how change happens

In February I was part of a facilitation team leading a course called ‘how change happens’. From the facilitators’ observations and the participants’ feedback, we know it went pretty well. But there are always things that could be done different, which for me is one of the most interesting part of facilitating informal adult learning.

Waging Nonviolence - people powered news and analysis

Waging Nonviolence people-powered news and analysis

This morning I was catching up with news about social movements and campaigns near and far when I came across Frida Berrigan‘s article ‘Make February Muste Month‘, and I thought, that’s it!

Instead of The Great Turning theory of how change happens, we could have used an exercise called the  ‘Truth Mandala’ to help people locate themselves in their own process of change. This might have met more of the participants where they were at.


First there was the agricultural revolution when many of us settled to grow food and raise animals, leaving behind nomadic lives centred around hunting and gathering food. Then came the industrial revolution of 200 years ago. And now, some say, we’re living another massive cultural shift – the Great Turning: from Empire to Earth community.

The critical feedback about the weekend was that while it was good and stimulating, people needed more space to make sense out of what they were learning. The article about A.J. Muste made me think, instead of a theory of change ‘out there’, it may have been better to have used a workshop tool to help people reflect on their own path of change (what experiences have formed them), and thus preparing to think about what they do, a step on towards the Great Turning.

Who was A.J. Muste?

Abraham Johannes

Abraham Johannes “A.J.” Muste

A.J. Muste (1885 -1967) was a Dutch-born US anti-war activist. I first became aware of him a few years ago when the foundation set up in his name to continue his work, awarded a grant to a South Korean group of activists to help cover the costs of a trainng-of-trainers course I did with a colleague from War Resisters’ International.

… so the world won’t change me

According to Frida’s article, in 1939, Muste was holding a solitary peace vigil outside the White House, and a journalist asked: ‘Mr. Muste, do you really think you can change the world standing here alone in the rain?’ Muste replied:  ‘I am not here to change the world; I am here so the world won’t change me.’

truth mandala

We're all responsible for the state of the world, but we need not let this destroy us too. We can all work on our Zen of personal integrity.

We’re all responsible for the state of the world, but we need not let this destroy us too. We can all work on our Zen of personal integrity.

In the early 1990s at a reunification community workshop in Germany, Joanna Macy and Molly Brown noticed a tense and unhealthy group dynamic emerging. The workshop goers, survivors of historic political and social division, and personal and psychic hurt, were recreating those same dynamics in the gathering.

On the spot (as facilitators often do) they developed the Truth Mandala exercise to address historic and personal fear, grief, pain and anger, while making space for healing, renewal and empowerment.

how to do the truth mandala – in brief


stone, our fear, leaves, our grief

Introduce the Truth Mandala tool with some thing relevant to the group, a reference to something you all have shared or may know.

Explain the four different objects (a stone, leaves, stick, an empty bowl) represent different feelings, memories, life experiences unique to yourself, but also in some way common to all of us.

  • stone, our fears –  It’s how our heart feels when we’re afraid: tight, contracted, hard
  • dried leaves, our grief – the great sadness within us for what we see happening to our world, our lives, and for what is passing within and among us, day to day
  • stick, our anger – the outrage we feel needs to spoken for clarity of mind and purpose, but this stick is not for hitting or waving around in intimidation, but for grasping hard and transforming diminishing, destructive energy into something nourishing, and eventually generative
  • bowl, our emptiness – this is the full-reckoning of feelings and space for new beginnings

stick, anger, bowl, our emptiness

Decide a process (turn-taking and how to take the topics) and invite people to speak as they feel moved to talk about their and the world’s pain.

speaking and healing

As hurtful experiences – both indivdiual and collective – become known, the pain can be healed. We can grow our consciousness, tolerance, acceptance and respect for each other and the life experiences (good and bad) which have formed us.

Effectiveness and energy to work for change come from acknowlegding these uncomfortable and unpleasant feelings and experiences. We then can prepare ourselves to move beyond fear, grief, anger and emptiness to put our hope into action. Hope without action is after all a form of hopelessness.


Where your fear lies, there also lies your power

One way, as a facilitator, I could have better supported the group’s learning that weekend would have been to create the space for people to see what personal challenges (the fears, pain)  they live or carry with them. The Truth Mandala would have been a way of mapping the personal and political, and preparing to move on … and make or notice past deep personal change.

diversity is a strength to collective power

Growing our consciousness and healing is an on-going process. Once we acknowledge and move beyond one old wound, a new need for healing will begin, and our power – collective and individual – grows each time

But oh well, next time. That’s the way it is with life-long, informal adult learning for social change! We do the best we can to identify where people are at, start there and move on …. sometimes with a sideways wiggle or a spiral round to look at a topic from a different angle, and that’s all forward-motion. We are not stuck and in the same place! How exciting.

Want to know more?


The Truth Mandala is one among many useful things found in this book, Coming Back to Life. Read the first chapter here, and a review of the book here.

This book is part of a body of larger work known as the Work that Reconncects which aims to build motivation, creativity, courage and solidarity for the transition to a sustainable human culture

empire to earth community

Read more about the Great Turning — the book or a short article — or visit David Korten’s website,

Joanna Macy also offers materials about the Great Turning on her Work that Reconnects page, and here’s a 5-minute video where she outlines the basic premise.

Essentially the idea is that the capacity to anticipate and choose our future is a defining characteristic of the human species. We now have a brief window of opportunity to navigate the passage from a 5,000-year Era of Empire characterized by domination and violence against life, to an Era of Earth Community characterized by peaceful partnership.

8421048As a facilitator, doing the sort of work I do, this book is a treasure chest of inspiration and good ideas. The author, activist and facilitator George Lakey combines stories of his 50 years of experience leading people through self-exploration and learning, tips and tools, and a strong theoretical framework.


Waging Nonviolence, my favourite website for social change news and analysis, Yes Magazine is good too


2 thoughts on “truth mandala

  1. Pingback: On Pain and Suffering – To my friend K. – Mainstream Permaculture

  2. Pingback: On Pain and Suffering | Silvia Di Blasio

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