“tHE WORK THAT RECONNECTS IS A FORM OF GROUP WORK DESIGNED TO FOSTER THE DESIRE AND ABILITY TO TAKE PART IN THE HEALING OF OUR WORLD” – Joanna Macy
The Work that Reconnects (WTR) is a series of experiences and rituals used by communities to facilitate the empowering of the human community into a potent and resilient force for positive change. It does this by creating a platform for the hearts of individuals to open, heal and find their power. The pace and way of life in the world today increasingly bears evidence of the negative consequences of the Industrial Growth Society with it’s philosophy of ‘profits before people’. The devastation of our planet, the breakdown of our society and the fragmentation of our people has led to many losses in our world. None so important perhaps, as the loss of our ability as people, to live with an open heart. For it is only when the heart is open that the mind can work in alignment with the spirit, to bring about peace, prosperity and life-sustaining societies for all.
As humanity makes the transition away from the destructive and non-sustainable consequences of the Industrial Growth Society often as a result of the Earth’s reflection of our actions in terms of climate change, etc., we need to find new ways of empowering ourselves and one another to bring about the ‘other world’ that we know is possible. It is up to us to join together and bring about a sustainable human culture where all life works together in appreciation of the inter-connectness of all life.
The Work that Reconnects is a powerful and effective community building tool used by thousands of people all over the world to provide a safe space for people’s concerns about what is happening in the world. It provides a safe space to voice our fears and concerns without being judged as ‘negative’; it also offers experiences that shift our perspective beyond the personal, and gives a space for our creativity and power to translate into right action.
To those of us growing up in the Industrial Growth Society, a breathtakingly new view of reality arises from deep ecology, systems thinking, and the resurgence of nondualistic spirituality. These three streams attest to our mutual belonging in the web of life, and to powers within us for the healing of our world. They are basic to the core assumptions of the Work That Reconnects.
Core Assumptions of the Work That Reconnects
- Our Earth is alive. It is not a supply house and sewer for the Industrial Growth Society. As most indigenous traditions teach, the Earth is our larger body.
- Our true nature is far more ancient and encompassing than the separate self 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 moral 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, by willingly enduring our pain for it, 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. The steps we take can be modest ones, but they should involve some risk to our mental and social comfort, lest we remain caught in old, “ safe” limits. Courage is a great teacher and bringer of joy.
Aims of the Work That Reconnects
The central purpose of the Work That Reconnects is to bring us back into relationship with each other and with the self-healing powers in the web of life, motivating and empowering us to reclaim our lives, our communities, and our planet from corporate and colonial rule.
In order to do this, 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.
- reframes 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 and the Great Unraveling, 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.
You can see some of the practices and experiences here.
Since its inception in the late 1970’s, it has helped countless thousands of people around the globe find solidarity and courage to act despite rapidly worsening social and ecological conditions.
This work is also known as Deep Ecology Work (as in Germany, Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan), Active Hope (as in Japan) and Despair and Empowerment Work (as it was known in its first years).
This work can be done alone and has enriched many individual lives, but it is designed for groups. Its effect is deeper and more enduring when experienced interactively with others, for its approach is improvisational and its impact is synergistic.
Workshops have varied in length from an evening to a full lunar cycle.
From the first public workshop in 1978 it has been the aim of the Work to help people trust their raw experience and give voice to what they see and feel is happening to their world. Its interactive exercises frequently involve role-play and a shift in assumed identity; the Work aims to engage and expand people’s moral imagination, bringing wider perspectives on our world, while fostering both compassion and creativity.
The Work That Reconnects is informed by Deep Ecology, systems thinking, Gaia theory, and spiritual traditions (especially Buddhist and indigenous teachings), as well as group wisdom from earlier workshops. Common to all of these is a non-linear view of reality. It illuminates the mutuality at play in self-organizing systems, and unleashes the power of reciprocity.
Furthermore, central to our use of systems thinking and the Buddha Dharma is the recognition that self-reflexive consciousness is a function of choice-making. Whatever the limitations of our life, we are still free to choose which version of reality –or story about our world– we value and want to serve. We can choose to align with business as usual , the unraveling of living systems, or the creation of a life-sustaining society.
Structure of the Work
The experiential work follows a spiral sequence flowing through four stages beginning with Gratitude, then, Honoring our pain for the world, Seeing with fresh eyes, and finally, Going forth.
These consecutive stages reflect a natural sequence common to psychological growth and spiritual transformation. The Spiral is like a fractal, governing the overall structure of the workshop while also arising in its component parts. Within a given workshop, we can move through the Spiral more than once, and become aware that with every cycling through, each stage can yield new and deeper meanings.
The critical passage or hinge of the workshop happens when, instead of privatizing, repressing and pathologizing our pain for the world (be it fear, grief, outrage or despair), we honor it. We learn to re-frame it as suffering-with or compassion. This brings us back to life
Background of WTR
First emerging in 1978, this pioneering, open-source body of work has its roots in the teachings and experiential methods of Joanna Macy. The Work That Reconnects has inspired thousands of people to take heart and work together for the sake of life on Earth, despite rapidly worsening social and ecological conditions. It has also inspired people to co-create experiential practices that serve the Work in specific groups and settings. To learn the basics of the Work That Reconnects and its distinctive approach, people come to workshops that range in duration from a day or weekend to a ten or thirty-day intensive. But the Work That Reconnects extends far beyond such dedicated events, for its methods are widely used in classrooms, faith communities, grassroots organizing, and environmental and civil rights campaigns.
To those of us growing up in the Industrial Growth Society, a breathtakingly new view of reality arises from deep ecology, systems thinking, and the resurgence of non-dualistic spirituality. These three streams attest to our mutual belonging in the web of life, and to powers within us for the healing of our world. They are basic to the core assumptions of the Work That Reconnects.