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June 18, 2012

Dear People,

Before I depart again for points east, I want to tell you about our recent ten-day intensive in North Carolina, and then share some new practices in the Work That Reconnects (WTR), as well as some quotes you’ll appreciate.


Wrapping up in early June, the North Carolina intensive was well served by the preparations of its local team (Hope Horton, Jodi Lasseter, Gregory Louie, and Eleanor Hancock) and their commitment to grounding the WTR in their region.  Some thirty of us gathered at the lovely, rural center belonging to Stone House.  Situated on 70 acres between Chapel Hill and Greensboro, Stone House co-sponsored our event--a perfect fit given its focus on social and environmental justice <> and its director Claudia Horwitz, author of Spiritual Activism.  The scholarship fund, to which a number of you have made donations, helped us bring in more youth and people of color; I am grateful for their presence with us and for your generosity. We started with a weekend workshop for newcomers to the WTR, ten of whom then stayed on for a full week to follow, with more folks coming in with experience of the work.

Work That Reconnects SE Intensive, 2012 photo by Sarah Vekasi, Morning Teaching
Work That Reconnects SE Intensive, 2012 photo by Sarah Vekasi, Morning Teaching

The event was distinctive in its dual focus: 1) on the southeastern states; and 2) on energy issues in that region.  We spotlighted these issues with a  panel of speakers:  Sarah Vekasi, an eco-chaplain in Appalachia, spoke on mountain top removal coal mining; Don Safer, veteran Tennessee activist on Oak Ridge National Laboratory briefed us on nuclear power issues; Sammy Slade from NC Warn detailed current policies and legislation involving huge (preconstruction) rate hikes; and Tamara Matheson helped us understand what’s at stake in hydro-fracking. The speakers’ impact on the intensive is captured in the words of Elizabeth Erb, a participant.


“Monday night’s panel changed my life. First, having that information brought forward and presented within the workshop added fathoms of depth and meaning to the week. If there was any doubt about the need for us to really focus in, it was squelched. On a personal level, I was undone… blindsided by the fracking information. If anything is ever needed for me to have compassionate empathy for foot-dragging-folks-in-denial, I have only to look in the mirror. I think I listened and finally heard so deeply because: 1) there was little choice (! Often necessary in my case!) and 2) because I was counting on a Truth Mandala the next day. My biggest hope/fear/challenge centers on how I will move forward with that information.”

Most folks in our intensive took advantage of the one-on-one consultations that Anne Symens-Bucher offered under the arching branches of an enormous pecan tree, precious moments that brought fresh clarity to the life changes faced in these times.  There’s great gratitude too for Sarah Vekasi’s role as she assisted me in facilitating the teaching sessions and organized the afternoon and evening programs.  Sarah brought her rich experience in the WTR and her use of it in her groundbreaking Ecochaplaincy work<>  The subject of her M.Div. thesis at Naropa University, it has, over her last three years in Appalachia with communities struggling with mountaintop removal coal mining, grown into a substantial and priceless body of work.

I was delighted that Sarah and Jodi Lasseter organized a track for facilitators and wannabe facilitators that ran through the week for one and two hours each afternoon.  At each gathering everyone first reflected on the morning session from his/her perspective as participant; then took on the perspective of facilitator to see the choice-points and harvest what was useful and good.  This kind of “training” in the WTR was a breakthrough for me.

Joanna with young activist, Mitra Sticklen, who intends to use the WTR to involve more young people in the food justice movement.
Joanna with young activist, Mitra Sticklen, who intends to use the WTR to involve more young people in the food justice movement. Photo by Sarah Vekasi


I love how the WTR encourages us to discover and invent new practices.  Here are some recent ones:

Solidarity meditation

Aryeh Shell, on a Rotary Peace Fellowship in Buenos Aires, is writing her thesis on the threats facing Mayan campesinos with whom she did field work in Honduras.  At first her grief for them sapped her energy, but then she found a way to feel their presence and support.



“I have started a meditation practice, based on a story I read in Thich Nhat Hanh's book, of sitting with the photographs of the amazing Hondurans that I met in the Aguán who are impacted by the militarization in their communities and who are struggling for land and life.  I sit and breathe with them, look at their faces, remember their voices, and connect to their suffering, their hopes, their grief, their struggle and then it is not just me that is writing this thesis, but we are. As I have felt some overwhelm by the macabre connection between neoliberalism, agrofuels and militarization, this practice drops me into a deep sense of communion and solidarity so that my thesis is not simply a theoretical analysis of the situation, but a pilgrimage into the heart.

Ongoing drop-in group for the WTR

Kaia Svien in Minneapolis hosts a biweekly gathering where she offers the WTR. She writes:

“These days I am offering the work in ongoing 2-hour sessions every other week. People can either drop in or come each time as the sessions are both self-contained and part of a series. We honor the emotions by recognizing that each person speaks for him/herself and is also sent by Earth, carrying a message of how humans are awakening. Then we do a practice of interbeing from (WTR’s) large treasure box. These sessions are designed to give people support over time. I’ve done enough now to have new forms arise at times to match events. Luscious!

Open sentences for couples

On a Sunday last April my son Jack  and I co-facilitated a half-day workshop as a fundraiser for his church.   we managed to complete the whole spiral of the WTR, thanks to ample use of Open Sentences.  Shortly afterwards he showed up at the monthly meeting of his couples group.  His  wife was away on a trip, and he only discovered upon arrival that he was responsible for the evening’s activity.   Without batting an eye, Jack led the group around the spiral with the following Open Sentences:

1.  “What I love about our relationship is…”

2.  “When I think of where we remain separate and fearful, I feel….”

3.    “When I remember that I have chosen my one and only, and this is it, I want to…”

4.  “Something I can do in the next month to deepen the experience of love in our relationship is…”

Jack asked each person to write their answers down first, and then take turns reading and listening to their partner.

Stone Telling

This is an exercise concocted last fall at Rowe Conference Center, when I wanted  to give people a short spell in nature before the rain started up again.

Go outside. Let yourself be drawn to a natural object, a stone, a plant, a tree. Let this life-form become your teacher. Watch and be with it. Let it tell you of three strengths that are yours:  One is a strength you were born with.  The second is a strength you have won through  hardship.  The third is a strength you will discover as you take part in the Great Turning.

Council of All Beings variation

Elizabeth Erb of Asheville shares this addition to a Council of All Beings she and her husband David Williams led with their UU congregation.

After letting our masks down, everyone had a note card and pen. While both awarenesses were still present, we each wrote on one side of the card an intention or promise as a human expressing what we will do or how we will honor the identity that has arisen in us. On the other side of the card we wrote the message to us humans from the being that had arisen in us. We were a small enough council, so we could read both sides of our cards to the group.

Buffalo arose so strong in me and is a no-nonsense, straight-shooting giant who had a mouthful to say. I will forever treasure his advice (mandate—he doesn’t “suggest” things!) for me. It is on my refrigerator and I am made more solid and bigger each time I read it.


Occupy and Nonviolence

In Street Spirit; printed by America Friends Service Committee and sold by homeless men and women on the streets of the Bay Area, I found a great interview with George Lakey on the Occupy movement and the importance of nonviolence. Here are few lines:

Those in Occupy who want to be cynical about the intentions of the 1 percent might ask themselves: Why is it so important to the 1 percent that we believe that violence is more powerful? It’s so important because they know they can beat us, because they are the ones who have the overwhelming instruments of violence. They can keep us in line as long as we believe that violence is the most powerful force. So it is this massive manipulation that is thousands of years old, maybe older than that, and it’s totally in alignment with the patriarchy…

Violence offends us. Violence is actually against human nature—it offends us… the sight, the smell, the sound of violence is offensive. It violates our sensibility… [Violence] delegitmizes [the authorities]. What’s going on with Syria right now? The government of Syria has turned from a so-so state into,  in the world’s estimation, a rogue state because of the use of violence. Violence discredits the purveyors of it.

“Internal hysterics”

With my book group I’m reading In Mortal Hands, a history of nuclear weapons and power, and I’ve been struck by a phrase of Andrei Sakharov.  Long before his Nobel Peace Prize, and long before he became a dissident within the USSR, Sakharov was assigned to the development of the Soviet hydrogen bomb.  Even back then, at age 27, he was reported to have “distinguished himself through the clarity and correctness of his thought.”  But he could not sleep.  “You know,” he told a colleague then, “I have internal hysterics.”

The phrase describes well what comes upon me at moments, such as when I think of the storage pool of irradiated fuel rods at Fukushima’s 4th reactor, or of what fracking does to
the waters of Earth.

Moral Overload and the Resilient Bodhisattva

My friend Dennis Rivers writes about the deluge of information that requires our attention and empathy.  In a recent writing he discerns possible adaptive responses Two in particular I would like to digest.  One is:: define global moral challenges as belonging to communities rather than individuals, so that the individual does not feel like a failure in relation to all those calls for help…

A second response would be for a person to develop an inward culture of forgiveness, in which one accepted that one lived in a broken and suffering world. This would involve considerable emotional maturity, and an acceptance of one’s finiteness. Although in the face of the sufferings of the world, I might earnestly wish that I were a hundred people rather than just one, focusing intensely on forgiveness might allow me to forgive myself for being only one, and find some sustaining satisfaction in embracing a smaller


Open-sourcing  the Work That Reconnects

I have a perennial question about how to share The Work That Reconnects in a way that allows it to stay flexible and alive in a world that uses copyrights and credentials for quality control.  I was gladdened to read Shannon Richmond’s response to the way I have chosen to share the work:

“I want to thank you for your openhandedness with the Work That Reconnects. I am so touched to witness how you share it. Giving it away in the celebration to us and others is an embodiment of the Life Sustaining Society! I rejoice to witness this integrity of not just talking about shifting consciousness but doing it! I am delighted to receive the work in such a way and I will share it with the same spirit of openhandedness, celebrating our interconnectedness. I will keep in my heart-mind that together we will rise as I go out to teach and share this work. I’ve been so tired of the competition and the way that transformation work can get commodified. Thank you for this refreshing alternative!”

Psychological and Social Demands on Leaders in the Great Turning

Suzanne Moser is a Santa Cruz-based climate scientist whom I met in a past intensive, and who now has written a chapter for the forthcoming Sage Reference Handbook of Environmental Leadership (Gallagher et al.). It’s called “Getting Real about It” and here are a few passages. It<>

“What seems assured is that the leaders of the future will face not just new, more difficult, and more pervasive environmental challenges than ever before, but will need to be adept in a range of psychological, social, political skills to navigate the inevitable human crises that will precede, trigger, and follow environmental ones. Future leaders will need to be not just experts in climate change, or a particular environmental field, but be capable of holding that which is happening to and in our world. They will need to mentor, guide, and assist people in processing enormous losses, human distress, constant crises [as well as help in] maintaining, restoring, and rebuilding—despite all setbacks—a viable planet, the only place the human species can its home…

“The landscape you will find yourself in…. is a different one. Despair lives there, along with helplessness and anger, fear and disorientation, undoubtedly also unspeakable sadness.

“… as much larger portions of society awakes to this emerging reality, there is likely to be a lot of confusion, a lot of not-knowing, uncertainty, and probably still a good deal of hanging on to hope-against-hope and denial. To speak clearly and calmly to what is, and what may yet come, cuts down on that confusion, cuts through the strange fog that people are in when they don’t understand or deny reality. It’s clarifying, grounding to be real with others.

Fukushima and Other Nuclear Challenges

A lot of us are holding our breath over the precarious containment of irradiated fuel rods at Fukushima’s Reactor #4. The magnitude of perils presented by this ongoing disaster, and especially government silence about the radioactive fall-out it’s generating, make it very hard to get reliable information. I have found the folks at The Ecological Options Network to be a great resource.

Tomorrow night I’ll speak at a rally on the steps of the Berkeley City Council about the resolution it will vote on as to whether to ask for the closure of California’s two nuclear power plants, San Onofre and Diablo Canyon, a Fukushima look-alike with its GE Mark 1 reactors and its coastal location next to major earthquake faults.  We’ve sent Council members a short youtube video featuring mothers of Fukushima, and I hope you’ll look at it too <>.

Over the last forty years my own personal resolution to stop nuclear power and weapons production has been deeply informed and inspired by a remarkable scientist: Sister Rosalie Bertell.  A Grey Nun of the Sacred Heart and.a pioneering radiologist conducting research on the health effects of emissions from nuclear power plants, she testified at many a trial of anti-nuclear activists.  Sister Rosalie died June 14th.  Join me in honoring her; you’ll see her on this video as she describes the depleted uranium weaponry we are using in our military operations.

Yours ever, in solidarity and love for life,