by Beth Remmes
A few weeks after the election, my yoga teacher and owner of a studio in Georgia, approached me and said, “Beth, I have to do something. People are crying in class. I am having a hard time getting through classes myself. What can we offer these people who are in so much pain?”
I think she came to me, because she remembered me telling her about the empowering and transformative experience that I had at a retreat in Massachusetts in September for the Work That Reconnects with Joanna Macy.
I felt honored to be asked and to be able to serve the community in this way. We scheduled the workshop for the first Saturday in December and named it after the book, Active Hope:How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy. We knew that we would be competing with holiday parties and shopping, but we also knew that many people didn’t know how they were even going to get through the holidays, as they cycled between pain, fear, and anger.
Despite having a diverse clientele, the majority of attendees identify as white. Also, because we live in a conservative state and not all of her clients were upset by the election results, invitations were primarily word of mouth, which made it hard to reach everyone in time for them to make plans to attend. I know that a Muslim woman who couldn’t make it, was grateful to know that it was taking place.
Nevertheless, we had 18 attendees of different ages, genders, backgrounds, and ethnicities. Because the results of the election where what motivated people to be there, and because the election was so fraught with racial tensions, it would have been impossible to facilitate the workshop and not discuss racial issues.
We worked the spiral starting with gratitude and moving into honoring our pain. As you know, the open sentences are so powerful for giving people the chance to express what is in their hearts. When we moved into Milling, I added the following language into one of the pauses, to make it more relevant to what is currently taking place:
“Now you are looking into the face of someone who knows what is going on in this world. This person knows that our friends, neighbors and fellow citizens are being harassed and threatened, that climate change is real, yet people in charge are denying it. This person knows that indigenous people are being attacked as they protect their sacred lands and water, that we living during a time of an incredible loss of species and biodiversity, as trees are being clear cut and tops are being blown off mountains. This person knows that many people have lost their jobs and healthcare and are worried for their future and that our nation is more divided than ever. This person knows this is going on, yet they haven’t closed their eyes, haven’t turned away. Honor their courage. Take leave of each other and go back to milling.”
In the Seeing with New Eyes piece, we talked about The Great Turning. We discussed why our current capitalist system, where profits are placed ahead of people and the planet, is failing. Examples ranged from the extinction crisis and climate change to mass incarceration, systemic racism, and income inequality.
When we moved into evidence of the Great Turning, in addition to all of the progress being made in alternative energy, food systems, and movements such as Tiny Homes, we also found hope and inspiration in Marriage Equality, increasing rights and resources for people who are Transgender, and the raising of consciousness brought about by the Black Lives Matter movement. We spoke about how people are finally starting to have dialogues about white privilege, white fragility, and systemic racism.
In the Deep Time exercise, I added some additional examples (in bold) of our current state of affairs:
It’s so amazing to see your face, because all my life I have heard stories from teachers and grandparents about the time you are living. Some of the things I’ve heard I find hard to believe, so I’d like to check it out with you. They say that in your time there are a few people richer than the richest ancient kings, while billions of people are without enough food or shelter or clean water. They say that there is great civil unrest and people feel threatened. They tell us that in your time, bombs are being made and drone bombs are being dropped that blow up whole cities. We know about that, but they say you know about it too, right as it is happening. They tell us about mass incarceration and discrimination in your justice system. They tell us that whole species of animals, plants, birds, insects, and aquatic life are going extinct. We know about that, too, because gone is gone. But they tell us you know about that while it’s happening. Is that true? And if it is true, what’s that like for you?
At the end of the workshop I asked participants to fill out evaluation forms. Responses included:
“This workshop provides a safe place to process difficult feelings and emotions. A perfect vehicle for change and growth.”
“You come away feeling renewed and encouraged.”
“A way to open your awareness to yourself and the world community around you.”
“This workshop shifted me to a more hopeful place with a greater commitment to action.”
While the history of the Work that Reconnects may be White and based in environmental issues, it recognizes that everything is interconnected, which allows it to expand to be more inclusive. With just a few additions, I was able to weave in a broader discussion which touched upon issues related to race, LGBTQ, immigration and indigenous people.