My name is Aravinda Ananda and I live in the homelands of the Pequosette people in the Charles River watershed (an indigenous name for the Charles River is Quinobequin) in the northeast of Turtle Island. The settler colonial name for the town I live in is Watertown, and the state I live in was named after the Massachusett tribe, of whom the Pequosette are a part of. Living in the settler colonial nation of the United States, one of my growing edges as a Work That Reconnects facilitator is how I offer an acknowledgement of the first peoples of that place at the start of a workshop. I shared some of more of my reflections on how to offer a land acknowledgment in my most recent Deep Times journal article. This article is hopefully only the first installment in a series of articles focused on how to go deeper with anti-oppression approaches in facilitation. If you would like to write on the topic, please submit articles to Deep Times journal!
My journey as a Work That Reconnects facilitator; deepening my lens and skill with undoing oppression
I first attended a workshop with Joanna Macy at the Rowe Center in western MA in 2008 as part of my research for a book I have been working on for the past 12 years called Living rEvolution. I see Living rEvolution as my life’s work, and the book is just one way to share an invitation to humans who have strayed into deeper healing with the web of life and back towards mutually enhancing relationships.
I immediately fell in love with the Work That Reconnects and felt so nourished by it that within a few years started co-facilitating it with my life partner Joseph Rotella as a way to continue experiencing the work more regularly than Joanna was coming to Massachusetts at the time. I appreciate the anecdote I have heard of John Seed that he has said that if the only way he could continue experiencing the Work on an ongoing basis was to facilitate it, then he would facilitate it. I feel similarly.
The way I primarily learned to facilitate this Work was by observing other faciliators and am also grateful for both editions of Coming Back to Life. I attended numerous workshops with Joanna in Massachusetts and one in Guelph Ontario. For my honeymoon, I asked my husband if we could go to Santa Cruz, CA for a ten-day intensive with Joanna. I cannot claim it was the most romantic honeymoon as I cried for the first seven days (grief work can be so intense, but thank goodness that the spiral doesn’t leave you there!), but it was fitting in that one of our marriage vows to each other was to support one another in our work for the healing of the world.
I have also learned a great deal about facilitation by observing lots of different facilitators, and feel so grateful to have a robust regional Work That Reconnects network in my area called the Interhelp Network. Among other things, they/we host an annual Work That Reconnects weekend in the fall that is collaboratively planned and facilitated and I have been on the Interhelp Council for perhaps 6 or 7 years now.
One of my greatest joys (and challenges! both/and) with the Work That Reconnects has been being on the co-facilitation team for a program called the Earth Leadership Cohort (ELC) which is an immersion in the Work That Reconnects for young adults ages 18-30. Kirstin Edelglass started the program in 2014 when Joanna was coming to Massachusetts as an opportunity for younger people to experience the work directly with Joanna. An intergenerational workshop with Joanna was a component of the first two cohorts that also included a retreat just for the cohort to practice facilitating the Work themselves. The third and fourth cohorts have been facilitated by just our ELC facilitation team that in addition to Kirstin Edelgalss also includes Joseph Rotella and Markie Babbott.
Over the years since ELC was started, my relationship with how to be in integrity as a facilitator of this Work has been deeply shifting. During our first cohort, the only participant of color withdrew from the program and this was so painful for cohort members and facilitators alike, that it spurred me on a now five-year inquiry as to how I can be more inclusive with my facilitation and how I can help interrupt and hopefully transform some of the damage that happens whenever groups gather due to toxic cultural conditioning and interlocking systems of oppression.
For the better part of the past two years, I have spent many Thursday mornings on Zoom video conferencing with other Work That Reconnects facilitators exploring how we can better interrupt and transform oppression in Work That Reconnects spaces. I feel so grateful to be held in my learning in community in this group. It is not a closed group, and anyone working to integrate undoing oppression more deeply into their Work That Reconnects facilitation is welcome to join. Send an email to [email protected] if you would like to join that group. I do some of the administrative work for that group, so if you email that address, you’ll get a response from me.
I have been on the editorial board of the Deep Times journal since Molly Brown started it, and feel honored to have had some of my perspectives published there. It was an absolute honor to be one of the guest editors with Patricia St. Onge and Ann Marie Davis of the August 2017 special issue of Deep Times journal on the impact of race and culture on the Work That Reconnects. As a white-presenting, mixed race woman who lives in the United States where racism is a part of the fabric of society, the impact of race on this Work is a personal care of mine, and also a way I feel I need to show up in responsibility to other People of Color. I am learning more every day about how intersecting oppressions play out in group spaces (not just Work That Reconnects) including but not limited to racism, sexism, classism, ableism, cisheteronormism and speciesism, and how as facilitators we might act to transform and heal these toxic manifestations of oppression.
Wanting an opportunity for the community to be in conversation together about evolutions in the Work with respect to oppression, I helped create and curate the evolving edge section on workthatreconnects.org. One of the features of the Evolving Edge that I am hoping will receive more traction is essays from community members on the intersections of human systems of oppression and broader ecological devastation. Ann Marie Davis wrote an inaugural essay for it, and a few other submissions are pending publication. If you would like to contribute your voice and perspective to this important conversation, please send essay submissions to [email protected] for consideration for publication.
In 2017 I asked Eleanor Hancock of White Awake to offer an Anti-Oppression study group for people in the Work That Reconnects community. Forty-six people participated in the study group and we met online using Zoom video conferencing. It included homework (reading and videos) and then lectures and discussion for nine meetings. I mostly did administrative and technical work for the group, but was also glad to have the opportunity to have some input on the reading selections. I wanted to offer part of the proceeds for the webinar series to support People of Color engaged in this work and felt glad to offer some of the webinar funds to Ratasha Elise who has started a fellowship for black women and femmes that draws upon the Work That Reconnects. That initial sharing of funds led into me and my partner Joseph tithing 2.5% of our household income to Ratasha for a year. We see this as a way of paying reparations and I like to highlight Ratasha’s work whenever I can. Please check out the article she wrote for the special issue of the Deep Times journal on the impact of race and culture on the Work That Reconnects called “Coming Back to Black Life.” It is excellent and there are links in her bio if you would like to also send some funds her way. I also posted a reflection piece about this entitled “Shifting resources as you are able to healing, justice and liberation work” on workthatreconnects.org.
Along with Carol Harley, Paula Hendrick and Sarah Pirtle, I am also a part of the Interhelp Tending and Mending the Social Web action circle where we spent over a year developing a set of community guidelines that we are hoping will help support our regional Work That Reconnects community in better attending to how we are together when we gather to do this Work. How we are together has become just as important as what we do. To some extent, the how has become a very important part of the what – how are we connected or disconnected as humans when we gather, and how can we heal some of the wounds and divisions.
In the spring of 2018 and the spring of 2019, I worked with other members of that Tending and Mending Our Social Web action circle to offer what we called “Practice Days” – opportunities for people to grow muscles and skills with better attending to how we are together. This past Practice Day focused on roleplays practicing upstanding – intervening when harm is happening. I feel grateful for opportunities to learn and grow with my local community in this respect.
Ongoing communities of practice
Another area I have been interested in supporting is how people can experience Work That Reconnects on a regular basis locally. In 2015 I convened a Community Leadership Cohort – for people of all ages interested in starting a Work That Reconnects community of practice in their local area and I was also a part of starting the greater Boston area community of practice although I have been a lot less active in that group for the last year or two. I am so grateful to John MacDougal, Rosalie Anders, Anne Goodwin and others who have kept that community of practice going strong. They try to offer monthly potlucks for people who already have some experience with the Work and a quarterly introductory workshop for the public.
I am also grateful to be one of the founding weavers of the Work That Reconnects Network. In the past year I have had to pull back from some of my participation as a weaver of the Work That Reconnects Network, but I remain very excited about linking friends and facilitators of the Work That Reconnects with each other and am looking forward to the upcoming bioregional facilitator gatherings this fall and hope to be a part of hosting one in the northeast of Turtle Island. One intention for these facilitator gatherings is to help support the strength of regional hubs.
Favorite parts of the spiral and preferred longer length formats
I feel particularly called to both the Honoring Our Pain for the World and the Seeing with New and Ancient Eyes phases of the spiral. It feels really nourishing for me to support myself and other people in grief, rage and pain rituals and I also really enjoy sharing brainfood – concepts and insights especially having to do with systems thinking. In addition to those parts of the spiral, I also really appreciate the aspect of group forming – welcome materials that can help prepare people for being together, introductions that welcome us to share aspects of our identity, and a group agreements or guidelines process that can support groups who don’t know each other in living into supportive norms for how we want to share time and space together.
In preparation for a June 2017 five-day workshop called “Rising With Roots: Courage, Conviction and Community in this Beautiful, Teetering Time,” our facilitation team received five coaching sessions with two wonderful anti-oppression consultants named Kat and Amelia. I am so grateful for the support we received from them on developing different aspects of group forming to better hold social identity and location. Another thing we tried during that workshop was to do more honoring our pain for the world work in identity group based on race, age and gender. It can be really helpful to do honoring our pain for the world work without having to navigate some of the complexities of differing social identities and social locations.
I have found the stand-alone workshop model so limiting in terms of how to attend to group dynamics and how a group of strangers is together, that I have largely moved away from offering stand-alone workshops. A day just doesn’t feel long enough to both go through the spiral and actually attend to dynamics in the group. A weekend feels similarly too short. I have made statements like I only want to do Work That Reconnects with people for five days or longer (or a group that meets regularly over time) so that there is time to attend to dynamics of oppression. I am also aware of how inaccessible a multiple-day residential retreat is to most humans on this planet, both timewise and financially and at least try to offer scholarships or sliding scale for all of my programs. I feel fortunate to be able to offer almost all of my facilitation on a volunteer basis, and know that is not an option for most people who do not have the same financial and time flexibility that I do.
One of the reasons I appreciate the Earth Leadership Cohort format so much is that it meets over time and allows people to build and grow together. In 2018, our ELC facilitation team took a break from offering a cohort so we could be in reflection about the program, our own contributions to it, and our learning with respect to oppression and facilitation. During that year, I helped convene a monthlong “regenerative culture living laboratory” to explore more nurturing ways of being together as humans. What I discovered is that even a month is not enough time to fully attend to oppressions. To the contrary, we only just dropped beneath the surface and it was good affirmation for me that undoing oppression is a lifelong endeavor.
I am on the facilitation team for an upcoming Earth Leadership Cohort this fall 2019 and am grateful for this opportunity to mentor young people in the Work That Reconnects with a special attention to oppression. While we are hoping the cohort will be fully formed by early July, if space remains, we will likely continue to accept applications until the cohort is full.
Topic-specific journeys around the spiral
As part of a living revolutionary household, my partner and I often share our living space with other people in a work exchange relationship with housemates working on Living rEvolution in exchange for room. (We are currently looking for housemate collaborators if you are interested in checking out the opportunity.) Our last housemate Tess (also an ELC alum) worked with me to develop a workshop focused on the climate crisis that follows the spiral of the Work That Reconnects. In our pilot of this workshop, we took two whole days from 10am-4pm to explore this including lots of activities such as attuning our breath with the local plant community, a deep time meditation specifically following how carbon cycles on the planet, and writing a letter to ourselves from the perspective of a tree with input and advice on what to do next about the climate crisis. One of the most remarkable things about the experience for me was the lack of rushing, attuning to a different pace than capitalism – the frenetic pace of which and focus on productivity feeds the climate crisis. On the second day together, we walked to the neighborhood forest, collected hen of the woods mushrooms and then returned and cooked them together on a biochar cook stove – an activity which safely stored carbon rather than returning it to the atmosphere. I really enjoyed the workshop as is, and also discovered that we needed another two days, focusing more in depth on the how and what of human contributions to climate regulation in a more healthy way, partly through partnering with living plant, animal and fungi communities in moving carbon form the atmosphere and safely storing it in the soil. I am looking forward to developing part two of the workshop which recognizes the need for total transformation of human systems with respect to their impact on the climate, but is not quite as fatalistic as some of the climate doomers can be. My intention is for this workshop content to be made available open source as all Work That Reconnects practices are.
Another workshop/program drawing on the spiral of the Work That Reconnects that I am looking forward to developing is using the spiral to process historical trauma. Last year my partner and I were invited to attend a Racial Equity Institute (REI) training on historical racism in the United States. We drove up to Portland, ME, where a number of other participants were also interested in combining grief work with anti-racism work. The REI training is exquisite in its breadth and depth of tracking historical racism. I highly recommend it. I was also often overloaded with the barrage of information and very little attention to processing emotions. This coming October on the holiday weekend that is nationally Columbus Day, but many communities are changing to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day instead, I am looking to offer a program following the spiral of the Work That Reconnects focused on the grief and trauma of settler colonialism in today’s United States as well as anti-blackness. I intend to include some required pre-reading such as Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz’s An Indigenous People’s History of the United States and Resmaa Menakem’s My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts and Bodies. I think having this shared background of knowledge can help us go much deeper on the long weekend with attending to our grief, outrage, and other pain about what has been done to each other as humans.
One of the things I have learned with incorporating undoing oppression content into my Work That Reconnects facilitation is that there can be a lot of pushback from populations not already engaged in undoing oppression work. Lots of fragility comes up, and I know I still have so much to learn with holding people well in their different stages of learning around systems of oppression. It can help to reduce some of the pushback if people know in advance that these topics will be discussed, and they come willing to engage with it. I will often send a few articles for people to read before a workshop to help them have some common background knowledge and try to clearly share in promotional materials that this content will be a part of our experience so that people can show up more ready to engage with it.
One of my favorite places to facilitate
In addition to enjoying facilitating the spiral around a specific topic, I am also enjoying making my facilitation more place-specific. Just in the last few months, I have changed the way I offer a land acknowledgment to include acknowledging all of the first beings and ancestors of a place – both human and more-than-human.
One of my favorite places to facilitate Work That Reconnects is on the land where I grew up in Western Massachusetts where my mother still lives and stewards an interfaith healing sanctuary and holistic retreat center located on 150 acres of fields, eastern woodlands forests, wetlands, and gardens. Called Starseed, it is a place for the Great Turning and as my mother is moving into retirement age and I live too far away to help on a daily basis, we are looking for people to join the resident community that cares for this space and opens it up as a place of learning, healing and growing. If you would enjoy being part of a Great Turning community such as this, please check out Starseed to see if it feels like a good fit for you.
Growing Edge: Trauma and Work that Reconnects
Another growing edge for me is how trauma is operating in a group space. Just as each one of us brings our own social identities and locations whenever we gather in groups, we also each bring our own trauma histories, and are at differing places on our healing journey with respect to our own healing. I have curiosity around how trauma can be destigmatized and people can talk about it in Work That Reconnects spaces while also knowing there may be some healthy boundaries to keep, and while some trauma healing can happen in a group, there is also important healing work that needs to be done one one’s own, with a trusted friend, or with a professional. While this isn’t group therapy, there is some healing that can happen in Work That Reconnects spaces.
I think it is important for facilitators to take care with incorporating more trauma awareness into their Work That Reconnects facilitation, and over the past year have been learning and growing in this respect myself. I have noticed many times people getting triggered while in groups (myself included!) and have empathy for those individuals as well as the impact that can have on the group. As a facilitator, as much as I am able to, I want to offer support for both self-regulation and co-regulation: we are deeply social creatures and can have a calming or agitating response on one another.
I find the spiral of the Work That Reconnects to have some trauma sensitivity built into it in that gratitude can resource people before diving into the depths of pain, but people are not left in the pain with no agency; there is also support to shift perspective and be in action. I also appreciate some of the Work That Reconnects practices that can aid in self-regulation such as the Breathing Through meditation, or practices that can aid in co-regulation such as The Milling or The Cradling. Another way I have been growing in my Work That Reconnects facilitation is with respect to consent, and being explicit about consent around touch in practices such as the Milling where I will say, “if it is comfortable, take the hands of the person standing before you” so that it is clear that it is optional based on personal preference and consent is given before physical touch happens.
One of my favorite Work That Reconnects practices is Open Sentences. I feel like there are so few opportunities to just speak and be listened to in everyday life, that I love Open Sentences for that reason. I like that one can craft sentences for any phase of the spiral, or to take people through the entire spiral, and that they can also focus on specific content. And it can just feel so good to be heard.
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