The World is Changing, and So Are We: Interhelp Community Meeting
By Carol Harley
Change is hard. I want to cling to the known, the familiar. What can we count on, anymore? Earth forces like gravity. Sunrise, sunset. Spirals — intrinsic to life, broad as the universe.
I’m partnering with outgoing newsletter editor Paula Hendrick to bring you this first missive of 2022. Read on for a summary of, and reflections on, the Interhelp Community Meeting held on January 22 — and save the date: April 24! See below.
Summary: Spiral Presence
Now, and into the future of this nonprofit as it evolves, we understand that the Work That Reconnects is core to this community. Planner-facilitators of the two-hour virtual meeting on 1/22 (Anne Goodwin, Aravinda Ananda, Joseph Rotella and Markie Babbott) wisely chose a spiral path format.
Joseph provided a welcome. Anne framed our complex moment. She briefly outlined a history of the past two years, such as how Council members solicited input from the wider community and met to discern a path forward. (Details were shared/are available.*) Anne used the analogy of a turn in the river to evoke this current time.
Daniel Kieval taught us a song written by Carol Anshien / Tzurah Miriam, “Oh The World Is Changing,” that was just right. And we sang whatever imperfect harmonies we chose, with muted mics.
In small groups, we shared simple gratitudes and brought that energy back into the full group. The “word cloud” pictured here, created by Markie, comprises what participants chose to speak into this virtual circle of community.
Markie also brought the useful metaphor of Interhelp as a tree with deep roots, and we grounded together. (Big thanks to Markie for offering to bring together the trees with many rings, and the younger saplings, for the benefit of the whole forest!)
Dialogue: Evolution of Interhelp
As the afternoon progressed, Aravinda invited a public dialogue with Sarah Pirtle, expressing gratitude for the many people who have been a part of the river that is this ever-changing organization. Using Anne’s characterization of this time in Interhelp’s history as a turn in the river, Aravinda called attention to how we journey together “as patterns that perpetuate — a flow of matter, information and energy.”
They discussed Interhelp’s evolution, Sarah noting that it was an “egalitarian, not hierarchical” structure. Yet it made deliberate ways to share leadership roles.
This next part is key to where we find ourselves today:
While co-facilitating Interhelp’s first Earth Leadership Cohort (ELC) in 2014, Aravinda experienced a “wakeup call” about harms that can happen to people of color in a white-dominant space. She began to see how people have not been equally represented, and questioned how a practice called “reconnecting” could feel so exclusionary.
We need to tend to our social spaces. Healing is also needed for the “human/earth split” so evident in our dominant cultural paradigm. Aravinda has dedicated herself to learning how to evolve the Work That Reconnects to be inclusive for more people, while “hearing within us the sounds of the Earth crying.”
“What we most need to do is to hear within us the sounds of the Earth crying.”
–Thich Nhat Hanh
Sarah and Aravinda discussed aspects of the organization’s history, e.g., changes in east- and west-coast presence, whether paid staff or all-volunteer leadership, and its expansion and contraction over time. Sarah remarked on one difficulty that arose years ago when there was a lack of financial transparency, and stressed the importance of transparency going forward. She cautioned people to not be “conflict-averse” and expressed gratitude for the “huge integrity” of Council members.
“This intentional turning point looks so healthy,” Sarah said — to add depth and meaning by weaving in the strands of anti-oppression work and to center anti-racism.
With thanks to Sarah for lifting up transparency and accountability, Aravinda affirmed she is “excited to turn toward the hard stuff,” making plans and choices based on skills and capacities the community can draw upon as a new chapter unfolds. For example, she is excited about the possibility of writing some grants for anti-oppression work. Also, there’s a possibility of re-opening and updating the 2018-19 “micro-grant” offering for facilitators who need support to offer workshops.
Emerging Vision / Gratitudes
Back in the larger group, energy was building for Going Forth.
“The door is open,” Aravinda said. “How do you want to be involved?”
New Council member Janna Diamond (ELC II; program assistant ELC III) spoke of feeling deeply honored to join the network in a leadership position. Mary Tauras invited input on a database of opportunities to apply for grants (see her reflection below, with more detail).
Just as there’s a need to add leader-collaborators, room is being made by three who are now retired from the Council. Anne, Daniel and Paula stepped down formally, but take heart! They will remain with the community in various ways such as facilitating groups and providing behind-the-scenes support.
Paula extended an invitation for someone who might want to take on communications tasks. She plans to continue, for now, making email announcements. (Send her your events!)
I, and the Council members — and the community as a whole — want to extend our heartiest thanks to Anne, Daniel and Paula for their years of contributions and commitment!
Reflections and Takeaways
(See also the article below, from Marcia Berry.)
“I was very grateful to be brought up to date about changes at Interhelp and WTR with both leadership changing and actively embracing anti-racism as the way to remain relevant while ensuring that WTR provides a safe space for all who are drawn to the work. For me personally these gatherings are like oxygen for my soul to be with these people I have come to know and who are so passionate about protecting the Earth. It is the only group where I truly feel understood and accepted, where I can freely express my grief and anger without holding back. It is a blessing in my life.” — Natalie Johnson
“It was very enjoyable to re-connect (please excuse the pun) with a good number of WTR friends I hadn’t seen since before Covid; and helpful to hear about the latest situation with Interhelp and the council, and future plans. However, there was no chance for us to answer the questions sent to us participants, about our views on the future of Interhelp. So I urge that the council set up another meeting — maybe in 2-3 months — for us all to share our answers to those questions.” — John MacDougall
“It was so wonderful to reconnect with folks who are into reality — that’s my main takeaway. Most everyone I have contact with (not that many people) are living with blinders on, and it was so nice to just be there, with 20 other blinderless people.” — Malik Haig
“With deep appreciation and care for the network since ELC V and coming out of this past gathering, I wanted to reflect back; centering undoing the impacts of systemic oppression and lack of representation more intentionally in this work and network will help us ensure we are a part of the Great Turning not just for ourselves or people in our immediate networks, but for all of our human and nonhuman relations. I truly believe these expanded offerings will lead to more widening circles and empower more capacity to catalyze the Great Turning further.
I would like to support the Council and network in strategizing and building tools for resource development toward these goals and ask any network members: if you have grant writing experience, foundation or donor community relationships, and/or know of funding opportunities for aspects of this work, to email the Council members or myself at firstname.lastname@example.org Depending on the approach and resources available for this work, you may see more from me in the coming months.” — Mary Tauras, member of Earth Leadership Cohort V
What’s Next? Save the Date!
You will soon hear more about plans and milestones. For now, please save Sunday, April 24, 2:00-4:00 p.m. for another community meeting. Watch your Inbox for further information. We look forward to seeing you there!
In the meantime, your prayers, energy and support are all needed during this exciting time. Please consider making a donation.
*See writeup sent to the Interhelp list January 20, 2022 or let me know if you need a copy.
Welcome New Council Members
Markie Babbott is honored to join the Interhelp board. She recognizes both the deep and broad root system established by so many in Interhelp over the decades as well as the possibilities for continued evolution into the future. Since 2007, she has participated in WTR workshops as well as co-facilitated the Earth Leadership Cohort programs (ELC I-V). Areas of interest include: the intersectionality of climate and social justice, ecopsychology, ritual, creative arts and play. She’s a clinical psychologist in western Massachusetts and integrates neuroscience, trauma-informed approaches, feminist/queer theory, mind/body techniques and humor into the psychotherapy. A published poet, she volunteers with the Connecticut Watershed branch of River of Words, a place-based educational approach that integrates poetry and visual art for K-12 students.
Janna Diamond (she/her) is thrilled to be a part of supporting the next wave of Interhelp’s evolution. As a participant in ELC II, assistant for ELC III, and WTR facilitator, she’s honored to bring her whole self to the task ahead. Janna is a somatic practitioner working at the intersection of trauma healing, consciousness, culture building, and the climate crisis. Her body of work, Evolutionary Somatic Practice, focuses on helping people to cultivate inner resources for collective evolution. She has a private therapeutic practice and leads groups internationally, including most recent programming for Yale University, Extinction Rebellion, The Hive Cincinnati, Georgia Interfaith Power & Light, and numerous faith-based organizations.
Celebrating Outgoing Council Members!
You are invited to send your reminiscences and reflections on time you enjoyed with Paula Hendrick, Anne Goodwin and/or Daniel Kieval related to Work That Reconnects. (And/or general appreciations!) Please send to interhelpnetwork [at] gmail.com before March 31.
Reflections on Interhelp Community Meeting
By Marcia Berry
Nature offered perfect analogies in the sharings throughout the day. I especially resonated with the phrases “turn in the river” and “rings in the tree” to call to mind the course of Interhelp’s evolving journey.
We expressed deep gratitude for the long, loving, and steadfast service Interhelp leaders have given, which has been an on-going source of nurturing and development for this community.
As I was reflecting on this “turn in the river,” one of my favorite Desmond Tutu quotes came to mind. He said: “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”
I think the commitment to undertake anti-oppression and anti-racism work is doing just that – systemic thinking to get to root causes. To me, the “turn in the river” is the awakening of the group consciousness to the need to examine how we create inclusive and welcoming spaces for everyone. This awakening occurs at different times for different people – and awareness is usually closely associated with where one is positioned in the hierarchies society has created.
For example, Aravinda shared how the withdrawal of a BIPOC youth from an early Earth Leadership Cohort woke her up and served as a turning point for her own journey. It highlighted the need to tend our social spaces and led to the creation of the anti-oppression resource group.
Desmond Tutu is calling upon people to examine root cause and make transformative change. To me, the sincere undertaking of anti-oppression and anti-racism work exemplifies that exploration. That means people in Interhelp – and more widely engaged in the Work that Reconnects – undertaking an examination of themselves, our work, and how we come together in community. This involves scrutiny of our spaces, our practices, our language, our thoughts, our habits, our conditioned beliefs (relative to how we are positioned in a society with embedded hierarchies), our programs, and our lives.
We are participating in a learning journey that will allow us to create a liberating environment and circle where all voices are heard, all people are seen, everyone feels welcome, included, and can feel a sense of belonging. This means we are also learning to take great care to notice and repair harms that may arise from unintentional behaviors due to social conditioning.
If we only look at superficial things, or simply change a practice or two based on each individual case of harm, then we are doing the equivalent of just “pulling people out of the river.” It feels like we are “seeing with new eyes” by going upstream to the root causes of white supremacy and seeking to eradicate it and liberate ourselves from it.
Going forth, I hope everyone welcomes the expansion of the work. The song we sang together calls us forth in the right spirit: “Oh the world is changing and I am changing with it.”