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New Practices


The Whole Spiral


The books, Coming Back to Life, World as Lover, World as Self, and Thinking Like a Mountain, describe many forms of experiential group work relating to deep ecology, deep time, and despair and empowerment. Described below are additional practices that have evolved in our workshops and that have not yet been published.


The Whole Spiral

The Whole Spiral

The Whole Spiral

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.


Gratitude Practice

Coming from Gratitude
  • 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

The Haudenosaunee Protocol

Coming from Gratitude
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)


Honoring Our Pain in the World
(20 minutes)

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.


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The Bowl of Tears

Honoring Our Pain in the World

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.

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The Bodhisattva Check-in or "My Choices for This Life" (current form)

Seeing with New Eyes
The Bodhisattva Check-in or "My Choices for This Life" (current form)

60 minutes


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.

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Envisioning the Future

Seeing with New Eyes
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.

Chris Johnstone


"Corbett," A Going Forth exercise

Going Forth

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


Redwoods Meditation

Coming from Gratitude


An amazing gift: when I gave the dharma talk at the Common Ground Meditation Center last Friday night, I opened with the Redwoods meditation. During the reception, a young man came up and thanked me heartily for bringing the Redwood into our beings as I did. He had lived in solitude for a month in top of a Redwood and then spent 6 more months with other tree people in a forest. Nick and I are going to have tea together this week and talk about what kind of a piece we can put together and take into the community. Exciting! It was such an honor to present your teachings, Joanna, to about 110 people in a 2 hour sit and dharma talk. The center director told me it was one of the most moving dharma talks they've had. So, just another little story for you about how your work is moving through the world. Love, Kaia

Download Redwoods Meditation PDF


Gratitude Open Sentences

Coming from Gratitude
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)

Honoring Our Pain in the World

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.


Cathy's Circle

Honoring Our Pain in the World
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


The Sword in the Stone: How Others Empower Us

Seeing with New Eyes
(30-40 minutes)

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.

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Seaflow's Great Turning Exercise

Seeing with New Eyes
(approximately 90 minutes)

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.


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Wheel of the Great Turning

Seeing with New Eyes
(30 - 90 minutes)


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.

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Bowing to our Adversaries

Going Forth

Touching the Earth for Our Adversaries

As we go forth in the Great Turning, there are systems and institutions that we will and must challenge. The men and women who serve these structures may appear as our opponents, but they are likely in bondage to our true opponents: organized forms of greed, hatred, and delusion.  Here is a practice that helps to free us from fear and ill will toward such people.

Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh encourages his students to express their respect, gratitude, and goodwill by the act of bowing– to their elders and teachers, the Buddha Dharma and the spiritual community, their original faith traditions, their ancestors, their home place on the planet. Because some Westerners are uncomfortable with notion of bowing, he calls it “Touching the Earth.  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. Or if they prefer, people can simply bow from the waist.  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.” Let each bow be marked by a bell or gong.  Maintain a slow, unhurried pace throughout.

We begin by bowing to the Earth, in gratitude for life itself.  Then we bow to the ancestors and teachers we revere, and, after that, to all our companions in the Great Turning.  Now the bows to our adversaries begin.

You, who destroy the natural world for profit, you show me how much I respect and honor our planet home and fellow beings. So I bow to you in gratitude and touch the Earth.

You bring forth in me the love I feel for this life-bearing land—its soil, air and waters—and for the community that rises in its defense.  Because of the strength with which I resist your actions, I learn how strong my love really is. I bow to you in gratitude and touch the Earth.

Because the pain I feel when I witness the pain of the world is no less than your pain–you, who perpetuate destruction and cut yourselves off from the web of life—I bow to you in compassion and touch the Earth.

Because the pain of greed, alienation and fear is no less than the pain of sorrow for what is lost, I bow to you in compassion and touch the Earth.

For the power of my anger, arising from love for the beauty and integrity of all life-forms, and for the bright energy of my passion for justice, I bow to you in gratitude and touch the Earth.

Because we all want to be happy, to feel intact and part of a single whole, for that shared longing, I bow to you in compassion and touch the Earth.

Because your actions challenge me to see the limits to my own understanding, they help me detach from my view as the only correct one.  I bow to you in gratitude and touch the Earth.

You who teach me that the mind is a miracle, capable of manifesting as love, as greed, as fear, as clarity or delusion—you who show me what I myself am capable of when I am governed by fear and greed—O great awesome teachers, I bow to you in gratitude and touch the Earth.

With the understanding of our mutual belonging in the web of life, and with love in my heart, I bow to you and touch the Earth.

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