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Deep Ecology & Organizational Consulting Article

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by Ruth Rosenhek (1999/05/21)

In my earlier work as an organizational consultant, I was involved primarily with coalitions, grassroots groups and other NGOs in the social change sector using mostly modified future search conferences (for "have-no-time" groups), visioning, strategic change (planning) and conflict resolution.

Even after a very successful day (or especially after a successful day), I noticed that most of us left feeling drained, that we had used up sheets and sheets of flip chart paper covered with words that now needed transcribing, and that the processes for the mostpart did not encourage or even invite the spiritual or emotional aspects of participants into the room. Granted, many people leave future search conferences with high energy and certainly the skits are creative and tap into the right brain. However, an overall tiredness permeated after a long try-to-squeeze-in-as-much-productivity-as-possible day that in large part tapped the left brain.

Several years ago when I began facilitating deep ecology workshops, I noticed that I left feeling energized and inspired even after a full and intensive weekend. Deep ecology is a philosophy of nature that stresses our interconnection with the Earth, the ecosphere, and all other living species with whom we co-exist. The image of a web is often used to describe how we are interrelated in contrast to seeing human beings as the crown of creation or the measure of all being. Deep ecology processes take us back to Mother Nature; we use re-Earthing rituals and ceremonies to truly EXPERIENCE our intimate connection with the Earth.

Since discovering deep ecology, I have been integrating deep ecology processes into the work of organizational consulting, particularly with environmental activist organizations. As we take time to remember who we are in the larger scheme of things, the work community comes together in a deeper, more trusting way than ever before.

What I find is that once we, as members of a group or community, connect with each other through our ecological identities (the part of each of us that is intimately connected with the Earth), then we can more easily move through tougher issues and moments. Conflicts and differences fall to the side as we remember ourselves through our deeper identity with the Earth. After all, beyond being democrats or republicans, jews or catholics, Polish or Japanese, we are all Earthlings. Once we have laid aside what Alan Watts calls the smaller "skin encapsulated ego", then planning, cultural change, gender dynamics and other difficult issues are more easily tackled.

The basic format of the work that I do is day long staff or board retreats. I try to allocate the first couple of hours for working on the deep ecology connection. The rest of the day I weave in the morning's experiences by pausing here and there to remind participants of the sacred moments from the morning. For example, in the midst of a heated conflict, I might ask the group to allow for a moment of silence as I remind them of the trees that we stood under and breathed with in the morning. This helps to align ourselves back into our ecological identities.

Here are some of the forms that I use for this work:

Setting - When possible we go outside for part of the day into a field or the woods or even a small plot of grass, with adequate privacy so that everyone is comfortable.

1. Circle - It is important that we sit in a circle with each other and that we wear comfortable clothing to the retreat. This encourages us to step outside of our work identities and to stretch ourselves in new ways. The circle creates sacred space. This is a place where sharing tends to be authentic and spontaneous; we can all see each other equally. Whether or not we participate in a visibly active way, we all participate by sitting in this form that our ancestors sat in not so long ago.

2. Intention - After I lead the group in a short meditation, I articulate an intention for the day. This begins with "to feel our connection with each other and the Earth" and then continues with the group's mission. For example "as we work together to protect the Rainforests of the world." The short meditation might be a visualization that describes the interconnection between our breath and the breath of the trees. We bring attention to our out-breath as the carbon dioxide which we give to the trees who then give us the gift of oxygen for our in-breath.

3. Ecological Identity - Oftentimes, we have spent much time together in meetings, around the table, or in the lunch room and so we feel that we already know each other. And we do in many respects. We know about each others' families, who's in a relationship with who, who likes which activities and other demographic information such as where we live and that sort of thing. However, we are not so familiar with each other's ecological identity or Earth self, the part of each of us that identifies with the natural world, cares about and is connected to the Earth and all beings that share the Earth.

One way to elicit the ecological identity is to go around the circle and ask each person to responds to a simple question such as: Share briefly with the group something that you love about Nature such as ancient towering redwoods or how everything works in cycles or Share with the group a loss that you have experienced in Nature such as an area that has been cleared that you used to hang out in or a creek you used to drink from that is now polluted.

4. Milling - To further get to know each other through our ecological self and to strengthen the partnerships between co-workers (board members, volunteers, etc.), milling exercises are fun, active, extra-ordinary, and profound. This is a series of exercises that involve movement and paired sharings including the evolutionary hand journey. For more information, see seed/deep-eco/cabmill.htm

5. Despairwork - a vehicle to express our feelings of grief, anger and fear that arise in response to the social and ecological times that we are living in. There are a number of forms of despairwork that can be used depending on the group's interest and their comfort level with emotional work. One quick and effective way that I often use is to ring the bell and begin with a moment of a silence (or a tone). Following this, participants call into the circle that which is bringing them sorrow, rage, or fear. For example, "I'm angry about the multi-nationals' greed and lack of care!", "I'm afraid for my children, what kind of future will they have?", "I'm sad about the recent whale slaughter." I let this run for about 10 minutes or until the exercise comes to a natural completion. It's always good to affirm these feelings afterwords, including the wisdom and inspiration that they brng us. For a more detailed account of despairwork rituals, see

6. Sharing Circle/Eliciting Issues - Perhaps the most important tool and also the most simple. The sharing circle can be used to elicit feelings that have been held back and to identify difficult issues.

These are the guidelines that I first share with the group. They are based in part on the work of Scott Peck's community building model, Quakerism and deep ecology principles.

* Speak from the first person. If you speak from the second person or you say "We", the rest of us will have a more difficult time really listening to what you are saying because we will be trying to ascertain whether what you are saying fits for us or not. It is much more powerful to share your own experiences and feelings and it will be much easier for us to readily accept what you are saying as your experience and not necessarily each of ours.

* Listen. Allow space and silence between speakers. We sometimes use a talking stick, however, I also like doing this without the talking stick so that the group learns that it can self regulate. I suggest to people that listening means sometimes letting go of that inner dialogue that is simultaneously happening inside of our head. That we can choose to put that aside and hope that it will come back later if it is important and meant to be part of this conversation. As I heard Thich Nhat Hahn say, listening is one of the kindest gifts that we can give to one another.

* Speak when you are moved. One way that we know that we are moved is when our heart starts to beat very loudly, sometimes with such a force that we cannot hear what is said. Or likewise we may notice we are having a difficult time listening because we are so preoccupied with something that we want to say. We speak out of the silence without having to ask permission.

* Confidentiality includes not taking what is said home and not using names of people outside of the circle. Confidentiality also means respecting what is said in the circle as belonging to the circle. This means that over lunch we don't say "Hey Judy, when you were talking about how you feel left out sometimes, I was thinking....." Perhaps Judy does not want to talk about this at this time. We need to be sensitive to the needs of each other. You might ask Judy first if she would mind talking a bit more about what she said in the circle and then go ahead considerately and gently if she says yes.

After, I have shared these guidelines, sometimes I ask folks what else they need to make this circle as effective as possible.

To open the circle, we pick something appropriate for the group. A moment of silence for a more mainstream group. Toning together for a moment followed by silence for a group more comfortable with this kind of get together. And then from the silence, the first person speaks.

We speak in any order, as we are moved. Those who are listening have an important role to play. They are listening as fully as they can. They are nodding affirmatively as they feel their support for the speaker. They are empathizing as much as they can.

When the speaker is done speaking, those who are listening affirm the speaker's expression by saying "We hear you" or "Yes"or "Right on Brother/Sister". (A little humor comes in as I explain these possible responses.)

I remind the circle that what the speaker says may very well be an expression of a voice that lives within many of us. Remembering our interconnection as each person speaks.

Before beginning, I ask the group to review in their mind their experiences at work. To ask themselves "What is working well?" and "What is working less well?" I explain that for now we will just express our feelings without response from our colleagues. Sometimes, merely expressing difficult feelings is enough to resolve an issue. It is important that we develop enough trust in the group to know that authentic feelings can be safely expressed.

6. Issues - Following the sharing circle, issues are prioritized and the group discusses one or two of these (or more if time permits). Other agenda items are also discussed. During this part of the work, the consultant is focused on helping healthy communications to form and creating understandings about group dynamics.

7. Closure - At the end of the day, we once again take the time to connect with Nature. Sometimes, I ask people to wonder about in nature allowing themselves to be drawn to a tree or a rock or anything that seems of interest to them. Then I say, "Once you find something, spend a little time with it. Ask this being (plant, rock, ant, the sun etc.) what wisdom it has to offer you regarding your work with this organization. In about 5 minutes, return to the larger circle and bring something back with you that symbolizes this interaction that you have."

Once everybody has reassembled, standing in a circle, we one by one bring our natural objects to the center of the circle and if we wish, we share the message that we received, or something about the experience.

Before leaving, I bless the group and the group's work using language that is appropriate and comfortable to the specific group. If "bless" is too stong a word, I might say "well wishes on your work together". I might reiterate the mission of the group, once again planting the intention that this group work as effectively and cohesively as possible in fulfilling their mission.

As the day comes to a close, I find that we are not drained and 'brain-dead'. Rather, there has been a healing through the course of this day and a sense of hopefulness permeates.

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RUTH ROSENHEK, M.S. is an environmental activist and organizational consultant who has worked with social change and environmental groups since 1982. Ruth's work includes conflict resolution, consensus building, strategic planning (modified future search conferences), leadership and group development workshops, mission, identity development and gender dynamics.

Offering her work during this time of ecological and social crises, Ruth crafts processes that acknowledge and balance the stress of time limitations and fast-paced environments with the need to connect emotionally and spiritually to our work. Good strong leadership and healthy group processes are vital to our success.

Ruth works with environmental and social change organizations and communities where the bonding and empowerment might synergistically merge with the shared organizational vision and goals to increase the harmony, cohesion and potency of the teamwork in which people are engaged.

All processes can be custom designed to fit the needs of the organization. A brief introduction is available as schedules permit. If you are interested in learning more about this work, please click here

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Rainforest Information Centre
PO Box 368, Lismore
NSW 2480 Australia


Antioch University, Keene, New Hampshire, 1993-1995
Master of Sciences in Organization and Management

Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, 1977-1981
Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and French, Magna Cum Laude


Consultant and Workshop Facilitator/ Environmental Activist

Consult with communities, environmental action and social change organizations bringing a deep ecology context to the areas of vision, planning, conflict resolution and community building. Specialize in working with collaboratives, coalitions and activists. Board/Staff retreats. Facilitate deep ecology workshops in the US and abroad as a part of annual rainforest benefit tour. Developing and implementing rainforest protection projects. Campaigning to stop the mining of gold.

WOMEN'S HEALTH CONSORTIUM (Portsmouth, NH, 1995-1997)

Provided leadership and direction for women's health collaborative. Responsibilities included grant writing, program development, implementation and evaluation. Programs included outreach, education, information & referral and advocacy. Implemented and maintained free breast and cervical cancer screening program and Women's Wellness Center.

WOMEN'S INITIATIVE NETWORK (Portsmouth, NH, 1993-1997)

Developed grassroots community-based effort that aimed to support effective HIV/AIDS Prevention/Education programs. Targeted women through proactive awareness programs and encouragement of dialogue and self exploration. Used a team approach to create and implement fund-raisers and community building events.

AIDS RESPONSE OF THE SEACOAST (Portsmouth, NH, 1992-1993)
Volunteer & Special Projects Coordinator

Developed and implemented an innovative volunteer program that involved approximately 100 volunteers. Recruited, trained and supervised volunteers incorporating a philosophy of volunteer empowerment and responsibility. Designed and implemented special events, fund-raisers and innovative programs.


CERES Community (Melbourne, VA)
Staff Retreat (2000)

Rainforest Action Network, (San Francisco, CA)
Ongoing Consultant since '97 working with Campaigners and Staff

Sacred Earth Network, (Petersham, MA)
Staff Retreat, (6/99)

Ruckus Society, (Berkeley, CA)
Ongoing Consultant - Staff Retreat (1998)

Project Underground (Berkeley, CA)
Ongoing Consultant - Staff Retreat (6/98, 10/98)

We’Moon (Estacada, OR)
Community Planning Retreat for women’s intentional community (1998)

Upland Hills Ecological Awareness Center (Oxford, MI)
Board Retreat (1998)

Massachusetts Community Forestry Council (Boston, MA)
Facilitated Board Retreat for coalition of private and public sector groups (1998)

Activist Empowerment Training (Malibu, CA) (1998)

Institute for Deep Ecology (Occidental, CA)
Facilitated annual strategic planning retreat for Board, staff and other stakeholders. (1997)

Women’s Health Consortium (Portsmouth, NH) (1997)
Facilitated annual strategic planning retreat for multi-agency collaborative of health care providers

Elderly Services Strafford Guidance Center (Strafford County,NH)
Consulted with multi-stakeholder group to plan and implement community-based Strategic Planning conference based on Future Search Conference technology. (1997)

University of New Hampshire (Durham, NH)
Facilitated spirituality retreat for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons. (1997)

Community Resource Network (Rockingham/Strafford Counties,NH)
Assisted large scale health and human service collaborative with organizational development. Provided facilitation and guidance and served as central contact person. Assisted communication within and across committees. (1995-1996)

Alliance for Community Health (Rockingham County, NH)
Assisted with planning and facilitated large health and human service provider forum (1996)

Community Resource Network (Portsmouth, NH)
Facilitated Making Groups Work workshop. (1996)

Southeastern NH HIV/AIDS Task Force (Nashua, NH)
Facilitated Health Care Providers workshop on working with sexual minorities. (1996)

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* Organizational Consulting within the context
of the social and ecological times in which we live.

* Models new ways to conduct meetings that draw upon our
creativity and intuition within organizational development
processes such as planning, consensus building,
conflict resolution and vision building.

* Employs state-of-the-art organizational process such as
Open Space and Future Search technology in combination with
Deep Ecology processes such as the Council of All Beings.

* Creates community through the discovery and sharing
of our Ecological Self. The connection with each other,
our community and our planet remains in the organization
long past the actual consulting process.

* Strongly engages participants in the vision
and mission of the organization.


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