Posted by: Banta | June 8, 2014

The Work That Reconnects

  “What we most need to do is to hear within ourselves the sound of the earth crying.”           Thich Nhat Hanh                                        

Yesterday I walked on a grassy mountain top bald called Max Patch. At an elevation of 4600 feet, it may not be the highest peak in the area, but some call it the crown jewel of the Appalachian Trail, with a 360º view that includes Mt. Mitchell on the east, the Great Smokies and Mt. Pisgah toward the south and west. For a few rare moments I was alone up there, the only human in my line of sight. I stood barefoot in a buttercup meadow and bowed in gratitude to the four directions, and to the heavens above and the earth below my feet.

031There is something rare and grounding about being barefoot on top of a mountain—a visceral reminder of our deep connection to earth, her ancient history, her immeasurable resources, her fragile future. I held the dirt and grasses between my toes and squeezed them tight, as if to say, “I hear you. I’m with you. I won’t let you down.”

Our friends arrived soon after, for a picnic lunch together. Three of us who gathered there have known one another for more than fifty years, since middle school. Back then we were so young, so before all beginning, with no thought to the ways our lives would unfold, the questions we would need to live, in order to some distant day, live along into the answer. (Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet) We lost touch for decades and our lives took widely divergent paths, but we have history together. Our common experiences over a stretch of very impressionable years—an entire adolescence—forged a bond that bridges those lost decades with surprising ease. We are curious about one another now, about all the time we missed. There is opportunity here, the chance to speak from the heart about our personal journeys and be heard by friends who knew you way back when.

My own words caught in my throat. I just returned a few days ago from a training with 85-year old Joanna Macy in Ashland, Oregon, in The Work That Reconnects—impossibly blessed and humbled to assemble there with a very engaged group of environmental activists, deep ecologists, grassroots organizers, and planetary healers. Still reeling from the impact of that training, and the time with Joanna herself, I had trouble distilling the story down into a living, breathing truth. Something so large takes time to digest and integrate, and does not lend itself to casual conversation. I wanted to tell these old friends what resonated with me from the training, as a way of saying,“Here I stand, here is where I’ve been and where I’m trying to go.”

More than that, I wanted to speak in a way that would contribute to our connection, rather than widen the divide between us—a divide that may include political and religious differences, and the potentially disparate cultural/socio-economic/environmental story lines in which we have chosen to invest our lives. I wanted to speak in language they could hear, that rang true to them—a language that would have them nodding in response, rather than shaking their heads. It felt like a tall order, a mountaintop calling of sorts.


With Joanna Macy at Buckhorn Springs, Ashland, OR

The Work That Reconnects is not only about reconnecting each of us to our own core values, to one another, and to the entire Earth community—it is about repairing the divisions that separate us from our life-giving interconnectedness. Preaching to the choir is easy, as in the Oregon gathering of like-minded spirits. It’s quite another thing to reach well past that comfort zone, into the hearts of family, friends, and strangers who do not share your passion, and whose own passions and attachments may be in direct conflict with yours.

Regardless of where our passions lie, surely we can agree to start at a place of gratitude. Gratitude for our common history, and for this mini-reunion on a sunny Saturday in June to hike and break bread together on Max Patch bald. Gratitude for love and family and relative good health. Gratitude for these old mountains that surround us, and eyes to see such beauty. Gratitude, too, for the lives we have lived, and for the experiences we have not shared, that these differences—visible and invisible, known and unknown—may open our hearts and teach us things we did not know we needed to learn.

The next stage, if we dare, is to honor our pain for the world. Looking into the eyes of my old friends, I do not know if they feel this pain, or to what degree. Do their hearts break when they see certain wounded places on Earth, the scars of human activity, or the depletion of natural resources? Beyond that, do they weep for those who lack food security, or access to clean water? Do they grieve the loss of plant and animal diversity, the speed at which species are disappearing? Are they afraid for their grandchildren and the world they will inherit? Do environmental toxins make them angry? Do they feel powerless and vulnerable in the face of all this? Do they think about these things, or pray about them? I wonder what we might learn about each other if we could speak the truth of our pain.

When we own and honor our pain for the world, we experience the meaning of deep compassion, to suffer with, and we begin to reframe this shared pain as evidence of our radical and irrefutable interconnectedness in the web of life, our mutual belonging in the Earth community. We remember, at a cellular level, that we are all in this together. And when we remember, we see with new eyes, the next stage in the Work That Reconnects. The more clearly we see how intricately and inextricably we are connected to all that is, including our ancestors, the generations that come after us, and our brother/sister species, the more we experience a paradigm shift. We look differently at our habits and practices, our consumerism and our contributions—whether to “business as usual” or to a world that will be life-sustaining for all beings.

Once we see with new eyes, we cannot un-see. Rather, we—again and ever again—go forth to do the work or support the actions that call to us, fortified by our re-connection and our mutual commitment to a life-sustaining world. Joanna reminds us: We don’t wait for a blueprint or fail-proof scheme, for each step will be our teacher, bringing new perspectives and opportunities. Even when we don’t succeed in a given venture, we can be grateful for the chance we took and the lessons we learned.

And the spiral begins again. There are hard things to face in our world today, if we want to be of use. Gratitude, when it’s real, offers no blinders. On the contrary, in the face of devastation and tragedy it can ground us. Especially when we’re scared (or tongue-tied), gratitude can hold us steady for the work that must be done.

As a perspiralson of “active hope,” I want to be a part of the Great Turning that will move us toward that life-sustaining place, and I want to invite my old friends, my new friends, my family, strangers I meet on the street, to join me. Even though we cannot see clearly how it’s going to turn out, and even though we may not experience it in our own lifetime, let’s invite the future into our imagination. We cannot hope to build what we have not first cherished in our hearts.










  1. Just lovely Banta, brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing. Stephanie

  2. Thank you, Banta. This is lovely.

    I will carry it with me as I travel for the first time to Europe – Amsterdam and Italy. Bentinho is having meetings in both locations, and I have never been to either so it just seemed like the right time.

    I leave Wednesday evening and return the morning of the 27th. Emma is going to go stay with friends. I’m pretty much going to water the plants, lock the door, and head out. If I don’t see you before I go wish you prime gardening weather and abundant fruit from your efforts!

    Would love to visit with you some time about how the time has played out since last we spoke for any length of time. It does feel that life is accelerating.

    Much love to you, Bruce, and Jordan!

    ‘See you on the other side if not before!


  3. I have not been to Max Patch in entirely too long. This post made me want to go there soon, and stand barefoot. 🙂 I find myself curious as to whether you were able to communicate with your old friends what you’d experienced in a way that left you feeling connected and understood. That can be hard. The greater the experience, and the more passion I feel, the more challenging it feels to “share” it with others, even when I desperately want to. Sometimes I’m not willing to risk not being understood, and so I keep it to myself. Other times I am willing to take the risk. Thought provoking post, and nice blog. Thanks for the invitation!

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