What is The Work that Reconnects (WTR)?
In its essence, The Work that Reconnects (sometimes called Deep Ecology or Active Hope) aims to address the crisis of perception, otherwise known as ‘the delusion of a separate self’, that is believed to be at the core of the ecological, social, and economic troubles we are currently facing. In this way, it aims to help facilitate the realization of what Thich Nhat Hanh calls ‘Interbeing’.
Its second core intention is to build psycho-spiritual resilience to help us to better face what Joanna Macy calls “The Great Unravelling” and what Francis Weller calls “The Long Dark”. We build inner resources so that we may courageously meet this collective rough initiation with courage and an open heart.
It consists of a body of teachings, meditations, group exercises, poems and rituals that follow a flow called “The Spiral” which is generally held in a workshop format.
During these workshops, people are encouraged to begin uncovering and experiencing their innate connections with each other and the systemic, self-healing power and intelligence held within the web of life.
The recognition of our interconnectedness invites the spontaneous healing of the psyche and by extension, of the systems that were born from that deep split within us. Through this process, we also come to see the inseparability of personal, cultural, and ecological healing.
As we flow through The Spiral- we generate gratitude, validate and express our grief for a world in trouble, shift into a wider and deeper sense of self and identify and nourish the unique roles we each play within the collaborative constellation of actions necessary to facilitate the shift towards a regenerative and sustainable culture. This process also helps to facilitate access to inner resources, builds resilience, ignites inspiration and strengthens our intention to act on behalf of our larger Earth body.
Where did it come from?
This work originated with Joanna Macy in the ’70s who has been a visionary force in environmental activism for over five decades along with many other collaborators, including long-term rainforest activist and deep ecologist, John Seed, who was the one who introduced me to this work in 2017.
It draws on many sources but its primary streams are non-dual spiritual traditions (in particular, Mahayana Buddhism), indigenous wisdom, General Systems Theory, the poetry of Rilke and the deep ecology philosophy of Arne Naess.
Core Assumptions of the Work That Reconnects
- Our Earth is alive. It is a living, pulsating being that is made up of innumerable interconnected systems in a similar way that our bodies are made from many interconnected systems. It has its own intelligence and we are an inseparable part of that body and intelligence. It is not just a supply house and sewer for the Industrial Growth Society.
- Our true nature is far more ancient and encompassing than the separate self as defined by habit and Western society. We are as intrinsic to our living world as the rivers and trees, woven of the same flows of matter/energy and mind. Having evolved us into self-reflexive consciousness, the world can now know and see itself through us, behold its own majesty, tell its own stories—and also respond to its own suffering.
- Our experience of pain for our world springs from our interconnectedness with all beings, including humans of all cultures, from which also arise our powers to act on their behalf. When we deny or repress our pain for the world, or view it as a private pathology, our power to take part in the healing of our world is diminished. Our capacity to respond to our own and others’ suffering–that is, the feedback loops that weave us into life–can be unblocked.
- Unblocking occurs when our pain for the world is not only intellectually validated, but also experienced and expressed. Cognitive information about the social and ecological crises we face is generally insufficient to mobilize us. Only when we allow ourselves to experience our feelings of pain for our world, can we free ourselves from our fears of the pain – including the fear of getting permanently mired in despair or shattered by grief. Only then can we discover the fluid, dynamic character of feelings. Only then can they reveal on a visceral level our mutual belonging in the web of life and free us to act on our moral authority.
- When we reconnect with life, the mind retrieves its natural clarity. We experience not only our interconnectedness in the Earth community and the human community, but also mental eagerness to match this experience with new paradigm thinking. Significant learnings occur as the individual re-orients to wider reaches of identity and self-interest.
- The experience of reconnection with the Earth community arouses desire to act on its behalf, as well as on behalf of humankind. As we experience our essential desire for the welfare of all beings, Earth’s self-healing powers take hold within us. For these powers to function, they must be trusted and acted on..
Aims of The Work that Reconnects
- Provides practices and perspectives drawn from systems science, Deep Ecology, and many spiritual traditions that elicit our existential connectivity with the web of life through space and time.
- Acknowledges and validates our pain for the world as evidence of our mutual belonging in a relational universe, and hence our power to take action on behalf of life.
- Awakens stamina and buoyancy to live with full awareness of both the Great Turning (the shift toward a regenerative culture) and the Great Unravelling (the threat of ecological and economic collapse), historically and in present time, and to embrace the uncertainty.
- Awakens us to the systemic injustice, racism, and oppression of the Industrial Growth Society, and generates our commitment to transform all our institutions for the benefit of all humans, whatever their color, culture, religion, gender identity, and history.
- Affirms that our intention to act for the sake of all beings, and to become allies to all oppressed or marginalized people, can become organizing principles of our lives.
- Helps us identify the strengths and resources we can mobilize in our commitment to the self-healing of the world.
- Presents the Great Turning as a challenge that every one of us, in collaboration with others, is fully capable of meeting in our own distinctive ways.
Flowing Through the Spiral
The Spiral is the map we follow in WTR workshops. It consists of four stages that interconnect and support one another, and work best when experienced in sequence.
- The spiral begins with gratitude, because it helps to connect us to the heart, to be more present, helps affirm a sense centeredness and goodness, and opens psychic space for acknowledging the pain we carry for our world. It is also politically subversive in the way that it challenges the story ‘you are not enough and you don’t have enough’ that is fed to us by the Industrial Growth Culture and which drives consumerism.
- In owning and honoring our pain, and daring to experience it, we begin to thaw out our grief congested hearts, release tremendous amounts of energy that have been used to hold our pain at bay, experience the inter-vulnerability that bridges connection between self and other and come back into connection with the deep intelligence of Earth through an open and sensitive feeling sense.
- Experiencing the reality of our inter-being helps us see with new eyes. We can sense how intimately and inextricably we are related to all that is. We can see how our seemingly insignificant actions can connect and create larger patterns that go far beyond our individual self and this allows to trust in the emergent intelligence that can manifest when we participate in something larger than ourselves.
- Then when we go forth into the actions that call each of us, according to our situation, gifts, and limitations- it is the Earth acting in defence of itself through us and not from us. With others whenever and wherever possible, we set a target, lay a plan, step out. We don’t wait for a blueprint or fail-proof scheme, for each step will be our teacher, bringing new perspectives and opportunities. Even when we don’t succeed in a given venture, we can be grateful for the chance we took and the lessons we learned.