Chris Johnstone, Great Turning Times, December '08
The central plot-line of this work follows a spiral of four elements: gratitude, honouring pain for the world, seeing with new eyes, and going forth. I've found the combination, and sequence, of these elements allows the emergence of something much more than the sum of the parts.
At a talk I gave recently, I asked people to divide in pairs and listen to each other completing the following sentences.
"Things I love about our world include..."
"Concerns I have about our world include..."
"A perspective I find inspiring or refreshing is..."
"Steps I can take to participate in the Great Turning include..."
This was a short and simple way of moving through these four elements. With two minutes for each sentence, it took about ten minutes each way, yet the process deeply touched many of those present. I've also used these four starts to sentences in my personal journaling, starting a fresh page with each one. Whenever I'm not sure what to write, I just start the sentence again and see what naturally follows. It has been liberating, a time of kindling the spark.
Traditional Quaker Method
The Clearness Committee was developed by Quakers for the purpose of seeking clarity in important decision-making, as when considering marriage. This method of discernment is based on a two-fold conviction: (1) that each of us has access to inner wisdom; and (2) that this inner wisdom can become clear when a group gives its caring, undivided attention, and offers questions instead of advice.
Traditionally, the seeker or focus person invites five or six trusted individuals (with as much diversity among them as possible) and provides them beforehand a written description of the situation or choices he is facing. The Clearness Committee then meets for about three hours, with the possibility of continuing in a second or third meeting in subsequent weeks. One member agrees to serve as clerk (or facilitator), another as recorder, and everyone serves as prayerful listener and channel for clarifying questions.
The essential and defining feature of the Clearness Committee is this: that after the focus person summarizes the issue, members of the committee assist her by asking questions rather than engaging in problem solving or giving advice. Honest, caring queries, arising out of prayerful silence, help the focus person to see herself and her situation in a new light and unblock her inner wisdom and authority.
In a workshop or intensive of sufficient duration, i.e. at least five days, an adaptation of the Clearness Committee process has been very valuable in the culminating (Going Forth) stage of the Work that Reconnects. Here everyone is given the opportunity to be the focus person and seek clarity on a particular issue. The time for each person is necessarily reduced, i.e. less than an hour, but this time span has proved sufficient to yield important insights.
Block out two sessions of three hours each in the latter half of the workshop, say on two consecutive afternoons. (The work can be done in 2 ½ hour sessions, but it’s a squeeze). The process requires such keen, sustained attention, that back-to-back sessions are tiring.
Divide the participants into groups of five or at most six people each. This is most easily done by counting off. Since it is useful to have people who are partners or work colleagues end up in the same small group, you may want to do some shuffling.
Each group is given a separate, undisturbed meeting place. In each of its time sessions three people take their turns as focus person or seeker.
While everyone is still together, take half an hour to explain the process in detail, making sure everyone understands its particular method. (When the groups consist of 5 people, this introduction can take place at the beginning of the time set aside for first session, which will then allow for two focus persons). Include the following in your briefing:
- Acknowledge the provenance of this method. We are adapting and abbreviating a Quaker practice.
- State the purpose of this practice. In our work for the world each of us faces challenges and choices. These may relate to a project we are undertaking (or want to undertake) or to a personal dilemma which seems to be hindering us in this work. The Clearness Committee is designed to help us find clarity and support in our decision-making.
- While each of us faces a number of issues, we select just one to bring to the Clearness Committee. The process works best when we specify and delineate a particular issue—even if it is a major one—which calls for some choice or action on our part.
- Strict confidentiality is to be observed (unless the focus person specifies otherwise).
- Timing: Each person has 45 minutes as focus person or seeker. This time span will be sufficient for important insights to occur, and its limits must be observed in the interests of the group. Of this allotted time the focus person takes no more than 10 minutes to present his particular issue and situation. That leaves 35 minutes for the Clearness-style queries, and possible reflections at the close. There will be a 10-minute stretch break before the next person's turn as seeker.
- Before presenting his issue, the focus person asks another group member to be facilitator (who will serve as time-keeper and process reminder) and yet another to be the scribe (jotting key queries and points, perhaps in the focus person's own notebook).
- At this point, group members may decide if they wish to listen and respond to the focus person from the perspective of one living in the past or the present or the future. ("I'll be an ancestor this time.") To include "the beings of the three times" has been useful in our adaptation of the Clearness Committee, for it opens us to the wider context of our work and some radically different perspectives. ("From the viewpoint of a future being, I would ask you this...") These adopted roles are to be held lightly, and not weighted with literalness, lest they restrict other questions one may be moved to ask.
- Both before and after the focus person presents her issue, the group takes some moments of silence. It is a prayerful silence in which we identify with the seeker and hold the strong intention that she find her deep wisdom, so that she can fully take part in the healing of our world. The questions we offer will arise out of that intention and return to the underlying silence.
- Make clear, above all, that questions are the heart of the Clearness Committee. It requires mindfulness and self-discipline not to fall into old habits of wanting to "fix" and give advice. This means no psychological "rescuing," no solutions offered, no stories or wise counsel from our own experience. Only honest, probing, caring questions are called for. Though often challenging, these questions are offered with humility and an attitude of absolute respect for this person's unique gifts and life-path.
- When the queries we offer are actually advice in disguise, or when we lapse into anecdotes from our own lives, let the facilitator help us stick to the Clearness practice. On the other hand, don't hold back on questions just because they may seem "off the wall." A query like "what colors do you associate with these job alternatives?" may open a realm of intuition.
- It is, of course, in the answers the focus person hears himself making, that he uncovers his inner wisdom. So his responses should be ample enough to allow for that, yet brief enough to let more questions be asked. Some questions may stir reflections that the focus person finds hard to articulate or wishes to keep to himself. He is always free to refrain from a verbal answer.
- If there is time at the end, group members may wish to speak of the qualities they sense in the focus person, and the kind of trust they feel in his capacity to make the right choice and take the right action.
- Sometimes the right line of action becomes immediately clear to the focus person; sometimes it unfolds more gradually, as she continues later to digest her experience of the Clearness process. She is encouraged to trust in this gradual unfolding; but if her intuition strongly prompts her to ask the group for direct advice, she may, of course, do so.
Preparation for the Clearness Committee:
The process, as described above, works; but if time permits, consider giving people more opportunity to prepare. This would include a silent time alone, in which they let a key issue/question emerge. And then they might talk briefly in pairs, to help themselves name and specify this issue.
Chris Johnstone has been doing this practice for some time now.
A few weeks ago, my Great Turning study/action group tried an exercise inspired by the Shambhala Prophecy. We imagined moving forward in time to visit a possible future where the Great Turning had occurred. In this imaginary time-line, the early twenty first century had been a crucial change point; as a result, a massive shift in consciousness had occurred. Visiting these future beings gave us an opportunity to ask them for guidance. Some people found it hard to imagine such a future. But others found the process deeply inspiring. The future beings I encountered had this advice for me: “Meet in groups to hold the vision and train yourselves”.
If we hold in our heart/mind a vision of our preferred future for the world, could that be similar to the Kingdom of Shambhala arising within us? This is one way of thinking about the prophecy, where the Kingdom of Shambhala is our vision of the very best future we can imagine. When we get a glimpse of a destination that inspires us, this helps us access the courage and determination needed to move that way. Even if the vision seems impossibly beyond our reach, like a guiding star in the night, it can still give us a direction to head in.
Purpose and Background
This short exercise brings up a lot of energy and can add more authenticity to our despair work. By exaggerating and venting feelings of disconnection, even indifference, which are inevitable in our mass culture, we can achieve greater honesty and sense of wholeness for all that follows.
To weep and rage over the conditions of our world can be a profound release. It can also cause some of us to wonder if we are being entirely honest. "If I care so damn much, why haven't I done something about it?" And sometimes we simply do not feel, at the moment, the degree of grief, concern, or caring that others are expressing. We can wonder then, if we are deficient--lacking in rudimentary compassion--and the sense of numbing or inadequacy can intensify.
"The despair I feel," said Tom in a workshop at Columbia University, "is that I don't feel despair. My heart feels like a rock. I'm afraid I don't care the way the rest of you do." The rest of us that day were soon grateful for his confession, because it triggered the invention of this process. It ignited much hilarity, and became known for a while as "I am a Rock."
It is good to do before, not after an intensive despair work process.
The exercise is similar in form to Open Sentences: people sit in pairs and take turns speaking and listening to each other. Each partner responds to two cues in succession, that is Partner A to both and then Partner B.
Before giving the first cue or "open sentence," Joanna usually invites the participants to free themselves from excessive sincerity. That's because it is a little shocking, and one wonders: is it acceptable to actually express this here? So, as she models, the personal expressions that are invited can start almost humorously, with vigorous exaggeration and gallows humor; they get more honest soon enough.
It is helpful, at the start, to provide a rationale: As we relate to what is happening to our world, concern and compassion are not all we feel. There is fed-upness, too, even some strains of callous indifference; if that were not so, we would be living different lives. To be whole, to be present and real, we need to acknowledge those strains as well. To do this helps us identify with what we imagine the larger public feels and preserves us from judgment and self-righteousness as activists.
The first "open sentence" allows us to express the resistance and revulsion that can be aroused in us by the continual onslaught of bad news and the overwhelming array of urgent issues, from terrorism to top soil. A phrase to start off with is : "I'm sick and tired of hearing about..." Or "Don't talk to me about..."; then let it go from there. The scene soon gets loud and often hilarious, and it's good to let the venting go on for at least five minutes.
The second and last Open Sentence is: "I don't want to hear (or think) about all this, because it makes me feel..." Here the mood shifts, as people find themselves expressing the very things they had doubted they felt, or had feared to feel. Allow several minutes for the response. Then the process is repeated with Partner B.
BOWING TO OUR ADVERSARIES
Purpose and background
As we go forth for the healing of our world, there are forces and institutions which we will and must challenge. The men and women who serve these structures will appear as our opponents. Here is a formal group practice which helps to free us from fear and illwill toward such persons, and to ground us in an all-embracing compassion.
Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh encourages his students to express their respect, gratitude, and goodwill by the act of bowing. Because some Westerners are uncomfortable with notion of bowing, he calls it "Touching the Earth"--for their elders and teachers, the Buddha Dharma and the spiritual community, their original faith traditions, their ancestors, their homeplace on the planet. This particular practice for honoring our adversaries was composed by an ordained senior member of his Order of Interbeing, Caitriona Reed.
Everyone stands with enough room in front of them to kneel and touch the ground with hands and forehead. If there is an altar or emblem, like an Earth flag, they can be facing it. The guide reads the text aloud, pausing after each paragraph, at which point everyone (guide included) "touches the Earth"--putting knees, hands, and then head to the floor. Ten paragraphs, ten bows. Some may prefer to do a full prostration; others may choose to abstain from the practice and just listen from the sidelines. Be sure they feel comfortable in doing so. Maintain a slow, unhurried pace throughout.
Touching the Earth for Our Adversaries
By Caitriona Reed
You, who deliberately engage in the destruction of the environment for your own profit, you show me how much I value what is honest, what is generous, what has been clearly thought through, what is expressive of love for this planet home and our human and nonhuman fellow beings. So I bow to you in gratitude and touch the Earth.
You bring forth in me the passion and love I feel for this life-bearing land, its soil, air and waters, and the beings they nurture; the passion I feel for integrity and strong, sustainable community. Because of the strength with which I resist your actions, I have seen how strong my love and passion really are. I bow to you in gratitude and touch the Earth.
Because the pain I feel when I allow myself to witness the pain of the world is no less than your pain--you, who perpetuate destruction and cut yourselves off from needs of the present and the generations of the future, I bow to you in compassion and touch the Earth.
Because the pain of greed, alienation and fear are no less than the pain of sorrow and mourning for what is lost, I bow to you in compassion and touch the Earth.
For the power of my anger, transforming itself into love for the beauty and integrity of all life-forms, and for the bright energy of my passion for justice and the health of all beings, I bow to you in gratitude and touch the Earth.
Because we all want to be happy, to feel ourselves intact and part of a single whole, for that shared longing, I bow to you in compassion and touch the Earth.
Because you challenge me by your actions, demanding that I release my attachment to the belief that my view, my understanding, is the only correct one, I bow to you in gratitude and touch the Earth.
For you who teach me that the mind is a limitless source, a miracle capable of manifesting as love, as greed, as fear, capable of clarity or delusion, blind to the consequence of action or open to the boundless coherence of all that we do and experience in life. For you who show me what I myself am capable of when I let my life be governed by fear and greed, great awesome teachers, I bow to you in gratitude and touch the Earth.
In awe of the mind's capability for delusion and alienation that calls me so insistently to understanding and joy, I bow to you and touch the Earth.
With the understanding that all this will pass and with love in my heart, I bow to you and touch the Earth.
(Download a text file of this practice here.)
This is the protocol which the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois Six Nations Confederacy, used when opening their treaty meetings. Please stand. You may make the following gestures mentally or physically.
We offer salutations and respect to all present at this meeting
and to all who will be affected by it.
We brush off the chairs on which we sit--
to make a clear space for a meeting of minds.
We brush off from our clothing any debris picked up on the way--
to clear our minds of extraneous matters.
We wipe the blood from our hands--
to acknowledge and apologize for any hurt we have inflicted.
We wipe the tears from our eyes--
to acknowledge and forgive any hurt we have received.
We take the lump out of our throats--
to let go of any sadness or disappointment.
We take the tightness out of our chests--
to let go of any fear or resentment.
We acknowledge and pray for guidance
to the Great Creator Spirit of All Life.
Ho. So be it.
(This version is adapted by Ralph Metzner)
I set the stage for the ritual and we had low lights and candles and pillows in the center of the circle. We began walking counterclockwise with people reporting some of the horrors that we live with on this planet. When emotions arose, people went into the center and screamed or cried or just sat as long as they needed to, then rejoined the outer circle that kept walking. I allowed this circle to go on for 20 to 30 minutes as people were really getting into it. At a good stopping place I had everyone stop, find a comfortable place to sit and close their eyes. I then led them in a guided meditation, connecting with energies of earth and sky, allowing them to feel whatever was on the surface and let it wash away. I then set the scenario that when they opened their eyes again, it would be fifty years hence and there had been many changes and miracles in the world and people were now living sustainable, in harmony and balance with all beings. We then all arose and began walking in the circle, this time in the opposite direction, and reporting on what life was like in this positive future from the personal to the collective. It was quite amazing what ensued. People reported things like they stayed home and tended gardens, lived close to loved ones in a small village, biked everywhere or shared alternative energy cars, drummed and danced and told stories each night by the fire, TV had gone extinct, cows were pets and not food, all produce was local and organic, governing bodies were teams, no more nuclear power, etc. etc. Some people danced with glee into the middle of the circle and laughed, some people cried at how much they wanted life to be like this. I allowed the same amount of time for this circle as the despair one. We ended by coming together in circler holding hands, closing eyes while I guided them to see our visions and energies spreading out over the planet and touching the consciousness of all beings. Then opening eyes and giving thanks for all that we had and for each person in the circle.
People were very excited, hopeful and engaged with each other at the end of the evening. Many expressed thanks and wanted to use this process with other groups. I decided to call it 'Walking Through', which is what we did, walk through all the pain, sorrows despair, anger, joy, hope, love.
- Cathy Pedevillano
Gratitude Open Sentences.
This process is done in pairs, according to instructions given for Open Sentences in Chapter 7 of Coming Back to Life (p. 98). Allow about 30 minutes. This is a highly pleasurable activity, and you may well want to invent your own open sentences. I usually use four from these five, and in this order:
1. Some things I love about being alive in Earth are…
2. A place that was magical (or wonderful) to me as a child was….
3. A person who helped me believe in myself is or was….
4. Some things I enjoy doing and making are….
5. Some things I appreciate about myself are…
The Great Unraveling (small groups)
This is a simple sharing exercise for Honoring Our Pain for the World, and follows on an exposition of the the Great Turning and the Great Unraveling. Allow some 30 minutes. Have people cluster in threes or foursomes and tell each other how in their own lives they experience the collective hardships of our time, be they environmental, economic, or social. It is rare that people get a chance to report and reflect on these realities without appearing to complain or assign blame.
Invite them to sit close and take turns reporting to each other in response to a single question: In what ways do you experience in your own life the Great Unraveling (or the planetary crisis)? Find your own phrasing.
Let them speak in turn, following each other, and give them enough time to go around their little circle more than once.
At the conclusion I like to invite people to take notice of the fact that all the concerns they mentioned extend beyond the personal ego, far beyond their individual needs and wants. These concerns demonstrate their capacity to "suffer with" their world, which is an evolutionary advance--and the literal meaning of compassion. It is the fuel we need for the Great Turning.
The Bowl of Tears
This is fine for any size group. Just pour water into a clear glass bowl. Let it represent for you and for the others our tears for the world and all beings. And invite each person, as they pass the bowl to each other, or as they come and sit or kneel before it, to scoop up some water and let it trickle through their fingers. As they do, they can say: "My tears are for…."
Here's a description of this process with a large assembly:
With 250 people participating, we were challenged to invent new forms, especially for the part that's most intense: Honoring Our Pain for theWorld. That session began with poetry and spoken reflections on the power, liberation, and solidarity that comes with owning our collective grief. Then people clustered in foursomes to tell of their experience of the "great unraveling." After that they sang together, over and over like a chant, words of Adrienne Rich put to music by Carolyn McDade.
My heart is moved by all I cannot save.
So much has been destroyed.
I have to cast my lot with those who,
age after age, perversely,
with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.
The second half of that session is omitted on the Findhorn web site, so let me tell you what we did. With lights lowered, images of suffering and breakdown in our world were projected on a large screen, while a wordless, choral lament (from the same "My Heart is Moved" CD by Carolyn McDade) played over and over. On the hall's large, central floor space were set three glass bowls half-filled with water. The ritual consisted of people slowly, randomly, coming down from their seats around the hall to kneel by a bowl, and let its water trickle from their hands and their tears for the world be spoken ("My tears are for…"). As their forms moved about in the semi-darkness, resting here and there on the floor, or returning to their seats, we all seemed to be held by the music, the murmuring around the bowls, the splash of water. Then, when movement had stilled, we slowly processed out of the hall, carrying the Bowls of Tears. Into a garden pond outside the entrance we formally poured them out, reminding ourselves that the pain we feel for the world is no private pathology; it connects us with Earth and each other. "Let us remember: our tears for the world are the tears of Gaia."
This group process helps us to see the larger context of our lives, and to notice and appreciate the many forms of positive change in our time. Undertaken in the gratitude phase of the work, it represents a shift from personal to collective thankfulness. It also provides invaluable information in a lively fashion.
As framework for spontaneous reporting, we take the concept of the Great Turning--the transition from an unsustainable, growth-based political economy to a life-sustaining society, which is the essential revolution of our time. The three key dimensions of the Great Turning (see ch. 1, page 3 ff.) are here symbolized by material objects placed within a circular space. These objects serve as props, as participants inform one another about developments they know about from observation or direct experience.
Be sure that the group is already familiar with the concept of the Great Turning. Clear a circular space, 6 to 10 feet in diameter, around which people sit closely together. Proximity is important, so if numerous, they can crowd in behind each other. Have the group imagine the Wheel divided into three sections. In each section, place an object to symbolize one of the three dimensions of the Great Turning. For the "holding actions" in defense of life, some first-aid material, like rolls of bandaging, works well. For alternative structures, use something organic and alive, like a small branch from a growing plant. For the shift in consciousness, a crystal or a crystal cluster is an evocative symbol, and so is a pair of eyeglasses.
With the guide going first to model, people enter the Wheel of the Great Turning one at a time. Entering one or more sections in any order, they pick up the object there and report to the others, as if letting the object speak. For example, taking the crystal or eyeglasses, they may speak of a vision quest or a study group that has opened new horizons. Holding the roll of gauze bandaging, they might tell of volunteering at a soup kitchen or protesting the corporate global economy. With the fresh budding leaves, they might describe the farmers' market or cooperative child care starting in a neighborhood.
This exercise generates high spirits and is best kept at a lively pace. To accomplish this, and avoid long lecture-like pronouncements, treat it as a ritual. Brief verbal formulae help establish a ritual spirit, while maintaining an energetic tempo. For example, as people enter the Wheel, they may say: "My friends, let me give you an example of the Great Turning." And when they finish, the group may respond: "So it is in the Great Turning."
It's worth noting that the wheel has abundant symbolic and even archetypal significance. The ritual can be enhanced by evoking some of these connections, be they Ezekiel's vision of the wheel within the wheel, the Gandhian spinning wheel which became both national flag and emblem of nonviolence, or the sacred hoop of Native American teachings. When the Buddha taught, he is said to have turned the Wheel of the Dharma, or the Dharma Chakra. His very words set it in motion. In the same fashion, our naming examples and telling stories of this present revolution serves to make it more real to us.
Concepts, Milling, Group Presentations
Purpose: We want to create an active, movement-oriented exercise for the conceptual material of the Model of the Great Turning. We have used this activity twice now in our Seaflow transformational workshop and found that it provokes great dialogue and a lot of laughs.
1. Brief intro– ten minutes; The Model of the Great Turning
What each of the roles in the Great Turning is. How we are all participating in the Great Turning already. (Alternative structures; change in consciousness; holding actions); how each of the three roles in the great turning is important,
2. Milling-- twenty minutes
Description: Milling is a common movement exercise, described by Joanna in "Coming Back to Life." It has a particular value if people are asked to notice what happens inside their own bodies as they move from place to place, or take on different characters. (Dr. Katie Hendricks has been Geo’s great mentor in this work.)
The Model of the Great Turning is a perfect conceptual framework for this form of milling, since the three roles in the Great Turning all are quite distinct from each other. We use different parts of our own body/mind/soul in each role. Guided movement through space can help participants notice how they have to change or adapt in order to move from Holding Actions to Changes in Consciousness to Alternative Structures.
A. movement/exercise: create three areas in the room which are some distance apart. (One for each role) Our workshop has three facilitators, so each one has stood in a different part of the room with a sign indicating which role/position they are taking.
B. participants move slowly through the three different spaces:
Alternative structures; change in consciousness; holding actions
C. Leaders asks: "What do you experience, how do you change, as you move through the different spaces in the room
D. Leaders say, "Choose one of the three spaces and settle into it." Three small groups naturally form.
E. Leader asks question to people in each of the three groups: what are you doing in this group? How did you get here? what do you want to know about this group?
3. Creative Group task: 35 minutes
A. Each group creates a commercial/presentation: fifteen minutes
Presentation answers question: "how would you recruit people into your group? Why is your role in the Great Turning the best and most effective?"
(Can be tv commercial, songs, mime, play, etc.)
B. Each group Presents to group twenty minutes (lots of laughing)
4. Group Council: What did you learn about your role in the Great Turning as a result of this activity. 10-20 minutes.
(Developed by trainers from Seaflow, protect our living oceans. Geo Taylor, Hallie Iglehart Austin, Vivienne Verdon Roe, and Barry Flicker. www.seaflow.org)
This process focuses on our individual lives and helps us see how their basic features and conditions and conditions can serve the healing of the world – almost as if we had chosen them for that purpose. It brings fresh appreciation for the chance to be alive in this planet-time. Like climbing a mountain and looking back on the landscape below, this exercise provides a vantage point that lets us see new things. From that overarching perspective, we can see unsuspected connections and goodness; even our suffering and limitations reveal their value for the work we have come to do.
Another name for this exercise is “The Bodhisattva Check-in,” because it is inspired by the Buddhist teaching of the bodhisattva. Embodying ourmotivation to serve, the bodhisattva does not seek enlightenment in order to exit from this world, but turns back from the gates of nirvana, having vowed to return again and again to be of help to all beings. It is equally useful whether or not we believe in rebirth. The bodhisattva archetype is present in all religions and even all social movements, be it in the guise of suffering servant, worker-priest, shaman, prophet, idealistic revolutionary, or community organizer.
Three introductory stages precede the main body of the exercise. First, the group is invited to contemplate the long panoramic journey of life on Earth. Along with words from the guide, a recording of tonal sound helps open the mind to that journey’s vast expanses of time.
Secondly, the guide tells people they will imagine that they remember how they chose to take birth as a human in this moment of history. (Joanna tells of bodhisattvas and their vow to keep returning to the world to relieve suffering.) Participants are invited to imagine that they are all together somewhere in a time immediately preceding this present life. In this moment, information reaches them about the dangers to life on Earth that have been arising through the twentieth century and reaching a crisis point at the start of the third millennium.
The challenges take many forms – the making and using of nuclear weapons, industrial technologies that poison and waste whole ecosystems, billions of people sinking into poverty – but one thing is clear. A quantum leap in consciousness is required if life is to prevail on Earth. Hearing this, we decide to renew our commitment to life (our bodhisattva vow) and reenter the fray – to birth as humans in the twentieth century, bringing everything we’ve ever learned about courage and community. This is a major decision. And it is a hard decision because there is no guarantee that we will remember why we came back or that we will succeed in our mission. Furthermore, we will feel alone, because we probably won't even recognize each other.
Participants now reflect on their willingness to take a human birth in so challenging a planet-time. They are directed to stand up one by one, when and if they decide they are willing to come back. The guide acknowledges that there may be some who, understandably enough, choose not to get born in so harsh a time. When the guide is confident that everyone who has made this decision is standing, he invites them to start slowly walking around the room. This is the kind of verbal guidance given to people as they are walking.
Every human life is by necessity a particular life. You can't take birth as a generic human, but only as a unique human shaped by particular circumstances. Step into these circumstances now. Imagine that you choose them in awareness of how they will help prepare you for the mission you are coming to perform.
Step into the year of your birth. The timing of your birth allows you to be affected by particular conditions and events…
Step into the place of your birth. What country did you choose? Were you born in a town or a city, or on the land? Which parts of the Earth's body first greeted your eyes?…
Which skin color and ethnicity did you select? And what socio-economic conditions? Both the privileges and the privations resulting from these choices help prepare you for the work you are coming to do…
Into what faith tradition -- or lack of same -- were you born this time? Religious stories and images from childhood -- or the very lack of these -- influence how you see your purpose…
Now here's an important choice: which gender did you adopt this time around? And which sexual preference?…
And now as to your parents: what man did you choose to be your father? What woman your mother? For some of you, this means your adoptive parents as well as your birth parents. Both the strengths and the weaknesses of your parents, both the loving care you received and the hurts you experienced help prepare you for the work you are coming to do…
Are you an only child or do you have siblings in this life? The companionship, the competition or the loneliness that ensued from that choice will foster the unique blend of strengths you bring to your world…
What disabilities did you choose to take on this time? Challenges of body or mind help you to understand and connect with other beings and with our planet…
Certain strengths and passions characterize this life of yours too. Which mental, physical, spiritual appetites did you choose for yourself in this planet-time?…
And lastly, imagining that you can for a moment see it clearly, what particular mission are you coming to perform?…
In this fashion, as people are quietly walking around the room, the guide helps them to use their walking to mark the specific conditions of their birth in this lifetime. Take care to convey that each choice relates to their actual life and not to any fantasized alternative to it. Now invite them to sit in pairs to report to each other, giving each person ten to fifteen minutes.
Now look around you. You did not expect to recognize each other in new and different bodies, but here we are!… Sit down now with one other person…Take turns telling each other about the life you chose this time. This is the bodhisattva check-in.
If possible, schedule this exercise before a break; participants are usually so stimulated by the perspective they have gained that they are eager to keep talking, with their partners and with others, too.
1. Once in a while it happens that one or more individuals do not choose to take birth and do not stand up. In that case, simply proceed as described above, and when it is time for people to "check in," invite them to share as well, either with each other or with you.
2. The notion of having chosen one’s life conditions may be problematic for some people. The idea of taking responsibility for situations that have oppressed them can smack of “blaming the victim.” You as guide may acknowledge this at the outset. Point out that we are not using the verb in its ordinary sense, as in choosing a car or a job, but in the larger or even metaphysical sense, in which we let ourselves accept and see the value of all that has befallen us. Spiritual traditions affirm that true liberation arises when we can embrace the particulars of our lives, and see that they are as right for us as if we had indeed chosen them. In other words, we move in this exercise to a higher level of logical type or discourse.
Variations and further topics
As you become familiar with this exercise, you may wish to add or subtract topics for the bodhisattvas' report. Additional themes can also be addressed in a separate session after the basic choices listed above.
A follow-on session can reflect choices we made in the course of this lifetime, relating for example to educational endeavors, spiritual practices, central relationships, and vocational explorations and commitments.
A beautiful question for a bodhisattva check-in is: "How did you first let your heart be broken?" It is moving to discover how much that query evokes about our lives, our mindsets, our goals.
A recent participant wrote: “I have been thinking a lot about ‘The Bodhisattva’s Choices for this Life.’ I found it very empowering. I consider myself an accountable person. I think of my life in terms of choices I’ve made. Yet I’d never before systematically reviewed all the major choices in my life, and celebrated them for bringing me to this time and place.”
"Corbett," A Going Forth exercise:
Sit together in groups of four.
During a couple minutes of silence, each person allows something to come to mind that they want to do for the Great Turning. If several possibilities arise, choose just one.
Decide who will be Person A. The first round begins as Person A shares what they desire to contribute to the Great Turning. (2 minutes) The other participants listen attentively without comment.
The others in each group now have opportunities to respond, one by one, to A’s offering, while everyone else listens without comment. First, the person on A’s left speaks as the voice of Doubt, stating reasons why A may not accomplish their intention. (2 minutes).
Next, the person across the circle responds as an Ancestor, sharing the feelings and thoughts that arise upon hearing what Person A will be offering to the Great Turning. (2 minutes)
Now, the person on A’s right responds as a Future Being, sharing the feelings and thoughts that arise upon hearing how person A will be participating in the Great Turning. (2 minutes)
Finally, person A has an opportunity to reflect aloud on what they’ve heard, inviting verbal response from others in the group if they wish. (2 minutes)
The role of Person A moves around the circle, with the same sequence of responses.
Upon completion of the 4th round, allow a few minutes for circle members to share with each other.
- Paula Hendrick
T.H. White, in the Sword in the Stone, tells us the story of King Arthur as a boy. I have recounted this in workshops because it portrays the dimensions of power available to us as open interconnected systems.
The wizard Merlin, as Arthur's tutor, schooled the boy in wisdom by turning him into various creatures and had him live, for brief periods, as a falcon, an ant, a wild goose, a badger, a carp in the palace moat .... The time came when the new King of All England was to be chosen; it would be he who could draw the sword from the stone. All the famous knights, who came to the great tournament, went to the churchyard where the stone mysteriously stood, and tried mightily to yank out the sword that was imbedded in it. Heaving and sweating, they competed to prove their superior strength. No deal; tug and curse as they might, the sword did not budge. When the disgruntled knights departed to return to their jousting, Arthur, who was just a teenager then, lingered behind, went up to the stone to try his own luck. Grasping the sword's handle he pulled with all his strength, until he was exhausted and drenched. The sword remained immobile. Glancing around, he saw in the shrubbery surrounding the churchyard the forms of those with whom he had lived and learned. There they were: badger, falcon, ant and the others. As he greeted them with his eyes, he opened again to the powers he had perceived in each of them — the industry, the cunning, the quick boldness, the perseverance ... knowing they were with him, he turned back to the stone and, breathing easy, drew out the sword, as smooth as a knife from butter.
After hearing the story we learn through the following exercise how we, like the boy Arthur, can find our powers enhanced by others.
You have a task before you. It has to do with healing our world. This task often seems impossible to accomplish. It is as difficult as pulling a sword from a boulder. Let this task, for the moment, become the removal of the sword. Feel the grain of the stone — how rough and unyielding it is, how rock-solid the sword is anchored in it right up to the hilt. Feel how it can't be moved by your own desperate attempts. No matter how hard you strain and pull, the sword does not budge.
Now look about your life, as Arthur looked about in the churchyard. See around the edges in the beings who have been important in your life. Some you may live and work with now, some may have lived a long time ago. But their vision and their qualities do not die; they live still. Let these beings appear: loved ones, teachers, saints, leaders, animals that have inspired you. Think of the qualities in each that you love and admire . . . breathe them in .... These qualities are already in you or you would not have recognized them. Feel their energy quickening in you, these friends are smiling at you, reminding you of what you have in common and what is available to you now. The courage, the intellect, the goodness, and power that poured through their lives can also be yours. Feel their energy and insight pour through the web in which we all take being. Breathing in these strengths, reach for the handle of the sword, slowly, easily — now draw it out. See how the sword answers not to your own separate ego-efforts, but to the power of all beings, as you open to them.
After the story and the guided fantasy participants in the group can share with each other the sources from which they draw power.
Who appears in the surrounding bushes of your life and gives you strength to pull the sword from the stone? Who gives you insight and courage? It could be a grandfather or a third grade teacher, Mahatma Gandhi, or Rosa Parks .... The gifts they received from the web of life are available to you as well.
- Write for a copy of "The Thanksgiving Prayer"*
- Make a selection of 6 of these life forms (e.g., Sun, Waters, Fish, Plants)
- Get everybody into small groups of 3 or 4 people
- Leader reads one thanksgiving greeting: For example: "We give thanks to all the Waters of the world for quenching our thirst and providing us with strength. Water is life. We know its power in many forms--waterfall and rain, mists and streams, rivers and oceans. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the spirit of Water."
- Then, in the small groups, each person describes one precious thing that they cherish about that life form, sharing how they experience it and what it means to them.
- The sharing is done popcorn style (in no particular order) within the group.
- When all have had a chance to speak (3 minutes should be enough) everyone repeats together the traditional words: "And now our minds are one."
- After a pause, go on to the next life form, and repeat all steps.
*Originally published as Thanksgiving Address: Greetings to the Natural World by The Tracking Project, P.O. Box 266, Corrales, NM 87048.