Daniel Abreu (GESA 2014 alumnus and ALLSA 2015 co-organiser) participated in a Work that Reconnects retreat in California with support from the Global Environments Network. He was first introduced to the Work that Reconnects at a 3-day retreat facilitated by Emily Ryan at the start of GESA 2014. Here he shares his experience. Daniel is an environmental and climate change educator who works with the UN, governmental and civil society initiatives, both at his home country the Dominican Republic and at the international level, aiming to increase public awareness and behaviour transformation to a life sustaining socioeconomic system.
In the summer of 2015, I was blessed to attend a retreat in the California wilds with the indefatigable philosopher, scientist and activist Joanna Macy, who, at 86 years old, facilitated this 10-day event with a clear mind and a full heart. The retreat was about The Work that Reconnects, an inspiring methodology and practice that has grown from deep ecology, eco-psychology, systems thinking and spiritual Buddhist philosophy. In a nutshell, it is a framework to help guide the inner and outer work of people determined to advance the Great Turning, which is Macy’s term for a shift from the violent, industrial growth society to a life-nourishing civilisation.
The Work that Reconnects follows a spiral-shaped cycle resembling the transitions of the seasons of nature. This was the basis of the programme I experienced in the retreat. It follows four discrete steps:
The work begins by recapturing our sense of wonder and gratitude, especially vital in this time of unprecedented ecological crisis, which springs from an inner sense of love and abundance.
Honouring our Pain
The next step requires us to see that love for the world and pain for the world are not separate feelings; they are two sides of the same coin. Through a method called “truth speaking”, participants help each other recognise that our anguish comes from our caring and our caring comes from a deep interconnectedness.
Seeing with New Eyes
We realise from personal experience that is from our connectivity that our pain for the world arises, so we shift to a new way of seeing ourselves in relation to our world and a new way of understanding our power.
Participants return with gratitude, seeing what is relevant to us, and with the tools and open heart needed to help each other and our communities and to share the gifts we have. We conclude by asking ourselves “What do we want to do, what is calling to us”?
This retreat was full of amazing practices to reconnect with nature in unfamiliar ways, including igniting the awareness of how much of the human experience is a gift from another species through evolution, hence how other life forms we share our planet with are our ancestors and family; for example, we give thanks to the Grandfather Fish, who gave us a spine and eyes. Another key element of this work is an expanded consciousness of time: the need to embody (not only through thinking, but deep feeling) a wide perspective from far back in the past to the future. In this practice, time is an essential element of the ecosystem, like the ocean and the trees.
What makes this experience so unique is the unapologetic approach to acknowledge and heal the searing pain we feel for our Mother Earth and in human societies. It was astonishing to witness how conflict was welcomed and resolved in “real time”. With more than 70 people, the group of participants was large and culturally diverse, with participants from different parts of the world. Tension was felt between a group of young race activists self-defined as “people of colour” and another group of participants who were mostly white and middle aged. The retreat took place at a time (summer 2015) during which issues of race were strongly felt in the US, with churches being burned in southern states and demonstrations against police violence shaking the country. When race-related tension rose during the retreat, an ancient African ceremony was conducted. For hours, we drummed and chanted African tunes, then white persons and people of colour shared their present and long history of pain together. The healing that took place was powerful and enlightening. This allowed us to truly understand and embody how the work is about healing our relations both among humans and with all other life forms.
During one of the last days of the retreat, we went to a big forest to spend time in solitude, spending time in contemplation and reflection. The night before, a woman had shared her experience of once being lost in a desert and asking the natural forces to guide her. And there, after exploring the forest for a while, I found myself completely lost, with no idea of where to go. I felt desperate. Remembering the woman’s story, I closed my eyes and asked the spirit of the forest to guide me to a spot from where I thought I could orient myself. Immediately I heard a crow, the squawk of which led me to the spot I was looking for. But I became aware that I was not oriented at all, I was as lost as before and feeling even more desperate. I called to the forest and Mother Earth once more for help. To my surprise and delight the crow appeared again, flying in a very specific direction and taking me back to the main road. The gratitude I felt is indescribable and a deep awareness has grown inside me that we humans are indeed the sons and daughters of a bigger life force, and that force responds with loving consciousness when summoned.
The Work that Reconnects is an invitation to face our social and environmental crisis not from a place of fear and anger, but rather from one of gratitude and love. It invites us to give thanks to those destroying Mother Earth, because through them we know how much we care for life. It encourages us to drink from the accumulated wisdom of our ancestors and to expand our view and recognise our kinship with all life. It generates in us the awareness that this is the moment we are challenged to bring out the best in us.
For more information about this methodology, visit the Work that Reconnects Network website.