October 5-7, 2019
Eaglenest Sanctuary Shawnigan Lake, BC
Cowichan Nation Traditional Territory
In the early Fall season, 16 people gathered for three days in southern Vancouver Island, British Columbia for a regional gathering of facilitators, emerging facilitators, and individuals who use the Work that Reconnects (WTR) in their program offerings. The weekend was organized by a planning committee of eight people. We met six times over a two month period to prepare the logistics, agenda and registration process. Facilitation of the gathering was shared among three primary leaders with contributions from at least five more people throughout the weekend. Other people also took responsibility for specific logistics such as food, accommodations, travel, financial administration and record keeping. Through the emergent planning process, shared leadership and peer:peer collaboration, the gathering was the source of great camaraderie, learning and inspiration.
The Salish Sea Regional Gathering (as it came to be known) was organized around four stated objectives: (The level of success at meeting these objectives is discussed at the end of the report.)
- To bring together our regional Work that Reconnects community of practice and strengthen our web of interconnectedness and mutual support in order to continue to share and build upon the wisdom of Joanna Macy’s work and teaching.
- To identify and explore the role that the Work that Reconnects can play in the social and ecological justice movements, with particular attention on how (or whether) our offerings can adequately address the effects of the escalating climate and biodiversity crisis and the resultant anxiety, grief and despair.
- To support increasing diversity in the Work that Reconnects community through a decentering of the dominant (white, settler, hetero, cis, able-bodied, human, etc.) narrative and to “widen the lens” through the intentional inclusion of queer, decolonizing, anti-racist, more-than-human and other relevant theories and practices.
- To use the structure of the spiral to deepen our sense of interconnection with each other and the web of life and strengthen our collective commitment.
As reflected by these objectives, the intention from the outset was to balance experiential exercises (e.g. using the Spiral as a framework for the program) with reflective questioning of the current state of the Work in this bioregion, our respective roles in it, and future directions we might take. Additional values that the planning committee aimed to achieve included reducing barriers to attendance through offerings of financial assistance and logistics choices that resulted in lowest feasible cost while meeting the group’s functional needs for comfort and health.
The gathering was held in the company of the Koksilah River, surrounding forest autumn colours, rain, sun, flowers, insects and birds; together with all beings, specific sessions included communion with the non-human beings in our midst.
Specific sessions included periods spent:
- Expressing gratitude for water nonverbally through movement as well as via dialogue
- Honouring our pain for the world in truth circle, milling, small group and large dialogues
- Learning about the current directions from the WTR network
- Dancing the Elm Dance
- A reflective debrief after each exercise about when and how to use them
- A group of four presented their diverse perspectives on the topics of de-centering/de-colonizing the dominant system of power and culture, followed by small group discussion about how these questions could influence our approach to the Work. Each presenter spoke to one of the following questions:
- What is the history of how power-over has operated in our bioregion and what are the implications for how we engage in work that reconnects/ ecopsychology activities, whether facilitated workshops or integrated into counselling work, etc.?
- Given that WTR workshops are often squeezed into our busy lives and that we live in a culture where “busy” is celebrated (and Greta is urging us to panic),and given that one characteristic of white supremacy culture is a sense of urgency, (1) What are the consequences of bringing this sense of urgency to the work? and (2) How do we do things differently?
- In crafting a nature connection program for women of colour, what considerations/concepts/protocols would be important for facilitators to address to encourage inclusivity & healing (especially racial healing) and prevent the perpetuation of negative division or ‘othering’ between ‘white people’ and ‘people of colour’?
- How do we (or can we) ensure safety when members of marginalized communities participate in the Work that Reconnects collective spaces or when we engage with members of marginalized communities in our private practices?
- Two co-facilitators presented a series of questions for reflection about our practice as various leaders of WTR while taking stock of needs we perceive, callings we sense, questions we are wrestling with, and ponderings about our personal and collective future / next steps.
Open space sessions provided additional opportunities to explore themes around:
- embodied process
- trauma, compassion
- identifying practices complementary to WTR (while maintaining a balance between integrity and innovation)
- an evening Dance of All Beings
Outcomes of the open space sessions are beyond the scope of this report, but the main benefit was it gave the participants who were not building the agenda in the organizing team a chance to offer the topics important to them. The complementary practices session did result in a google document listing the practices the group was aware of and assigning them to various categories.
Each of the four objectives of the gathering warrants an article or more to convey all that arose – and hopefully the many voices in attendance will be heard over time. Meanwhile, for the sake of sharing with the rest of the WTR network and wider audience that may read this account, here are some highlights of outcomes that occurred for participants of this bioregional gathering:
- Deeply wrestling with the existential crisis of collapse of life sustaining systems in our lifetime; grappling with the great uncertainty of this fact, finding no easy answers, and respecting that we each relate to our understanding of our current situation differently
- Exploration and explication of ways the WTR (in our bioregion) is serving people/life itself, and ways in which is it not, but maybe could even more
- Reminders of the role of the WTR and specific exercises in our place and time
- Connections made with old and new friends, colleagues, sense of community, and companions on the journey of sharing the WTR
- Reflections on the history of power-over paradigm in our region, acknowledging the impacts of oppression (past and present); identifying strategies for creating a greater sense of safety for marginalized groups to participate in the WTR; raising our personal awareness level about power/oppression dynamics; and identifying some ways of working on these topics with mutual respect and care.
During the Going Forth activity all participants identified their needs and offerings (using sticky notes in categories as shown in the photo above). We also reflected upon our hopes for this bioregional gathering and evaluation of how those hopes were met.
Silvia Di Blasio (a weaver with the WTR Network and member residing in this bioregion) commented that a strong network provides support and a platform for all to exchange resources, share events, and initiate conversations. Hopefully the new WTR website will include a forum section. Some of the topics to be continued from this bioregional gathering could become cafes or webinars that may benefit others within the wider WTR network. Perhaps this bioregional gathering group can find some way to share this list of needs, requests and offerings via the WTR network.
The post-retreat group evaluations reflected that the 1st and 4th objectives were met the most successfully within the context of this event but that the 2nd and 3rd did not receive sufficient focus. Some thought this gathering got a good start on the 3rd objective (de-centering/de-colonization), but recognized that this topic needs much more attention in future. All evaluations recognized that this bioregional gathering was the start of something rather than its completion. While the regional community connection was surely strengthened by this time together, the general feeling was that there is much more work to be done. An open question for the future remains: “how to maintain and build on the relationships and learning initiated at this bioregional gathering?”
If organizers from other regions would like to know more about specific aspects of this bioregional gathering please feel free to contact Trina McDonald: [email protected]