Spiral of the Work that Reconnects

The Work That Reconnects (WTR) is an open-source body of work that has its roots in the teachings and experiential methods of Joanna Macy. It is a process of group work that uses experience based activities to help participants connect with one another and with the intelligence, self-healing powers of life on Earth. The goal of the WTR is to “enliven” and motivate participants to play an active role in the creation of a life sustaining society.

While the primary focus of the WTR is deep ecology and environmental activism, the Work that Reconnects is an important foundation for the creation of this site (see About).  Our adaptation of the spiral of the Work that Reconnects focuses on how participants stay present to the painful realities (and implications) of white supremacy, while simultaneously opening themselves to the joy that comes with a renewed commitment to act on behalf of a just and humane world.

The spiral of the Work that Reconnects moves through these four stages in its progression:

  1. Coming from Gratitude
  2. Honoring our Pain for the World
  3. Seeing with New Eyes*
  4. Going Forth

For the purposes of this page we will call these stage: Gratitude; Grief; Seeing with New Eyes; and Going Forth.

*In White Awake workshops, particularly when participants are new to this type of work, Seeing with New Eyes activities (such as “Group Reading and Incremental Discussion“, or “White is a Racial Identity“) will need to come before Honoring our Pain for the World. White participants need adequate levels of information and awareness about race and white identity before any emotional processing (via Honoring our Pain for the World) can occur. Sometimes the best pattern used is: Gratitude; Seeing with the Eyes; Honoring our Pain for the World; Seeing with New Eyes (again); Going Forth

Gratitude

Gratitude helps us quiet our minds and connect to the things we value most in life. Gratitude links us to our personal empathy and power while helping us turn our awareness to the present moment and the world around us.

One of the most powerful ways to ground the White Awake work in gratitude is to acknowledge the courage and love each and every participant demonstrates by showing up for the difficult work of looking at privilege, unwinding social conditioning, and developing a greater awareness of race. An example of how this type of gratitude can be practiced is found in the alternate script for “The Milling” found on the Practices page.

Participants in a White Awake workshop can also express gratitude for the cultural and familial strengths they have inherited as white people (including but not limited to the historical legacy of white anti-racist activism).

Grief

“This world, in which we are born and take our being, is alive. It is … our larger body.” (Coming Back to Life, Macy & Brown)

A critical step in developing race awareness, as white people, is educating ourselves about the realities of racism that are suppressed, denied, or downplayed within typical white, racial conditioning. Facing the reality of racial injustice often elicits grief. The deep interconnectedness within all of life makes it impossible for any of us to gain material comfort or privilege at the expense of another without feeling some form of pain.

When this pain can be honored and expressed in a respectful setting, there is great potential for participants to connect with the genuine humanity from which that pain emerges. The WTR offers a structure and set of exercises that can help participants express their grief about the exploitation, abuse, and unearned privilege that racism makes possible. Two exercises that make space for grief are “Open Questions” and the “Truth Mandala”, described on the Practices page.

Keep in mind that while participants may primarily honor the pain they feel when turning their awareness towards historical and contemporary racial injustice, they may also need to honor the pain they feel about the presence of racist thoughts and beliefs within their own mind.

Seeing with New Eyes

“When we reconnect with life, by willingly enduring our pain for it, the mind retrieves its natural clarity.” (Coming Back to Life, Macy & Brown)

Within the WTR priority is given to both the “heat” of emotion and the “coolness” of reason. Working with grief, and other cathartic emotions, opens the heart and gives room for the fire of passion to arise – an essential ingredient in transformation. However, this heat needs to be tempered and contained within intellectual paradigms that support racial awareness. Learning to see oneself and the greater society with “new eyes” is fundamental to developing race awareness, and it allows participants to build upon group work in their own, daily lives.

Simply opening oneself to truth that has been suppressed, and making room for the natural emotional response to this truth, evokes a greater clarity of thought about race. Group work can support this budding clarity by offering participants new ideas and paradigms upon which to build a more accurate understanding of themselves and of society.

One way to support the intellectual development of racial awareness is the “Group Reading and Incremental Discussion” activity (described on the Practices page). This simple process can be applied to many different types of materials that help participants see racial dynamics in society, and within their own minds, in a different light. Materials such as the Waking up to Race page’s description of core assumptions about race, or the Pax Christi resource “Building Accountable Relationships with Communities of Color“, help create paradigms about race and white privilege that lay the groundwork for new responses.

*Note: In a typical “spiral” of the Work that Reconnects (with a focus on deep ecology and environmental destruction), the flow of the work goes straight from Gratitude to Grief; Seeing with New Eyes comes afterwards. When working with white people on issues of race, it is often necessary to bring in information first, before moving to grief, as people cannot express grief for something they do not understand. Seeing with New Eyes activities may, then, come both before and after Honoring Our Pain exercises.

Going Forth

“The experience of reconnection with the Earth community arouses desire to act on its behalf.” (Coming Back to Life, Macy & Brown)

While White Awake is focused on the largely internal process of developing awareness, in this stage of the spiral emphasis is given to the way in which new awareness naturally creates the desire to act. Stated another way, new awareness breaks down past social conditioning in such a way that participants will interact with their environment, intentionally or not, in new ways.

Building this natural progression into the structure of a group sequence allows participants to focus on this desire for action overtly. Structured small group discussions, presentations by people doing anti-racist work, and activities such as the “Modified Truth Mandala for Going Forth” (see Practices page) all support this turn in the spiral towards outward focused action.

A Common Goal

In the end, the Work that Reconnects and White Awake have very common goals for its participants:

  • to provide people the opportunity to experience and share with others their innermost responses to the present condition of our world
  • to help participants reframe their pain for the world as evidence of their interconnectedness in the web of life, and hence of their power to take part in its healing

It is our hope that, over time, the Work that Reconnects will serve White Awake and White Awake will serve the Work that Reconnects, with the mutual purpose of fulfilling this common goal: the creation of a life sustaining society.

“The intelligence that evolved us from star dust and interconnects us with all beings is sufficient for the healing of our Earth community, if we but align with that purpose.”
– Dr. Joanna Macy

Return to Manual for Group Work table of contents

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