thriving and multiplying
I recently facilitated a course I participated in five years ago: Regenerative Activism: Sustainable Organising. When I first encountered the course at Ecodharma Centre it was called Sustaining Resistance, Empowering Renewal. The new name is an acknowledgement that the main idea behind community service and activism isn’t simply to resist and keep going (not burn-out) but to resist and re-invent ourselves, our groups’ ways of doing things and our world.
Another novelty was doing the course in Erols, Catalonia, home of the new Ulex Project. Since last year many of Ecodharma’s secular courses are held there, about 20 kilometres away, while Ecodharma hosts the nature-connection and Buddhist courses. From one training centre to two means just like the people who come on courses, this work is thriving and multiplying.
When Ecodharma Centre pioneered this field of work about ten years ago,
self-care was a “new” idea to many doing community and social change work. But, like so many other approaches meant to reinforce the power of resistance and preservation of humanity, self-care has been appropriated for mainstream culture and its radicalness diminished and indivdualized. I know I have heard, and maybe you have too, someone say something like “Oh, the resisdents’/campaign/whatever group meeting tonight? No, I’m not going. I’ve got a date with a bubble bath and a bottle of wine. It’s self-care, you know?” This, in my view, is (generally) not self-care but a blind-eye and band aid on the deeply broken and unhealthy ways our culture views work, rest and success.
Radical self-care, at least initially, pushes the boundaries of what is ordinary or easy for us, and it will look different for everyone. But it probably will mean some time in our discomfort, or learning, zone to integrate new robust and practical ways of taking care of our hearts, minds and bodies. It means learning how to embody the changes we want to see in the world, both as individuals and at the collective level, and cultivating creativity and curiousity so we can thrive and grew new projects in this chaotic period of change and opportunity. The cracks are growing, and while that’s scary, it is also how the light gets in.
As the crisis deepens, we also need to practice collective care now more than ever before. Collective self-care is a huge topic, but let’s just start with you and your groups’ attitudes about being unwell: Is it OK to not be OK? How much space is there for expressing feelings? What kind of collective agreement or understanding about what to do (or not do) if someone is unwell do you have? In cases where there is a group culture of collective care, one approach to mutual support described by a colleague from the radical mental health movement is to have a “landing plan”. This is an agreement prepared before a crisis by the person concerned and those who support them describing the sort of help and support this persons needs and asks for.
new team, new ways of working
I also worked with two new colleagues which brought opportunities to know them better, learn new tools and ways of working.
During our de-befrief and evaluation after the course I recognised and named some of them. However the beauty of this deep, transformative learning is so much of it happens afterwards. Or that’s how it is for me anyway. It’s been two weeks since we finished but each day I still find my mind turning over conversations, observations, moments, smells, and learning new stuff about myself and the world.
“What makes me come alive” was just one of many new tools I learned
from a colleague who proposed we deliberately weave a thread of gratitude and appreciation into the course. The result was a beautiful series of exercies, subtle choices in warm-up games and careful de-briefing and many other mighty specks of care, love and craft that are the glue to this sort of deep group-learning.
Living a life of purpose means knowing what you love. For many people doing community service or activism, the journey begins with motivations to save something they love, or to improve the conditions for people and things they care about. At some point however, the joy and spark that set off the journey may turn into hard work for different reasons: the sheer amount and heaviness of it; the pain and suffering it fills us with; the pressure and stress of time constraints; and almost always and eventually, a clash of personality types and ways of working. At which point we can get stuck. Stuck in our groups, stuck in the role(s) we play in our groups, and flagging in energy and interest. Except we still really care. And that’s when some people find this course, or others like them. Something has to change, otherwise they face burn-out and may have to withdraw from the movement with brittle or broken hearts, minds and bodies, and they take their wealth or skills, experience and resources with them. I’ve seen it and I’ve been there too.
Framing and holding a conversation about this quote, what makes me come alive in my activist life or the community work I do, was just one of many ways we tried to weave threads of grattitude, appreciation and strength into the course. It was a simple exercise yet it invited the sort of intimacy that fans the fires of the spirit.
“Don’t ask what the world needs, ask woth makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.”
It invited people to think about what gives them a healthy, nourishing sense of connection with others and nature along with a sound sense of self. Comments in whole group after the small group conversations were about the insight and delights people found in their reflections and demonstrated we had achieved the session’s learning goal. But what surprises me now, two weeks later, is I’m still thinking about that quote and it’s still fanning my fire.
working with groups makes me come alive
At the check-out circle at the end of the course, I was reminded by a colleague’s comment that me too, one thing that nourishes me and makes me come alive is facilitating transformative learning spaces with others.
There is a depletion of energy, which is a reality of holding that space for a dozen plus people to do the deep work they are there to do, but it’s temporay. And as team we have a culture and practices of self and collective care, which is a tremendous resource and source of mutual support.
The days are long, we start with meditation at 7.30 and then it’s full-on the rest of the day until 10 or 11 at night. We are either facilitating course sessions, having chats and taking care of the group/each other/ourselves and preparing for whatever is next. But it makes me come alive, and right now it is still the work for me. I love it, and it is nourishing to to work in such beatutiful settings. And lucky me: I’m going back soon for Roots of Resilience. Join us?