*This blog is one of two blogs on my experience for ten days in North Carolina at a Work That Reconnects Intensive with Joanna Macy. The time involved discussion and experiential exercises, some of which I describe. Check out more about her and The Work here.
On the Mirroring Exercise*
Sarah, my partner, wrapped her slender arm around my waist, took my hand in hers, and guided me out from the wooden pavilion. My instructions were to shut my eyes, as I wouldn’t need them anymore.
In silence, Sarah guided me through a breeze, sunshine on my closed eyes, across crunchy terrain and a soft squish, squish, squish. My eyes were closed; my feet came awake. From my toes and heels through my legs and core—when was the last time I knew as much from my feet? I had thought without my eyes my feet would be lost. To my surprise, they knew how to see. They knew how to listen. As we continued onward, they delighted in their newfound responsibility, relaying information to the rest of my body about the ground that supported me.
After a while of quiet walking, we paused. Without a word, Sarah tapped the back of my leg, and I felt myself crouching down. Gently she guided my hand to something on the ground—smooth, cool ridges, I traced my fingers over its contour, over the bumps and unexpected plunge into soft spongy-ness. I stayed here for a while, my fingers delighting in this discovery. And then we rose and continued on. After a while, we stopped again, and this time Sarah tilted my chin up, and instructed, “Open your eyes and look in the mirror.” And there my reflection was—branches and leaves illuminated by the twinkling sunshine that filtered through them. The varying shades of green splayed out in front of my eyes: my strength, my resilience to reach ever higher for nourishment. I gazed at my own beauty, taking in the details.
This wasn’t what I was taught growing up. In fact, I was taught quite the opposite: from growing up in a paved suburbia to spending time among tall buildings to buying food at the grocery store to watching movies with monstrous spiders and snakes. I ingested all this, unknowingly growing into a woman who believed that the earth was ours to control, conquer, ours to use and manipulate for human profit and comfort. There were creatures out there that would harm me; it was a rough place, and the way to survive was to dominate it. In her book World as Lover, World as Self, Joanna Macy calls this perspective viewing the world as a trap. The goal is to “disentangle ourselves and escape from this messy world,” with focus on the afterlife awaiting us (p. 21).
So this was new: this closed-eye wandering and trusting and feeling with my hands without first checking to see if it was “safe.” As Sarah guided me, it was as if I was re-born. Everything was beautiful and alive and breathing. The smells were enchanting, the textures curious and complex.
And what if I opened my eyes and looked in the mirror and truly believed that the Pecan tree before me was me? How might it change me?
I came back from ten days in North Carolina ready to give up my view of the world as a trap and adopt another perspective which Joanna mentions in her book: world as self. This isn’t about giving up my individuality, she points out, because living systems need diverse parts to thrive. It isn’t about forgetting my interests or passions to mindlessly join a campaign. It is about thinking about what energy I use, what I consume, how much waste I produce. It is about confronting corporations and the government about how much destruction we are wrecking on our planet, on our own being, our own body. And it is about taking part in the creation of a community and world that is life-giving as an alternative to our current way which is life-destroying. New structures and systems must arise so that we have alternatives to all that is failing us.
Will you take part with me? If I were with you now, I would guide you silently to that majestic Pecan tree I grew to love over my time at The Stone House retreat center. I would place your hand on its rough skin, tilt your chin up towards the sky, and whisper in your ear. Since I’m not with you, I invite you to stop whatever you’re doing right now, leave your computer, and go outside, just for a moment. Find a tree or flower and really look at it, just for a moment. If you can’t find one, reach down and touch the ground with your hand for a moment. Open your eyes.
I dare you to let what you see change you.
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