(Can we become a pod of ants that inhabit the Three pillars of Ecodharma?)

A three-fold combination has guided and strengthened changemakers and their movements across the globe, across history. This combination has been called ‘Three dimensions of Great Turning’ by Buddhist eco-philosopher Joanna Macy, Gandhian Iceberg by the Yet-To-Be-Named network, or Roadmap by the Metta Center. I have called this combination ‘Three pillars of Ecodharma‘. 

Below, I briefly describe these three core components of change-making based on quotes (in italics) from the handbook of Yet-To-Be-Named network. These three components, of course, need the other two in order to be fully activated. The main thrust of this write-up, however, is that these three components require a pod to be embodied in the 21st century!

Self-transformation (Shift in consciousness to create mindful & trauma informed individuals). 
If we do not dismantle our own internalized patriarchy, racism and colonization, we are likely to reproduce or be complacent to patterns of oppression in our work.  If we do not openly challenge how our own behaviors contribute to the destruction of the biosphere, we will likely replace one form of exploitation with another. If we don’t treat each other differently, we’re going to repeat and multiply harm. This, of course, is the story of trauma repeating itself across generations, simply put: hurt people hurt people.  While the work of
shifting consciousness or self-transformation is often the least outwardly visible, we hold it to be utterly essential and foundational. This aspect of [Buddhist/Gandhian/Kingian] nonviolence does not develop only out of good intentions or through ideology. It requires significant practical and intentional work.

Constructive program (Compassionate community working on structural alternatives to the status-quo).
This is the work of building the new, nonviolent society within the shell of the existing, exploitative and destructive one. This includes a great variety of culture-shifting economic, ecological, educational, religious/spiritual, and direct service initiatives. Regenerative agriculture, forming new approaches to group process and decision-making, ending poverty and economic inequality, sharing resources to reduce collective carbon, water and energy footprint of our communities, the way we treat our elderly and educate our young– any form of building life-supporting structures to replace the existing extractive systems are all examples of community uplift. 

Direct action (Fierce and strategic actions to stop the damage).
This means directly intervening in violent systems and situations to immediately stop harm. It is where our individual shift in consciousness, our courage and creativity, our grief, rage and fierce love move us into choiceful confrontation with systems and forces of domination. This is where our private heartbreak becomes our public witness and our unseen power becomes real. When we stand in front of 10,000 tons of coal traveling by train, or between militarized police and a targeted community, when we defy laws to see the homeless housed and the undocumented protected – we are telling the truth about the world around us in powerfully disobedient ways. Disobedience to “that’s just the way things are.”  Direct action is our deliberate engagement in constructive conflict, putting our bodies into action to clear the way for the fullest expression of our humanity and for the building up of the nonviolent and spiritually rooted society we long to inhabit.

After years of experimentation within the Boulder Ecodharma Sangha, I have realized that the above three-fold frameworks for change-making have to be necessarily rooted in “pods” i.e., small groups of 4-7 people who keep us at the edge of “two poles of public and private”. The co-facilitators of the “Dharma of Resistance (DoR)” course who have been doing their own experiments with change-making and healing as a part of the Denver Social Permaculture community in Colorado agree.  Below I quote (in italics) my friend and DoR collaborator Adam Brock from his write-up on pods to begin to explain why pods are crucial to our movement building.

We want to focus on a unique mode of activism, one that we’ve noticed more and more of our networks drawn to over the last few years. It exists between the two poles of public and private, in what is called the zone of intimacy in the social permaculture language. We recommend pods stay less than 8 people in size. When the group size becomes larger than seven, it becomes harder and harder to maintain dyadic relationships within the group and the “relational soil” of the group can’t become too strong.

Practically, a pod consists of small, semi-structured groups that get together on a regular basis – not just to design change, but to process, to heal, to get creative, and to play, as well. What are these groups called? Depending on the context, we’ve heard the names: pods, teams, affinity groups,… or communities of practice. 

They can exist online or in-person. Regardless of the circumstances, a well-run pod,… can become an essential community of practice and accountability for change makers seeking to amplify their impact. They give their members a space to work through difficult challenges in the presence of peers. They combat the epidemic of isolation and burnout by nurturing authentic, vulnerable relationships. They help us grow as humans by challenging us to find our voice and by providing a platform for accountability. In short, pods can serve as the connective tissue of our social change efforts, linking our public-facing activism with our self-care activism while providing key structures of support not afforded by either one on their own.

Of course, social change at the zone of intimacy isn’t new. Professional guilds and activist cells have been meeting in small groups for centuries; in more recent generations, self-organized twelve step programs have helped millions find their way out of addiction through a very ….pod-esque approach. Mega-churches have used pods to build their community. 

— Pods are the right size. Healthy pods are large enough to feel like there’s a useful mix of voices, and small enough that each voice can be heard. Practically, we feel it looks like something between 4 and 7 in a meeting.  Membership should be relatively stable, with clear agreements about the criteria and process for joining.

— Pods convene regularly.  What matters is that there’s a rhythm that participants can count on. Even better if participants can agree on a standing day and time and avoid repeat doodle polls.

— Pods rotate leadership/facilitation. A defining feature of pods is the lack of a single “leader,” and a commitment to reawakening the magic of shared leadership. To that end, it’s critical that meetings aren’t facilitated by any one person too frequently, and that pod members support each other in building facilitation skills. Other rotating roles (hosts, guardians, closing ceremony leader, note-taker, liaison) can be assigned based on our vocations.

— Pods honor members’ time, skills and resources. Facilitation of pods and taking care of logistics is a lot of work. Pods can choose co-conveners who can ensure that pod convening times and locations are nailed down, conversation topics are identified, and the facilitator and other necessary roles are assigned. Ideally, conveners delegate some of this work to others, while creating the conditions for the group to self-manage them over time. It’s not a bad idea for participants to pitch in and support them through multiple kinds of capital for their efforts. 

— Pods are fiercely vulnerable. We all wear masks to make it through the day, and maintaining these masks is getting even more exhausting. Effective pods are places where we can build the courage to take off these masks and be held in our confusion, our frustration, our grief – or even just our beautiful weirdness. As with any group, nurturing vulnerability in a pod can take time, but the process can be accelerated by the thoughtful application of activities that tend to deepen emotional attachments between members including rituals, breaking bread, witnessing grief etc. 

— Pods take shared action.  We’ve seen many Buddhist and Ecodharma groups hum along fine for years, serving as powerful spaces for witnessing, bonding and vulnerability, without strategic collective action in the outside world.

Pods allow for emergence. Pods can teach us to re-learn and adapt. How to align ourselves with ecological patterns, and by reminding ourselves to “sense and respond” rather than “predict and control.” Where emergence is not a replacement for structure. Structure is the container that supports us to notice and respond as part of an effective living system. Over time, the pod learns to make decisions around the flow of money and information, offer feedback and also resolve conflict like other living systems.

We can love the bigger world more deeply and take more courageous actions by creating more vulnerable and trusting spaces within our pod. We are ready to share what we have learnt. Are you?

-Kritee (Kanko)
May 10, 2021