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.
The wizard Merlin, as Arthur's tutor, schooled the boy in wisdom by turning him into various creatures and had him live, for brief periods, as a falcon, an ant, a wild goose, a badger, a carp in the palace moat .... The time came when the new King of All England was to be chosen; it would be he who could draw the sword from the stone. All the famous knights, who came to the great tournament, went to the churchyard where the stone mysteriously stood, and tried mightily to yank out the sword that was imbedded in it. Heaving and sweating, they competed to prove their superior strength. No deal; tug and curse as they might, the sword did not budge. When the disgruntled knights departed to return to their jousting, Arthur, who was just a teenager then, lingered behind, went up to the stone to try his own luck. Grasping the sword's handle he pulled with all his strength, until he was exhausted and drenched. The sword remained immobile. Glancing around, he saw in the shrubbery surrounding the churchyard the forms of those with whom he had lived and learned. There they were: badger, falcon, ant and the others. As he greeted them with his eyes, he opened again to the powers he had perceived in each of them — the industry, the cunning, the quick boldness, the perseverance ... knowing they were with him, he turned back to the stone and, breathing easy, drew out the sword, as smooth as a knife from butter.
After hearing the story we learn through the following exercise how we, like the boy Arthur, can find our powers enhanced by others.
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.
Another name for this exercise is “The Bodhisattva Check-in,” because it is inspired by the Buddhist teaching of the bodhisattva. Embodying ourmotivation to serve, the bodhisattva does not seek enlightenment in order to exit from this world, but turns back from the gates of nirvana, having vowed to return again and again to be of help to all beings. It is equally useful whether or not we believe in rebirth. The bodhisattva archetype is present in all religions and even all social movements, be it in the guise of suffering servant, worker-priest, shaman, prophet, idealistic revolutionary, or community organizer.
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”.
If we hold in our heart/mind a vision of our preferred future for the world, could that be similar to the Kingdom of Shambhala arising within us? This is one way of thinking about the prophecy, where the Kingdom of Shambhala is our vision of the very best future we can imagine. When we get a glimpse of a destination that inspires us, this helps us access the courage and determination needed to move that way. Even if the vision seems impossibly beyond our reach, like a guiding star in the night, it can still give us a direction to head in.
(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.