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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.