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Nov 8, 2005

Dear People,

I spent a month in the east this fall, sharing the Work That Reconnects in Michigan, New York, Massachusetts, and Maine. I return with an abundance of gifts. They include the glory of the autumn trees, though the leaves are turning later now, weeks later with each passing year. And they include the beauty of the human heart, revealed in the workshops and unaffected by weather patterns. I want to tell you some of the ways I experienced it.

There is green in the heart of Detroit. In the capital of the automotive age, rusting, empty factories have given way to grassy fields and urban farming. New citizen efforts are sprouting, from cooperative bakeries and senior housing to festivals celebrating the city's natural history, and a vibrant high school for teen-age mothers set amidst barnyards and solar rigs, with a curriculum involving care for goats, sheep, windmill, and babies. These glimpses of our post-industrial future made my heart sing--and song was plentiful. At my workshop organized by Unitarian Universalist women of Michigan, many of the participants belong to the choruses singing the anthems of Caroline McDade across North America. In my intensives I have used Caroline McDade's CDs, especially "O Beautiful Gaia," so I asked the women to sing in the course of our work together--and bathed my soul in those strong hymns to our sacred Earth.

In Massachusetts and Maine I wondered at first if the quality of the workshops would suffer from the high numbers of participants. Because of space needs (I like to move people around a lot), I rarely do more than one full day when the count is ninety or more. Yet, from start to finish, these packed workshops turned out to be just as focused as those of three or four dozen, and just as remarkable in their sense of deep and alert presence. Actually, there seems to have been, in all the groups this year, a more solid and even fiercer sense of purpose than ever before.

As I ponder why this should be so, this is what I come up with. First there's the political darkness that has befallen our nation since the coup of January 2001, and especially since last November's second stolen presidential election (a fraud recently confirmed by the GAO). In discussing the options available to us as citizens, Richard Heinberg in his recent Museletter reflects views I hear from coast to coast, when he points out that, "the federal government is quite literally dysfunctional... Many books have been written about the hypocrisy, ineptness, and even criminality of Washington's elite, and how matters of state managed to degenerate so utterly and completely during the past few decades and especially the last few years... The US government has given up on the republican (with a small "r") form of government and is preparing a totalitarian future for its citizens. Unable to deliver on its economic promises, it is hunkering down for the inevitable class conflict. One can hardly write such words," he adds, "without experiencing strong emotions--principally rage, sadness, and fear."

Many people come to my workshops to simply and soberly acknowledge the kind of reality Heinberg describes. They come to tell the truth about what they see happening to our world, and to face it together without diversions of endless argument or embarrassment for the rage, sadness, and fear that arise. Hence the seriousness of purpose: for without fully being with the truth of our situation, there's no way to change it. It's not surprising that the first aspect of the Work That Reconnects which the folks in Maine planned to share with their home communities was the Truth Mandala.

So, clearly, the strength of presence I feel in the workshops is a function of the power of attention--and how we choose to direct that power, which is intention. Since the 30-day "Seeds for the Future" event in Australia early this year, I've been including the practice of anapanasati, mindfulness of breathing-in and breathing-out. It's no longer just an optional meditation before breakfast, but a basic element in each days' teaching sessions. Furthermore, in the systems lessons, I dwell on our capacity for intention--how it's evolved that we are able to choose where we focus and direct our mind. I see it as the defining characteristic of self-reflexive consciousness. This marvel enables us, in Buddhist terms, to change the karma. It is the great and sacred gift we bring to our world.

On my trip I met Jack Manno, who teaches economics of sustainability at SUNY's school of Environmental Studies and Forestry. I copied these words from a textbook he wrote: "Human attention is among the most powerful natural forces in the universe. When an individual decides to turn his or her attention to understanding something, accomplishing something, changing something, the resources available to that individual are mobilized, and the world begins to change. When groups...turn their collective attention to shared goals, the potential results are even more dramatic. Since economics is fundamentally about the allocation of limited resources among competing uses, this book is about an economics of attention."

What Jack calls the turning of attention--i.e. the conscious choice of how to use it--is what I mean by intention. And the dramatic results he alludes to were certainly evident in the explosions of ideas ignited in the final, "Going Forth" part of the workshops.

Yet what moved me more than the actions envisioned was, again, the quality of presence. During the week at Rowe I tried to describe it in my journal: "Thanks to the sweet strong attention these people bring and sustain, it's like swimming together, in a school of fish. There are moments of such shared depth, it feels like entering another element, as if we'd pierced some barrier into a realm of mind beyond all words. At the center of the heart, it encompasses the universe."

I leave now for a month in Brazil, accompanied by Fran, preceded by a beautiful Portuguese edition of Coming Back to Life, and organized by our dear colleague Amalia Souza who's got workshops, talks, and an intensive up her sleeve.

In gladness for the work and the world we share,

Joanna