Reflections from the Engaged Buddhist Training

Last summer, we supported 16 participants from a wide pool of socially engaged backgrounds to explore what it means to be more effective practitioners, able to turn towards some difficult issues within their working environments and in the world at large. Below we hear from ‘AJ’, who has been working in humanitarian settings on themes such as protection and inclusion for six years. She shares how personal reflection and lucidity can help bring out the best in us for social engagement and how the experience fed back into her work.

“Don’t give up your power” a participant of the ecodharma’s Engaged Buddhist Training told me last August, whilst we were chopping vegetables for lunch. Of course, it made sense to hear this on a training for social change; don’t give up your power to the powerful, fight for your rights and for social justice. But at that moment, it meant something different. It meant don’t give up your power to your fears, your thoughts and your environment. It was an invitation not to self-deceive. That’s why I was there, to discover how I could best contribute to social change while staying true to myself. This sentence struck me and I have since repeated it to myself on different occasions.

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I heard about the Engaged Buddhist Training at a time when I was questioning my engagement with humanitarian aid. I was tired and a bit hopeless, unable to imagine a brighter future for the world. I was questioning whether humans can really find a way out of violence, fear, animosity and greed as, even in the aid and social change sectors, I was witnessing such behavior. I felt disillusioned with the sector’s shortcomings – its inability to embrace diversity, and its counter-productive competitiveness between actors; its violence also, often in human relationships relating to power dynamics, privilege, ego trips, cynicism etc. I had seen many committed, engaged people becoming exhausted and bitter and reproducing forms of violence – and I saw myself acting at times in ways I wasn’t proud of.

I am among the privileged few who have been able to choose their line of work. I want it to contribute to my flourishing as a person and not to be shaped, perhaps negatively, by it. I asked myself Can I change for the better or is it too late? Is the kind of change I aspire to even possible for me? My fear was to wake up one day not recognising myself, wondering how I had gotten so far from my aspirations. I knew I needed to take better care of myself but was struggling with the ‘mantra’, the social obligation almost, in the humanitarian world to think of others first and sacrifice oneself for the work as a proof of engagement for the cause. This dichotomy left me feeling guilty – whether to let myself down or to let others down.

Seeing the title of the training, I hesitated at the ‘Buddhist’ part. My knowledge of Buddhism was basically non-existent and the phrases it brought to mind were “think positive” and “accept whatever is”, which I related to a certain kind of naivety and passivity. Then, I read this quote in the training description, from Donald Rothberg:

“Our times desperately call for both spiritual and social commitments. Without spiritual development, well-meaning attempts to change the world will probably unconsciously replicate the very problems that we believe we are solving. … But if the path of spiritual transformation is not socially informed, it too is at risk. There is the irony of attempting to overcome self-centeredness through spiritual practice while ignoring the cries of the world”.

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This was my first “aha!” moment, abandoning a long-held belief that I had to choose between taking care of myself and caring for others. Discovering that considering my needs and personal growth can contribute and is even to the wider change, and how transforming the world around us invites us to be personally transformed was liberating.

At ecodharma I was given the opportunity to reflect on why I even wanted social change, to reconsider my beliefs about others, the world, and myself, and to deconstruct beliefs and reconstruct them in a fresh way. For this to be possible I needed to feel safe and equipped to fully embrace the challenge. I felt that together we created a space where I could let my mask drop and be seen and see myself more honestly. I could feel three concentric spaces, each one helping me to deepen and connect to my aspirations:

Firstly, thanks to the beautiful setting and its isolation, I was able to create distance from some of my habitual tendencies, my repetitive thought patterns, and also my responsibilities with which I tend to identify. In this temporary community, I felt freed of the responsibility of being my “outside” self. Secondly, with my small base group, I found a place of support and care when I was vulnerable but also a place to be challenged on the way I envisioned social change or myself. It highlighted my need for community or sangha to feel less isolated, but also it offered a fair but loving mirror with which to have myself reflected back to me. And finally, at the center of the concentric spaces was the space within myself, or rather, the space that “I” am – a space that contains thoughts and sensations but is not them. With the meditation guidance, I discovered and sometimes experienced the huge power we have to welcome whatever is present without judgement, but with lucidity and loving kindness. To identify my habitual ways of thinking and doing, and then dis-identify by realising that they are not ‘me’. I therefore discovered another dimension of “don’t give up your power” – giving it up to the mind, because I saw that ‘I’ was more than my thoughts, feelings, and sensations.

This opened up transformative perspectives, particularly around the theme of identity. I saw that the more I cling to certain identities to build a solid sense of self, the more I tend to push away those with different identities, creating an “us versus them” dynamic. The more I identify, the stronger the emotional attachment, and the rejection of anything that seems to threaten it. Identifying these ‘clingings’ helped me understand why sometimes communication was impossible, why I was reacting so strongly to certain people and situations, and helped me to recognise some of my typical reactions when I felt this identity was in danger or being brought into question. Imagine how different our organisations would be if each of us was able to look at our behaviors with compassion, even when acting out of bad faith (not recognising our mistakes or having prejudices), or fear (of rejection or of what others may think) rather than promoting good relationships or finding the most efficient solution.

I took this internal compassionate space with me when I left ecodharma. To this space, and not self-pity, is where I now go when I look at and speak to myself honestly about my shortcomings, without beating myself up for not being perfect and congruent all the time. I’ve also realised that this caring space can extend to others, who may not yet know how to create their own. And perhaps this, in turn, may help them to get in touch with themselves, without judgement.

As a newbie, I got a lot from the teachings on Buddhist principles. It offered new frameworks on themes around suffering, the self, and of time. The work around compassionate action also highlighted the relevance of Buddhist principles to social change and especially how I could sustain involvement without depleting my energy and losing hope. I had previously been quite skeptical about the term ‘compassion’ until I started to understand what it was pointing to – The ability to come close to life, to stay with one’s experience, even though it might contain suffering. I can relate this so clearly to the rage and profound sadness I have experienced sometimes; returning to Europe from a long work period abroad, and witnessing people and families living in the streets of wealthy cities. And the shame of not being able to sustain eye contact, whether I was giving or not, because the suffering was overwhelming me. Being unable to be with that suffering was making me a passive onlooker reacting with guilt rather than a meaningful actor able to more wholeheartedly respond. I’m far from being compassionate all of the time of course, but I feel more hopeful and committed now, knowing what to strive for.

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Overall it may be the training methodology that most impacted me. Witnessing the team sincerely enjoying what they were doing was a good reminder that work doesn’t have to be a drag! I also discovered that each one of us took from the experience what we each needed to learn. Most often, after an exercise, we would break into small groups to share our experience. I had so many “aha!” moments just by listening to others sharing their experience, realising how I tend to think and operate in groups, under stress or competition. The fact that there was no need in this setting for a formal ‘teacher’ catalysed a shift and gave me confidence that when good conditions are in place, we can see ourselves with lucidity and are more able to manifest the changes we seek for ourselves and others.

The training also triggered a shift from seeing my engagement from a position of ‘the saviour’, based on a fear of not making a difference in the world, to a more humble position of ‘contributor’ grounded in the joy of contributing to the wellbeing of others and to something larger. This alleviated the guilt that came with thinking “I’m not doing enough to change the world”. This shift in view came from a place of abundance, not scarcity – seeing oneself as a contributor also allows me to see others as such and to trust in our collective capacity to bring about change.

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Realising how clinging to my sense of self, although often necessary, sometimes gets in the way, I have started giving more attention to clarify my intentions when acting and to celebrate when I succeed. I aim to hold my sense of self more lightly, accepting that I change and that behaviors, beliefs or values that I may consider as being a part of me, can change too. Social change is an iterative process that brings both social and personal transformation. For me, this is especially important in fields like humanitarian work where we may not always be open to questioning ourselves because we are “good people”, who want to help others. There are much-needed discussions around power, rank, and privilege that would benefit from this non-judgmental approach.

With the different tools, exercises and dynamics I’ve discovered that I feel more confident to take part in a transformative group. I have integrated some elements into my current work, being aware and attentive that it may increase people’s uncertainties and feelings of vulnerability. My main challenge so far has been to discern how to come forward with these learnings. My field of work is based on value-for-money, is result-oriented and perceives itself as ‘realistic’. Speaking about personal development or anything that might be perceived as ‘spiritual’ is not easy. I’m navigating this carefully to find supporters and entry points, such as improving collaborative efforts, communication and conflict management.

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The journey isn’t finished but the Buddhist Engaged training did kick off something important. There is no easy path, no magic solution. But for those like me, who see no other choice than seeking meaningful ways to contribute, who cannot give up and look the other way, this may be a valuable step in sustaining or regaining our power.

The Engaged Buddhist Training will run from 1st to 15th September 2019.

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Never Alone | Roots of Resilience

As our experience with the nature-based strand of our work deepens, we’re keen to emphasise how this kind of engagement with the natural world, coupled with communities of inquiry can nourish a sense of interconnectedness that has the potential to galvanise and sustain ongoing, active participation in change making within our social spheres. Kara Moses, an experienced nature connection facilitator and team member on our Roots of Resilience training talks about the importance of this work and how our reconnection to nature can be, in itself, a political act.

I’ll never forget the sight of that bird struggling against the wind that dark Winter evening. The Canada goose, small eyes squinting and long neck strained forwards, was trying for all its might to move along the water against the wind and driving rain. I could almost see its feet pedalling furiously under the filthy water of the canal. But it was going nowhere. I’ve never felt so much empathy and solidarity with a creature.

It embodied exactly how I was feeling at that time: it was taking all of my efforts just to keep afloat. No matter how hard I tried, the wind was against me, forever driving me back. The work needing to be done felt endless, the enormity of the problems overwhelming, and activism a thankless task in a world that had decided not to care. 

‘No future’ – Athens, Greece | Artist: Scarr One | Photo by aesthetics of crisis

When I got home that night, I crashed big time. I lay in bed for a week, curtains closed, unable to face the world. I fell into a hole so dark I couldn’t remember what light was. After a few weeks of recovery in the countryside, I gained enough clarity to see what I had to do. I overhauled my life to live more closely to nature, quitting my desk-bound city life and moving to rural Wales. I retrained in outdoor education, field ecology and woodland management.

The rugged Welsh landscape held me as I continued to recover. My new home was embraced by hills on all sides, giving a sense of security and safety. Whenever I felt like my emotions were too big for me to hold, I could just walk outside and the landscape held them for me. It became less clear where I ended and the land began.

This process of regeneration through connecting with nature has brought me back to life numerous times. Now it is my main source of sustenance, energy and inspiration to continue engaging with the world – and I haven’t crashed in a long time.

I see it working for others too. In the nature connection courses I run, I see time and time again how connecting deeply with the natural world lights people up – it’s like watching them come alive. Witnessing the process of transformation from the people I meet at the beginning of a course – tense, guarded, hard, perhaps a little sceptical – and those that head off at the end – open, playful, expressive, energetic and tuned in to the magic of the natural  world around them – is quite remarkable. Having had many of these transformative experiences myself – many at Ecodharma – I have become convinced of the power of this work.

What excites me most about it though, is the harnessing of this power to bring about social change.

Post-modern Western society has become deeply disconnected from the natural world. Most people live highly alienated lifestyles. Our whole socio-economic system is designed from a worldview of ecological disconnection, affecting all areas of our lives – our lifestyles, resource use, buildings and urban design, transport, economic, education and health systems. Research shows that disconnection from nature is linked to mental and physical problems in individuals, and increased conflict, violence and crime in communities. On a societal level, an alienated, exploitative relationship with nature fuels the ongoing destruction of the ecosystems upon which we depend for life. And, research shows, it is a major barrier to social change towards a more sustainable and just society.

Just like the foundations of Western society, our separation from nature is closely tied to colonialism, built on foundations of violence and slavery. As lands were invaded and colonised, indigenous land-based cultures were forcibly taken away – making people more easily exploited as a workforce.

Our disconnection from nature is political.

Our relationships with nature, ourselves and each other all inescapably influence each other. As long as white people oppress people of colour, men oppress women, the heteronormative oppress the queer and humans oppress nature, oppression will poison all of our relationships. Liberation can only take place if it takes place on all levels.

Equally, our reconnection with nature is political. It is part of the essential decolonisation process.

Ultimately non-productive, time spent simply connecting with nature is a subversion of post-modern productivist culture; an inherently rebellious act. And as a powerful way to sustain and resource social action – to take a twist on Audrey Lorde’s famous quote – it can even be seen as an act of political warfare.

However, on its own it is not enough. Connection that does not result in meaningful acts of solidarity remains in the realms of alienation, and therefore cannot be true connection. When we really connect, we see through the false construct of the self, to our true identity as a part of nature defending itself. Within this expanded sense of self lies an abundance of energy, strength and resilience. Action that comes from this place of connection can be sustained, can be regenerative – it loops back into the cycle of things.

The more connected we are, the more resilient we are. The more resilient we are, the more powerful we become. When directed towards the collective good, this power can be a truly liberating force.

This is at the heart of the ‘Roots of Resilience’ – an exploration that uniquely brings nature connection and resilience into an explicitly socio-political context: to sustain and galvanise resistance to oppressive and destructive structures and forces; to inspire regenerative action that creates conditions for the flourishing of human society and the ecosystems within which we are embedded; that recognises that the social and ecological are not – and can never be – separate.

As Edward Abbey reminds us: “It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. And I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies… You will outlive the bastards.”

Kara Moses is a facilitator of social and ecological regeneration, offering courses in rewilding land and people, and training in skills for social change. She facilitates and lectures at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT),  Schumacher CollegeEcodharma and St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation & Peace, where she is also an Associate Fellow. She is an activist, writer, woodland manager and Vice Chair of the Wales Wild Land Foundation in West Wales, where she is based. See www.RewildEverything.org for more information about her work.  

Roots of Resilience runs from 21st to 29th Sept 2019.

Deeper Resources for Action

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An important strand to our Engaged Buddhist work is the Deeper Resources for Action training, which offers systematic in-depth meditation training to social change makers looking to harness meditative practices to empower their action. Annabel Pinker, a Social Anthropologist whose research interests include grassroots social and political movements, reflects on her experience during last years training.

At the end of October last year, a small group of us brought our restlessness and dilemmas to the wintry Pyrenean valley of Abella de Conca. For two weeks, we slipped into a daily rhythm of sitting meditation, yoga and teachings, accompanied by the spit and crackle of the wood-burner, the sweep of wind and vultures’ wings above the canvas of the meditation space. Already less familiar to myself, I gradually submitted to the deepening quiet, nourished by good food, sleep, companionship, and the awkwardly intimate encounter with this ‘me’ that gradually seemed to lose its singularity, fracturing into uneven layers of tensions, surges of energy and emotion, images, achingly repetitive storylines. Such movements gave way at times, so unexpectedly, into far less familiar terrain – as if crashing all of a sudden out of tangled thickets of impenetrable jungle into a spacious moonscape, stretching way beyond the limits of sight, dissolving the jagged rushes of feeling, my tight witnessing gaze, my burning questions, my drive to get through to the next thing, whatever that was, into – something vast, benign and profoundly mysterious. Sometimes it was possible to dwell there for a while, even explore unknown strata; then all of a sudden, I would be popped out, as magically as I had found myself there, back into something like ordinary, familiar experience.

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What do such minute encounters with the visceral, often boring and painful, occasionally delightful stuff of being a being have to do with activism? The collective experience of our group – a bunch of 20, 30 and 40-somethings from the UK, Holland, Germany, Ireland, Denmark, and Hungary – included training activists and humanitarian workers; providing policy, legal, and research-based support for non-profit organisations; organising protests and campaigns on climate, environmental, and socio-political issues; facilitating engagement with and between young people through music; working to establish an action-research cooperative for the promotion of socially just housing; and developing research and spaces of public engagement concerning energy transition. The versions of activism at stake were as numerous as the people on the training.

But beyond these roles, many of us were variously exploring the boundaries of more established understandings of activism. In one way or another, most of us had been drawn to Ecodharma because fighting the good fight in the old ways didn’t seem to cut it anymore. Some had experienced burn-out after particularly intense periods of engagement. What sort of transformation was being modelled if activists brought to their work the same kind of driven, productivist, disembodied or hyper-rational ethic that generally predominates in the West? Wasn’t that orientation just another instantiation of the world we wanted to change? Others questioned what activism really means at a time when the old dualisms – humans and nature; mind and body; individual and collective – no longer serve as descriptions of reality at a time when new ‘hyper-objects’, like climate change, have exposed how radically plural and entangled things are. It’s easier to act on phenomena when filed neatly away in compartments labelled, ‘politics’, ‘environment’, ‘social’, and ‘economy’. Less so when seen as interconnected parts of complex, overlapping, ultra-globalised systems in which we (as individuals, collectives and institutions) are profoundly implicated. Less so too when personal and corporate responsibility is routinely overridden by the right to consume conferred by the dominance of free market liberalism.

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In short, all of us, in different ways, had discerned that scant transformation was available without turning our gaze back on ourselves. We had recognised that we were minute parts of these larger wholes, conditioned and shaped by them even as we railed against their injustices. In my case, my usual strategies for making things happen didn’t seem to work very well anymore, and – partly through my early experiments with meditation – I had begun to wake up to the frankly terrifying possibility that the political and social worlds that appeared to be outside of me mirrored to a large degree my patterns of seeing, thinking and feeling. The reassuring schism between my ‘inner’ life and a stable, objective ‘outer’ landscape that I could act on became more fragile. How far was I co-creating this outside that I had taken to be separate from myself? Patriarchy, black-and-white thinking, and bigotry – I began to experience as well as cognitively understand – had their ground in the rigidities, aggressions and fears that often registered in my body as critical thoughts, dark images and contractions in musculature. I uncovered a strong strain of puritanism in my critiques of the power structures we inhabit – a whiff of ‘I am on the side of the good’. The labour of sitting with my internal movements, the continuous work of gently pulling myself back from my tedious storylines, was humbling. Staying with anger long enough to experience the grief, vulnerability, or potent lifeforce that so often quivered behind it has begun, over the past few years, to demystify the righteous rage I had taken to be all about what was going on ‘out there’. What has come in its stead is something sadder, more ambivalent and – I think – softer and more humane. This is not the kind of change I have expected or wanted; when I set out on this path – which has taken me down the avenues of herbalism, body and energy work, though always with a meditation practice at the core – I envisaged some more transcendent, complete and victorious outcome probably, in keeping with the mind that started out on the journey. So far, I see no end in sight – just a constantly unfolding horizon of new terrain, whilst the old patterns are always ready to reassert themselves.

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Of course, the inevitable – and legitimate – next question in the face of all of this is, that’s all well and good, but what about action? Injustice may be more complex and ambivalent than meets the eye, but surely retreat is not an adequate response. We are all familiar with recent wellness trends – which so often seem to prescribe yet another kind of commoditised hyper-individualism – one crafted around the desirability of a muscular body, zen-like mind, and kale-rich eating regime. Meditation has all too often been hauled onto the same ground. It is here that Ecodharma’s work has most deeply influenced me. I’ve heard no assertions from Ecodharma folk that meditation is the great panacea for social change, or that we just need to ‘do our internal work’ and then we can act. Instead, there’s an emphasis on a life of activism, collective living, and meditative practice all at once; it’s possible to live actively, contemplatively and communally, even if the nature of things is that one of these may dominate more at any one time. Whilst a high value is placed on best practice – and no doubt there’s some perfectionism in that – that this labour of living is necessarily imperfect, ambivalent, processual, and never complete is readily acknowledged. We’re not gods-in-the-making on a journey towards paradise; instead we act in the world and co-create with others to the best of our ability even as we courageously, haltingly explore our internal lineaments.

I had brought a question with me to Ecodharma: how to bring my work as an anthropologist into more active engagement with the closely imbricated spiritual, political, and ecological concerns that have come to play an ever more central role in my life? How to deploy anthropology for more generative purposes, for contributing to change, rather than simply as an extractive mode of knowledge production for academic audiences? Since first bringing this question to Ecodharma in 2016, allies have serendipitously appeared, and – after a colleague and I co-hosted a public conversation on post-oil futures in Aberdeen with a local arts organisation earlier this year – a small, but growing, local network of arts organisations and social scientists has formed with an interest in curating public dialogues, activities and events on energy transition in Scotland. The work is slow. I have no idea where it will lead. But it is an evolving process that is, for me at least, supported by a view that I began exploring more fully through my encounter with others at Ecodharma: that meditative and spiritual practices support the development of an activism that arises from deeper, more intuitive places in ourselves, that is willing to embrace mystery, rework old dogmas around what should constitute social and political action, and remake itself in tune with our times.

New Engaged Buddhist Team This Summer

The development of social change practice underpinned by the dharma is at the heart of ecodharma’s vision. We have been running our Engaged Buddhist Training course for almost eight years now, developing the theory and curriculum and widening the pool of trainers and groups we work with. This year’s team will bring two facilitators into the Engaged Buddhist work for the first time, and we are very excited about it!

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Joining Alex Swain, who has been living at ecodharma for almost 10 years and is a key voice in the development of ecodharma’s engaged buddhist work, will be Kathryn Tulip. Kathryn is a long standing social justice campaigner, and has been training and facilitating in grassroots movements for over a decade. Much of this work has been achieved as part of the Seeds for Change/Navigate collective, of which she is a co-founder. With them will be Eweryst Zaremba, social activist, trainer and member of SPINA and EYFA. Eweryst has been involved in a whole range of social and environmental struggles, and is currently focusing most of his energy on feminist, trans* and queer issues – writing, performing and training.

This has freed up Guhyapati to do more work with the ulex project, which is about to complete its first full year of programming, having worked with over 200 activists from over 20 countries. The project has run courses in a wide range of skills from activist resiience to movement level strategy. If you’re interested in following the progress of the ulex project you can sign up for our newsletter.

We can’t wait to dive into what promises to be a fruitful and inspiring collaboration, gathering the wealth of experience and wisdom within this team and creating something fresh and current. Come join us for two weeks of stimulating learning and exploration, as we collectively investigate: What does Action from Depth feel, sound and look like? And how do we get there together?

 

 

Adventures in Wild Therapy

The beginning of May saw our first ever Wild Therapy ecopsycology training. We we’re joined by Emma Palmer and Justin Roughly, who guided the group through a week of exploratory sessions together. Emma writes below about the experience, including some of the challenges that they faced as a group of learners with divergent therapeutic backgrounds and interests, and how this learning will inform future Wild Therapy trainings.

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For the first time this spring ‘Wild Therapy’ came to Ecodharma. I love Wild Therapy and I love Ecodharma – the place and community – so I was very glad to be bringing the two together. Wild therapy has its roots in the more radical origins and practices of counselling and psychotherapy, has emerged in response to the increasing ‘taming’ of beings (including therapists), and recognises the urgent need for us to realise our connection with the so-called ‘natural world’. A main intention of Wild Therapy is to bring therapy into the wild and wildness into therapy, so the week saw 14 of us moving between solo work, pair work and whole group work as we socially dreamed together, meditated together, explored different aspects of Wild therapy, and co-created community. And the learning goes on, as we digest and return home…

On the Wild therapy website it says that this way of working ‘seeks to rebalance therapy – and in the long run, human culture – with a good dollop of wildness, spontaneity, boundlessness and passion’. I certainly think that we managed at least some of this last week and I feel much gratitude to the 12 participants for bringing themselves so heart-fully, gut-fully and spirit-fully to the course and for forming strong bonds. For me the diversity of the group was both a strength and weakness. There was a tension between some wanting more content and some wanting more whole-group process and in future I would be drawn to offering this course solely to counsellors and psychotherapists, purely because in narrowing the focus of course participants, we may be able to go deeper. Having said that, I think it was the diversity of this particular course that made it wild – food for thought! Ecodharma already offers an amazing range of courses for people practising nature connection, whilst this is the first course for therapists, so that may be another reason for narrowing the focus slightly.

I’m used to holding Wild therapy courses in Derbyshire, Lancashire and Somerset, so it was amazing to explore this work in a landscape which is much wilder still, in the midst of the richness of the other than human and more than human life there. A big thank you to everyone at Ecodharma who make these life-changing events possible. And last and definitely not least, all the beings in la Serra de Carreu: the vultures, eagles, cuckoos, chuffs, deer, goats, the cowslips, tiny daffodils, and wild hellebores, and all the other beings. I bow deeply.

 

Ecodharma Ibérica

Ecodharma courses, workshops and support in Spanish

 

Since January 2016, Ecodharma has a team dedicated to bringing Ecodharma’s work to people and communities engaged in social change activities in the Iberian peninsula. The variety of courses Ecodharma offer and the number of people collaborating with us has greatly increased since our first course 7 years ago. This new Spanish-speaking team has emerged naturally from the interest of people living in Spain who share Ecodharma’s values and have personally experienced the power of our courses.

First Course – Collaboration for Social Transformation (‘Colaboración para la Transformación Social’)

Collaboration for Social Transformation‘ was the first course we ran, and it took place in June 2016. A combination of elements from two of Ecodharma’s renown signature courses – ‘Tranformative Collaboration‘ and ‘Sustaining Resistance, Empowering Renewal‘, the new course was especially designed for people living in the Spain, with the objective of reinforcing the effective work already being done here.

 

Participants mainly came from Catalonia, but also from Madrid, Zaragoza, and one all the way from Greece! In the course, we explored the indivisibility between our ‘inner work’ and external action. Our main preoccupation was how to nourish well-being, personal resilience and a wider culture of care in the context of the social justice and solidarity work we do, considering the power we have (or not) in the groups we belong to. Overall the course was a success. We all learned a lot, and not just about the material, but about adapting and creating new exercises and methodology appropriate to the cultural context, as well as our own team process, and how to work best with the group. Some things, we’ll repeat, other things we’ll do different, and there will be future courses!

 

Next Activities

 

The next ‘Transformation for Social Collaboration‘ course (in Spanish) will run from June 30 to July 9 2017, and meanwhile we keep at it. In November, the Iberia team held a 2-day workshop, ‘Tools for Sustainable and Effective Activism’, in Madrid. Not only was the workshop well attended, it was a diverse group of people who learned a lot, and got great value out of meeting each other too. There are murmurs of more workshops in Madrid in 2017, and these on top of three more in Catalonia and Valencia early next year.

Building Another World

Over the years, the Ecodharma courses run at the centre have been received with interest and appreciation, and our reputation has grown such that we have also received invitations to facilitate sessions (in Catalan and Spanish) from groups based in the peninsula. The requests mainly have been to help groups and communities work in effective and healthy ways in these trying times, while also learning how to better juggle work, family, community, activism and the other demands of everyday life. Ecodharma has been able to respond to some of these invitations, but not all, and that’s why this new Ecodharma Iberia team is such good news.

Who are we

The Ecodharma Iberia team first met by taking part in different courses and projects at the centre. We are facilitators and colleagues, as well as friends committed to doing deep work together to bring out the best in ourselves, so in turn, we can help others do the same. Our involvement goes beyond facilitating Ecodharma courses in Spanish; we also participate in the life at the centre more broadly: we grow our skills by taking other courses and retreats at Ecodharma, manage related projects, spend time at Ecodharma doing volunteer work, and living at the centre.

You, Social Change and 2017

We understand deep social change also requires us to change ourselves and our way of being in the world. Otherwise we end up repeating the same old mistakes from the past.

  • What do you think?
  • What experiences have you had with these topics?
  • Would you like to know more?

Here are possible ways we can help –

  • A day workshop open to the general public exploring these topics
  • A bespoke consultancy session for a group or community already working together
  • The next ‘Collaboration for Social Transformation‘ course at Ecodharma Centre 1-10 July 2017
  • Advising and support from a distance (telephone/email) – because we believe we are the leaders we’ve been looking for, but sometimes we also just need a little help

We use a “pay what you can” system, asking that people/groups requesting workshops cover the travel expenses of the facilitators doing the event, and then, whatever is within your means, a donation to Ecodharma Centre so we can continue to develop this work.

To wrap up now and this year, we thank you for reading this, and ask that you share it with others because together, we are stronger.

Crowdfund Heads-up – a chance to help

In late March we will be launching our first ever crowdfunder. We’ve been doing some excellent work and building the Ecodharma Centre since 2008. We know that this work has touched many of you and brought real benefits. This is the first time we have asked our networks for this kind of support. We hope you will help. With your support we are going to raise €40,000 for the final renovation of the new Ulex Project education centre!

We are developing a new residential training centre where activists, campaigners and socially engaged people from across Europe can develop the skills and relationships necessary to make their work really effective. The programme will draw on our previous work which integrates inner and social transformation in unique and empowering ways. It will provide a much-needed space for resourcing, deep reflection and skills development. We think it is the most exciting initiative that the Ecodharma team have undertaken. And we’re asking you to join us to contest our future together.

There are four ways you can help us make next month’s crowdfunder a success.

  • Be a Founding Donor: We’re looking for 20 amazing people to commit to donating between €500 – €2000 during the first few days of the Crowdfunding campaign. This will give the campaign a massive confidence boost that will really get the ball rolling for the following 40 days. (We’ve done our research and this really makes a difference!) Could you be one of these? Or know anyone who could?
  • Be a Fundraising Superhero : We’re looking for 20 people who will commit to use their networks and creativity to raise between €500 – €2000 during the 40 day crowdfund. This will involve getting other people excited about the project, and approaching friends, family, organisations and broader networks to ask for donations. This would be such an enormous help.
  • Be a Comms Superstar: We’re looking for people to help us spread the word of the Crowdfunder through their networks, projects, communities and organisations! This will mean helping us get the word out there across your social media platforms, email lists and work/friend/family relationship networks. We will provide regular updates and social media posts that can help you.
  • Just give what you can and spread the word in whatever way you are able!

The crowdfund launches in late March. In the meantime, please let us know if you can pledge to support us in any of the ways described by firing off an email to lindsay@ulexproject.org . We’ll be sending out informationagain as it gets closer!

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What is the Ulex Project

The Ulex Project is possibly the most exciting initiative that the Ecodharma team have ever undertaken. Building on years of successfully innovating and developing trainings which integrate inner and social transformation, we are launching a new education centre and training programme. The new Ulex Project training centre will extend Ecodharma’s reach and enable us to support activists and organisers all across Europe.

Europe’s facing some deep social and ecological challenges. There’s a fragmenting political climate and the far right is gaining ground in many places. At the same time, there’s an inspiring renewal of participation in progressive social movements. Growing numbers of people are stepping up to shape our future.

For our progressive movements to be resilient and to have real impact, capacity building and training are essential. To really make a difference, we need spaces to renew, reskill and reimagine. We need places to train and strategise for action. That is what the Ulex Project offers. The website unpacks our approach in detail, as well as listing the launch programme of trainings between Autumn 2017 and Summer 2018.

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Ecodharma has always been underpinned by the practices and principles of Buddhism. But our work reaches out to a wide range of people working for progressive social change and ecological integrity. To give our important work greater reach, the Ulex Project will provide an entirely secular framing for some aspects of our work. We will be building on the strand of our work that focuses on social change and using these trainings as a core of signature trainings for the new and innovative programme. We are also reaching out to the networks of trainers and activists we have built up to showcase best practices and innovative work.

Ulex will provide high-quality trainings building social movement capacity for social justice and ecological integrity. It will establish a residential training centre serving the needs of social movements for the long haul. It will be a place for collaboration and innovation, enabling the responsive development of social movement training in Europe. It will offer a hub that strengthens connections for pan-European solidarity and social movement resilience. To make it happen we need your help!

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