Workbook for Change: Questions and Practice for Learning from the Past

(See here and here for an explanation, below the exercise for guidelines on doing this yourselves.)

Q: Have you already given up an activity, a system or an institution—or actively tried to destroy it—that benefited you, because of how much it hurts other people?

What was it?

What did you lose by giving it up or breaking it down?

What else happened because of this choice?

Is it a choice you have to make over and over?

What did it feel like the first time you made it?

How has that feeling changed?

When will you have to make that choice again?

Or, if you haven’t made it yet, when do think your next chance to choose will be?

*

PRACTICE: This one may vary depending on people’s answers to the above question

If you aren’t yet: Choose something you’re involved in, and that you and other people are harmed by, that you would like to explore giving up, tearing down or letting go. Learn more about its history and about the history of people fighting it. Learn about each other’s, with people in the group, or choose one together. If possible, learn about it with other people who are involved in it as well—if it’s your career, for example, this might mean inviting people at your workplace to learn this history with you, in addition to (or instead of) learning with the people you usually practice with.

GOOD TO DO

  • Choose the questions and/or practices you want to do at least a few days before getting together to do them. This means that people have time to feel their way into them and no one is surprised. The reasons for doing them—outlined above—should also be really clear before you do them.
  • If it’s a short gathering or if you have other things to work on, limit it to one question set or one practice.
  • Whatever ways you have of looking out for each other while you’re together also apply here. If you don’t have ways of doing that on purpose, developing them before you begin would be a good idea.
  • Have snacks around during the practice, and share a meal at the end. Do this even if you’re doing it remotely and can’t literally hand each other food.
  • Remind each other that it’s okay to do the questions or practices in a way that makes sense for you, which might mean changing them a little.
  • Every so often, offer or take the option to say how you’re feeling in your body, without needing to explain why.
  • Take both formal/guided breaks where you move, breathe, or otherwise remind yourselves and each other that you live in your bodies on earth, and regular breaks where people can walk around, go pee, have a cigarette, whatever.
  • Remember that people’s different histories may make these questions and practices difficult for them in different ways and amounts. Choosing a story to share, thinking in a different way, remembering and feeling can all be stressful. Be patient with yourself and others.
  • Try to keep your attention in the room you’re in and with the people you’re with. People may go “in and out” a little bit in their attention if what you’re doing is stressful for them, and that is okay.
  • Wind down at the end by asking people to say something about what they want to leave behind and something they want to carry with them, or something similar to help people return to their day or night.
IMAGE: Three or four baby wild turkeys pecking for food in short grass, in a mix of sunlight and shade. It often seems like turkeys couldn’t possibly learn all that well, but every year, more turkeys are born.

Thank you to the Assembly of Light Choir for testing these questions out with me.

Workbook for Change: Questions and Practice for Making a Place for Grief

(See here and here for an explanation, below the exercise for guidelines on doing this yourselves.)

Q: What is a loss you’ve lived through that you can talk about?

What is a loss you know you could live through if it happened?

What power, knowledge, or freedom has your grief given you?

How can the grieving and the not-yet-grieving hear each other?

PRACTICE: Stand facing each other. Thinking of losses you have felt or fear or are enraged by, someone will start by making a quiet wail or moan, and others will join in. Add your voices, listening and matching the sounds, tones and loudness, making these more intense when it feels right to do so, until you are all as loud, wild and mournful as you can be. Someone can then start bringing the tone and loudness down, until everyone is quiet again. You can do this once or multiple times.

GOOD TO DO

  • Choose the questions and/or practices you want to do at least a few days before getting together to do them. This means that people have time to feel their way into them and no one is surprised. The reasons for doing them—outlined above—should also be really clear before you do them.
  • If it’s a short gathering or if you have other things to work on, limit it to one question set or one practice.
  • Whatever ways you have of looking out for each other while you’re together also apply here. If you don’t have ways of doing that on purpose, developing them before you begin would be a good idea.
  • Have snacks around during the practice, and share a meal at the end. Do this even if you’re doing it remotely and can’t literally hand each other food.
  • Remind each other that it’s okay to do the questions or practices in a way that makes sense for you, which might mean changing them a little.
  • Every so often, offer or take the option to say how you’re feeling in your body, without needing to explain why.
  • Take both formal/guided breaks where you move, breathe, or otherwise remind yourselves and each other that you live in your bodies on earth, and regular breaks where people can walk around, go pee, have a cigarette, whatever.
  • Remember that people’s different histories may make these questions and practices difficult for them in different ways and amounts. Choosing a story to share, thinking in a different way, remembering and feeling can all be stressful. Be patient with yourself and others.
  • Try to keep your attention in the room you’re in and with the people you’re with. People may go “in and out” a little bit in their attention if what you’re doing is stressful for them, and that is okay.
  • Wind down at the end by asking people to say something about what they want to leave behind and something they want to carry with them, or something similar to help people return to their day or night.

IMAGE: A flat expanse of sand where saltgrasses used to grow, but nothing is growing right now, with strips of vegetation and water in the distance.

Thank you to Janice and to the various crews of We Gather and Interdependence Days for trying out parts of this exercise with me.

Workbook for Change: Questions and Practice for Re-Entering Your Surroundings

(See here and here for an explanation, below the exercise for guidelines on doing this yourselves.)

Q: What reminds you of the truth that you are part of nature?

What distract you from it or leads you to forget it?

What is the cost of forgetting it?

What is the cost of remembering it?

PRACTICE: Stand (if you are able) or sit, recline, etc. with others and close your eyes.

Feel gravity and envision the earth holding you to itself.

Feel your heartbeat and envision water flowing through you.

Feel your breathing and envision air holding you up and outward.

Open your eyes and look at the people you are with.

GOOD TO DO

  • Choose the questions and/or practices you want to do at least a few days before getting together to do them. This means that people have time to feel their way into them and no one is surprised. The reasons for doing them—outlined above—should also be really clear before you do them.
  • If it’s a short gathering or if you have other things to work on, limit it to one question set or one practice.
  • Whatever ways you have of looking out for each other while you’re together also apply here. If you don’t have ways of doing that on purpose, developing them before you begin would be a good idea.
  • Have snacks around during the practice, and share a meal at the end. Do this even if you’re doing it remotely and can’t literally hand each other food.
  • Remind each other that it’s okay to do the questions or practices in a way that makes sense for you, which might mean changing them a little.
  • Every so often, offer or take the option to say how you’re feeling in your body, without needing to explain why.
  • Take both formal/guided breaks where you move, breathe, or otherwise remind yourselves and each other that you live in your bodies on earth, and regular breaks where people can walk around, go pee, have a cigarette, whatever.
  • Remember that people’s different histories may make these questions and practices difficult for them in different ways and amounts. Choosing a story to share, thinking in a different way, remembering and feeling can all be stressful. Be patient with yourself and others.
  • Try to keep your attention in the room you’re in and with the people you’re with. People may go “in and out” a little bit in their attention if what you’re doing is stressful for them, and that is okay.
  • Wind down at the end by asking people to say something about what they want to leave behind and something they want to carry with them, or something similar to help people return to their day or night.
IMAGE: Black trumpet fungus growing near moss, twigs, dead leaves and other small plants.

Thank you to the Assembly of Light Choir for testing this exercise out with me, and Monster Trux for trying it out on their own.

Workbook for Change: Questions and Practice for Thinking Ahead

(See here and here for an explanation, below for guidelines on doing this yourselves.)

QUESTIONS AND PRACTICE FOR THINKING AHEAD

QUESTIONS:

Where do you see yourself in five years?

What parts of your life does your answer include?

What parts does it leave out?

What do you see when you turn your attention to those parts?

Who taught you to see the future?

Whose stories about the future have you been listening to?

What would you hear if those stories were silent?

*

PRACTICE: Take turns choosing one element of the future you’ve imagined for yourself, and write a “budget” for it—everything that would have to come toward you in money, and also time, the effort or work of others, air and food and water, everything that you don’t control that would have to stay true or become true—and the effects that it will have on you and on the world around you. Which costs of this future will you pay? Which will be outsourced to others?

The goal of this practice is to do all of the math around your dream or vision—not just the part that touches you directly. The people whose turn it isn’t should suggest things to take into account, speaking without judgment.

GOOD TO DO

  • Choose the questions and/or practices you want to do at least a few days before getting together to do them. This means that people have time to feel their way into them and no one is surprised. The reasons for doing them—outlined above—should also be really clear before you do them.
  • If it’s a short gathering or if you have other things to work on, limit it to one question set or one practice.
  • Whatever ways you have of looking out for each other while you’re together also apply here. If you don’t have ways of doing that on purpose, developing them before you begin would be a good idea.
  • Have snacks around during the practice, and share a meal at the end. Do this even if you’re doing it remotely and can’t literally hand each other food.
  • Remind each other that it’s okay to do the questions or practices in a way that makes sense for you, which might mean changing them a little.
  • Every so often, offer or take the option to say how you’re feeling in your body, without needing to explain why.
  • Take both formal/guided breaks where you move, breathe, or otherwise remind yourselves and each other that you live in your bodies on earth, and regular breaks where people can walk around, go pee, have a cigarette, whatever.
  • Remember that people’s different histories may make these questions and practices difficult for them in different ways and amounts. Choosing a story to share, thinking in a different way, remembering and feeling can all be stressful. Be patient with yourself and others.
  • Try to keep your attention in the room you’re in and with the people you’re with. People may go “in and out” a little bit in their attention if what you’re doing is stressful for them, and that is okay.
  • Wind down at the end by asking people to say something about what they want to leave behind and something they want to carry with them, or something similar to help people return to their day or night.
IMAGE: A grapevine seen from below, with vines, leaves, sunlight coming through, and grapes just starting.

Thank you to Monster Trux for testing this exercise out and telling me how it went.

Workbook for Change: How I’m Weaving It

I’m weaving insights from conversations with many wise and brave people, at the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth and elsewhere, into a workbook for change: exercises to adapt our minds, feelings & relationships to the kind of action that climate change and other, related crises require of us. I’m looking for existing groups of people to try out these exercises so that I know whether and how they work for people; over the next few days, I’ll post a few that people have already tested and given me feedback on.

What’s below is an outline of the methods and I’m using to put the workbook together, and guidelines for doing the exercises (which will also appear whenever I post one). Please comment with any questions that aren’t answered here.

THE WHAT AND THE HOW

The questions and practices in this workbook are to help us imagine and practice living in, with, and through the changes that climate change is bringing to our lives, and to become who we need to be to meet them together. The questions are to expand our sense of what’s happening, how we’re reacting, and what’s possible. The practices are to—well, practice—thinking, feeling and acting in ways that may benefit us differently than the ways we’re used to.

You will want to ask and answer these questions, and do these practices, with people you already have some trust with: some of the questions are harder to answer than others, different ones will be hard for different people, and not every question and practice may work well for every group. It may also be better if they’re people you already meet with regularly for another reason, so that you can use the ways of organizing yourselves and looking out for each other that you already have. But if that’s not possible, using these as a reason to start meeting together is okay too.

The guidelines that follow are to help you set yourselves up to do these things together. Trying them out will help me revise them to be better for more people, to make them more widely available, and eventually to include them as part of a longer book on living in climate change. All of the sections will eventually have more in them!

Some of the practices, especially, are based on exercises developed by others; where that’s true, you will see those people’s or organizations’ names along with the name of the question set and practice. I am seeking their consent to include it in the published version. A list of ways to learn more about those people and organizations will be at the end of the workbook eventually. I’m working with an accessibility consultant to make sure that there will be multiple exercises that are doable for many people with various disabilities, but that process is not complete and what makes an exercise doable for some may make it impossible for others. I will also work with translators to make the exercises available in that respect.

While everyone’s reactions are different, some of these questions and practices are more likely to bring up painful emotions or memories, or to be difficult to carry out. The ones marked “yellow” are likely to be easier; the ones marked “red” are likely to require more vulnerability and strength.

You may find that the guidelines below are not the best for you—culture, context, experience, group size, group purpose and more might mean that you need to change them to be useful—but this will give you something to get started with.

GOOD TO DO

  • Choose the questions and/or practices you want to do at least a few days before getting together to do them. This means that people have time to feel their way into them and no one is surprised. The reasons for doing them—outlined above—should also be really clear before you do them.
  • If it’s a short gathering or if you have other things to work on, limit it to one question set or one practice.
  • Whatever ways you have of looking out for each other while you’re together also apply here. If you don’t have ways of doing that on purpose, developing them before you begin would be a good idea.
  • Have snacks around during the practice, and share a meal at the end. Do this even if you’re doing it remotely and can’t literally hand each other food.
  • Remind each other that it’s okay to do the questions or practices in a way that makes sense for you, which might mean changing them a little.
  • Every so often, offer or take the option to say how you’re feeling in your body, without needing to explain why.
  • Take both formal/guided breaks where you move, breathe, or otherwise remind yourselves and each other that you live in your bodies on earth, and regular breaks where people can walk around, go pee, have a cigarette, whatever.
  • Remember that people’s different histories may make these questions and practices difficult for them in different ways and amounts. Choosing a story to share, thinking in a different way, remembering and feeling can all be stressful. Be patient with yourself and others.
  • Try to keep your attention in the room you’re in and with the people you’re with. People may go “in and out” a little bit in their attention if what you’re doing is stressful for them, and that is okay.
  • Wind down at the end by asking people to say something about what they want to leave behind and something they want to carry with them, or something similar to help people return to their day or night.

HOW A SESSION MIGHT GO

  • Choose a question set and or exercise to do together next time, maybe one that’s in line with your usual reason for getting together, maybe not.
  • The next time you meet, do what you usually do to begin your time together.
  • If necessary, remind each other of the things that are “GOOD TO DO” above, especially if this is an addition to what you usually do when you get together.
  • Ask and answer the questions or do the practice together.
  • Do whatever else you were planning to do as part of your gathering. If you’re going to include questions or practices in your next gathering, choose the ones you want to do. End the gathering as you usually do.

As we practice acting with care and courage, we get better at it. That is what these exercises are intended to help us do.

IMAGE: Close-up of chickpeas cooked with tomatoes and spices, which is what I cook whenever I want to feed a large group of people.

Drafting a Workbook for Change

Normally at this time of year, I’d be repainting the booth and setting up the season’s first Climate Anxiety Counseling shifts. COVID-19 makes it unsafe to talk to multiple people face to face at close range, so I won’t be rolling out the booth this season.But our climate anxieties haven’t gone away and the systems that drive climate change and distribute its effects unequally–environmental racism, extraction, capitalism, colonization–are also worsening, and distributing unequally, the effects of COVID-19. It is a good time, I think, to adapt our minds, feelings & relationships to the kind of action that climate change and other, related crises require of us, and I’ve started developing a workbook of ways to do that.

The questions and practices in this workbook are to help us imagine and practice living in, with, and through the changes that climate change is bringing to our lives, and to become who we need to be to meet them together. The questions are to expand our sense of what’s happening, how we’re reacting, and what’s possible. The practices are to—well, practice—thinking, feeling and acting in ways that may benefit us differently than the ways we’re used to.

Over the next few days, I’ll be posting exercises that have already been tested–either by me with a group of people I’m part of, or by a group of people that doesn’t include me–as well as some explanation of how I’m putting them together and some guidelines for trying them out yourself. If you’re interested in trying an exercise with a group you’re already part of, write to me at my gmail address, publiclycomplex, or comment here with your interest, your questions, and a way to get in touch with you. I will be grateful for your help in making this workbook more usable and useful.

IMAGE: Photo of flat land with water, grass and a few trees. A white woman with glasses and long dark hair is standing in the foreground on cracked, dry mud, taking notes on a piece of paper. Photo is by Dezaraye Bagalayos.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Seasonal Total for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective

This season, I asked Climate Anxiety Counseling booth interlocutors to donate their nickels (often, in practice, more–as much as $20.00 from some people) to the Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective. Their commitment to healing and nourishing work as a key part of fighting oppressive forces and enacting a livable, possible world is powerful and necessary, and I wanted to support it. I thank you all for supporting it too.

I’m pleased to report that the people who spoke with me at the booth shared a total of $116.85 (rounded up to $117.00 because GoFundMe doesn’t do decimals). If I do any rogue booth sessions this fall, I will add to the total.

You can read a little more about Tooth and Nail’s principles and projects at the above link, and if you didn’t get a chance to stop by the booth this summer but would like to support their work, I encourage you to do so.

35335660_1545620873670020_r.jpeg

[IMAGE: Hands digging in brown leaf mulch, mostly oak leaves, a few beech leaves.]

The Tooth and Nail farm also has work days; after I post this, I’m going to put my shoes on and head out there.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market, 7/24/19

Weather: Warm/hot and bright, little breeze, puffy clouds

Number of people: 1 stopper

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $1.00

Observations:

While I only had one conversation today, A) it was a great one, as you’ll soon see, and 2) the market as a whole seemed busier than the previous few markets. I didn’t check with other vendors to see if this was the case for them.

Nonhuman animal passersby: cabbage white butterfly, bumblebee, sparrow, dragonfly, tiny ant, starlings, wasp, pigeon, and a butterfly that I didn’t see but that apparently landed on my hat.

A conversation:

Being Native American, we never think about the land and water as ours today. It’s always for the next generations. So it’s extra stressful, not only because of the change that is happening here and today, but because you can already see that Mother Earth—every living creature is like an embryo in her womb, and all living creatures are slowly dying. If I think of what my grandchildren or great-grandchildren’s lives will be, I can’t—will we have to live in constant bubbles and not breathe anymore than half an hour outside of a building? These sci-fi things. It’s so stressful. As much as I would love to be a grandmother, the idea of bringing a child into that world… And coming from a culture where you only live if you reproduce—it makes me really sad.

Is this something you talk about with your kids?

We talk about it a lot, with my daughter especially. She’s extra health-conscious, especially when it comes to foods—she’s the one that’s very sensitive to all of these issues. …One of my sons will get a glass of milk and she’ll be, “Do you know what’s in that milk?” She makes it a main topic in the house. She’s like, “Why are we committing slow suicide.” She’s thirteen.

….How do we make a neighborhood aware of these things and able to deal with these things? It’s almost like you have to recondition everyone. This started years ago, and it’s going fifty times faster than they ever expected. How much quicker is it going now? To make the public be aware of what’s actually happening, they’d actually have to try to do things about it. My son is really into marine life—he’s the Save the Bay kid. Every time we go to the beach he’s like, “Mom, where’s the trash bag?”

Are there any ways that cultural knowledge has helped you and your family deal with this time?

I’ve always taught my kids to pay it forward. To have compassion, to have empathy, in our interactions with others. I don’t know if I set them up to be hurt a lot. But on the other hand, I’m like, “One day humanity’s going to need people like you.” And they know that all living things, from a tree to a flower to a human, [are] just as important as each other. Without one thing, the other will die, until there’s nothing.

… I tell them, feelings and thought are matter, and matter carries energy. Hate’s energy kills, but love’s energy helps things to thrive. … My daughter out of all of us is the most balanced. She sees me looking at people in pain, and dealing with the trauma from ancestral empathy, carrying the spirit of my ancestors, and she says, “Mom, your heart is too big.” I’ll see someone and I’ll be like, “Just let me give ’em a hug,” and that turns into opening the door to them, and that turns into them living with us, and then that turns into their kids stealing from me. My kids over the years have been displaced by other people’s needs. I’ve taught them to give, but how much did I teach them about self-love?

So many people think that [care] has to come back as a direct thing. But what happens is, you’ll give way over here and you’ll get back over here. But you’ll know that it’s part of your cycle, because you’ll be at peace.

… I have to let go of who I was and embrace who I’m going to be. I’m 43 years old. I’m not afraid to recognize that I need help, but it took me a long time to say, “It’s okay. It’s all right to breathe. If you further your education, you can put yourself in positions to open doors.” …If I don’t shut down the old me, I’ll never get to my full potential.

In a way that’s what the book I’m writing is about: how do we become the people we need to be in this frightening time?

It’s an emotional burden that I can’t explain. A lot of people don’t think about it because they don’t live in a conscious way. They’re not going to think about it until that last bottle of water costs $300. It’s so heavy.

Image result for cabbage white butterfly

[IMAGE: A cabbage white butterfly, like the one I saw on this day, on a yellow flower.]

Looking for stories about the way climate change is changing you

Friends, I am looking for some help.

I want to know, and to talk about, and to write about, how we live with the knowledge of climate change: how we bear it, and how we act on it.

I’m working with a Rhode Island organization to create a manual of concrete actions for fossil fuel drawdown and community building in the state, called “Livable Rhode Island”, and so I’m looking for stories from Rhode Islanders specifically. If you have such a story, I can take it via email at any time: publiclycomplex at gmail is my address.

And I’m also working on a series of writings that will be a more general tool for transforming ourselves in response to the transformation of our world, so I want to listen to people about that. This, I’d like to do in person and in groups if possible.

The climate anxiety counseling booth isn’t really set up for this–for one thing, I want those conversations to be about what the person talking to me chooses and needs. I’m still working on the structure, trying to learn from the arc of Interdependence Days and other things I’ve been part of. Let me know if you think you might like to be part of this, and please ask me questions.

Talking is weird because it’s somewhere between feeling and doing–it’s a necessary prelude to action, but it isn’t itself action (though the amount of effort it takes to do it can trick you into feeling like it is). But it still seems to me to be a key part of making a possible, livable world in the present and for as long as we can–we need to listen to each other in order to know how we can work together.

Sorry about that “we”–I know it’s not as simple as that–but in its complication and variation is strength, too.

I hope you will stay with me.

Out of the Woods On Climate/Borders/Survival/Care/Struggle

This conversation with Out of the Woods, a collective investigating capitalism and climate change, gets at the heart of a lot of what I’ve been trying to do with the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth, the alternate histories, and the Interdependence Day gatherings (now on hold, but these writings may help us reinvent them).

“To say ‘yes’ to what we want,” they say, “and what is already created in cramped spaces – necessitates saying ‘no’ to the world that dominates save for those cracks or openings.”

I knew about Out of the Woods, but hadn’t spent a lot of time with their ideas and questions. I’m going to do so now.