Initiating/Facilitating a Work that Reconnects Workshop or Group in Your Community Revolving Around the Book Active Hope. Notes from a Conversation with Claire Maitre, Work that Reconnects Facilitator, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
How did you get involved in the Work that Reconnects?
After I took my first workshop with Joanna Macy, I knew my life had begun again. Since the year 2000, I have participated in about 5 Intensive workshops with Joanna, including a Facilitator Training. I knew I wanted to facilitate this work, but it took a while to build my confidence and then get it going in my community. I wanted a co-facilitator before I began, but didn’t have one in my community. This was the source of much delay on my part! I’m not a “natural” when it comes to putting myself in front of a group of strangers. I’ve had to get passed significant inner resistance. My passion for WTR and my love of this world won out!
So when you finally did begin facilitating workshops, where did you begin?
I took intensives and watched Joanna’s DVD Set on how to facilitate the Work that Reconnects. All of this work was helpful in gaining the confidence to begin facilitating. I then took an online webinar with Chris Johnstone and Barbara Ford which helped me come up with a beginning format for the workshops. I found that the book Active Hope so clearly laid out the spiral of the Work that Reconnects that I realized the BOOK could be my co-facilitator. That has proved to be true and had worked out beautifully for me.
How do you lay out your workshops?
So far I have held them in two-hour increments, once a week or once every other week, for six sessions. We move through the Spiral during the classes through focused conversation and experiential exercises. The “homework” in between classes involves reading a section of Active Hope and sometimes other small assignments like gathering an object to bring to the next session. Everyone is split into dyads to dialogue about and support each other in reading the book. The dyad “assignments” draw directly from the book using the sidebar “Try This” suggestions as a focal point to begin the conversation.
This fall I am offering the same series in a three-part workshop using a day-long format over three Saturdays. My intention is to offer a weekend option for those who would find it better for their lives than a weekday option. I also see this as an opportunity to stretch my facilitator skills as I maintain my focus for a full day of group process.
What do you think is the ideal group size?
The maximum group-size I have worked with so far is 14 because of the limits of the space where I am offering the workshop right now, but I will be able to offer the 3-day workshop in a larger space and will accept 24 participants to start with. Ideally, I like to have an even number because so many of the exercises work in dyads.
How do you begin each session of the workshop?
I always begin setting the intention by dedicating our practice to create a life-sustaining society and by invoking deep time through the ritual of lighting three candles, one for our ancestors, one for present beings, and one for the future beings. I invite anyone in the class to speak one of the invocations, as the experience of calling in and honoring the beings is even more potent as a first-hand experience. With this ritual, I hope to provide a continual experience of seeing ourselves and our lives far beyond our personal lives. We know that when personal agency is linked to this larger sense of the self, the chosen actions can also reflect our larger capacities as our moral imagination begins to guide our responsiveness to make change.
Can you go deeper into what you do during each of the six sessions of the workshop?
Session 1: Intro to the Great Turning
At this gathering, I talk about the three stories of our time and how we are all living in three simultaneous stories. I introduce the three dimensions of our actions in the world: Holding Actions, Structural Change, and Shift in Consciousness. I encourage everyone through an interactive exercise, “Open Sentences,” to “see yourself already participating in the Great Turning”, helping everyone to see how they are already contributing to the healing of our world. I also include a meditation reading of the “The Sword in the Stone: How Others Empower Us” which is available on Joanna Macy’s website.
Session 2: Coming from Gratitude
Along with having read through the Gratitude section of Active Hope, I ask everyone to bring to class a symbol of something they’re grateful for. Then we share about this symbol in our circle. It really brings the group together to hear each other’s stories in this way. This is important at this stage of their workshop as it brings a certain level of intimacy that is critical for the next part of the spiral. I allow more time for this than the other “check-ins” that happen during other sessions, but I also set my phone timer to sound with “crickets” after 4 minutes. Some people can easily find more to say than others! Another part of their homework prior to this session is to watch Joanna Macy’s You Tube video on “Gratitude as a Revolutionary Act.” We finish this session in dyads with the “Gaia Meditation” found in Coming Back to Life that helps folks to experience through their imaginations their inherent belonging within the planetary web of life.
Session 3: Honoring our Pain for the World
The homework for this session is to read the “Honoring our Pain for the World” section of Active Hope and to bring in an object from nature that can fit into the palm of your hand. During this session, I hold a Truth Mandala after carefully creating ritual space. It would be good to watch how Joanna sets this ritual up and repeat the steps just as carefully. You can get the backgrounder for this part of the spiral here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Y5SyM1vYSA As a facilitator, it is important not to be attached to the outcome of the Truth Mandala or how people express their pain for the world. Your job is to hold the space of the circle without going into: Save, Rescue, Sooth or Distract. You have to be okay to witness people’s pain, suffering, and deep truth.
Once we have completed the Truth Mandala, I find it best to move into a Right Brain activity, rather than to let people try to “process” what just happened. I invite everyone to glue or attach their object from nature onto a blank piece of paper or to simply place it on their paper. I give out colorful writing implements and encourage everyone to spend the next twenty minutes in a visual dialogue with the object, making drawings on the page and expressing their experience of the mandala through art. I provide meditative background music for this exercise. I find this exercise to be a way of weaving the participants back into the neural net of the planet. I have found that a lot of the drawings represent flow and movement. If time allows, we share the drawings in dyads.
Something to note is that not everyone responds to the invitation to enter the Truth Mandala, meaning not everyone will share during this practice. Once again, it is important not to take this personally or think that you know what kind of experience they are having. It could be quite profound! Also, remember to try not to move past silence or inactivity in the circle, but rather give it space so that there is a freedom for people to feel their emotions arising within the room. Hold the space with emptiness as best you can. At the end of this session, we close with a shared reading of Joanna Macy’s “Personal Guidelines for the Great Turning.” Each person is given their own copy to keep. They can be found here: http://www.joannamacy.net/personal-guidelines.html
Session 4 & 5: Seeing with New Eyes
There is so much to go into around Seeing with New Eyes that I split it up into one and a half sessions. I go into the basics of Systems Thinking and a way of understanding power as we currently experience it in our civilization. This is a major teaching segment that explains views of reality (“Stuff-based Reality versus Flow”) as well as the connection between those perceptions and “Power-over versus Power-with” human dynamics. These were some of the most powerful teachings for me from Joanna as I was introduced to the Work that Reconnects.
However, it might not suit you! You can ask yourself, “What is it that has helped me to find my resilience in life?” This is a strong starting place to find the source of your own wisdom from which you can bring your lived experience to others. There are four sections in Active Hope about Seeing with New Eyes, so you may want to choose just one to hone in on or perhaps go into all of them. Deep time exercises and future generations exercises from Coming Back to Life can all be a part of this segment of the workshop. I like to guide the “Systems Game” to accompany the teaching in Systems Thinking.
Session 5 & 6: Going Forth
I give people a couple of weeks to read this section in the book. During this last section of the workshop, I focus on the two gifts offered by Chris Johnstone during his online Active Hope webinar:Creating a Personal Mission Statement and Seeing our Lives as an Adventure Story through the Six-part Story Method. The creation of a personal mission statement exercise is a three part exploration and it goes as follows:
- Make a list of verbs that describe you or the work you WANT to do. Examples could be: enliven; sing; create; protect; inspire; etc.
- Name one thing that you STAND FOR, in 1-3 words. In other words, claim your gift. Examples could be: visionary political action, creative healing; joyful service
- Who or what are YOU here to help. Examples could be: Justice; Joy; My community; Earth; all living things.
Then, you put the answers to the three following prompts together into a mission statement. I will share mine as an example of what this could look like:
My mission is to behold, inspire, and nurture, through my emotional intelligence, activists and others who are waking up in my community.
The creation of these mission statements helps us to know our unique role in the Great Turning. They can of course be clarified, deepened, and changed over time. They can also be a journaling exercise that we use whenever we want to adjust to new circumstances in our lives.
The second Gift is to write the Adventure Story of our Lives. There is an electronic handout available that can help to guide this exercise. Some of the explorations of this exercise include:
- What does the storyboard of your life as a hero in your own adventure look like?
- What is the vision you are drawn to live out?
- Who or what are your threshold guardians who might challenge your right or capacity for fulfilling your mission?
- How are they overcome?
- How do you find the inspiration to keep going?
- What is the desired outcome?
- What is the moment that changes everything?
We then share our adventure stories in homework dyads and see the adventure story linked to our lives.
Two prompts for a final go-around that I like to give towards the end of the Going Forth session are:
- A purpose that calls to me is….
- Support I’d like to call in is…
The final group exercise during the last session is “The Double Circle” in Coming Back to Life. This exercise, done after so much work, is always powerful. It becomes a solid and deep form of inspiration for most participants.
We always end the workshop series with the Elm Dance, which is a healing dance I learned from Joanna along with thousands of others. During this beautiful circle dance, we call out things we want to bring healing to, just letting them well up in our consciousness and giving voice to them. This dance also connects us to the larger web of people doing the Work that Reconnects, the work of the Great Turning, a perfect way to end the workshop series.
Thank you SO much for sharing all of this information and experience. Is there anything else you would like to share about the workshops?
I should also mention that I interweave inspiring and relevant artwork into the sessions as well, including poetry (Mary Oliver, Rilke, other poetry from Joanna’s website), visualizations, meditations, music. I’m always on the lookout for things to share that seem relevant to the processes within the workshop experience.
Thank you, Claire!
This interview took place on June 13, 2014 and was scribed by Jen Myzel Swanson.