A few weeks ago, just over thirty Illuman leaders gathered at Trout Lodge in the foothills of the Ozarks for our annual leaders gathering, which we’ve dubbed “Oracle” after our original location in Oracle, Arizona.* Though we have changed venues, we’ve found it meaningful to keep the name, especially since one meaning of the term Oracle is “a revelation or the persons through whom the revelation is given.”
One revelation from this year’s Oracle was expected: the complete and overwhelming joy of being together after two years of meeting only virtually. The sense of gratitude for the ability to meet in person was palpable. The power to create collective cohesion through the ability to talk personally with men, walk shoulder to shoulder, share meals, meet informally, and share common space served our purpose and retreat theme of “Reconnection, Realignment, and Recommitment.”
We spent most of our time together engaged in a practice known as the Work That Reconnects (WTR), with Ned Abenroth and Terry Symens-Bucher serving as facilitators. Brought into the world by ecophilosopher and teacher Joanna Macy, WTR is an experiential, participatory process to reconnect with our selves, others, and the world of creation. It begins with the wisdom tradition of grounding in gratitude. From the stance of gratitude, we can then see and feel the pain of the world which, of course, is felt in our own bodies. The pain of the world takes many forms: destruction of habitat, climate change, species extinction, wars, political polarization, as well as family disintegration and estrangement. These and other traumas we often carry, hidden and unspoken. This step is called “Honoring Our Pain for the World.” Grieving and allowing our pain to be acknowledged, witnessed, and felt becomes the opportunity to identify ourselves in new ways and create new neural pathways.
In the WTR, this experience of transformation is called “Seeing with New Eyes.” Finally, various facilitated experiences allow us to exercise this new sight and develop an “active hope.” This work helps us to transform the despair and apathy that can result from facing our social and ecological crises into constructive, collaborative action. Thus, the last step of the process is called “Going Forth.” For Illuman leaders at Oracle, this meant recommitting to our mission of transforming men through a power greater than our own. As part of this, we participated in a Fishbowl and Spiral Council with the men involved with the Illuman Reweaving process, followed, on the final morning, by meetings of the Board, Wisdom Elders, and Conveners. As we turned back to the more practical details of Illuman leadership, our conversations were enriched by the intensive inner work we had just completed. We closed the Oracle experience with a liturgy and left feeling inspired and renewed in our commitment to further the work of Illuman.
* Oracle is an annual retreat attended by men who serve on the Board, Wisdom Elders, Conveners, operations Councils, and other leadership groups within Illuman. Leaders from international Illuman-affiliated organizations are also invited. The retreat is planned by the Program Council.