Community and Connection:
Two Books Reviewed

by John Scull

The Nature of Transformation
(2nd edition)
by Darlene E. Clover, Shirley Follen, and Budd Hall
Ontario Institute for Studes in Education/University of Toronto
ISBN 0-919971-35-0.

Coming Back to Life:
Practices to reconnect our lives, our world

by Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown.
Gabriola Island, Canada
New Society Publishers
ISBN 0-86571-391-X.

Community, deep ecology, and ecopsychology are closely connected. Ecopsychology is not an individual psychology, it is a psychology of relationship and belonging. Being good citizens of our human communities and good citizens of the larger biological community grow from the same values. Consumerism and the individualism that supports it are enemies of community. Separated, disconnnected people are more needy and less powerful than people who are united in a common purpose. People who are connected to nature are stronger, healthier, and more centered than those who are estranged from their surroundings. Our separation from nature and from each other is dangerous for the health of the planet and for our own fulfillment.

Of course, it's one thing to value human and natural community and interconnectedness, it's quite another thing to know how to create, nurture, and sustain community. It's not enough to wish for a stronger sense of belonging; each of us can strengthen the communites in which we live through animating and facilitating connecting activities. These books are excellent how-to-do-it guides that any of us can use.

In the early '90s I was an overseas cooperant with a Canadian international volunteer organization called CUSO (the meaning of the letters has long been lost). For decades CUSO has been a pioneer in community-building in developing countries. Before I went overseas I was trained in CUSO's methods and I used many of them in my work in the Solomon Islands. Then, about a year ago, an American email friend and member of the International Community for Ecopsychology, Betsy Barnum, told me about workshops and a new book on something called transformational learning, taught by some people from Toronto. At her suggestion I ordered the first edition of The Nature of Transformation. There were CUSO's methods, along with many others, clearly explained, well organized, and beautifully displayed. I am now looking at the improved second edition of this excellent handbook.

In a mercifully short theoretical section (only 23 pages) the authors give us the intellectual and historical seeds of their work, then they get right into it, explaining how to organize and animate workshops along with 52 pages of clear instructions for specific activities. These experiences are truly transformational, providing adult education, building community, and increasing self-awareness.

Joanna Macy is famous for her years of peace activism and her role as a founder of what has come to be called Experiential Deep Ecology. In Coming Back to Life she unites with writer and psychotherapist Molly Young Brown to create a handbook on how to do deep ecology workshops on your own. In the first 61 pages they clearly articulate the concepts of experiential deep ecology and the work that reconnects, in the next 135 pages they explain how to organize workshops and provide complete outlines and instructions for seven workshops, including the famous "Council of All Beings."

While these two books come from somewhat different philosophical and theoretical perspectives and emphasize somewhat different methods, they have a great deal in common -- they are handbooks on how to build connections and community between people and with the more-than-human world. Both books provide activities that have been proven successful in different settings and with different facilitators.

If you care about the life than inhabits Earth, get these books, organize an event, and create community and connection -- you will be glad you did. With these handbooks there is no need for experts or star performers from out of town; these handbooks contain everything you need to do it yourself. Of course Jesus said, "No prophet is accepted in his own country," and we all know that real experts live more than 80 km away, so maybe the best idea is to buy the books and then go build community in the town or neighbourhood up the road.

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