Written by Jo delAmor * * * Photo Credits: Werner Brandt
When the WTR Network Weavers shared the inspiration for multiple regional gatherings of WTR facilitators to convene in various places around the world towards the latter part of 2019 I was immediately excited. I loved the idea of small groups of facilitators getting together in person to connect with one another and share their experiences around facilitating the WTR in this time of intense global upheaval. This call from the Network provided the impetus for me to reach out to other facilitators in the Pacific Northwest area of the United States (Oregon and Washington) and see who was interested in such a gathering.
I sent an email to gauge interest and to see who wanted to join in on a collaborative planning process to co-create the event together. Six beautiful people volunteered to participate in the planning and several more expressed interest and excitement in the opportunity to attend the gathering. The planning committee met several times by way of an old fashioned telephone conference line (no video). Many of us hadn’t met each other before so, over the weeks we met, we got to know each other just by the sound of our voices and the ideas we brought to the table. It was kind of like having our meetings in a dark room. Our planning process emerged organically as we co-imagined this gathering into being, each of us carrying different insights, ideas, needs and creative solutions.
We decided to hold the gathering in Portland, OR, which is roughly in the middle of the area we were covering and has the largest concentration of facilitators in our region. Pam Wood, one of the people on the planning committee, offered to host the gathering at Columbia Ecovillage where she lives in NE Portland. It was the perfect venue!!
We gathered for one and a half days on a sunny weekend in early October, in the midst of this thriving community of people and plants. We enjoyed the spacious meeting rooms, generous community kitchen space, the gardens in their late season stages and the glorious elder walnut tree. We ate lunch together in the afternoon breeze on the ample porch and gathered together in the cozy farm house for morning tea and snacks.
Our group ranged the full spectrum of experience with the WTR and came together from all across our extended region. All together sixteen experienced and emerging facilitators came from all over Washington and Oregon. Some drove from Seattle and Spokane and Salem and others from right here in Portland. And, Molly Brown, the WTR Network Weaver who originally received and shared this idea for regional gatherings, took the train all the way up from Mt. Shasta, California just to join us!
Continuing in the vein of our collaborative planning style, we decided to take turns facilitating and to all pitch in together on the space set up and beautification, meal preparation, clean up and costs for the weekend. Everyone contributed what they were able to contribute and there was plenty! After compensating the ecovillage for the use of the space we donated the remaining financial contributions to the WTR Network.
Some Highlights from Our Time Together
We began our time together with an in-depth check-in around a beautifully curated altar. We shared about who we are, how we came to the WTR and how we offer it in our communities. Each of us brought a small amount of water with us from home and poured it into a central water vessel on the altar. In this mixing of the waters we recognized the sacredness and intelligence of the water and her unique ability to bring us all together from our various lives and hometowns. We also asked the water to bear witness to our work together and carry our intentions, prayers and expressions back to the Earth after we were finished and released her back to the ground. One small container remained sealed next to the larger vessel and was not mixed in. This water came from a lake that was heavily contaminated with toxins. This water, too, bore witness to us, as we bore witness to her suffering and she held the sacred space of this devastating grief of environmental poison there on the altar.
We enjoyed the Elm dance with live music from one of our participants, Kevin Lay, both mornings under the tall trees, hearing stories from Molly about this decades long tradition.
During the Gratitude portion of the spiral we partnered up for the Mirror walk and explored the beauty of the world mirrored back to us among the gardens and pathways of the ecovillage. I personally enjoyed opening my eyes to a giant sunflower loaded with seeds, a plump ripe fig hanging from its branch, fragrant vibrantly colored roses, happy hens scratching in their yard and a teeming, steaming pile of compost.
During the Seeing with New Eyes portion of the spiral Pam Wood lead us in some fun and thought provoking variations of the Systems Game. We also explored the versions of the “Three Stories” as revised by the Evolving Edge group that meets regularly to discuss power, privilege and oppression within our WTR work.
The following morning, also as part of Seeing with New Eyes, Abigail Singer shared concepts from adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy and facilitated a lively discussion about how they are relevant to WTR.
At the end of each section of the spiral we spent time debriefing, as facilitators, to reflect on the practices and concepts used. We talked about what worked well and what felt strained or not in alignment. We discussed the experiences, challenges and growing edges we encounter in our work as facilitators. We talked about the great need that the increasing and converging crises of our times create. We contemplated whether the Work That Reconnects is enough and how we can work with it in new and emerging ways within our communities to engage people more deeply.
During the Honoring our Pain portion of the spiral an experimental practice was led with the intention of addressing the pain of the legacy of slavery and anti-black racism in the US. The practice involved listening to a recorded story about the history of lynching in the US and then reading aloud the names of victims of lynchings. This was followed by some drumming and an invitation to move, drum, and express our grief.
When this came to a close we gathered back in our circle to reflect. Several people expressed discomfort with this practice and the way it was delivered. The people who shared were courageous in their honest feedback to the facilitator. And the facilitator received the feedback from various participants gracefully. This allowed us to have an open conversation about our perceptions about what was off about this experience.
We talked about how challenging it is to establish the proper orientation and create a truly safe container for participants to drop in to feeling their pain and being able to grieve. And how necessary this is. Several people expressed that they felt alienated by the manner in which this practice was led and didn’t feel connected enough or held enough to drop into expressing their grief when they were asked to. We talked about how to pay attention to the emotional temperature of the group to be able to tell if you have fully “arrived” into a space where grieving can happen or not. We also talked about the harm that can be done when we ignore the cues and push forward with our agenda when the group is not there.
We also talked about the challenge of addressing the pain of slavery, lynching and anti-black racism in the US in all white groups like ours. The method used in this practice felt strangely forced and disjointed. It did not feel appropriate and left many of us feeling confused and uneasy.
Although we didn’t arrive at a perfect answer or some grand knowledge of how we, as white people often facilitating all white groups can perfectly (or even adequately) address the pain of racism and white supremacy it was very valuable to have that conversation and to have had this experience of one practice that didn’t work well.
Connecting and Reconnecting
These rich discussions allowed us to get to know each other well in our short time together. Being able to be immersed in WTR practice and conversation with other WTR facilitators was deeply nourishing and inspiring. Many new relationships and connections were made and old ones rekindled.
As we brought our gathering to a close, we circled up beneath the magnificent, ancient walnut tree and gave thanks. We prayed that our time together was in service to the infinitely interconnected web of life across Deep Time. We released the water back to the Earth at the base of the tree and asked her to deliver our prayers and intentions.