Facilitator of the month: Anna Swisher
WTR Network: Hi Anna, could you share about your work?
Anna: I have been running and facilitating an international online group since the pandemic began last year. We run in 3-month cycles, and every 3 months a new group forms. The amount of connection, intimacy, support, growth, and inspiration (across international boundaries!) that has transpired over the 5 seasons has been incredible. This group has included people from the U.S., South America, all over Europe, India, Africa, Canada, and Asia. We also started running study/action groups, where people connect with 3 or 4 other individuals from the large group to support each other in taking real action in their local communities. This group has been incredibly heart-warming, inspiring, and supportive (to many people!) during the pandemic.
Aside from this group, I have engaged the Work That Reconnects in a variety of local contexts here in Ireland: Co-teaching permaculture and WTR; Bringing dance and WTR together in an embodied exploration for community activism; Running WTR workshops for local activist, student, artist and community groups; and mentoring others as developing WTR facilitators.
WTR Network: Tell us a bit about yourself, how did you become involved in the WTR and what role does it have in your life?
Anna: I went to graduate school in San Francisco at the California Institute of Integral Studies, in 2011, where I first met Joanna and was fortunate enough to receive her teaching. I continued learning from her in local groups and workshops, and I started bringing the WTR into groups I was already facilitating. When I moved to Ireland in 2018, I decided to take the Facilitator Development Training, as I recognized the need and importance of this work and wanted to devote myself to it more fully. Since then, I have been focusing much of my life and work around the WTR. It has been a constant force of inspiration, nourishment, hope, connection, and insight. I have learned so much from the people in my groups, all over the world. I have been inspired by all the different ways that humans relate, connect, create, and act on behalf of life. So many people, with many different perspectives on life, are showing up to face the scary realities, share their pain for the world, and find a way forward together. When I am struggling, I feel less alone. I know I am not alone in my struggles. And I am able to believe whole-heartedly in humanity’s capacity to make changes, because I have witnessed it in people all over the world. This work gives me great strength of heart.
I also identify as a permaculturist, youth mentor, community activist, movement facilitator, ecopsychologist, and wilderness/rites-of-passage guide. The WTR has supported me in all of these endeavors; it has helped me to evolve and shift my focus as necessary, to stay connected to what matters and what I love, and to bring supportive structures (like the spiral) and facilitation techniques into all of the things that I do. The WTR has been the major impetus behind a new community project here in my local Irish town, turning an unused, paved-over site into a kind of community garden. The project aims to educate, inspire, empower, and integrate the very diverse individuals and families living in Gort by providing a social outdoor garden space with both a teaching centre and allotment spaces, where people can learn, practice, and share how to grow food in small urban spaces with minimal resources. So you see, the work can really change things, and the process is fun and inspiring!
WTR Network: What are you grateful for in the WTR world?
Anna: I am grateful for the sense of community. I am grateful for the impulse to evolve, to grow and change in order to meet the changing needs of our world. I am grateful for the open sharing of resources, information, and support. I am grateful for the honesty, the truthfulness; and the way we hold each other up when we are having a hard time. And I am grateful that more and more men are showing up for the Work.
WTR Network: What challenges and struggles have you experienced as a facilitator of the WTR?
Anna: The biggest challenge I’ve met is around holding differences of opinion within a group. Not everyone who comes to the Work ascribes to the same belief systems, which I actually believe is very healthy. But then we are faced with the task of holding a safe space for people to share their feelings, without getting into debate, argument, and/or conflict. The challenge is finding a way for people to connect and support each other even across their differences. And then, this challenge extends also into our personal lives. What does it look like to love and support someone who actively disagrees with me? I think this is one of the most important (and challenging!) tasks we are faced with in our world.
WTR Network: What has been the most difficult moment in your journey through the WTR?
Anna: When someone left a workshop or group without an explanation. It has happened twice. I still worry about those people, and that I did something wrong, and what we could have done differently to support them.
WTR Network: What has emerged for you since you started facilitating the WTR?
Anna: A desire to continue finding more grounded ways to explain, share, and facilitate the work, with less spiritual language, so that it feels accessible and compelling to more people in various life circumstances.
WTR Network: What are your next steps in this Work?
Anna: To resume working in-person with local groups and communities! I would also really love to support more young people with the work; I think the WTR should be a regular part of curriculums, at least in secondary and higher education. I have found that many participants in my groups are working with young people, and I find this encouraging!
WTR Network: What would you say to someone who is new to the WTR?
Anna: I would say that it’s a great way to take our anxieties and fears for the world, and turn them into something positive and life-affirming. I would say that it’s helped me to actually find a way to do something that matters to me, and to feel like I’m making a difference. I would say that they should try it out and tell me what they think!
WTR Network: Do you have a favorite practice? Why?
Anna: I love the 7th Generation exercise. I find it to be one of the most effective and potent ways to experience Deep Time, and at the same time access the emotions that we carry around being alive during this time and all the reasons why it’s both so hard and so beautiful. People almost always come out of that exercise changed in some way. I also LOVE the Storyteller’s Convention. I think using our imagination is an essential skill if we are to create a better world. It’s so fun to tell stories about the Great Turning, and to hear what people come up with; and it gives me real hope to hear so many possibilities and potentials for how the Great Turning could possibly come to pass. Also the Wheel of the Great Turning: finding out about so many diverse kinds of actions already happening around the world is so inspiring, and really makes you feel how every little bit counts!
WTR Network: Are you part of a hub?
Anna: I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I am a part of the Irish Active Hope Network, where we share resources, opportunities, and meet regularly to practice and share.
WTR Network: Are other facilitators in your area? Who are they?
Anna: There are certainly other Active Hope and WTR facilitators in Ireland! Too many to name!
WTR Network: Do you have any upcoming events you’d like to share?
Anna: Our ongoing 3-month group will open up again at the end of August. Please join us! You can read more about the group here: WTR 3-month group
WTR Network: Are you available for mentoring others?
Anna: Yes definitely. I really love mentoring!