In the encounters and adventures of the past half-year, it's been hard for me to tell whether the Work That Reconnects is spreading at a faster tempo, or whether I'm only now realizing how far it's traveled. In any case, the work seems to precede me wherever I show up. People come to workshops counting on the freedom they'll find to tell the truth about what they see happening to our world; and they come ready to take themselves seriously as agents of change.
ON THE ROAD
Praise be for the health and energy that still allow me at 80 to travel, teach, and learn. A long-planned workshop on Holy Isle, a Tibetan Buddhist center devoted to ecological renewal, brought me in September with my assistant Anne to the Hebrides in western Scotland. I felt right at home there, not only because of activist friends, like Natalie McCall who initiated the event, but also because the center's founders are Ka'gyu lamas familiar with Tashi Jong, the Tibetan community in NW India that's been an important part of my life. Remembering my time at Holy Isle, I feel invigorated by its wild, windswept beauty and the wild brave hearts I was blessed to know there. Afterwards, escorted by Jane Hera, generous colleague in the Work, we wound through the magical mauve hills of Mull, sailed to the fabled isle of Iona, and generally took our own sweet time getting to our next engagement at the Findhorn Foundation.
Returning to Findhorn for the seventh or eighth time since 1986, it felt, as it does to so many, like coming home.
Cornwall, at the diagonally opposite SW corner of Britain, summoned next. I went to give a keynote and workshop at a confernce on ecopsychology sponsored by the British Holistic Medical Association. It was held at the Eden Project, a most intriguing venue: an old clay quarry where huge futuristic, geodesic domes sheltered biomes of different climate zones.
GENERATION WAKING UP
A brilliant October found me in British Columbia at Royal Roads University in Victoria and the Haven conference center on Gabriola Island, then later that month at an intergenerational event at the Ojai Foundation in S. California. That Ojai interlude, was co-sponsored by Generation Waking Up, and replete with sweat lodges on All Hallows Eve and a full-blown Council of All Beings, got the young people excited about the Work That Reconnects--and motivated several to move to the Bay Area to continue to work with each other and with me. What we've undertaken together has included a 5-day young people's retreat over the Martin Luther King weekend, combining the Work That Reconnects with teachings in Kingian nonviolence, as well as a five-session class this winter in systems thinking. My assistant Anne's vision and generosity has made much of this possible, for she has provided housing in her family compound in Oakland for four of the 20-somethings that have come out from the east coast, and drawn more of their peers into the vortex of activity that is emerging there around the notion of a center for the Work That Reconnects.
A teaching visit to the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe NM last week illumined the relevance of the Work That Reconnects to the practice of chaplaincy. Aiming at both social service and systems change, the Upaya program under Roshi Joan Halifax trains chaplains to work in prisons, hospitals, hospices, and other settings where spiritually grounded counseling is needed. The approach and practices of the Work That Reconnects were welcomed as valuable to chaplains in fostering presence, resilience, and discernment. Our reflections also included the vocation of eco-chaplaincy, as I described the pioneering work in Appalachia being undertaken by Sarah Vekasi.
After graduating with an M.Div. from Naropa University in Boulder, where her masters thesis Drew on the Work That Reconnects to unpack the concept of ecochaplaincy, Sarah Vekasi saw a video about mountain top removal. This entails, as you may know, the dynamiting of mountains to expose the veins of coal and the shoving of their tops or "overburden" into the valleys, burying springs, streams, wildlife and homes, as well as poisoning the water and the air with mercury, arsenic and other heavy metals. So far this process, carried out by the coal industry with the help of powerful political allies, has destroyed over four hundred mountains. It spells the death of Appalachia as a ecosystem and as a culture, but local community and environmental groups have been resisting. To take part in their struggle, Sarah, with barely a second thought, pulled up stakes and moved to West Virginia last summer. See the reports and letters on her website www.ecochaplaincy.net to learn of recent, hard-won political gains, and the ways Sarah helps community and environmental groups work with their despair and draw staying power from the ancestors and coming generations.
NEW REFLECTIONS ON USING THE WORK
Here in California I began the new year at the Franciscan center of San Damiano with some forty colleagues at a week-long facilitators retreat. Among the many ways I miss Fran, certainly one is as a thinking partner. He had such a lovely, unhurried way of focusing his attention on the matter at hand, there hardly seemed anything I couldn't sort out, sift through, and clarify, when we looked at it together. So a year ago, After he died, I told Anne I wanted to sit down with some colleagues in the Work That Reconnects to look at where it seemed to be going.
One of the concerns I brought relates to wide-spread borrowing of its interactive exercises to use them in other settings. A number of them are often taken separately and inserted into other programs, classes and curricula as an enlivening change from the usual lecture format. Desiring to share the Work, I have, from the very begining, offered it as a "give-away," establishing no conditions or credentials for its use; but recently I worry. Is the Work That Reconnects in danger of being dismembered or trivialized when its exercises are taken out of context and often conducted in an abbreviated fashion? Do I or we, who know the depth and full range of the Work, have a responsibility to protect its integrity? And how?
These questions led us to ask what, specifically, is essential to the Work That Reconnects. What elements ensure its integrity? Which features and assumptions are basic to its transformational power? The answers we found at our facilitators retreat at San Damiano coincide strikingly with the conclusions reached at a recent facilitators' training in Oxfordshire in the UK. To summarize:
Two elements of the Work That Reconnects are essential to its purpose and efficacy: one is philosophical, the other methodological. The recognition of the interconnected nature of reality constitutes our basic, rock bottom premise. The Work That Reconnects is grounded in the radical interdependence of all things, as affirmed in new paradigm science and deep ecology, as well as Buddhist, Taoist and indigenous wisdom traditions. Equally necessary to the Work is the distinctive way it unfolds. It is an inherently dynamic process, mapped and experienced as a spiral embracing four stages. It is a spiral rather than than a cycle, because the unfolding stages do not repeat themselves, so much as yield fresh and often deeper understandings each time around. If the Work That Reconnects were a tree, the spiral would be its sap--keeping it upright, alive and whole from its roots to the tips of its leaves.
Now, if and as we agree to honor these essential features, we can, with integrity, offer a separate exercise (such as the Milling or the Truth Mandala or a Deep Time exercise), so long as we do the following: (1) convey how it reflects the radical interdependence of all life, (2) allow it the prescribed time, and (3) present it within the context of the Spiral. We can do that in our introductory comments and instructions and follow-up remarks. Indeed, some of the best teaching happens in the process of facilitating an exercise.
Another after-effect of our facilitators retreat is the creation of a nonprofit. We are in the process of registering The Work That Reconnects as a 501c3, so that we can accept tax-free contributions and do other good things more easily.
WITHOUT FRAN AND WITH HIM
Set into a hillside, looking over at Mount Tamalpais and westward to the Pacific, is a fine stone.
The cards and letters that so many of you sent to me have mattered hugely. I feel held and reassured by your palpable love for Fran and me.
Yours in the great mystery,