The books, Coming Back to Life, World as Lover, World as Self, and Thinking Like a Mountain, describe many forms of experiential group work relating to deep ecology, deep time, and despair and empowerment. Described below are additional practices that have evolved in our workshops and that have not yet been published.
The Whole Spiral
Chris Johnstone, Great Turning Times, December '08
The central plot-line of this work follows a spiral of four elements: gratitude, honouring pain for the world, seeing with new eyes, and going forth. I've found the combination, and sequence, of these elements allows the emergence of something much more than the sum of the parts.
At a talk I gave recently, I asked people to divide in pairs and listen to each other completing the following sentences.
"Things I love about our world include..."
"Concerns I have about our world include..."
"A perspective I find inspiring or refreshing is..."
"Steps I can take to participate in the Great Turning include..."
This was a short and simple way of moving through these four elements. With two minutes for each sentence, it took about ten minutes each way, yet the process deeply touched many of those present. I've also used these four starts to sentences in my personal journaling, starting a fresh page with each one. Whenever I'm not sure what to write, I just start the sentence again and see what naturally follows. It has been liberating, a time of kindling the spark.
This is the protocol which the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois Six Nations Confederacy, used when opening their treaty meetings. Please stand. You may make the following gestures mentally or physically.
We offer salutations and respect to all present at this meeting
We brush off the chairs on which we sit--
We brush off from our clothing any debris picked up on the way--
We wipe the blood from our hands--
We wipe the tears from our eyes--
We take the lump out of our throats--
We take the tightness out of our chests--
We acknowledge and pray for guidance
Ho. So be it.(This version is adapted by Ralph Metzner)
Purpose and Background
This short exercise brings up a lot of energy and can add more authenticity to our despair work. By exaggerating and venting feelings of disconnection, even indifference, which are inevitable in our mass culture, we can achieve greater honesty and sense of wholeness for all that follows.
To weep and rage over the conditions of our world can be a profound release. It can also cause some of us to wonder if we are being entirely honest. "If I care so damn much, why haven't I done something about it?" And sometimes we simply do not feel, at the moment, the degree of grief, concern, or caring that others are expressing. We can wonder then, if we are deficient--lacking in rudimentary compassion--and the sense of numbing or inadequacy can intensify.
"The despair I feel," said Tom in a workshop at Columbia University, "is that I don't feel despair. My heart feels like a rock. I'm afraid I don't care the way the rest of you do." The rest of us that day were soon grateful for his confession, because it triggered the invention of this process. It ignited much hilarity, and became known for a while as "I am a Rock."
It is good to do before, not after an intensive despair work process.
This is fine for any size group. Just pour water into a clear glass bowl. Let it represent for you and for the others our tears for the world and all beings. And invite each person, as they pass the bowl to each other, or as they come and sit or kneel before it, to scoop up some water and let it trickle through their fingers. As they do, they can say: "My tears are for…."
Here's a description of this process with a large assembly:
With 250 people participating, we were challenged to invent new forms, especially for the part that's most intense: Honoring Our Pain for theWorld. That session began with poetry and spoken reflections on the power, liberation, and solidarity that comes with owning our collective grief. Then people clustered in foursomes to tell of their experience of the "great unraveling." After that they sang together, over and over like a chant, words of Adrienne Rich put to music by Carolyn McDade.
My heart is moved by all I cannot save.
So much has been destroyed.
I have to cast my lot with those who,
age after age, perversely,
with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.
The Bodhisattva Check-in or "My Choices for This Life" (current form)
This process focuses on our individual lives and helps us see how their basic features and conditions and conditions can serve the healing of the world – almost as if we had chosen them for that purpose. It brings fresh appreciation for the chance to be alive in this planet-time. Like climbing a mountain and looking back on the landscape below, this exercise provides a vantage point that lets us see new things. From that overarching perspective, we can see unsuspected connections and goodness; even our suffering and limitations reveal their value for the work we have come to do.
Three introductory stages precede the main body of the exercise. First, the group is invited to contemplate the long panoramic journey of life on Earth. Along with words from the guide, a recording of tonal sound helps open the mind to that journey’s vast expanses of time.
Secondly, the guide tells people they will imagine that they remember how they chose to take birth as a human in this moment of history. (Joanna tells of bodhisattvas and their vow to keep returning to the world to relieve suffering.) Participants are invited to imagine that they are all together somewhere in a time immediately preceding this present life. In this moment, information reaches them about the dangers to life on Earth that have been arising through the twentieth century and reaching a crisis point at the start of the third millennium.
Chris Johnstone has been doing this practice for some time now.
A few weeks ago, my Great Turning study/action group tried an exercise inspired by the Shambhala Prophecy. We imagined moving forward in time to visit a possible future where the Great Turning had occurred. In this imaginary time-line, the early twenty first century had been a crucial change point; as a result, a massive shift in consciousness had occurred. Visiting these future beings gave us an opportunity to ask them for guidance. Some people found it hard to imagine such a future. But others found the process deeply inspiring. The future beings I encountered had this advice for me: “Meet in groups to hold the vision and train yourselves”.
Sit together in groups of four.
- Paula Hendrick
An amazing gift: when I gave the dharma talk at the Common Ground Meditation Center last Friday night, I opened with the Redwoods meditation. During the reception, a young man came up and thanked me heartily for bringing the Redwood into our beings as I did. He had lived in solitude for a month in top of a Redwood and then spent 6 more months with other tree people in a forest. Nick and I are going to have tea together this week and talk about what kind of a piece we can put together and take into the community. Exciting! It was such an honor to present your teachings, Joanna, to about 110 people in a 2 hour sit and dharma talk. The center director told me it was one of the most moving dharma talks they've had. So, just another little story for you about how your work is moving through the world. Love, Kaia
This process is done in pairs, according to instructions given for Open Sentences in Chapter 7 of Coming Back to Life (p. 98). Allow about 30 minutes. This is a highly pleasurable activity, and you may well want to invent your own open sentences. I usually use four from these five, and in this order:
1. Some things I love about being alive in Earth are…
2. A place that was magical (or wonderful) to me as a child was….
3. A person who helped me believe in myself is or was….
4. Some things I enjoy doing and making are….
5. Some things I appreciate about myself are…
This is a simple sharing exercise for Honoring Our Pain for the World, and follows on an exposition of the the Great Turning and the Great Unraveling. Allow some 30 minutes. Have people cluster in threes or foursomes and tell each other how in their own lives they experience the collective hardships of our time, be they environmental, economic, or social. It is rare that people get a chance to report and reflect on these realities without appearing to complain or assign blame.
Invite them to sit close and take turns reporting to each other in response to a single question: In what ways do you experience in your own life the Great Unraveling (or the planetary crisis)? Find your own phrasing.
At the conclusion I like to invite people to take notice of the fact that all the concerns they mentioned extend beyond the personal ego, far beyond their individual needs and wants. These concerns demonstrate their capacity to "suffer with" their world, which is an evolutionary advance--and the literal meaning of compassion. It is the fuel we need for the Great Turning.
I set the stage for the ritual and we had low lights and candles and pillows in the center of the circle. We began walking counterclockwise with people reporting some of the horrors that we live with on this planet. When emotions arose, people went into the center and screamed or cried or just sat as long as they needed to, then rejoined the outer circle that kept walking. I allowed this circle to go on for 20 to 30 minutes as people were really getting into it. At a good stopping place I had everyone stop, find a comfortable place to sit and close their eyes. I then led them in a guided meditation, connecting with energies of earth and sky, allowing them to feel whatever was on the surface and let it wash away. I then set the scenario that when they opened their eyes again, it would be fifty years hence and there had been many changes and miracles in the world and people were now living sustainable, in harmony and balance with all beings. We then all arose and began walking in the circle, this time in the opposite direction, and reporting on what life was like in this positive future from the personal to the collective. It was quite amazing what ensued. People reported things like they stayed home and tended gardens, lived close to loved ones in a small village, biked everywhere or shared alternative energy cars, drummed and danced and told stories each night by the fire, TV had gone extinct, cows were pets and not food, all produce was local and organic, governing bodies were teams, no more nuclear power, etc. etc. Some people danced with glee into the middle of the circle and laughed, some people cried at how much they wanted life to be like this. I allowed the same amount of time for this circle as the despair one. We ended by coming together in circler holding hands, closing eyes while I guided them to see our visions and energies spreading out over the planet and touching the consciousness of all beings. Then opening eyes and giving thanks for all that we had and for each person in the circle.
- Cathy Pedevillano
T.H. White, in the Sword in the Stone, tells us the story of King Arthur as a boy. I have recounted this in workshops because it portrays the dimensions of power available to us as open interconnected systems.
After hearing the story we learn through the following exercise how we, like the boy Arthur, can find our powers enhanced by others.
(approximately 90 minutes)
Concepts, Milling, Group Presentations
Purpose: We want to create an active, movement-oriented exercise for the conceptual material of the Model of the Great Turning. We have used this activity twice now in our Seaflow transformational workshop and found that it provokes great dialogue and a lot of laughs.
1. Brief intro– ten minutes; The Model of the Great Turning
What each of the roles in the Great Turning is. How we are all participating in the Great Turning already. (Alternative structures; change in consciousness; holding actions); how each of the three roles in the great turning is important,
2. Milling-- twenty minutes
Description: Milling is a common movement exercise, described by Joanna in "Coming Back to Life." It has a particular value if people are asked to notice what happens inside their own bodies as they move from place to place, or take on different characters. (Dr. Katie Hendricks has been Geo’s great mentor in this work.)
The Model of the Great Turning is a perfect conceptual framework for this form of milling, since the three roles in the Great Turning all are quite distinct from each other. We use different parts of our own body/mind/soul in each role. Guided movement through space can help participants notice how they have to change or adapt in order to move from Holding Actions to Changes in Consciousness to Alternative Structures.
(30 - 90 minutes)
This group process helps us to see the larger context of our lives, and to notice and appreciate the many forms of positive change in our time. Undertaken in the gratitude phase of the work, it represents a shift from personal to collective thankfulness. It also provides invaluable information in a lively fashion.
As framework for spontaneous reporting, we take the concept of the Great Turning--the transition from an unsustainable, growth-based political economy to a life-sustaining society, which is the essential revolution of our time. The three key dimensions of the Great Turning (see ch. 1, page 3 ff.) are here symbolized by material objects placed within a circular space. These objects serve as props, as participants inform one another about developments they know about from observation or direct experience.
Be sure that the group is already familiar with the concept of the Great Turning. Clear a circular space, 6 to 10 feet in diameter, around which people sit closely together. Proximity is important, so if numerous, they can crowd in behind each other. Have the group imagine the Wheel divided into three sections. In each section, place an object to symbolize one of the three dimensions of the Great Turning. For the "holding actions" in defense of life, some first-aid material, like rolls of bandaging, works well. For alternative structures, use something organic and alive, like a small branch from a growing plant. For the shift in consciousness, a crystal or a crystal cluster is an evocative symbol, and so is a pair of eyeglasses.
Purpose and background
As we go forth for the healing of our world, there are forces and institutions which we will and must challenge. The men and women who serve these structures will appear as our opponents. Here is a formal group practice which helps to free us from fear and illwill toward such persons, and to ground us in an all-embracing compassion.
Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh encourages his students to express their respect, gratitude, and goodwill by the act of bowing. Because some Westerners are uncomfortable with notion of bowing, he calls it "Touching the Earth"--for their elders and teachers, the Buddha Dharma and the spiritual community, their original faith traditions, their ancestors, their homeplace on the planet. This particular practice for honoring our adversaries was composed by an ordained senior member of his Order of Interbeing, Caitriona Reed.
Everyone stands with enough room in front of them to kneel and touch the ground with hands and forehead. If there is an altar or emblem, like an Earth flag, they can be facing it. The guide reads the text aloud, pausing after each paragraph, at which point everyone (guide included) "touches the Earth"--putting knees, hands, and then head to the floor. Ten paragraphs, ten bows. Some may prefer to do a full prostration; others may choose to abstain from the practice and just listen from the sidelines. Be sure they feel comfortable in doing so. Maintain a slow, unhurried pace throughout.