Transition Towns, and TTM in particular, are all about being resilient. That is, being strong enough to bounce back from whatever life throws at us. These days, life seems to be throwing a lot of scary stuff at us – a shaky economy, wild weather emergencies, violent crises around the world and around the country. How can we cope with it all? Transition tries to address that on two levels. One, by working in communities to build strong connections between neighbors, strong systems better able to support the community in tough times. We work on creating more and better access to local food (the Yardens project), a sharing network of goods (the Free Store) and services (the TimeBank), emergency preparedness on the community level, not just the private/family level, and so on. The idea is that a community of neighbors who know, trust, and care about each other and have the skills to produce most of what they need can weather a lot of the problems that life and the outside world can send our way.
But the second, equally important, level is personal resilience. How do we, personally, deal with the upsets and stresses that the world brings us? How many people do you know (perhaps yourself included) who are out of work, have family members who are ill or incapacitated and require a lot of care and attention, have huge heating bills or debts that they’re struggling to deal with? These kinds of problems, whether we have them ourselves or our friends do, are a strain on our health and sense of well-being. And then with all the external issues of wars, extreme weather, and an uncertain economy, it’s hard to stay optimistic. Dealing with the stressors of our modern lives and learning ways to be more resilient in our personal lives is what TTM’s Inner Transition Group is all about. This group meets monthly, discusses inspiring books, talks about things we personally have done to make ourselves more resilient, and helps each other move towards “a gentler and more equitable way of living on the Earth”.
As an organization, TTM is very concerned about the resilience of our volunteers. We certainly can’t work toward a resilient community if our own volunteers are stressed out or burnt out! Our dedicated volunteers have work, homes, and families to attend to, yet they spend countless hours on TTM projects and events because of their selfless enthusiasm for this cause. So, we’ve taken various steps to help promote their well-being.
One of these is to hold periodic “being” meetings. We got the idea for these from Sophy Banks of the Transition Network who wrote about “The Power of Not Doing Stuff“, but we’ve done this sort of thing before too – having meetings where we just talk about how we’re doing, why we’re so excited about the Transition philosophy, what we want to get out of our role in TTM (learning to organize events, write proposals, speak in front of groups, etc), and what we want to give. We start each of our Steering meetings with a “check-in”, in which we go around the room and say what’s going well in our lives, what’s not going so well, and what we want to add to the night’s agenda. Some nights, check-ins go pretty quickly – “everything’s pretty good these days” or something like that – but if there’s something particular we want to celebrate or a new challenge has come into our lives, we have a chance to bring it up and share it with the group. Having each other know what’s going on in our lives, we’ve found, gives us all a new respect for the time and energy each of us puts into TTM and allows us to appreciate what we all bring to the table.
At our most recent “being” meeting, Marion, the founder of our Inner Transition Group, led us in addressing a set of questions designed to examine our potential for burn-out and what might work to counteract that tendency. We took some time to think about and write down our own answers to the questions and then discussed what the exercise illuminated for us. We looked at whether we feel compelled to keep busy or do way too many things and if so, what drives us to do that. Many of us feel a sense of urgency about the work that we do, some said it “felt good to be doing something”, to feel like we’re contributing to the birth of a better world. Some felt that they had to step up because others weren’t. There was a sense of recognition when someone suggested we might be “overfunctioning to prevent others from failing” – something along the lines of “it’s easier if I just do it myself”.
We also explored what signals we each have that we’re approaching burn-out, like irritability, depression, feeling trapped, and what kinds of things we do to alleviate it, like going out for a walk, listening to music, talking with a friend, meditating, sitting back and getting a bigger perspective. We discussed how important it was to keep ourselves well and balanced and not to let all the projects and events we’re involved in take precedence over that. We pledged ourselves to using our involvement in TTM to strengthen and enrich us and each other, just as we work to strengthen and enrich our community. We’re committed to helping each other grow, making TTM a leaderful organization, even if it means we make some mistakes along the way. The key is to keep ourselves always stretching but always in balance, or as one of our great modern philosophers said: “Do be do be do” (Frank Sinatra).