Written by Sunshine Jones and Penny Andrews
We planned our day long gathering in hopes of building community, offering nourishment to and seeking feedback from Work that Reconnects facilitators, emerging facilitators and those familiar with WTR but new to it. In doing so, we decided that the three and half-hour morning session would offer foundations of the Work as we moved through the spiral and the afternoon would be workshops on the Evolving Edges of the Work. We would gather together for Sending Forth and a closing ritual in the later afternoon. Several other goals were to integrate intersectional/decolonizing consciousness throughout the morning, have a diversity of people from our Madison WTR practice group facilitate our group exercises and to offer the event for free. We were able to hold the event in a Unitarian Universalist Congregational space that was beautiful, opened to a natural area, accessible and held with both warmth and spaciousness our group of 20. We had healthy snacks available and a plentiful potluck lunch sensitive to different dietary needs with time for conversations and connections to be made. Our afternoon Evolving Edges workshops included: Deep Ecology through Gaian Art, The Powers of the Universe Story, Decolonizing the Work that Reconnects and Collective Trauma. Participants chose two workshops to take part in. We framed our 50-minute workshops as introductions to the various evolving edges that we would be deepening with in our ongoing WTR practice group. Two facilitators stated that even though the workshops were introductory, 90 minutes would have worked better.
We employed Aravinda Ananda’s questions to hub gatherings about Power, Privilege and Oppression to guide the way in which we put together our leadership, processes, content, and environment. Prior to the hub gathering, every participant was sent Avavinda’s paper and told we would be exploring these topics as well as sent Guidelines for “Tending and Mending” Beloved Community –shared agreements–that were informed by and adapted from discussions in The Work that Reconnect Development Group facilitated by Lydia Harutoonia and The Interhelp Network’s exceptional anti-oppression work in developing community guidelines. We were given feedback at a later time that it was helpful to have these guidelines ahead of time as well as go through them together during our morning session. Additionally, we created an expansive and inclusive welcoming to lead off the day naming those often rendered invisible and put much care into offering our acknowledgement of being on colonized land in a way that honored—through story- the native ancestors of the land, human and non-human. We additionally made use of the decolonized version of the three stories offered on the WTR website.
We received much positive feedback from participants for our inclusive welcome, that while long, it connected with participants who have often felt unseen. One participant asked to use our welcome for Extinction Rebellion meetings. Another stated that it expanded who was in the room and who wasn’t in the room in her consciousness. A woman of color and woman with a transgender child both expressed how important it is to name our many differences out loud and that they listen for the depth of this recognition as to whether they feel authentically welcomed and safe in the space.
We dedicated our first WTR practice session after our Hub event to gathering feedback from the Hub experience and invited people to send us feedback.
Many stated that our shared leadership was a highlight of the morning and that it flowed seamlessly. They expressed appreciation for the diversity of energies and styles and our clear valuing of a multiplicity of gifts and voices within our group. The beauty, power, and depth of our Truth Mandala in the morning partly reflected the trust we build through accountability to each other and to the wholeness of our group from the start. Several participants named our rituals as powerfully transformative.
When asked what else would participants want included, several mentioned more song, movement and art integrated into the Work. There was positive response to our opening body prayer and several shared that they were nourished by our singing at a closing ritual that included the Great Ball of Merit. Three of our afternoon workshops integrated the arts. Many participants want more on collective trauma, something we plan to offer in our practice group which is patterned to move through the teachings and exercises in Coming Back to Life and to include an evolving edge with each session.
One challenge we had was that with an intent of the hub gatherings to garner feedback from those already engaged with WTR, we primarily used for outreach the working list of the participants who came to the five day training with Joanna Macy that was held in our area 7 years prior and those who attended the four weekend retreats offered by WTR facilitator Kathleen Rude in the succeeding nine months and/or participated in the practice group that met monthly for an additional year. Too, we asked those engaged in the work to do outreach to others who may be using WTR in their community offerings. We will make other choices as we move forward, but the dynamic itself replicated the majority of white middle class women who previously attended WTR trainings. There was range of diversity at the gathering, however, of age, sexual orientation, gender expression, economic status, abilities, contemplatives and activists, practitioners of different spiritual orientations but little racial diversity. Most who attended the Decolonizing WTR evolving edge workshop are involved in anti-racism solidarity work and expressed strong commitment to continuing to explore intersectionalizing the work and several will be regular attendees at our practice group. The hub gathering signaled to all that attended that integrating a recognition of power, privilege and oppression and decolonizing WTR would be a core component of WTR in our area as we move forward.
We felt that the Hub gathering created momentum for a flourishing WTR community in Madison. Our practice group expanded to 16 people. To our great joy, at the first meeting following our gathering a young woman new to our group who was inspired by our model of shared leadership stepped forward to lead an exercise and teaching from Coming Back to Life for our next meeting. We have plans to create a two to three-hour introductory workshop to adapt to various communities in Madison and already have inquiries. Also, on the horizon is a group specifically for parents of “children of the passage” (Joanna Macy). Overall, we are inspired, challenged and motivated to move forward collectively as we deepen in WTR, expand our offerings, and commit to continuing the work of decolonizing all aspects of our process, content, leadership, and outreach.