By Werner Brandt
As a Board member of HCN it was a privilege to offer the Work That Reconnects in China last month. All six board members were invited to participate in the first Holistic International Wellness Forum in Beijing both as keynote speakers and faciliators of experiential workshops.
I arrived at Beijing airport in the late evening and was welcomed warmly by the translator. Quickly ushered off to meet our driver, we merged into a sea of late model cars that clogged the roads. 20 years ago roads in China were absent of automobiles; only bicycles and motorcycles were the primary mode of transportation. But this is modern Beijing, a city of twenty million, living in dense clusters of high-rise apartments throughout the city.
About 90 minutes later we arrived at the Fuan Gong Hotel, part of the “Grand Epoch City”; located in the Xianghe Economic & Technical Development Zone of Hebei Province. The area is a 1/6th scale model of the old walled city of Beijing. It contains temples, fountains, ponds, a 27-hole golf course, among other things, and has hundreds of thousands of replicas; all within the “city’s” walls.
I was surprised by the grandeur of this palatial hotel and how graciously we were treated throughout the entire conference. On this first visit to China my local knowledge was limited to knowing it was run by the Communist Party and that economic reforms began in 1978, soon after the death of Mao Zedong. I discovered China is a land of contrasts: coal burning plants, citizens wearing masks as protection from the air pollution, traffic congestion, and also a country investing in and creating life-sustaining technologies and eco-villages.
The conference hall was equipped with all the modern media equipment, an array of light and sound, and a professional Masters of Ceremonies with a background in Chinese television. It felt like the Academy Awards in the United States. The 700 conference attendees represented social services, hospice, early childhood education, and many other socially conscious professionals. I could feel the genuine interest in what it means to be ‘holistic’ and intimately interconnected. Many of the Western presenters shared their own journeys of transformation and personal growth in relationship to the development of their own centers, including Findhorn, Omega, The Haven, Breitenbush Hot Springs, and Esalen.
As the theme of the conference was ‘The power of the the heart moves us forward into a new era,’ I chose the Work That Reconnects, created by Joanna Macy, as my presentation and workshop topic. The work has been offered at many of the holistic centers represented at the conference and is relatively new in China. As far as I know, only a few facilitators of the Work (Della Duncan and Hide Enomoto) have offered workshops there.
Joanna Macy explains, “The central purpose of the Work that Reconnects is to help people uncover and experience their innate connections with each other and with the systemic, self-healing powers of the web of life, so that they may be enlivened and motivated to play their part in creating a sustainable civilization.”
Via powerpoint I gave an overview of the Work That Reconnects, which included open sentences on the Great Turning, a short video from Joanna Macy with translated captions on ‘Befriending Our Despair,’ and ended with inviting the 700 participants to stand up behind their seats and sway to the beautiful music of the Elm Dance. Set to the haunting strains of a Latvian song it has been shared all around the world as a form of commitment to the earth and connection to each other. Many participants asked where to get the music, and I found out later that a group of kindergarten teachers wanted to teach the dance to their children.
As Western presenters, we were subject to endless selfies with the participants, an expression of their gratitude. The three hour workshop the following day was attended by 90 people. Again, the enthusiasm and openness they showed was quite moving as we went through the four successive stages of the Spiral; Gratitude, Honoring Our Pain for the World, Seeing with New Eyes, and Going Forth. We ended with the history and teaching of the Elm dance which took form in Germany in the 1980s.
In 1992, Joanna took the Elm Dance with her to workshops she was leading with a Russian- speaking team in areas poisoned by the Chernobyl disaster. There, and especially in Novozybkov, the most contaminated of inhabited cities, the dance became an expression of their will to live. “When I was with the people of Novozybkov,” said Joanna, “I made them a promise: to tell their story wherever I went. In keeping that promise, I shared the Elm Dance.”
In continuing this promise I shared the Elm Dance in China. There is much to learn about Chinese culture, politics, and how spirituality has evolved after the death of Mao. In my understanding religion is part of belonging in community and the long tradition of rituals and faith in China have more significance to the Chinese people than religion.
How the Work That Reconnects can address cultural differences is a topic that needs to be explored more fully so we can be more relevant in further sharing the Work there. It was heartening to engage in conversation about how we might translate Joanna’s books Coming Back to Life and Active Hope. There were also several invitations to lead more workshops. I’m excited to explore these possibilities, which we can then offer to facilitators of the Work That Reconnects as we go forth into the future.