The Gratitude Potluck Banquet Celebration of 2017 was a warm, reflective, beautiful, fun evening, as we had hoped. We had several requests to share the short program delivered by Sari Steuber, Kathie Leighton, and Aleisa Myles, and crafted with help from their fellow members of the Inner Transition Group of TTM, so we are publishing it here.
I’d like to start with a little background on Transition Town Media (TTM). TTM is part of an international network of towns that support their local communities in becoming more resilient in the face of the many crises we have to contend with today. Crises that, in this country and the world, have reached dangerous new levels: climate disasters that are more furious and more frequent; species going extinct at rates that scientists are calling the 6th mass extinction event; acts of terrorism and gun violence that seem to be a daily fact of life; degradation of our soil, water, and air such that our viability on this planet is threatened; racism and sexism, economic and social inequity, incivility and intolerance that are still rampant and seem to be getting worse. All of this affects us, affects our psyches. You could say we are all traumatized to some extent—the walking wounded.
There are many ways you might respond to these challenges—you may want to crawl under the covers and hope that it will all blow over. You might turn to your favorite TV shows and try to forget about it all, hoping that someone will sort it all out. You may run around like crazy, trying to respond to every crisis, trying to fix everything or to find at least one thing you can fix. It’s tempting to try to ignore these problems or to deny they exist, or to get angry or depressed about them, feeling like the situation is hopeless.
Transition looks at these problems and recognizes a common pattern—they are all based on the culture we live in, the prevailing story we tell ourselves about who we are. According to that story, we are all separate beings in a world of separate beings, all competing for supremacy. According to that story, we are human beings pitted against each other in a survival of the fittest or maybe the nastiest. According to that story, we’re also pitted against nature, which has become something to master, to tame, to subjugate for our purposes. But we are creating another story— one of cooperation, of inter-connection, of making alliances for common goals and for the betterment of us all. Instead of fighting over tiny slices of the pie, we can come together and bake a bigger pie so there’s plenty for everyone!
It has been said that we make our path by walking. And that’s what Transition seeks to do. If we’re going to create a better world, a better future, based on cooperation and connection, rather than greed and strife, we need to just start creating that better world. We need to learn to work with each other and with nature to create a new infrastructure that can eventually replace what’s not working with our current one. We’re starting out by laying stepping-stones on this new path, but we trust that these ideas will catch on and more and more of the path will start getting traffic and eventually it will be the main thoroughfare.
So, what kind of stepping-stones are we laying down? One of our most popular ones is the Media FreeStore, a place where people can bring items they don’t want or need anymore and others can have them for free. It’s a win-win-win—people get to simplify their life and reduce their clutter, others save money by getting things they want for free, and the planet has less waste to contend with. But there’s something else that happens too, and it’s happening quite organically. Both donors and recipients soon begin to realize that the story they’re used to is based on scarcity— there isn’t enough stuff so you have to grab what you can. But this new story creates abundance—when we share our things, there are lots to go around.
I’ll just mention a few other stepping-stones. We also run a TimeBank where people can share services on an hour-for-an-hour basis, sort of a FreeStore for services instead of stuff. Another recent project was our Solarize Greater Media campaign which helped 42 homes in the Media area get solar panels more cheaply and easily. Not only do these homes save money on electric bills, they’re also helping the planet by reducing fossil fuel usage, and they help spread the word about using renewables. We’ve created a Yardens project to encourage residents to grow their own food in their yard. We’re working with the Media Borough to craft a Borough-wide Composting program to keep kitchen scraps out of the trash. We put on potlucks like this one so that people can get together in a safe environment, break bread, and get to know each other. And we have an Inner Transition group that looks at how we can keep our inner resilience in the face of the strife that we’re bombarded with every day. I’d like to acknowledge the members of this group who came together to make this event possible, my colleagues, Kathie Leighton and Aleisa Myles, and our eminent elder, Robin Harper.
Now I’d like to have our fellow community creators stand and be recognized. If you’re here representing some group, organization, or congregation, would you please stand up? We acknowledge you as the innovators, the organizers, the co-creators of this new story, the people who are making things happen.
[After taking the microphone around so the representatives could introduce themselves and say a little bit about their organization, Kathie Leighton gave the introduction to a short exercise.]
Introduction to the exercise. This process focuses on our own lives and helps us see how their basic features and conditions prepared us to take part in the healing of the world.
This event is all about saying thank you to all of you that just stood up. And to all of your staff and members. Just a bit ago Sari painted a picture of a world that makes me cry sometimes. Makes me afraid, sometimes. But I’m bolstered and energized as we gather together and think about the good you do. I am so grateful for each of you, and the difference you are making—the work you are doing to make this world a more beautiful place our hearts know is possible.
That’s actually the title of a book—a book by Charles Eisenstein, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible. The gratitude cards sprinkled around on the tables share some of the insights from this book. Thoughts that can encourage us, and keep us going, and remind us of what we intuitively know is true. We are NOT fashioned to be separate beings striving against one another. Rather, we ARE connected. And in that connection is our resilience, our ability to bounce back.
There is an inextinguishable spark within us. For some, it has ignited. For others, it is waiting to be awakened. It is that human connection that we experience when we gather together that bursts the embers into flame. It is this human connection that sustains us. A connection sometimes made electronically, or made so powerfully in person, that lingers in the felt memories that keep us going. Everything you do matters.
I invite you now to connect with a neighbor at your table in an exercise leading us to reflect and be grateful for the paths each of us has traveled and the gifts we’ve received along the way. Paths and gifts that have prepared us for this time we are in, and have prepared us to take part in healing the world and experiencing the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.
This exercise is inspired by one developed by Joanna Macy, which she calls the “Bodhisattva Check-In.” In preparing for this evening I learned that a bodhisattva is a hero figure from the Buddhist tradition. In one account a bodhisattva approaches the gates of nirvana, but rather than seeking an exit from a suffering world, the servant-hero turns back to this world vowing to return again and again to help all others. A bodhisattva is an archetype for a servant-hero like so many of you: community-organizers, mentors, teachers, counselors, rescuers, healers, suffering-servants, worker-priests, change-agents, idealistic-revolutionaries, prophets, shamans.
Join me now as Aleisa leads us on a little gratitude adventure to consider the gifts that have prepared each of us for this time we are in. Consider your life experiences, the people in your life, the environments you’ve found yourself in, the work you have done. Through these, how have you been fashioned to take on the role you have to play in healing the world and experiencing the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible?
Exercise: A grateful reflection on the gifts we have received in our lives that have prepared us for living in this time.
Answer these questions in a paired-sharing:
• your heritage, teachers, family, and friends,
• the Earth and the natural world,
• your visions, dreams, callings, or intuition,
• your past work, leadership, and experiences?
How have they prepared you for your part in a more beautiful world our hearts know is possible? How do you experience gratitude for these gifts?