Inner Transition As Key to Collective Work

First in a series of three

In my last post I suggested that an internal shift is as critical as the external changes we so desperately need. I’d like to explore that idea further in this series.

While in California last fall I had a conversation with Julia Bystrova, who was developing a series of “inner transition” tools with Transition US.

The Transition movement is a worldwide push to bring communities into a relocalized post-oil economy. The idea is to reduce consumption and embrace local energy, while building food security and resilience.

Transition Linithgow. Photo by John Lord, via Flickr Commons.

Transition Linithgow. Photo by John Lord, via Flickr Commons.

Julia told me that this movement suffers from a particular conflict: Some people want to jump right in and work on projects, while others prioritize the internal transformation process. The first camp gets impatient with the second, which has often been marginalized. Working groups often struggle to collaborate effectively, caught up in conflicts and divisions.

The solution is to give “inner tools” their due, Julia says. Both external output and internal process are valid. And as Julia says, the external is a mirror of the internal. “There needs to be group process that accepts both in a way that is complementary, because we need both.”

Mapping the Transition. Photo by Chris Hill

Mapping the Transition. Photo by Chris Hill, via Flickr Commons.

I tend to agree, having been involved in some groups that struggle to find cohesiveness. Group dynamics are tricky. To my mind, conflict is likely to persist until we each are willing to be present to our own emotional states.

If we walk through life largely unconscious of what triggers our pain, we’ll always be in a reactive mode. People push our buttons, we react, and conflicts escalate, all because we can’t take look honestly at the storms raging within us.

And it’s crucial that we find a way to work together.

Julia Bystrova and author Mary Pipher both say that we are all doing important work now. Even if we think we’re removed from the front lines, we’re not. Because the central task of our time is just that: working toward a healthier ecosystem and a just economy.

Julia believes that societal transformation can happen fast. She envisions a cascade effect that will be breathtaking in its global reach.

She told me that a certain threshold of consciousness is already on its way. With each of us lighting the spark of countless others, Julia believes we will see the world transformed.

Swallowtail. Photo by Heidi Unger.

Swallowtail. Photo by Heidi Unger.

Mary Pipher also expects widespread transformation. As people open to their deepest feelings about the state of the world, she says a shift in consciousness is inevitable. All those awakening hearts will simply mandate deep change.

So much of the news we hear is bad. In some parts of the world, it’s possible for a woman to be stoned to death, or for schoolgirls to be abducted en masse, while here at home mass shootings no longer arouse outrage. Meanwhile an island nation is projected to be entirely underwater by 2020 as Antarctic shrinks. Monarch butterflies are reaching Mexico in drastically reduced numbers—part of “the sixth extinction.

Stories like these can swamp me in despair. But these women’s vision of transformation holds the antidote to hopelessness.

Next: Confronting the shadow.

To be Fueled by Love

Browsing the shelves of Point Reyes Books last month, I picked up Mary Pipher’s latest book. Her Reviving Ophelia illuminated the struggles of adolescent girls. Now she has a book called The Green Boat: Reviving Ourselves in our Capsized Culture, detailing her progression from despair to activism.

A Nebraskan, Pipher was on the front lines of early campaigns to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline from going through the Sandhills. (Three years later, the pipeline is still in limbo, and has become a symbol of the fossil fuel industry’s disastrous impact on the planet.)

Dismal River, Nebraska Sandhills. Photo by USFWS Mountain Prairie, via Wikimedia Commons

Dismal River, Nebraska Sandhills. Photo by USFWS Mountain Prairie, via Wikimedia Commons

Even before opening it, I knew this book would return me to grounding.

I’d been talking with Richard Heinberg about his book The End of Growth, which describes a trajectory that I understand and yet can’t quite face head-on. Seeing it spelled out and hearing him expound on it left me feeling quite scared.

I know that many are pulling together for a better world. But our governmental policies favor the monied corporations running the show. I was starting to doubt that community action could effect change on that level.

Along comes Pipher, describing an activism that’s joyful and even fun. Example: grandmothers gave weekly “thank you in advance” pies to the Nebraska governor until he agreed to meet. This brand of protesting, fueled by love of the land and concern for tomorrow’s denizens, seems the perfect antidote to despair.

A chapter called All Hands on Deck begins with this quote from Frederick Buechner:

“God calls you to the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

To be glad in the face of the world’s rending sometimes seems impossible. Yet I remember opening the church basement doors on the day of our SkillShare and seeing the space instantly fill with participants, their faces alight with curiosity. I think of the heart-cracking instant when a resonant phrase finds my fingers on the keyboard. I recall the joy of putting a garden trowel in the hands of a preschooler.

There’s an expansiveness when I reflect on these moments, a sense of the heart opening that lifts me from powerlessness.

Explaining vermiculture at the Irvington SkillShare. Photo by Jeff Echols.

Explaining vermiculture at the Irvington SkillShare. Photo by Jeff Echols.

Pipher acknowledges the “experts” who downplay the importance of individual actions. They say systemic economic and political changes are necessary to change this trajectory. True enough, but this reasoning is incomplete, says Pipher—for “who is it that is in charge of systemic change?”

She argues that individuals have always been the source of world-changing actions, and what else can one person do but start with herself? And join others in common cause, as did the abolitionists. It’s said that they had no hope of success, at the start.

My small self is quick to tell me what I’m not. I’m no naturalist, no doctor of philosophy, no career activist, no farmer, no wisewoman in a mountain hut. I am just myself. Sometimes I question: What do I have to offer?

I only own this experience, this deep heart of pain and care, grief and fear—and love. 

What do I have to offer? All of it. I offer it up.

[More from Mary Pipher: Read her interview on how to wake up and take action on climate change (and stay sane).]