Episode #84 Active Hope: bringing resilience and reconnection to the world with Chris Johnstone and Madeleine Young
As our world hurtles towards tipping points, how can we be part of the solution? How can we find resilience, in ourselves, our lives and our communities? Above all, how can we bring Active Hope to the world? Dr Chris Johnstone and Madeleine Young have set up an online training course based in Joanna Macy’s work that reconnects and we talk about it in this week’s podcast
With a background in medicine and psychology, Chris Johnstone’s work over the last thirty years has focused on exploring what helps us face disturbing situations (whether in our own lives or the world) and respond in ways that nourish resilience and well-being. His books include Active Hope (co-authored with Joanna Macy and translated into more than eleven languages) and Seven Ways to Build Resilience. His online resilience courses have attracted students from more than sixty countries. He lives in the north of Scotland where he teaches online at CollegeOfWellbeing.com, ResilienceTraining.net and ActiveHope.Training
Madeleine Young is a permaculturist, homeopath and XR activist. She’s a trained facilitator in The Work that Reconnects and has helped to co-create the Active Hope online training.
Manda: My guests this week for there are two of them are absolutely crucial to where we go next. Madeleine Young grew up in an activist household and spent much of her childhood at Greenham Common in later life. She’s been an activist with Extinction Rebellion. She’s also a homeopath and a trainer of The Work that Reconnects. And that’s what brought her together with Dr. Chris Johnstone, who has been a medical doctor, a GP, a specialist working with addictions, and the developer of the College of Well-Being, which teaches positive psychology and ways of becoming more of ourselves. Chris also co-authored the book Active Hope with Joanna Macy. And so he, too, has been deeply and intimately involved in the work that reconnects since the early 80s. And together, the two of them, Madeleine and Chris, have come together to create an active hope training online for free video based with all of the technology of the 21st century so that all of us can begin to dive deeply into the spirals of well-being, of understanding ourselves, of coming together in ways that acknowledge all of ourselves, that can help us listen to the web of life so that we know our part to play in the great turning, the great unravelling or the great change that is coming. This has been a truly and deeply inspiring podcast to record, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. People of the podcast. Please welcome Madeleine Young and Dr. Chris Johnson.
Manda: So, Madeleine and Chris, welcome to the Accidental Gods podcast. Thank you for turning out on what sounds, Madeleine, like quite an interesting day in your life. Tell us a little bit about where you are and how it is.
Madeleine: Well, I’ve just moved myself and my horse, my partner and and dogs to to Devon, where it’s currently incredibly rainy. So we’re just trying to settle in amidst the mud, the torrential rain.
Manda: But it’s Devon, which is very like Shropshire. And the rule for Wales and Scotland is if you can see the hills, it’s going to rain. And if you can’t see the hills, it’s already raining. So this is how Devon is going to be. But that doesn’t stop it being very beautiful. And Chris, you’re in one of those other places where rain is something of a feature. Tell us where you are.
Chris: So I’m in the north east of Scotland, and the sky is blue and clear and sunny just now. And over on the East Coast, it doesn’t rain nearly as much as the West Coast. We’re in what’s called a rain shadow. We’ve got mountains around us that cause the clouds to drop most of that rain before they come to us.
Manda: So you guys have set up the active Hope Foundation training online, video based, because we’re in the 21st century, and that’s how we do things. And so we really want to talk today about how that came about: what it is, how you do it, why you do it. So let’s ask Chris first, because you helped to write Active Hope with Joanna Macy and therefore you have already been embedded in the whole of the Work that Reconnects active hope universe for quite a while, I think. So tell us how you came to that and then how you came to this.
Chris: So back in the early 1980s, my partner at the time, and she’d done one of Joanna Macy’s first workshops in the UK, and I was a young student at the time, deeply concerned about what was happening in the world, but also horrified by what I saw as a default collective response of ignoring the problem. And particularly, I spent some time in my training as a medical doctor in Sri Lanka at a centre for abandoned, malnourished children. And to see a starving child, and then go back to business as usual in London and, you know, see all the kind of huge levels of extravagant wealth… it’s hugely unequal. You know, lots of people struggle, but there are some people have such huge amounts of wealth, and this sense of just like, oh, these problems, they just happen. And there’s a kind of acceptance that it’s OK for hundreds of millions of people to starve for our world to be on this collision course with disaster. And meanwhile, we just carry on with business as usual. And Joanna Macy was one of the very few people who I saw as having a very well developed and effective response to that in the workshops that she developed. This approach called The Work that Reconnects, which is basically about plugging back into life.
Chris: If we see ourselves as separate from life, in these little bubbles of individualism, we can go about our concerns, go about our daily life, but in a way that we’re kind of unplugged from… I think we can feel concerned, but I think also what we’re most unplugged from is our sense that we can make a difference. And Joanna Macy’s work was called Despair and Empowerment. It’s like when you when your heart sinks, you know, you look at what’s happening in the world, and think, what can I do about that? You can feel despairing sometimes. But the empowerment is like, how do you go through a strengthening, transformative process that grows your sense that you can play an effective role in responding to the mess that we’re in? And I just loved her first book, Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age, or her first book about this anyway. And I signed up to train with Joanna Macy, which I did in the late 1980s. And I worked closely with her ever since, over 30 years now. And I’ve been running workshops and training trainers. And Joanna and I were having a discussion where we were, I wanted to record us having a conversation about what we learnt, about what helps us face our concerns about the world.
And it was out of recording those conversations that… I loved what was emerging. And, you know, from both of us, really, it was what I think of as a generative conversation where we draw out from each other things that we hadn’t really said before. So I pitched to Joanna the idea of us turning this into a book, and that evolved into Active Hope, which is now published in 14 languages around the world. And it’s made a huge impact for some people. And what it’s doing as a book is taking people on the same strengthening journey that we do in workshops. But we’re also thinking like, well, there’s a lot of people who don’t read books, and also how do we make this more widely accessible? And I was very lucky to get a grant from the Emergence Foundation last year, which supports people doing educational activities for positive change. And they liked what I proposed. And so it was to set up a free video based online course in Active Hope, Active Hope training. And Madeleine had done another training with me, a facilitator training, and played a hugely important role as kind of part of the team really, that we’ve developed around this project.
Manda: Brilliant. Thank you. That raises so many questions, but let’s move to Madeleine, and then we’ll come back and see how many of them remain to be answered. So, Madeleine, tell us your side of what brought you to this place in this time.
Madeleine: Well, I’m one of those people that the book Active Hope has made a massive difference in my life. My mum’s an activist. So I grew up very aware, probably too aware, of the mess the world is in, from a very young age. I spent big chunks of my childhood there at Greenham Common, like, marching on the streets, doing different things. And then as an adult, I’ve always tried to find my way of trying to make a difference. And I just went through this cycle of finding a cause, finding a community, like real enthusiasm, going for it, and then burn out. And so, yeah, and it always felt like this, like I’d come back to this feeling of being powerless. And then I went to a workshop being run by a dear friend of mine. And it was the first workshop that I’d been to, the Work that Reconnects. And I found it just amazing. And so then I immediately bought the book Active Hope. And the thing for me was that, like, I no longer needed to… before, I was trying to heroically carry all of these feelings I had, and somehow carry them in a like hidden bag while trying to be a good activist. And that was what was causing me to burn out, this dual existence. And so then when I was introduced to this concept that those feelings could actually be at the core of my activism, they could be seen as really valuable. And it’s it really turned my life around. And I feel a lot more alive. And so I feel very passionate about trying to get this out to to as many other people as possible.
Manda: Brilliant. So a little bit more about feeling more alive. How does that feel? What is it like?
Madeleine: It’s interesting because I think it’s like unblocking the grief or the difficult feelings, but also unblocking the joy. So it’s like, well, I was trying to carry those feelings and like just not really have ways that they could be expressed or honoured or valued. And yeah, just trying to distract from them. That was what really contributed to the sense of powerlessness and also to a feeling like I had to try and somehow save the day. And so now I’ve been introduced this idea that I am just a part of this much greater whole this big network. And I only need to do my little bit. I don’t need to try and save everything. And that has me, it’s just taken a huge weight off me, and it means that I can commit way more to the little things that I can do each day, and that also has me feeling much more alive.
Manda: Brilliant. Ok, so I want to come back to committing to the things that you can do, and how you work out what those are. But before we do that, let’s move to Chris. And just before we move on, I’m really curious that you started off as a medical doctor. Did I understand that correctly?
Chris: Yes. Yeah.
Manda: And so did you ever practise once you’d gone through the living hell of medical training? Were you ever a practising medic? And if so, what? And how and where and when?
Chris: Yes. So I trained as a medical doctor. I qualified in 1986 and I worked for more than 20 years in the health service as a doctor in a range of roles, about three or four years, three years as a hospital doctor. And I used to work these incredible hours. You know, I had a contract that I should be available for work for an average of 88 hours a week. It was just absurd. And I got very involved in the campaign to tackle doctors’ hours, because in some ways it’s a similar mindset that leads us to wreck our world. And there’s a system dynamic called ‘overshoot and collapse’. So overshoot is when you drive something too hard for too long, you wear away the carrying capacity, the ability to kind of hold ourselves up, and you end up with collapse. And Madeleine’s describe that with activism. But I also went through that as a junior doctor. I got deeply exhausted from this severe sleep deprivation. I got very depressed. I even had suicidal thoughts. There was a time where I was just on an edge of jumping in front of a bus. You know, it was like a nightmare period of my life. And in the campaign, you know, we slept on the pavement overnight outside a London hospital to draw attention to this. And I ended up taking my Health Authority to court.
And then it made front page headlines around the world, and and over about ten court hearings over six years, I eventually won the case. And that was such an important education for me, because all my colleagues at the time, or most of my colleagues at the time, and I said to them, you know, like, this is horrendous. We’ve got to do something about this. A common response I heard was, well, we haven’t got the power here. There’s nothing we can do. And it was this sense of resignation and defeat. Everyone knew it was crazy. It was absurd. It was dangerous. Yet there was a sense of, well we can’t do anything about this. And I love this idea that one of the most powerful things in the universe is a small gang of committed people. You know that when you get a group of people together, there’s this lovely saying, the whole is more than the sum of the parts. And in the course, we really draw this out, this idea of synergy and emergence, that when people act together, you can create something that wasn’t there before. And we have this equation: one plus one equals two and a bit. You know that when people act together like a great double act, you get something that wasn’t there before that, and a bit more effective.
And so a small group of us, we were very effective in campaigning. We lobbied parliament. We went outside parliament with balls and chains in our hands. And this court case, eventually won, made massive publicity and it did change the context of the law. But I think most of all, it was a reference point that made me aware that you can challenge the feeling of powerlessness that when you fail, I can’t do anything about this. That’s an assessment based on a particular view of things. And that assessment can change. And so what I’ve made my life work really is about learning and understanding what helps change happen. And I worked in my medical career. I trained as a GP, but then I worked in addictions recovery for nearly 20 years. And it’s a similar thing going on that people would reach a point of feeling completely powerless, you know, feeling that one person said to me, he said, I’ve given up, because every time I try, I end up failing, I end up relapsing and going back. But there’s such a lot of learning in addictions recovery because people do get well, people do find a way of facing powerlessness and turning something around. And there’s such important lessons in how that happens.
And what I found was that this was parallel to me being very involved in the Work that Reconnects, and working with Joanna Macy. And I found this cross-fertilisation between my work around the psychology of change and addictions, recovery, and also my work around the psychology of change in tackling world issues with Joanna Macy. And I ended up working very closely with Rob Hopkins, who set up the Transition movement. I contributed a chapter to his book, The Transition Handbook, about really drawing on the psychology of change. And what we’ve done in this Active Hope foundations training is, is we draw on these different streams. One is the Work that Reconnects, my close working with Joanna Macy over 30 years, but also drawing on proven principles of health psychology, what has been evidence based interventions in tackling very difficult issues like addictions and substance. You know, we get so hooked on things, but we can get addicted not just to substances, but also to ways of being. And in a way, I feel like we’ve got hooked on heavy use of fossil fuel in a way where people fear the withdrawal symptoms if they were to cut down their use. And one of the great learnings of the pandemic is that people can stop travelling and dramatically reduce their carbon footprint. And sure, you know, it was hard it was hard going, but we got through that mostly.
You know, there have been casualties along the way. But I think this, people said before the pandemic, people will never stop flying. You know, people are so stuck in their ways, they never change. But we have changed. We’ve shown that it’s possible. And I think that this is a teachable moment, where we are in a world where the pandemic and climate change have things in common and that they’re both invisible hazards until they cause harm. But they’re also both related to our behaviour. It’s not the only cause. But it is a question that we look at a lot in this course, is what happens through you, and problems can happen through us. The pandemic can happen through us. There’s a saying: it’s not just the virus spreading, it’s people spreading the virus. And similarly, with climate change, it’s not some external thing that’s just happening to us. It’s a problem that’s happening through us, through the ways of our choices about how we travel and where we travel, and what energy we use. And we’ve got such a massive task to wean ourselves off carbon heavy lifestyles. But also, I love this idea. This is something I’ve learnt from my clients in addictions recovery, is that recovery has two directions, as what you’re recovering from, but there’s also what you’re recovering towards.
And people may recover from different things. It might be addiction to alcohol or depression or a physical health problem. But can we recover from climate change? You know, some things have gone so far where we don’t know what degree of recovery is possible, but what we do know is what direction we can contribute to. Can we contribute towards recovery? Can the process of recovery happen through us? And we have in the Work that Reconnects, have a central storyline. We call it the Great Turning. The Great Turning is, like it’s a story of, well, we think there’s three core things. One is turning up, turning up with an intention to play our role. And in turning up, we become clear about things we want to turn away from, and also things we want to turn towards. So how do we turn away from carbon heavy living? How do we turn away from expressing a culture that’s destroying our world? How do we turn towards regenerative practises? How do we turn towards playing a role in the recovery of our world? And we don’t know how far we’ll get, but we’re more likely to save more of our biosphere if we’re part of the process of protecting it and regenerating it.
Manda: Ok, brilliant. Thank you. So, Madeleine, let’s come back to you. And I would like to know what the other two principles are from the Work that Reconnects. But before we get to that, when we were talking with you last, you said that what had opened up your life and given you that sense of agency again was being able to commit to the little things, and that sense of being part of a greater whole, which I know we’ve discussed this offline quite a lot, you and I. This is what Accidental Gods is aiming for. And I think we’re very much in the same ecosystem with this. How do you personally connect to the All that Is, the web of life, whatever you want to call it, so that you have a sense of what your role is in all of this?
Madeleine: Yeah, I think something that’s quite important to mention here is this. So Chris has spoken about the Great Turning, but within the Great Turning…. so the Work that Reconnects, these three dimensions, three dimensions of the Great Turning. And these dimensions are all equally important, and they’re all interrelated. And so this concept was a key to me. It was really quite revolutionary, because it really broadens the sense of what activism is, because you have like one dimension, which is known as the holding actions, which might be what would be typically thought of as activism, like being there, holding a placard, you know, doing a boycott, a petition, anything that tries to slow down or stop the harm that’s being done to our world. But then there are these other two dimensions that interrelate, and that if we only did the holding actions, even if we were really successful with that, we managed to to oppose everything and slow it down, then what is there to take its place? And this is when the other two come in. So we have a dimension of creating new systems and structures, and ways of interacting with each other. And that might be things like permaculture, for example, or like the kind of banking that actually also values the work, the well-being of the world or the wellbeing of people, anything that is creating a structure or a system that’s actually good for for life on Earth. And the third dimension is the shift in consciousness. And that would be where things like regenerative cultures, decolonisation, all of this work that we’re needing to do on our own internal landscapes, so that when we then turn up within those systems that we’re creating, we bring to that the new evolving consciousness that is needed to really make them thrive.
And so, going back to your question, that’s what I find, is that in order for the Great Turning to happen, these three dimensions really need to come together so that they’re all happening at the same time. So what I will do is if I find a moment when I’m a bit feeling a bit stuck or challenged or a bit lost… so I had one of these, and I was very involved with Extinction Rebellion. And in one of the rebellions in London, I had a moment where I was feeling really like, OK, I don’t know what my part is to play. I’ve really lost my centre a bit, I don’t, you know… and I remember, like, I just went into my tent and I actually guided myself through a spiral of the Work that Reconnects in about 20 minutes or half an hour. And that was my way of centring myself and working out in that moment what felt like my part to play. And so half an hour later, I was able to emerge from my tent and actually engage and proactively be a positive part of things where actually, you know, an hour before I’d been feeling lost and like I just wanted to cry.
Manda: So can you, without necessarily walking us through every step of it, give us more of an insight into what a spiral of the Work that Reconnects looks and feels like?
Madeleine: So it can look and feel very different in its fine details, and the ways in which it’s expressed. But it has this overall structure, which is very simple and clear and quite easy to understand. So this is the way that I love to use that, as like the skeleton to shape playful experimentation, and in how I might want to express it individually. And so this structure is made up of four stages or stations, to imagine ourselves journeying through these four stations. And it’s seen as a spiral because we emerge slightly different than we went in. So it’s not really like a circle, even though we will often come back to the beginning and go around again. It’s like we’re spiralling each time. And these four stages we begin with gratitude. And gratitude is really quite countercultural, and revolutionary. We’re encouraged to focus on what we lack, because that’s what turns us into really good consumers, and that’s what Business as Usual wants, is people to be hooked on consumption. So we have this initial basis of really seeping in this awareness of how much we have by being alive, and all of the networks that we’re connected into. So we think what we’re grateful for, who we’re grateful to, how we can express that. We really give ourselves these amazing, strong roots by keeping ourselves in appreciation. And the second stage is where we honour our pain for the world. And that pain might, it could take lots of different forms. It might be feelings of anger, of frustration, of powerlessness, of depression, of grief, of fear and anxiety, all these different things.
But this is the stage where we welcome those feelings in as if they’re like a friend and ally. We honour them. We really give them the value that they are, because they show that we are part of all of that. We’re a part of life, and we really care. And it’s almost like those first two stages, they help us to expand into this deep connexion with life. And we then move on to the third stage, which is seeing with new eyes, where we access a fresh perspective. And this is often, it’s like a very expansive stage. So it might be that we see things from our more expanded sense of time, or of our sense of community. We reimagine our power, with our power differently. And there’s loads of different ways to do this. But I often find this stage really, really energising. And it gives that energy to move into the fourth stage, which is going forth. And that’s where we really look at giving some focus to what the part we would like to play is, and then how we can support ourselves to do that in ways that we might be blocked, and resources we could call on to get round those blocks, and actually exiting with with specific steps that we could do that are achievable. And that’s where we, like we’ve drawn on those previous stages. And that’s helped us to to live with this more empowered and focussed way of moving forward.
Manda: Beautiful. And it works, clearly. It worked for you and Extinction Rebellion, and it’s working for you with this. So, Chris, let’s move back to you. And you were talking about the Work that Reconnects having three parts, and the first part was showing up. Can you talk us through the other two as a structure for then taking us on to talking more about your foundation training?
Chris: Yes. I was thinking about the Great Turning. The Great Turning is often seen as like this absolutely massive, larger story of change. So a bit like we can look back in history at periods in time like the Renaissance, or the scientific revolution, or the agricultural revolution, where there were lots of different elements to a much larger process of change. And so we think of the Great Turning as, and people talk about it’s the ecological revolution, it’s more than just ecological because it’s deeply rooted in social justice too. It’s kind of like how do we, first of all, recognise the wrong turning that is heading over the edge of a cliff? But also turn ourselves, our culture, our ways of doing things, our whole organisation around. And Madeleine has just mapped how beautifully those three dimensions, which I love, this way of the whole is more than the sum of the parts. When you bring them together, they create something more. And when I talk about the Great Turning, sometimes the response I get is, oh, I can’t see that happening. You know, I don’t feel very hopeful about that one. And this is where active hope is different from being hopeful. And so being hopeful is, do I think it will happen? You know, am I optimistic about that? And you can look at so much bad news about what’s happening in our world. We call it the Great Unravelling. It’s a larger story of falling apart, of dissent and decline.
And it’s very easy to feel hopeless, and think, there’s no chance here. And I remember working alongside that same feeling very often in addictions, recovery, the sense of just not seeing any hope at all. But there’s also something that can happen where people move beyond the need for optimism before they act. If we require hopefulness in order to act, that becomes a block. An act of hope is something you can use, even where you feel hopeless. And it’s based on a different side of the meaning of hope. You can think of hope, there’s different ways of understanding hope. One is a feeling that things are going to get better, and it’s very easy to not have that when you look at what’s going on or to see as misleading, as kind of false hope. But another way of looking at hope is, is really about desire. It’s about saying, what do you hope for? You know, as we emerge hopefully from this pandemic, what direction do you hope things will go in? And then act of hope in saying, well, how can we be active in making that more likely? And that’s really about allowing this story of the Great Turning to happen through us. So your question about the different sides of the Great Turning, there’s these three dimensions, but there’s, also I think of it as three turnings. One is, this is a shift from outcome – outcome is, will it happen? – to process. Process is, what are the small steps that help it happen? What does it look like in the moment? And so if I was to ask the question, you know, what would it look like if the Great Turning was to be happening through each of us right now here today? And one way it happens is when we turn up with an intention to play our part. We might not know what our power is, but we can turn up with that intention: say, hey, you know, I’ve recognised that we’re in a mess, and I want to do something.
And so just that process is about priming ourselves. But then also it’s recognising that actually, the way that we’re living in industrialised countries is wrecking our world. And so if we don’t want to be the destroyers, we need to turn away from toxic modes of life, toxic modes of culture, toxic modes of our energy use. And there’s so many ways that we can spill out harm like a toxic leakage. And it’s not just in material, it’s also in our language as well. And this is where the whole decolonisation agenda is so helpful is recognising how we’ve been brought up in a particular culture that’s based on a view of some people being more important than others, some people’s lives mattering more than others, and skin colour, race. You know, these are part of this story. We call it… it’s interesting, the word apartheid, in Dutch Afrikaaner, means apart-hood. And so it’s like, how do we, if we can turn up, how do we turn away from apartheid, which is seeing ourselves as somehow separate? And particularly in groupism, this idea of, you know, make this country great, make that country great, or this group great, or that group great, is about putting one group above others, but in a way that is really based on material competition. And also structural inequality is massive; structural inequality in our world.
And so if we want to move away from apart hurdles and more to I think of it as part of this part of ness and part of ness is where we feel that we’re part of something larger than ourselves. Where and when Madeleine was talking about the consciousness shift in the great turning, a big part of that is a shift in how we see ourselves. Who are we? You know, I think who are we in such a great question. Because my name, Chris Johnstone, there’s two sides of me there. Chris is who I am as an individual. But Johnstone, that’s my family name, and it expresses my part-ofness. I’m part of something that’s bigger than just a separate individual. And so what we do with this consciousness shift is turning toward. So you said what are the three? So the three is turning up, turning away from aparthood, from toxic ways of living, thinking, expressing our lives, and then turning toward seeing ourselves as part of life on Earth, part of this incredible being.
This is where modern science systems thinking, Gaia theory, really revolutionises our view of what we are. It’s like a whole different story of, that we can, and I think it’s just totally amazing. It’s one of the things we touch on in the course, because in terms of aliveness, there’s a different quality of aliveness that comes when you’re plugged into something larger than yourself. That feeling like belonging, loyalty, purpose, depth of meaning, all of those arise out of what I think of as our connected self, or our self as part of a larger whole. So I’m Chris Johnstone. I could say Chris Johnstone from the planet Earth. You know that phrase Joanna Macy uses is, We are planet people. It’s a shift in who we are. It’s a shift in our sense of what we’re part of, where we’re from, the country, the country we belong to. I think of myself as, I belong to the country of this planet Earth. And if we really get that, then we start to see what we’ve got in common. We have less of this group and that group. We say, hey, we’ve got a common destiny here, and we don’t know how it’s going to go, but I can be clear how I hope it will go. And this is where the active hope comes in. If we know what we hope for, active hope is where we’re active in heading in that direction, or making it more likely.
Manda: Beautiful. Thank you. So, Madeleine, I want to move on very soon to the course: on how it started, and how people can access it. But as a way to get there, Chris just said we can be clear how we hope it will go. And that’s part of, that’s the embodiment of the active hope. So how do you hope this course will go, and how it will then… what’s your vision for who we could become if everybody were to take this course? Do you have a hope for that?
Madeleine: Mm hmm. Yes, and I mean, one of the things that I find exciting about the course is that there’s different ways to engage with it. So it’s possible to engage with it as an individual, for it to be a personal journey. So as well as the videos with each instalment, there’s a guided practise with each instalment. And it’s possible to to do those practises as a personal reflection, and for it to be part of that journey that I would make as an individual. It’s also possible to engage with the course as a buddy pair. So this is where we start to get a sense of connexion that maybe I really feel to do it. And I reach out to my friends and say, hey, does anybody want to do this with me? And we start to get this sense of connexion. But it’s also possible to engage with it as a group. And this might be that there’s a possibility of a new group forming, whether it’s online or in person, to journey through this course together. Or maybe people are part of an existing group and they’re like, oh, you know, I’d like to deepen the bonds in this group, and to get to know people on another level, and yeah, like share this journey of motivation.
And so I think my hope is that this course reaches out to anyone out there who’s feeling powerless, or feeling that they want to work towards positive change. Maybe they’re already working towards positive change, but sometimes they feel like, weary. They would like to give a boost to what they’re doing to get clarity, and that people find a way to engage with it that works for them. And it’s possible even that somebody might go through it personally and then think, hey, that was great. Now I’m going to reach out to a group and go through it again. You know, it feels to me like there’s so much material in there that it’s possible for this course to form almost like a backbone, you know, that people can keep coming back to, to find strength and structure to help them in their journey towards positive change.
Manda: Ok, so it could become the same kind of spiral that you were describing in your tent at Extinction Rebellion, where you you always come out different. So how ever many times you go around, it’s not a circle. It’s a helix. Beautiful. So tell us, Madeleine – again, we’ll come back to Chris in a moment – how do people find it, and what are the early steps?
Madeleine: So people can find it by going to the website activehope.training and you can enrol there. It’s a two step enrolment process. So it’s important to make sure you do both steps, and then that will get you access to the course. And the course has seven instalments, and we sometimes refer to them as weekly instalments, because it would be possible to do them as as a weekly journey. And that has its benefits, because it means that we’re keeping up the momentum and there’s that real feeling of flow through it. But there’s no obligation to do it to that time scale. And the good thing is, is that once people have signed up, they will have access to those instalments and they can do them in their own time, to suit them. One thing I really like about the way the course has emerged is that there’s a sense of different textures within it. There’s some real teaching videos where Chris is explaining the concepts, and there’s visuals to go with it. And it’s about like really getting those the core concepts down. And then there’s other videos which are much more conversational. There’s a lot of different voices featured, a lot of people who are really quite expert in their various fields, like their voices are brought in and those videos could even be listened to, like the radio or a podcast.
So I am a real multitasker, and I have a tendency to always try and do two things at a time if I can. And so I listen to those like while I’m doing the washing up or whatever. And it’s a way that the concepts are deepening and maybe they’re going in. But it’s a different texture to when I’m sitting there watching the video. And then we’ve got inspirational videos from Joanna Macy and they’re really lovely little… feel a bit more poetic maybe. And they give that sense of spark, and oh yeah, this is the journey I’m on. And then there’s the guy to practises. And so that’s something that people can do in these different ways in their own time. And then there’s the comments sections on the online platform. And people have been living really amazing comments on there. So there’s another texture that comes from just feeling part of this network of Active Hope adventurers who are going through this training at the same time, or at times they’re slightly dispersed.
Manda: So if people want to find a body, could they find one as part of the comments? Are people doing that?
Madeleine: At the moment,people are doing that, they’re looking for it. But there’s a slightly problematic aspect to that, because they would need to post their contact details in the comments, which maybe they wouldn’t want to do. But we’re so we’re already looking to what we can develop in future. And one thing that’s really at the top of our minds as a priority is ways to enable this community that’s developing to connect with each other, to support each other, to buddy up people who would like to facilitate groups, to feel supported, to feel capable to do that. And so that’s like on our next stage for development. And if anybody feels that they’ve, to get involved in that, then, you know, if they’ve got great ideas for ways to enable that, it would be really wonderful. Because there’s a lot of people going through this journey who are wanting to connect up.
Manda: Ok, so going back to Chris, tell us a little bit about the process. You said you got money from the Emergence Foundation. And how long has it taken? What have you done? And then tell us a little bit about when it launched and how the early days have been.
Chris: Yes. Thank you, Manda. I’ve been wanting to do this for years. And when Active Hope came out, we wanted to set up some kind of study guide that would help people work through this group together. But I was exhausted with writing and I really struggled to put something together. So I put out the word through the network, anyone willing to help me? And this very experienced Work that Reconnects facilitator from the states, Barbara Ford, just emailed me and say, Hey, Chris, I’d love to help. And we didn’t actually set up her study guide. But what we did do, this was back when the book first came out in 2012, we started running online Active Hope groups. And Barbara’s a really good friend, and she’s part of, we’ve got her voice in on the call. She does a lot of work around radical gratitude. I’ve never met her physically. It’s amazing. She’s one of my Skype and Zoom friends through this magic window of online interconnectivity. But we held a whole series of groups of people from around the world, and out of that I set up an online resource, a free resource for people wanting to do Active Hope groups. And over twelve hundred people have signed up to that. And we know that active groups have happened around the world. But I was also thinking, how do we help that process of people drawing on this material? And so I’ve been wanting to produce this video-based online course since I used it in Bristol.
And I used to do loads of face to face training. And then I moved up to the north of Scotland. And it actually is amazing how doing online training, when it saves the travel, but it’s also very effective. So I wanted to do this, but also if I – how do you find the time for that? And then I was lucky enough to be invited to teach on a course some friends of mine were running that was funded by the Emergence Foundation. And I read about them and I thought, like, wow, this is amazing. This Emergence Foundation, they give money to projects supporting positive change in the world. And what they’re particularly interested in are projects that deepen our sense of connexion with each other, and with life, that have a more kind of holistic view of things. I thought, this is me. You know, this is a foundation that’s completely along the same lines that the work that I’ve been involved in. So I applied, and it was quite a job of work to put in an application. I have tried funding applications for the same project a few times, and never got anywhere. But anyway, they gave a grant of £9700, like absolutely fantastic. But then I thought, like, OK, so what’s going to help do this? You know, I didn’t, I knew the material because Joanne and I had written the book together, but I wasn’t quite sure how it would work as an online course.
So I set up a kind of a consultative committee. And Madeleine was part of this. She helped, she was part of the team for this. We called it deepening, actually, of hope. And it was a group of people involved in facilitating from all over the world, really. We had about 50 of us and we met up once a fortnight, and we went through the book together. And it was also supporting Joanna and I. We’re working on a new addition at the moment. So we’re thinking like, how does Active Hope look ten years on, when we’ve got the advancing unravelling, and also the pandemic, and also the completely different political landscape with the kind of normalisation of dishonesty? You know, it’s shocking, the degree of dishonesty, and the kind of loss of respect for factual truth. Anyway, so there’s all of that within. The landscape’s different from ten years ago. What does Active Hope look like now? But one of the things about that process was between each webinar. We invited people to partner up to do a paired practise. And that’s my deepest learning from that process. And I don’t think I would have done the online course quite the same way if we hadn’t had that practise run. It’s like a pilot group in a way, because what people said was that there was a magic that happens in those partnered practises.
People had conversations with people they’d never met before, but found this deep sense of shared concern and common purpose in a way that was like, hey, I’ve discovered a new friend. You know, it’s kind of, but also the saying of act local, think global. It starts to make much more sense when you feel that you’re part of a network of people around different parts of the world and you’re having conversations with them. Anyway, so that laid out the scaffolding. But then my plan was was to have all the films ready by the beginning of the year. And anyone who’s involved in producing films knows just how time consuming it is. You know, you can spend a whole day working on a minute of video, and that’s just the scripting. There’s kind of the editing, and.. so it just took me, I had a huge overshoots on the time allocation. So it’s taken vastly longer and it’s like, every time I have a deadline of it’s all going to be done by then, somehow we never quite make it. And so we push these deadlines on. But there’s a lovely saying: it’s not what the goal is, it’s what the goal does. And so each deadline we set ourselves, it squeezed a bit more out. And I’m so grateful to Madeleine, because Madeleine has been like this amazing ally, support person, you know, was kind of initially just you volunteered, Madeleine, to support the deepening of Active Hope, but it has actually become a really important partner in this creation process.
And I love the the word emergence, and this being funded by the Emergence Foundation. But the whole process of creating this cause has been one of emergence. It’s a bit like you plant a seed and it grows into something. And we thought it might be a shrub, but actually it’s turned into a big tree. And hopefully with the idea that my team is talking about developing a further training at some point to facilitators, you know, maybe it will develop into a forest, who knows? But it’s certainly it’s a much bigger thing than I envisaged a year ago when I was working on the application. But also what I love are reading the comments that people are writing, and people saying things like, hey, you know, I never realised that, or I’d always done this, but I’d never done that. And doing it this way, it’s really brought something. People who are very experienced mindfulness practitioners finding that we have an exercise called Listening to our World, just finding a place where you just go and sit, and it’s like rather than broadcast, you just focus on receiving channel. You know, if our world were to say something to you, what would it say? And how would you hear it? And one of the ways that you hear more is just by creating space to listen.
So we talk about listening practises. And just as this idea of our world can feel through us, this idea, I think there’s ‘me’ feelings, but there’s also ‘us’ feelings. People are used to that idea in relation to families. You know, if somebody is grieving for somebody who’s died in a family, it’s like the family grieves through the members of the family. But if we’re members of the family of life on Earth, then we can just have the same idea that our planet feels through us. We have some feelings that are ‘us’ feelings. They’re to do with our connexion. They arise out of our connexion, but as well as our world feeling through us. What would it be like if our world’s intelligence can happen through us? And this idea of emergent, you can, like great ideas aren’t inventions of single brain cells. They happen through brain cells. The brain is something that, it works because of all these different parts playing their role in a bigger network. And this is the thing about intelligence, this idea of collective intelligence, it’s bigger than ‘what can I do’. You know, sometimes our confusion actually is just an invitation to listen and to pay attention to, maybe there’s a larger intelligence in our world. And this is really tying in with ideas like Gaia theory, deeply rooted in science, but also completely in alignment with what spiritual wisdom traditions have been saying for, you know, thousands of years from many different parts of our world.
This idea that we can listen for guidance, maybe we call them Spirit allies, or whatever we call them, or whether people talk about it in terms of listening for spirit, or God, or however they use those terms. But for me, I suppose I see it more as listening to the emergent intelligence of our world. And sometimes I can get a sense of just a strong feeling that I need to do something, or a strong feeling that I need, it might be something simple, I need to phone somebody. And some of those feelings, they come out of my listening to our world. Anyway, that’s a very long answer to this. How did the course evolve? It’s been an emergent journey, and we’re still on it. And it’s surprised us along the way. But also what I love about the surprises are the positive surprises of the aha moments that come where people previously thought, oh, there’s no way we can make a difference. You know, there’s no glimmers here. And then seeing those light bulb moments are not just light bulb moments, but light heart moments, you know, something can get switched on in our hearts. What’s thoughts, what’s feelings? I love the term heart-mind. You know, in our heart-mind, we can get a fire lighted, and energy sparks, that grows out of a sense of possibility and conviction and commitment. And it changes, and changes our lives.
Manda: Totally brilliant. Beautiful. Thank you. That might be a really good place to stop, but I would like to give Madeleine a chance. Is there anything that you would like to say about the process, where it’s been, where it’s gone, where it’s taken you as a final thought for people listening? Madeleine.
Madeleine: What’s interesting for me, as Chris has said to me in the past, and that sometimes there’s ideas from the world, that intelligence of the universe, that are not wanting to happen just through one person. They might be wanting to happen through many people, and they might be just waiting. They’re like, tapping on your shoulder. Are you open to me? Are you listening? Are you going to hear this? And it really felt like that in this instance. It felt like, you know, this wanted to happen through us. And interestingly, like, so I’ve never met Chris in person. And yet, you know, he’s been the most amazing lockdown buddy through, so it was like at the beginning of the first lockdown that we met virtually. And there was this moment when a lot of things were going online, and I felt really fired up, like that light was was sparked in my heart about, hey, this is a chance. This is a chance to reach out much more inclusively to, there’s more accessibility here. And I was feeling really fired up about that. And it was almost like seeing our passions reflected, and seeing ‘there’s something that wants to happen here’. And I just felt very clear, like I want to be involved. I want this connexion. I want to go wherever it’s going. And we’ve met up like about once a week ever since. And yes, it’s been an amazing process because I really say, I mean, the reason that I’m a facilitator of the Work that Reconnects is because I really need it. You know, I really need this practise in my life on a daily basis. And so I have felt steeped in it during this time. And it’s been very good for me, and I feel more passionate about it than ever.
Manda: Magical. OK, and people can find it at activehope.training. Well, thank you, both of you, for taking the time to make this happen and then for coming onto the Accidental Gods podcast. Thank you so much.
Chris: Thank you, Manda.
Madeleine: Yes, thank you so much.
Manda: And that’s it for another week. Enormous, deep, heartfelt thanks to Madeleine and Chris for the work that they’re doing and for taking the time to come on to the podcast and tell us about it. I will put links in the show, notes to the Active Hope Training and also to Chris’s College of Wellbeing. The Active Hope training is free, but the money from the Emergence Foundation ran out a long time ago, and so they are working on a paying forward system, where if you like it, if you have the means, if you want to help support other people to listen and for it to remain free, then you can offer to participate and help that happen. This genuinely feels like one of the big steps in taking us all forward to places where we have agency, where we understand our role in the web of life, where we can move towards what I am calling Conscious Evolution, and other people might call the Great Turning or the Great Unravelling. It’s all one thing, people. It doesn’t matter what we call it. What matters is that we wake each morning with that sense of hope as being a thing that works through us, and not something that depends on us being absolutely certain of the outcome. So if you’ve enjoyed anything of Accidental Gods over the months and the years, please do go and seek out the Active Hope training at activehope.training so that you, too, can be part of whatever is coming.
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