The Work that Reconnects (WTR) is a series of practices and experiences used by communities to facilitate the restoring of the human community into a powerful 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 tool used by thousands of people all over the world to facilitate this task. It provides a safe space to voice our fears and concerns without being judged as ‘negative’; it offers experiences that shift our perspective beyond the personal, and gives a space for our creativity and power to translate into right action. The four main cycles of the Work that Reconnects include: Coming from Gratitude; Honouring our Pain for the World; Seeing with New Eyes, and Going Forth. The call, as Dr. Joanna Macy, founder of WTR, says, is to:
- Come From Gratitude;
- Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark;
- Dare To Vision;
- Roll Up Your Sleeves and Link Arms;
- Act Your (Evolutionary) Age;
- Eat Some Cake!
The truth is that we are not separate from other life forms as a mechanistic scientific philosophy would have us believe; we are all deeply, inextricably entwined in a glorious dance of inter-dependence in the web of Life. Doing the Work that Reconnects really propels us into experiencing this Oneness in a more deliberate and conscious way as individuals, and then finding our power in expanding this consciousness to all Life forms as a community. In other words, we learn to ‘see with new eyes’, ourselves, one another and the planet.
It offers, as Rudolf Steiner so eloquently puts it, a way for the ‘healthy social life’ of both individuals and a community to be realised.
Aims and Outcomes of The Work that Reconnects
The processes of the Work that Reconnects aim to do the following:
- to provide people the opportunity to experience and share with others their innermost responses to the present condition of our world.
- to re-frame their pain for the world as evidence of their inter-connectedness in the web of life, and hence of their power to take part in its healing.
- to provide people with concepts– from systems science, deep ecology, or spiritual traditions– which illumine this power, along with exercises which reveal its play in their own lives.
- to provide methods by which people can experience their interdependence with, their responsibility to, and the inspiration they can draw from past and future generations, and other life-forms.
- to enable people to embrace the Great Turning as a challenge which they are fully capable of meeting in a broad variety of ways, and as a privilege in which they can take joy.
- to enable people to support each other in clarifying their intention, and affirming their commitment to the healing of the world.
WTR was drawn together by Joanna Macy PhD., who describes herself as ‘a scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory, and deep ecology’. Joanna is also we well respected activist, author, teacher and voice in the movements for peace, justice, clean energy and ecology.
The foundations of the Work That Reconnects (WTR) help us discover our innate connections with each other and with the self-healing powers in the web of life. This aim is essential for the emergence of a life-sustaining culture.
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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.
Foundations of the Work
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.
Core Assumptions of the Work That Reconnects
- Our Earth is alive. It is not our supply house and sewer; it is our larger body.
- Our true nature is far more ancient and encompassing than the separate self defined by habit and 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 inter-connectedness with all beings, 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 can be unblocked.
- Unblocking occurs when our pain for the world is not only intellectually validated, but also experienced. Cognitive information about the crises we face is generally insufficient to mobilize us. But direct experience of our own deep emotional response can reveal our mutual belonging in the web of life, and free us to act.
- When we reconnect with life, by willingly enduring our pain for it, the mind retrieves its natural clarity. We experience not only our inter-connectedness in the Earth 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 Earth’s self-healing powers take hold within us, we feel called to take part in the Great Turning. The steps we take can be modest ones, but they should involve some risk to our mental comfort, lest we remain caught in old, “safe” limits. Courage is a great teacher and bringer of joy.
Earlier in its development, this approach was known as “despair and empowerment work,”or “psychological peace work,” and sometimes just “deep ecology work.” Its theory and practice are described in the following books: Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age, by Joanna Macy in 1983; Thinking Like a Mountain: Toward a Council of All Beings, 1988, by John Seed, Joanna Macy, Arne Naess and Pat Fleming; Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World, 1998, by Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown; and Active Hope: How to Face the Mess we’re in Without Going Crazy, 2012, by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone.