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The Work That Reconnects

The Work

Since its inception in the late 1970s, it has helped countless thousands of people around the globe find solidarity and courage to act despite rapidly worsening social and ecological conditions.

This work is also known as Deep Ecology Work (as in Germany, Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan), Active Hope (as in Japan) and Despair and Empowerment Work (as it was known in its first years).

This work can be done alone and has enriched many individual lives, but it is designed for groups. Its effect is deeper and more enduring when experienced interactively with others, for its approach is improvisational and its impact is synergistic.

The Work that Reconnects has been developed over several decades by Joanna Macy, John Seed, Molly Young Brown with the help of Arne Næss and many others. Drawing upon their inspiring lead it is now being developed and facilitated across many continents by a wide range of facilitators.


Conceptual Foundation

The Work That Reconnects is informed by Deep Ecology, systems thinking, Gaia theory, and spiritual traditions (especially Buddhist and indigenous teachings), psychology, as well as group wisdom from earlier workshops. Common to all of these is a non-linear view of reality. It illuminates the mutuality at play in self-organizing systems, and unleashes the power of reciprocity.

Furthermore, central to our use of systems thinking is the recognition that self-reflexive consciousness is a function of choice-making. Whatever the limitations of our life, we are still free to choose which version of reality –or story about our world– we value and want to serve. We can choose to align with business as usual, the unraveling of living systems, or the creation of a life-sustaining society.


Structure of the Work

The experiential work follows a spiral sequence flowing through four stages beginning with gratitude, then, honoring our pain for the world, seeing with fresh eyes, and finally, going forth.

These consecutive stages reflect a natural sequence  common to psychological growth and spiritual transformation. The Spiral is like a fractal, governing the overall structure of the workshop while also arising in its component parts. Within a given workshop, we can move through the Spiral more than once, and become aware that with every cycling through, each stage can yield new and deeper meanings.

The critical passage or hinge of the workshop happens when, instead of privatizing, repressing and pathologizing our pain for the world (be it fear, grief, outrage or despair), we honor it. We learn to re-frame it as suffering-with or compassion. This brings us back to life.

The Workshop is participant centered and invites to work through and develop their own voice. With activities that match each group individually, from mindfulness training to speaking the truth about the current ecological crisis.
Each part of the workshop is put together to both get participants to interact physically and verbally with each other to develop a shared sense of compassion and understanding of self that leads to taking action individually and as a group.
The work was built with the primary goal of helping activists recover from burn out and inspire communities to take action. But can be adapted to organizations that wish to make a impact on the climate crisis. In the later years the work has been developed to greatly include work with undoing oppression / decolonization  and working with communities of color. To help heal the deep-rooted divide.



The transformation of consciousness and the development of an ecological sensibility lie at the heart of a sustainable future.

Drawing on the teachings of deep ecology, systems sciences, and the Dharma, the “Work that Reconnects” comprises tools and practices which offer key insights into how we can work together to support a shift in our hearts and minds, our lives and our society that is truly life-sustaining.

Individual and group exercises, meditation, discussion, and reflection, engage the body, heart, imagination and intellect to explore how we can transform these insights and understandings into a lived reality – from the spiritual to the social, the political to the personal, and the imaginative to the inspirational!

Workshops have varied in length from an evening to a full lunar cycle.

​From the first public workshop in 1978 it has been the aim of the Work to help people trust their raw experience and give voice to what they see and feel is happening to their world. Its interactive exercises frequently involve role-play and a shift in assumed identity; the Work aims to engage and expand people’s moral imagination, bringing wider perspectives on our world, while fostering both compassion and creativity.

Image by Chris Lawton

Honoring our Pain

The Work that Reconnects includes despair work through which we discover how our pain for the world and each other actually reveals our interconnectedness and can become a source which energizes our action on behalf of the world.

Joanna Macy suggests that “as a society, we are caught between a sense of impending apocalypse and the fear of acknowledging it. In this 'caught' place our responses are blocked and confused.” She thinks we are leading 'double lives': “On one level we maintain a more or less upbeat capacity to carry on as usual…. and all the while, underneath, there is this inchoate knowledge that our world could go at any moment.

Awesome and unprecedented in the history of humanity, it lurks there, with an anguish beyond the naming. Unless we find ways of acknowledging and integrating that level of anguished awareness, we repress it; and with that repression, we are drained of the energy we need for action and clear thinking.”


A Deeper Sense of Time

The work also supports us in opening up to a deeper awareness of time. Liberating ourselves from the alienation of ever shorter attention spans and the need for immediate results, we can weave ourselves into a deep time awareness.

From that, we learn to draw on the strengths of the ancestors and keep in heart the future beings who will come after us. This deep time context both strengthens us and helps us to engage wholeheartedly in a process of change in the world that has a long precedent before us and will continue beyond our own individual lifetimes.
Similarly, the work offer tools to help us to heal our alienation from the biosphere, the rich community of beings with which we share the planet and our evolutionary heritage.

In opening up our ecological consciousness this identification with the community of life also is also a source of nourishment and strength. We can find great joy and inspiration in this renewed solidarity with life.

Image by Marco Mons
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