Clough, Stu Anderson, Ken Golding, Carol Perry, Michelle Wainwright, Barbara Worthington, Ellie Wilson & Garth Luke.

4 The Heart Circles are described in more detail by Vivian Hutchinson, a co-instigator of the Heart Politics Conference in New Zealand: http://www.jobsletter.org.nz/hpx/hpx02.htm

5 Playback Theatre https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Playback_Theatre

9 Open Space Technology developed by Harrison Owen: https://en.wikipedia.or./wiki/Open_Space_Technology

Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh said, “What we most need to do is to hear within us the sound of the earth crying.” https://oneearthsangha.org/articles/spiritual-ecology/

References:

Green, Tova & Woodrow, Peter, with Peavey, Fran, Insight and Action: How to discover and support a life of integrity and commitment to change. (1994) New Society Publishers, PA.

Macy, Joanna.  Despair & Personal Power in the Nuclear Age, New Society Publishers, 1983.

Moyer, Bill et al, Doing Democracy (2001), New Society Publishers, or see excerpt: https://commonslibrary.org/the-four-roles-of-social-activism/

Peavey, Fran with Levy Myra & Varon Charles, Heart Politics. New Society Publishersm 1986.

Peavey, Fran, https://commonslibrary.org/strategic-questioning/

Shields, Katrina, In the Tiger’s Mouth – An Empowerment Guide for Social Action, 1993, New Society Publishers, available in hard copy or e-book from The Change Agency: https://thechangeagency.org/

Quoted in: Carson, Lyn (1998) Towards a Politics of the Heart: Reflections of an Activist, New Renaissance: A Journal for Social & Spiritual Awakening, Vol 7, No 4, Issue 23, UK.

 

Healing Collective Trauma by Thomas Hübl

Healing Collective Trauma: A Process for Integrating our Intergenerational and Cultural Wounds by Thomas Hübl 

Review by Karina Lutz

Emerging systems of healing seem to be converging; or, to see with ancient eyes, old systems are reconverging. And they are meeting us at the Work That Reconnect’s evolving edge. (That’s how it goes in the Great Turning!) That’s one takeaway from reading Healing Collective Trauma, by self-described modern mystic, Thomas Hübl, out this year from Sounds True.

At very least, if a purpose of the Work that Reconnects is to help people find their place in the healing of the world, we have allies in the emerging field of healing collective trauma. Hübl has been convening conferences on the topic and developing and facilitating group work internationally to address issues of societal level trauma, calling his method the Collective Trauma Integration Process. WTR facilitators will recognize many of its elements, in particular the taboo-breaking deep dive into so-called negative emotional realms. He uses the term “collective shadow,” defining it not simply in Jungian terms but including ancestral legacies.  The emerging field of historical trauma is revealing that the descendants of Holocaust and slavery survivors may carry into the present unhealed wounds of their ancestors, both epigenetically and culturally.  At the same time, Hübl describes,  trauma affects us horizontally, in the present, as social wounding (like racism, sexual violence, or war).

Even simply hearing about and seeing videos of the horrors humans perpetrate upon each other transmits trauma to all of us. The many distant losses that emerge voiced by a group doing the Elm Dance or the Cairn of Mourning, for example, surface that horizontal thread of collective shadow. Hübl mentions the destruction of species and ecosystems, etc., but his groups often work with the legacies of the Holocaust and war.

The evolving edge is not just teaching facilitators to be more inclusive, i.e. less racist, but to understand the dynamics of trauma: historic, horizontal, and for all of us in terms of the losses of/to our home and our larger self, Earth.

Facilitators will not only resonate but learn—and here’s where another evolving edge becomes clear—from Hübl’s expectations of the emotional/spiritual development of Collective Trauma Integration Process facilitators. He lists skills and qualities he calls essential to effectively leading this profoundly transformative work. The evolving edge is not just teaching facilitators to be more inclusive, i.e. less racist, but to understand the dynamics of trauma: historic, horizontal, and for all of us in terms of the losses of/to our home and our larger self, Earth.

Hübl’s process also includes a systemic, holistic, relational paradigm of reality (which Hübl, as a mystic, extends to the spiritual realm more explicitly than Macy does). And Hübl describes his deep time work in a way WTR facilitators will find fascinating.  His groups work with ancestors with a focus on the trauma they lived, either as victims or perpetrators, and they work with the future, using a technique developed by Otto Scharmer called “presencing.” It sounds very much like Macy’s “fourth time”—accessing past and future through the present moment. While Macy and other WTR facilitators often pose our work with ancestors and descendants as a function of imagination (at least at first), Hübl and Scharmer unabashedly assert the reality of this connection with ancestors and future beings.

With presencing…we are able to access a future that wants to become, via full presence in the present moment.

With presencing, Scharmer writes in a sidebar in the book, we are able to access a future that wants to become, via full presence in the present moment.

Much as our deep time work does in the Going Forth portion of the Spiral, touching such a life-affirming future informs a path forward to the realization of it. The great work of the Great Turning, and the quickness with which it must occur is seen as possible not just by seeing with a systems lens and using systems levers, but as emergent, and calling to us from the/a future.

Certainly becoming more trauma-informed as facilitators is a key piece of WTR’s evolving edge. Our core environmental and social issues are laden with trauma. Our work to decolonize the Work requires the ability to acknowledge and midwife the transformation of the trauma that affects all parties to oppression, racism, sexism, militarism, poverty, and Earth abuse: the oppressed and the oppressor. (Often the oppressor is acting out of trauma, as “hurt people hurt people,” but even in absence of causal trauma, oppressors cause themselves trauma, if less severe, as they sever connection and lose the resilence and beauty of diversity. Mutual causality is at work, as always.)

Our shift in consciousness away from power-over towards the shared power of interbeing requires the healing of trauma, and helps in the healing.

Our shift in consciousness away from power-over towards the shared power of interbeing requires the healing of trauma, and helps in the healing. So much of trauma is due to an exercise of power-over, either systemically or personally (and often both). The trauma lens Hübl offers in his book, and all the emerging healing techniques for it, including his group process, offer great hope.

Hübl’s description of the Collective Trauma Integration Process is a mystic’s view of the psycho-spiritual energies of group process. Psychically aware Work That Reconnects facilitators may feel relief to recognize and hear spiritual energy acknowledged to such a degree, and others may learn much about how much deeper we can go with our groups using Hübl’s skills and processes. Regardless, I recommend we all read the book and become part of the movement to heal collective trauma.


Haiku translator Harry Behn told Karina Lutz as a child to “write from experience.” Since, her life has been a net thrown wide to collect experience: as a sustainable energy and stable climate advocate; as an editor, reporter, and magazine publisher; as a professor, yoga teacher, and workshop facilitator; as a farmer, carpenter, and seamstress; and as a serial social entrepreneur. Poems and links at http://karinalutz.wordpress.com and sustainable living blog at http://berryberrydayhomestead.wordpress.com. Books Post-Catholic Midrashim (Finishing Line) and Preliminary Visions (Homebound). 

In Praise Of

by Susan Solinsky

Recorded by Carmen Rumbaut

Anyone who stands up again, quietly, to witness
a sapphire sky above a Giant Sequoia
or Great Whale breaching and churning the sea;
and praise for those who sit down, wherever they are,
eyes closed, hands and feet silent to this world,
eyes opened inward;
And praise to everyone who faces
the raging rivers and inland lakes daily,
swirling winds and smoke-filled air,
to those who tend the arteries and lungs of the earth
honoring the flows sacred to life and health;
Praise the ones who treat the wounded and the dying:
the two legged, the four, six and no legged,
the ones who bind the brokenness with kindness and skill
so whatever can knit back together, will do that
and be stronger in time;
While and still, the young wait, perched, eyes round
in marvel of yet another sunrise and the gift of daylight,
as they learn to read the tapestry of stars and moon falling
through the night, with owl song spinning dreams
beneath their eyelids;
Praise every breath lifting from lungs and belly, snout and hole,
nose, mouth, gill and spout that pours into this Everyday Soup –
this living broth thick with contradictions and mystery
that pushes and pulls us, increases then fails us,
turns and twists us
so we arrive naked, tender, raw with tears and maybe,
maybe even receptive –
Come, drink this praise and simple benediction,
gradually turn,
open, bow to holiness and wisdom
that keeps the Great Wheel turning, as it must,
this time, around and ‘round.


Susan Solinsky has lived in the northern foothills of the Sierra Nevada for 45 years, on  land once tread by the Nisenan Tribe. 
Her daily practice is of honoring the ancestors, her own and those who resided  on the land and to bless her life and her family’s. 
She moved from the San Francisco Bay Area in mid 1970’s to settle on several  acres with her husband, where she raised a family, worked in the schools, and  continued to write as she’s done since childhood.  
Some of her work evolved into short stories, dreams, poetry and some were  published. 

Draft-A White Body Elder Meets My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem

A White Body Elder Meets My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem: A Resource for the Work That Reconnects Programs

Submitted by Ellen Hoffenberg-Serfaty

This offering is the first in a series, designed to advise Work that Reconnects (WTR) facilitators on how they might use My Grandmother’s Hands for their own growth and development, and with WTR and community groups. Not only is the book “too big” for one pass through, it is a resource book—full of teachings, formatted with summaries, and a wide range of somatic practices, presented in a workbook format that is easily adaptable to individual or group practice. Accompanying each part of this series are some of the many resources that facilitators and others connected with WTR (the Work that Reconnects) can use. Most are located in the endnotes.

This introductory article, Part One, presents what My Grandmother’s Hands is all about and complements an earlier review by Paula Hendrick It includes a review of what I consider the main subjects of the book, and a listing and brief explanation of many of the body-based practices, which I consider the heart of the book.

Part Two of this series will focus on how to use the practices and teachings with different groups, primarily white bodies, black bodies and other bodies of color, and police bodies, as well as community work and transforming trauma and white supremacy issues.  In Part II and III, the author recommends that leaders in each of the community’s groups taking more responsibility and become more active, as a form of healing.  These teachings are supported by an excellent discussion about culture—understanding the present culture, and how we change culture, lives and history, which is dealt with in depth in chapters that follow, for all three groups.

The last article, Part Three, will focus on how we integrate the book and its practices within Spiral Training and WTR decolonization and diversity groups.

This book requires an authentic approach, so confession time: I have very little experience using this book with groups, although quite a bit with somatic-based practices.  Although I was aware of this book for awhile, when Mr. Menakem’s book was chosen for WTR facilitator training, I became engrossed, especially since it is in line with my somatic meditation.  In the next part of this series, dealing with groups, I hope to share what I have learned, as well as perspectives from others

I deepened my understanding of the impact of My Grandmother’s Hands when a dharma buddy mentioned that he was participating in a white body group, guided by online training, based in Minnesota, on how these groups can be run. Mr. Menakem uses the term Somatic Abolitionism for the groups that he currently offers, a term that for the first time incorporates the foundational principle in dealing with white supremacy, racial injustice and other forms of discrimination. 

What is the format of the book and what is it all about?

My Grandmother’s Hands is broken down into three parts, along with useful supplementary chapters at the end. Part I contains most of the basic concepts outlined in this article, as well as basic practices. Part II goes into greater detail for some of these concepts, including extensive body work for all three groups (see below), activities for each group, as well as sharing our experiences with others. And Part III deals with promoting group work, activism and community leadership, for each group, and collectively.

Most of the book covers the history and reality of issues relating to white supremacy, trauma –issues that have been the focus of our media and cultural and healing communities in recent years–and how it has affected our society, mostly relating to America culture.  These are introduced by a range of quotes from black and other writers and academics, which are worthy of exploration.

In most chapters, there is a section of Body-Centered Practices, easily adaptable as guided meditations

The book is heavily annotated, with backup research, and many recommendations for those interested in pursuing issues in greater depth.

I’ve identified five main issues in this introduction: 

White, black and polices bodies

Trauma

White Supremacy

The Vagus Nerve

Body-based Practices

 

  1. White, black and police bodies.

Most of the book is directed to one of three groups: white bodies, black bodies (or other dark bodies or bodies of color), and police bodies or public safety professionals. The basis of the book is about how our bodies retain generations of violence, and thus pattern our reactions in our everyday world, whether we are black or other people of color, white citizens or police/public safety bodies. 

The author discusses throughout the book the reliance of white bodies on others, and deals with the myth of white fragility and vulnerability. In addition to seeing black bodies as a source of service, they view black bodies as “impervious to pain” and needing control, and the whole range of nonverbal sensations which result in fear, hate and constriction. Control of black Americans over their own bodies and their own agency is seen as a threat. Likewise, black bodies see white ones as dangerous and privileged. Both groups see police bodies as a source of protection, but black bodies also see them as dangerous.  While police see their role as protecting both groups, they often see black bodies as dangerous, with superhuman powers, and similar to the prejudice of white bodied-people, impervious to pain.

 

  1. Trauma

So much has been written of late, and training offered about trauma. But Mr. Menakem takes it all further.

Body work and the healing of trauma are the foundations of the book, based on the premise that white supremacy cannot be addressed only through social and political action: ”We need to begin with the healing of trauma”, for white bodies, black bodies, neighborhoods and communities, and the law enforcement profession. Healing conflicts must begin with resolution within our bodies. If unresolved, Mr. Menakem predicts the continued mutation of trauma into even more dire consequences than currently occur.

The historical roots of trauma are traced, as well as how white bodies instilled this trauma in the bodies of many Africans as well as indigenous populations

Current racial conflicts in America are viewed as being several centuries old, having their roots in injustices committed against white bodies in Europe, and passed onto their descendants. 

The book explores trauma for each of the bodies of culture: for African Americans, negating the concept that they are defective, that trauma is what happened to this population who survived through resilience but passed trauma from generation to generation. For white bodies, occasioned by other white bodies in Europe throughout history. And for law enforcement, the stress that has been lodged within their bodies as a result of white-body supremacy. 

Speaking to white bodies, but applicable to all groups, the author tells us that “(t)rauma is never a personal failure, nor the result of someone’s weakness, nor a limitation, nor a defect. It is a normal reaction to abnormal conditions and circumstances.”

Trauma often blocks healing when engaged in through traditional talk therapies, and requires its victims to understand what happens within their bodies, and how to deal with it through body-based practices. 

The author describes healing through distinguishing clean and dirty pain,and how clean pain can be attained through body centered practices. 

An important concept is how trauma can spread between bodies, termed “blowing” trauma through another person, using varying degrees of abuse, control and violence. This phenomenon often occurs as a result of triggers, in a spontaneous manner, which are considered unintended, and thus may be rationalized after the act. This spread can occur in families as well as among strangers.

When passed from generation to generation, it leads to historical trauma, which the author discusses as also being passed down genetically, including memories of painful events.  The author discusses examples of this, causes, and what results from high levels of trauma, or that which is prolonged over a period of time. This is examined in detail, from solitary incidents that happen to an individual, as well as witnessing traumatic events. And how oppressed people internalize values and techniques that are trauma-based, including African American self-hate, renunciation of Blackness, mistreating and a lack of respect for other black bodies, and  reticence about owning property. The author answers the question, when asked earnestly, of why so man “dark-skinned immigrants” prosper, while others do not.

The discussion of trauma is countered with how resilience can be passed intergenerationally, although resilience is a combination of what is passed down as well as what we learn.  It can be manifested on an individual or communal basis.

The main teachings relating to trauma and white supremacy are located in Part II of the book, activities for mending trauma engendered by white-body supremacy, and are broken down for African Americans, white Americans and American police.  These will be the subject of the second article in this series.

The poignancy of the author’s discussion of his childhood as well as how he raises his own son, who doesn’t understand the dangers waiting for him in the world, is captured in this quote: “(The) paradox of creating a loving home: parents raise kids whose bodies are unprepared to protect themselves from all the evils they will eventually will face.”

The healing that results on an individual and group level can be taken into the community, for each of the groups that receive focus in the book, as well applying to the greater community. Part III of the book will be discussed in the second and last part of this series. 

The author calls dealing with trauma our reckoning, an opportunity and obligation “to recognize the trauma embedded in our bodies and metabolize the clean pain of healing; and to move through and out of our trauma…(enabling) us to mend our hearts and bodies—and to grow up.”

 

  1. White Supremacy

The book challenges white-body supremacy as encompassing American culture, affecting all Americans, regardless of the color of their skin, and has become part of our bodies, changing our brains and body chemistry. Very little of white supremacy is about our cognitive thoughts–it lives in our bodies. Mr. Menakem distinguishes how our thinking brains work–which can focus on the past, present and future—with what a traumatized body experiences, only now, “the home of intense survival energy”.  Therefore, efforts to address trauma through ideas has largely failed to stop the destruction of black bodies, especially that which is committed by the police. Part I of the book traces how it becomes embedded in the body and the ensuing suffering that it engenders.

Mr. Menakem also challenges the concepts of whiteness, blackness and race as having been invented in the 17th century, when white Americans created white-body supremacy culture in order to deal with the power differentials among white bodies.  By doing so, white bodies “blow centuries of white-on-white trauma through millions of black and red bodies” as well as colonizing people of color. 

The author also relates to the falseness of white fragility, and how it supports white bodies to “dominate, control, brutalize” and kill black ones.  Black bodies, in response, shift into the protective strategy of trying to sooth white bodies.

Although the author focuses on black bodies, white-body supremacy has harmed Native and Latino Americans, as well. American culture is the focus of the book, but the author gives many examples of how the teachings are appropriate for other cultures. One of the most helpful of these is tracing ancestry to when white bodies settled in America.  This relates as well to  those around the world immigrating from and to other countries. 

As well, the author leads us to examine intergenerational trauma—traumatic events that affected parents and grandparents.

Civilization as we know it is lost if we don’t take responsibility for reversing white supremacy, and other forms of racism in our world. Many of my first reactions to the book were: Can I seek help through Mr. Menakem or other black trainers to create a group to work on the teachings and practices in this book? Mr. Menakem answers this query–it is not up to him or other black bodies to tell us how to do this. The urge to rely on them for the way out is part of the systemic white fragility that has been a crutch for white bodies for many generations. It is time to grow up and solve our own problems. 

The author also discusses why white Americans must lead the transformation for growing out of white-body supremacy.

 

  1. The Vagus or Soul Nerve

Another of the concepts that has received quite a bit of attention in the last decade by healing professionals, the book traces how our bodies gain knowledge, distinguishing it from our cognitive brains: how this knowledge is experienced and sensed in our bodies, and stored, where it is activated through our nervous system, primarily through the vagus nerve. And more recently, Mr Menakem has integrated the psoas muscle into his work. The trauma that we develop in response to threats is not an emotional reaction, but is happening our bodies, and generate physical, visceral sensations, which are unique for each person, happen quickly, are unpredictable, and override rational brain functions. It can easily engender disproportionate responses to the actual danger encountered.  A common trauma response is ghosting, or “the body’s recurrent or pervasive sense that danger is just around the corner.” And these traumatic reactions are often retained and passed from generation to generation.  The signals from the soul nerve are incorporated into one of several body practices, below, for working with the body’s checkpoints or warning signals.

 

  1. Body-Based Practices

Throughout Part I of the book, the author leads readers through a series of body grounding and settling practices, which include awareness of our environment, guiding us through fears and hopes that arise. This is of immense help to all of us: to notice when we are open or constricted and what causes these reactions, what it activates, and where any discomfort or pain is located. 

While dealing with the subject of clean pain, the author introduces the Five Anchors, the process for moving through clean pain and when someone senses conflict building.  These five anchors are soothing, noticing sensations, accepting discomfort, staying present and safely discharging energy. Each of the steps is treated in great detail.

Caution and reminders: He prefaces these teachings by warning us of the reactions we might have as we begin to work, some of which might be unusual, and are the result of energy releases. For example, he recommends being aware of defensive thoughts and to just experience the practices, a suggestion that applies to all the teachings of the book.

Equally important are his instructions to repeat several of the practices often.

Parts of the Body: Similar to body sweeps or scans, some of these exercises encourage attention to different parts of the body. 

A more pinpointed scan is shared in the chapter on clean pain and anchors: Check Your Body’s Checkpoints, or physical sensations that signal a “not right” situation—one that is unfair, frightening, dangerous. These are signals from the vagus nerve, above. 

Guided Imagery: Body work then leads to several guided imagery exercises of safe, secure situations, as well as threatening situations, and checking back in with the body to note sensations in detail. These practices start with simple visualizations and move into the invasion of a created safe space. 

Settling the body: Later in Part I, these and other practices are used for settling the body when it is experiencing stress, including resourcing, body scans, contraction and release, and other practices related to observation and soothing.  The obvious benefit, in addition to creating more “space” and freedom in the body, is to counteract fight/flee/freeze reactions.  However, the need to activate the body in response to a truly dangerous situation is affirmed. The tendency to disengage is discussed, instead of the healthier response of staying with the body despite the discomfort.

Soothing: Body practices also include what might be considered soothing physical acts or soul (vagus) nerve training, such as touching parts of the body and vocalizations (humming, buzzing, singing, chanting), belly breathing, which is a well-recognized meditation technique, especially among somatic meditators, physical movements (rocking, movements of parts of the body), and resourcing, as well as focusing on sensations that arise from painful incidents. 

Group practices: Chapter 14, encompasses these soothing activities, that all bodies can do with  friends, family, and others that a person knows and trusts, of the same race or different races; while Chapter 15 shares physical activities for black bodies, as well as guided imagery practices involving perceived unsafe situations. Chapter 16 continues with guided imagery and practices, and uses media, for white bodies—much of this material is quite graphic. 

 Ancestors: The practices proceed to working with ancestral memories for up to three generations, as well as contemplating when ancestors began to be referred to as black, white, Asian or Indian, and observing what the effect of these contemplations are on the body.

Micro-aggressions: The subtler forms of violation to black bodies, including micro-aggressions, day-to-day stressors and lack of regard, are explained and form the basis for body practices where the contemplations begin with these violations occurring to white bodies, and then shifts to others. Some of the exercises lead black bodies to contemplate black-bodied internalization of the values of oppressors, e.g. a black person denigrating another.

Primitive brain responses and reinforcing security: One of the most fascinating sets of practices involves how the primitive part of our brains reacts to encountering an unfamiliar body, and how closely that body matches its own, through a series of social encounters between white and black bodies, followed up by healing work for these reactions.  This is contrasted with the contemplation of incidents engendering feelings of strength and resilience, asking white bodies to recall times when they asked black bodies to comfort or protect them, and how non-white bodies altered their behavior to comfort or protect a white body.

Witnessing arrests, and law enforcement: Other body practices include contemplating and contrasting times when the arrest of a black and a white body was witnessed.

A powerful section is geared to law enforcement, asking them to make an inventory and explore sensations at the end of a workday. 

An additional exercise, introduced in the Chapter on clean pain and Anchors, is Stop—whatever you are doing; Drop Back—paying attention to what is going on in your body, as well as where a situation is headed; and Roll—or moving with whatever is happening in the body, without succumbing to fight/flee/freeze. 

Journaling is often recommended as a way to process some of our contemplations, reactions and after-affects.

Beginning with Chapter 14, are activities that all bodies can do with friends, family, and others that the reader knows and trusts, of the same or different races. 

How would I sum up this book?

If I was tasked with summing up the book in one sentence, I would borrow from Ta-Nehisi Coates, quoted at the beginning of the book: 

But all our phrasing —race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privileged, even white supremacy (and I would now add, Black Lives Matter)—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organis, cracks bones, breaks teeth.

A powerful book, a call for all of us to get to work, with practical suggestions presented in historical contexts, for us to begin to heal. I can’t praise Mr. Menakem enough, or be more grateful for the gift that he has given us all. Let us use it wisely and comprehensively.

The five-kilometre radius pilgrimage

by Bianca Crapis

Recording by author

I left my house without an inkling of where I was headed. No route planned for my wander, just a burning desire to leave the house. My head had taken on a prison-like quality recently, a cacophony of blares and whispers and squawks. It was hard to find solace there. I was sitting with some big decisions and fundamentally no idea of what was being asked of me.

A question floated to me a few months earlier in a Work that Reconnects gathering, “What is mine to do?”. The forest had answered, in their mystical and cryptic way. It seemed that the real challenge began when that answer was taken out into what we call “society”. The answer from my forest friends was not cryptic at all. Their answer was clearer and more succinct than the obstacle course of labels, rules and accredited pathways this world has created to legitimise. I do not begrudge this process, with its important merit in protecting the wellbeing of others. I only wish it more matched the language of the forest, a language I have only just begun to slowly relearn.

Typically, I’m an attentive and curious student. I can be patient and exploratory. I have apprenticed in the art of letting go of outcomes. But the processes of internal burrowing, undoing and re-weaving that had been occurring over the past few months were now calling to be expanded to include the field of others. Opportunities that I had worked towards presented themselves to me, despite my own well of doubts about my own capacities. When faced with a decision, the inquisitive student in me seemed to disintegrate; replaced with a narrow desire to make the “right” choice.

I was firmly within this colosseum when I left my home, fighting with myself, barely attuned to the ferociously blue sky, the vibrant banksia blooms, the sparkling dew on the gum leaves. Language escapes me when I try to pinpoint exactly what happened next, but I’ll do my best within its confines. I know full well that it cannot capture the transcendent and the descendent alignment, the dance of spirit and soul when they meet and merge, and the world becomes peacefully mute and ethereally choral at once. There was, in that moment, a deepening knowing of my journey. Another layer added both below in the world of burrowing and above in the world of weaving. Now I knew why I had left the house. I was unprepared with my water supply and I was not 300 metres from home when this landed, but that thread that pulls me from my gut forth towards an invisible known was stronger than my risk-averse brain.

I was on a pilgrimage. 

During the hard lockdown in Victoria, we were only permitted to “exercise” within a five-kilometre radius of home. My five-kilometre radius and I developed a new and intense relationship. There were three places that I visited, each with their own personality, energy, critters, teachings and peculiarities. I visited these places with my calm contentment, my worried fervour, my grieving heart, my playful enthusiasm, my compassionate gaze and my tensed loyal soldier. These places were, for me, friends, teachers, lovers, at times they were antagonists, jokesters, and annoyingly cryptic sages. These places witnessed all of it, counselled me through it, and teased something larger than what I’d previously thought possible. 

I wandered to them during lockdown. My wandering took on all sorts of manifestations. At times, the slowness and aimlessness were treasures that I could ride all through the day or week, at other times there was a narrowing, some sort of task focus, some sort of answer to be squeezed out of the places I visited, but the forest was always far cleverer than I. Never pandering to my desire to know, the forest and all their creatures knew how to dance the samba of uncertainty.

When the global onset of coronavirus began, I watched the world around me crumble and I knew that this would be a global trauma. Traumas shatter our sense of safety, they pull the rug out from under what we thought were basic truths of the world, they occur when the pain of a situation is just too much to bear. A part of our bodies and our brains seem to swoop in to hold us, protecting us from that which is too overwhelming for our psyches. When the tear is too great to make logical sense of, our brains are adept at finding a placeholder, often in our bodies, to guard the hurt. Not all traumatic events become traumas. I’ve noticed that the determinant of this tends to be how much safety we have in our lives to feel and process the traumatic event immediately after it occurs. Instead of feeling during the onset of the pandemic, many folks turned to home fitness, sourdough baking, learning a new language. I mean not to how judge we cope, merely to notice that this is a form of coping. Productivity can be a form of trying to cope with a trauma in the absence of knowing how to or having the safety to fully feel.

If there is a sense here that I am trying to dictate another’s experience of trauma, I want to say that I know my experience, but I don’t know yours; I don’t know hers or theirs or his. When I’ve felt torn apart by my experiences, I went to the forest and they held me. Crying at the base of a tree trunk, being held in the endless green of a meadow, soothed by song of an unknown bird, or captivated by the dance of a lyrebird who made me believe in pure magic. The forest’s unwavering presence gave me the language to start to talk about my experience. They helped me to uncover identities about who I am, and then to go beyond them. I’m wary of anthropomorphising the forest. I know the forest has not simply been waiting for wounded humans to stumble upon their terrain so that they can nurture us back into wholeness. The natural world completes so many life-giving functions and we need not flatter ourselves with believing that this is another one. 

The forest is not all nurturance, it is also fierce and violent. The act of holding that truth alongside my own pain, the existence of both the beauty and the chaos, allowed me to move beyond the narrative of a hurt self, that things ever needed to be just one way or another, that I was even an independent being at all. As in Macy’s work, the collapse of all we know, The Great Turning, seemed to bring on a well of feeling for the world as the pandemic progressed. There were many stories of folks turning to nature, and this is only mine- one, cis, queer, underemployed, young woman in Australia on a pilgrimage to the places of green canopies, duck-song lakes and dandelion dotted hills that held me. 

Overflowing with the boundless gifts that the natural world was so prepared to give to me during my time of hardship, how could I even begin to give back? Struck by this question, did I even know what a pilgrimage was? Maybe my head did not, but a soulful knowing of the reciprocity of all things bubbled within. Not quite yet forgotten in a culture of ownership, something in me remembered that this was a natural energy exchange. That this burst of energy I felt had a specific channel of direction, and that was right back into the earth.

The rituals of my pilgrimage flowed naturally forth. There was a presence of the exceptional, natural abundance around me. There was a sit spot in each quiet space of the forest. There was a mandala made from natural materials, an artistic gift back to the earth. There was movement, dancing to the sounds of the forest, allowing my body to embody the very essence of that place- an acknowledgement that this forest had made their way inside me, and notions of my body as entirely mine had flaws. I could not be without this natural world.

My pilgrimage did not spontaneously alight a path to healing the divides of our time. But as my body took form in an open clearing of the forest, letting the energies of the natural world mould my body into fluid and ever-changing shapes, I felt that this was the path to beginning that healing. To giving traumas a safe place to lay their head and come to trust in safety, to seeing how “oneness” if you are white, able-bodied, cisgender, straight and neurotypical is not an ultimate reality for all beings in our current time, to losing some of suffocating grip of regularly engaging in a society that both enacts trauma and makes each of us agents of trauma. Letting ourselves breathe into the questions of not what the natural world offers us, but what do we offer back to the natural world? What would it mean if we truly, authentically questioned the legacy of this life and a life beyond ourselves?


Bianca Crapis (she/her) is a young person who lives, works and plays upon the unceded land of the Wurrundjeri and Boon Wurrung people. She is an aspiring psychologist with visions for a mental health approach that deconstructs neoliberalism, critically examines trauma and resistance, explores decolonising the mind and considers the multi-faceted nature of wellbeing that must include connectedness to the earth. When not wandering outdoors, she supervises a school mentoring program, volunteers with Psychology for a Safe Climate, studies Sacred Circle facilitation, and learns rewilding and contemplative spiritual practices from various teachers around Naarm (Melbourne, Australia).

The End of the World, for Whom?

An Afrofuturist & Afropessimist Counter Perspective on Climate Apocalypse

With the horrific disasters our planet and this country have been confronted with this year, it is almost easy to forget that the world is supposed to be ending sometime soon due to climate change. According to the UN, we have 10 years to get our act together. 9 years. 8 years. 7 years. 6… How many years are even left? A few years for us to change everything about our society. Faced with a pandemic that has only helped to make time feel truly meaningless, I know I can’t be the only person fearful that they have lost count. I can already feel the time left for us to right the ship escaping me, like sand falling between my fingers. I know that for many, when they think of the responsibility we have before us to “fix” what is so deeply broken, they are transfixed with terror, paralyzed by a fear of loss, or frozen by the enormity of the crisis.

I am not here to tell you that it will be ok. If it was ever my job to console you, it certainly is especially not my job in this moment, as a Black man surviving 2020. I am actually here to confirm that the apocalypse is coming. The world is ending. Nothing will ever be the same. But I am also here to question whether that is even a bad thing. If it is a bad thing, then who is this ending a bad thing for. Whose world is ending? 

Truly, on this planet, there are many people for whom the world is already over. Who have very little to lose. Some of them live a world away; some of them live a mile away; some of them live even closer. They will never see the nature that so many environmentalists are fighting to protect, they continue to have very little if any access to the resources that the climate change advocates are asking them to conserve, and they are not a respected part of the climate change conversation. Our society fears a coming climate apocalypse, but so many people in our society have already faced their own personal apocalypse, and at the hands of the same reckless and greedy powers which have caused this current catastrophe. When will their suffering hold meaning for the rest of us?

This is why climate change cannot be fixed with a simple chart depicting emissions reductions, creative blockchain carbon taxation, or other magical accounting that allows us to cancel out local emissions through trees planted (allegedly) entire continents away. There is no technology that can save us from ourselves, and If we can’t see the incredible opportunity before us to change the problems that lead us to this very precipice in the first place, if we can’t embrace that challenge then… who are we? If we don’t want to face that reality of the billions of apocalypses both gone and current, and instead choose half measures that will take carbon from the air but leave the world a shattered and unequal place… then do we even deserve this precious planet?

For many fearing climate change apocalypse, they fear their lives changing forever, their access to natural wonders canceled, their children’s economic futures uncertain, their sacrifices of comfort and convenience in vain due to petty partisan politics. It is their world that is ending. For so many others, the Apocalypse has already happened. In fact, the world has already ended several times. It ended the moment Columbus landed on the islands of the Caribbean. It ended for the kidnapped villagers in Western Africa—my ancestors— when they were stuffed into the wicked belly of a slave ship and cast into slavery in a strange land with a strange new climate. It ended with the first blanket covered in smallpox. It ended on Thanksgiving Day. It ended with the Trail of Tears. Agent Orange. Hiroshima. The Holocaust. It ended with Hurricane Katrina, Maria, Kenneth, Harvey and Dorian. It ended for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. It ended in an ICE camp on the border. It ended for the 2 million, and counting, killed by COVID-19. 

So many people have already faced the ends of their own civilization. So many people have already faced the ending of their personal worlds. Most of these shattered worlds never truly recovered. None of them have ever been given what they, as sacrifice zones sanctioned to enable the perpetual motion of our economy, are owed. They have never even had a real slice of this world, to begin with. This was not their world. These people and their ancestors know better than any of us how to tackle what’s coming, and what forces have allowed it to come, even as they face the new onslaught of climate change impacts which they have so little responsibility for causing. 

Our global civilization, the one that everyone reading this article is benefitting from, was built on the literal ashes of other civilizations. Meanwhile, a few white men from a few white nations have made nearly all of the decisions that have led us to this present point. To this present danger. Ending any inconvenient worlds that fell into their path along the way. Justifying their revolting actions with caste and class. In many ways, this looming chaos is nothing more than the culmination of those generations of recklessness. In many other ways, the terror of oncoming apocalypse only reminds those with broken worlds of how forgotten they are and have always been. My family, and my colleagues in the BIPOC-led climate justice movement, have grown up out of these shattered post-apocalyptic worlds, they are our story, our burden, and our strength, and to be frank, the world that so many fear losing… is not a world that we have ever had full access to.

This is not to mean I am hopeless or bitter. I find great strength in honoring the generations of pain and suffering that have allowed me to exist, and given me my own small chance to change the story. It is in fact these billions of broken worlds that allow me to access a stream of radical imagination and audacious hope, to see a future that many mainstream climate activists, academics, and policymakers could scarcely picture. One way or another Climate Change will end our world. But not all endings are bleak. Not every end carries with it tones of Ragnarok or Armageddon. The future could hold the end of human life as we know it… But are you really certain that would be a bad thing? Sure, this coming age could be the end of life on our planet. Alternatively, it could be the end of all the ugly things that caused our environmental problems in the first place. 

We are offered an unprecedented attempt to change the very worst things about our society. To redistribute the power which has been abused continually to lead us to this point. We are also offered an unprecedented attempt to see our doom looming before us and to do nothing in response but suck carbon out of the air and spray aerosols. Apolitical ahistorical solutions for a political problem that bleeds history. Like taking a mild decongestant when you have a critical case of pneumonia. In approaching climate change, we have a unique chance to change the scale of our society. To right centuries of wrongdoing. See, we have a choice: ignoring the social implications of climate change is also ignoring human suffering, the reckless extravagant greed, and the global inequality that allowed climate change to happen. Honoring that suffering, and centering it, abolishing it, may be our only hope. For so many of us, the world is already over! Protecting this spent shell, that a few live on prosperously, is not an inspiration for us.

Imagine a world without inequality. A world that doesn’t depend on resources reaped through modern-day imperialism. An economy that doesn’t depend on environmental degradation, or take homelessness, illness, and starvation as givens. A world without first-worlds or third-worlds. Without poverty and endless war. A world where nature itself has indisputable rights, and people of all colors have indubitable entitlements to access that nature safely without harm from police violence, pollution, and corporate exploitation. A world where wealth distribution matters far more to us than GDP. A world where we don’t even need vacations because we have redefined and reclaimed labor as a source of joy, fulfillment, and healing. Is it hard to imagine? Ok, that’s fair. But how difficult? More difficult to imagine than a world-ending cataclysm like a megadrought? More difficult than the end of humanity itself? Perhaps that is a large part of the problem at hand: we need to learn how to radically reimagine the world that’s possible. 

Yet those voices who could teach this radical envisioning of the future, those voices who have already survived apocalypses, are so often excluded from this conversation. Their pain, and suffering, and broken worlds are not a part of the discussion. When you find yourself in rooms of privilege and power, with apolitical solutions to climate change that do not address its social responsibility being poured into your ear, ask yourself who is not sitting at the table, and who is missing? Call attention to whose voice is not being heard. Who is not a part of the climate change dialog? So let me also ask: Who has the most to teach our society about triumphing over unbelievable odds and hardship? Who is already faced with apocalyptic conditions on a daily basis? Who has witnessed the end of the world? When do we let them speak? When do we honor their pain?

For those of us still feeling the urgency of our survival, and the fear of loss in the face of climate change, perhaps we need to reexamine the entire premise. My ancestors and my tradition frame this problem entirely differently. Human society will persist. The real question is: what will survive of who we are now? The best of our world… or the very worst? It’s our job, our privilege, to decide that, and as environmental practitioners, as activists, as academics, as concerned human beings, we will need more than carbon offsets to do our part. We will need outspoken bravery, a commitment to justice, and audacious levels of radical hope. We will need to know ourselves, and we will need to know history: that hideous stream of imperialism and colonialism that led us to this most current apocalypse, and ended so many beautiful worlds on our way here.

This radical hope, this fearless acknowledgement of the horrors of the past, and bold imagination aimed towards the future is a key difference between the mainstream Climate Change movement and the Climate Justice movement that I have joined: we know that a world with less carbon in the air isn’t necessarily a better world. Yet in fighting to keep carbon in the ground, not with technology, but by changing who we are and what we stand for… we can build a world that is better for everyone. A world that is more just, more kind, and so much less precarious than what we have right now. A world where pandemics and hurricanes and government-sanctioned killings don’t shockingly “reveal” what so many of us have known as truth for generations.  A world that finally begins to do justice to the countless worlds sacrificed in the name of this one. Truly, the world is ending, and honestly, it’s about time. Not all ends are bad. Far from it. The end of sexism, racism, corporate corruption, inequality, and apartheid in all its forms. The real thing here is hope and the audacity, the bold daring, to imagine a future that is so much better than what we have right now. Ask. Have you given yourself permission to see this future?

That audacity begins with realizing that the world we have now simply isn’t that great, and for so many people—the world’s global majority, in fact, it never has been. This audacity is endowed to many of us whose ancestors were never a part of this world, who proudly and enduringly carry the ends of shattered civilizations on our shoulders. Put more simply, it’s not our world that’s ending, and by letting go of it we are left with an incredible freedom. We are freed from those half-measure solutions that attempt to preserve the status quo, those mere slivers of prosperity we have guaranteed a few, and in doing so gamble with our survival rate like the quarterly profit margins for some Dow Jones corporation. This is the gift of the Afropessimism and Afrofuturism embedded in the climate justice movement: instead of simply fighting to protect the world that we already have, a lie that we could never afford to believe in, we are able to struggle to create the world that we don’t have. So I ask again, the end of the world… for whom?

 


Recorded by Carmen Rumbaut

 

AJ Hudson is an environmental organizer, climate activist, and community educator. As a current graduate student, he hopes to one day topple the barriers separating the vast resources of universities from the urgent needs of vulnerable communities. AJ spent five years teaching and eventually co-founded a public high school in one of the most disenfranchised, polluted, and over-policed neighborhoods in Brooklyn, NY before pivoting towards environmental work. He has led community workshops on climate justice with UPROSE, organized to pass New York’s CLCPA, and helped plan and execute the nation’s largest gathering for young people of color on climate change. 

Walkabout

 

 

 


Recorded by Carmen Rumbaut

Susan has lived in the northern foothills of the Sierra Nevada for 45 years, on  land once tread by the Nisenan Tribe. 
Her daily practice is of honoring the ancestors, her own and those who resided  on the land and to bless her life and her family’s. 
She moved from the San Francisco Bay Area in mid 1970’s to settle on several  acres with her husband, where she raised a family, worked in the schools, and  continued to write as she’s done since childhood.  
Some of her work evolved into short stories, dreams, poetry and some were  published. 

Quantum

Poem by Matthew O’Tuama

Recorded by author

I cant do this live.
I cant tell you the story,
And fly the ship,
Both at the same time.
So I’m opening a space.
Pushing forward
In what you call time,
But I know it as distance.
I’m opening the door right now.
Can you hear me friend?
We’re together
Compassionate
And strong.


Matthew has been writing words and music from a young age. His cottage recording and art studio is located in rural Tipperary, Ireland. A musician and songwriter, Matthew has been involved in several projects concerned with the welfare of the planet and wildlife. Over the years, Matthew has been involved in folk clubs, promoted music, and mentored young musicians. His album Universal Acoustic Radio, was released in late 2019. Matthew was introduced to the Work That Reconnects by a friend. He considers it an important platform, in these deeper times. His website is:  https://matthewotuama.com/

Trilogy

Chorus

A choir holds within itself the signature of our shared story: to entrain. Despite our disparate voices, when sung together the body follows – heartbeats and breaths pooling into one song-well of coherence, echoing the crest and fall and thrum of the once-ocean that belonged to us all, still tasted in our tears. This is the estuary the birds make of the dawn. Within their chorus we daily surface to a ground swell already awaiting us, where we might remember our own small inlet of sound. And if we apprentice ourselves to this constellating, taking it up and turning over the size and shape of it like a rock weighing in our hand, then we will have placed our verse amid it to be healed, like a river stone returning to a stream.

 

Initiate

I come to you as Owl. Reaching down out of the bardo of night, I drop my bidding at your feet – a hunted hare, slack on the snow in a quiver of starlight. You stop stride-stunned, look to the bough I have taken, more of shadow than of feather as our eyes meet. I have lain this pelt before you of all the riches I know under the blunt thorn of Winter. It is the song upon which I hang my bones on to tell you this: grief needs a vessel to pour into. So rebuild your shrines, if only in the silent vigil of the mind. Let loss keep you alive to the moment, moving one step ahead of you on your storied path. You left this eve on what you thought was a walk but now returns you as an initiate.

Bring your songs

Where we are going, you will need to bring your songs. Not those you rehearse, but those you remember in the call and response of sunrise. The ones that come by way of the body where, in its rapt encounter with birdsong, the seership of reverence that once made honied altars of stone can still be heard. Gather them, like you do the dropped feathers and bleached antlers of dreams in the roundhouse of morning, for these are the bone myths and old names from the last ancestor whose heart could still bear the beauty of this world. Offer them, as the seed does to the Earth, for She will know the ritual of your open palm like She does Her own salt. Bless them, in that storied tongue from the borderlands that tastes of cry and croak and carol for, where we are going, this is what will heal the place you find yourself; this is how you will become animal again


Recorded by Carmen Rumbaut

 

As an observer of the sacred in the everyday, writer and educator Erin Holtz Braeckman seeks to make “the embodied inner life” a daily spiritual practice. She holds a B.A., B.Ed., and an M.A. in English Literature (Public Texts), as well as certification in Spiritual Counselling and a background in World Religions. She is a part-time faculty member at Lakefield College School, a reiki practitioner, and an E-RYT with Yoga Alliance, teaching Hatha and Qigong out of her home business, The Village Yoga Studio, in Ontario, Canada. Erin is the author of three published books, and leads online programs that explore rewilding the Earth-based ancestral wisdom traditions of the Deep Feminine. When not with a book, her garden, or beloved family, Erin can be found leading her annual Sacred Travel retreat through the South of France. For more information, please visit womenswisdom.ca and thevillageyogastudio.ca

Numb

by Anna Charalambous-Green

 

Numb: A feeling that takes over as a protective mechanism when shock sets in following a traumatic event.

Numb is a sensation that has recurred along my journey through life. From war torn Cyprus in 1974. Hiding beneath the stairs as bombs dropped overhead from Turkish planes.   Atrocities in quaint blue and white churches. The long march to the British air base on the Island. A snaking line of families, carrying what they could. Clutching  important belongings, as the tiny Ghurkha soldiers march the other way, long curved knives in hand. Goodbye Mr Tabs,  our beautiful tabby cat. Please find your way to safety.

Numb.

Inner city Birmingham. Bussed from RAF Brize Norton. The English refugees from invaded Cyprus arriving in the bus station underneath the Bullring centre. I’d never seen so many people. I clutched my mother’s hand for fear of being swallowed up by the crowd.

A year later, dad arrived. A Greek Cypriot national, he had made his own way, to meet us. A whole year later. I was so happy I jumped on him as he walked through the door of our council flat in inner city Birmingham. 

I was not like the other children in my inner city infant school.  I was not full of chatter and fun. I was subdued, watchful. I hadn’t spoken for two years and school psychiatrists were engaged. 

The school sent our class on a visit to the countryside. From the massive sprawl of concrete and vile air, to the green fields of the shire counties that surround the metropolis.  Us inner-city kids hadn’t seen a cow, and trees and all this green. When it came time to go, we filled our pockets with leaves that had fallen. Memento mori. 

My sister and I had both done well at school, but we’d been plagued with stomach pains,  which had later been diagnosed as crohn’s disease.  My sister died from complications in the gut as secondary to the effects of crohn’s only last year. Dad developed stomach cancer and passed when I was eleven – Numb.

Only me and mum left now. I’ve been pensioned off work due to the constant surgery and illness from the disease. I sold the house that mum and I shared to pay for mums care home. Alzheimer’s means mum can no longer remember the real world – Numb.

But when the numbness lifts, I hear the depths of my nature. The apriori images from beyond the womb. It is the sound of the wilderness calling. The depths of my nature, calling me back to the wild forest.

I took the money I’d saved from my work severance package and headed for the countryside, just like I had done as a child, so many years earlier.

I set up a rural retreat for urban dwellers here in the West Wales countryside. It is a beautiful place,  with a Community Woodland garden and Orchard. The people who visit and become ‘Friends of the Wood’ have their own plot in the garden and can take away what they grow. Those who have been prevented from coming due to lockdown this year, have followed on Facebook, as we develop and grow the site. A haven is waiting for those who need respite from the chaos of millions of scared people packed into urbanized concrete and glass.

Some who have come from nearby towns, especially this year, are numb. From the madness of the pandemic, of loss of family members. Unsure of the future of work, of an increasingly strange and unknown landscape of masks and fear.

But here, in the honeysuckle glade which is set aside for raised beds for organic growing, the tension of the world outside does not penetrate.  Time moves differently here.  The Green whispers through the trees of how to cast off the anxiety caused by events beyond our control. I hear the echoes down the years, of the children rushing to pick up leaves from paradise, before being bussed back to the city and I know the Green has entangled these visitors from the urban metropolis in his spell.  

As we garden, we watch the wild birds and chat among ourselves. I see the tension melt away from their faces. Amidst the chaos of this diseased, recession ridden world, there is a sense to make. This is the sense of a self-sustaining, rural existence. This is what is best for all of the people, and not just a few. This is what is best for society, and  for our home – mother earth.