This News article was written by Dave Inglis of the Pachamama Alliance Rochester Area Community.

Since 2017, Pachamama Alliance of the Rochester Area's Seeds of Hope project has created monthly gatherings to inspire, equip, and empower people in our community to be the change we wish to see in the world. On April 5—barely two weeks into NY State's Covid-19 sequestration order—we held our first online Seeds of Hope gathering, titled "Connecting Deeply in the Face of Social Distancing." Our plan for this gathering was to:

  • Learn and practice tools for creating compassionate space for supporting each other through the challenges and concerns of these times.   
  • Discover the resources and gifts that can help us navigate these uncharted waters
  • Send blessings to those most impacted by the crisis
  • Develop intentions for bringing hope into our interconnected world

The Planning Team warmly welcomed people as they came into the Zoom meeting room, connecting to each other from five different states. Joyce playfully helped everyone become familiar with the Zoom features of muting, raising hands, chatting, and switching views.

Dave prepared the participants for the process by reflecting on how our pre-pandemic lives had kept us separate from each other. Our over-busyness, self absorption, over-consumption, labeling, and competition had in effect created social distancing when there were no restrictions on connecting. Now people all over the world are being required to maintain “social distancing” while dealing with similar fears and concerns. We can continue in our separation, or we can meet these extraordinary times by creating deep and meaningful connections—even with people we don't know. No special expertise is required. All we need to do is show up just as we are—with all our human emotions, our openness, our authenticity, and our vulnerability. He invited us to practice making those kinds of connections here, and then to continue practicing making these connections with people we know and don't know after we leave this gathering.

Chante Ishta then brought us into awareness of the sacredness of this shared space and time. She used the imagery of the mycelia quietly weaving their network of life underground, sharing nutrients as their tendrils connect to each other and all the plants of the forest.

Padme followed by introducing us to the Shared Agreements that would enable the breakout groups to create safe, brave space for deep connecting:

  1. Speak from the heart: your truth, your experiences, your perspectives.
  2. Listen from the heart.  Let go of whatever makes it hard to hear each other.
  3. Trust that you know what to say. No need to rehearse.
  4. Say just enough: Without feeling rushed, be concise and considerate of the time of others.
  5. This is a voluntary process. There is no obligation to speak. You may pass or pause for a moment of silence if you choose not to speak.
  6. Only the person speaking is invited to speak. Everyone else is invited to listen.
  7. We all arrive with everything we need. We agree to not give advice or attempt teaching.
  8. We value confidentiality. Please remember that what comes up in the circle  
  9. stays in the circle.
  10. Every person’s sharing matters. Let’s pause before speaking to let previous sharing land in our hearts before we take our turn.

Al, our “Wizard of Zoom,” divided the participants into groups of three. Joyce gave them these questions to help them talk deeply and personally about how the pandemic was affecting them:

  • What challenges have you been dealing with personally during these times?  
  • What is concerning you the most?    
  • What ways have you found to manage your concerns and anxieties?  
  • What gifts or resources are you discovering?

After the breakout session, Joyce invited people to share highlights from their conversations. Here are some things that were shared:

"Being in the group allowed waves of fear to come up so I could release them."

"I live alone. It was so helpful to be able to talk to people about my experiences."

"We valued sharing our concerns for others as well as ourselves."

"We were reminded of the importance of connecting with the ongoing energy of nature, which is able to recover from catastrophes."

Before we took a break, Joyce invited us to actively express sounds or make facial expressions to help us release stuck feelings we were carrying in our bodies and to clear our minds. She led us in a good hearty roar!

After the break, Chante Ishta invited us into a meditative time of deep listening to any nudges or callings for ways we might respond to these times. Here are some of the responses:

  • Using and buying less, which allows to be more generous
  • Listening to others deeply
  • Remaining grounded and centered
  • Sharing stories of others' altruism, which uplifts and inspires us
  • Gardening
  • Sewing masks and giving them away

Padme then invited everyone to speak out loud the people and groups we are most concerned about, as we held them in love.

Padme helped us close with a powerful call and response, “We Journey Together,” from Joanna Macy's book Coming Back to Life. And she invited us to look at each other's faces in gallery view, thank each other for participating, and say good-bye.

People seemed to really appreciate this opportunity to openly share with others about their personal experience of the pandemic. We found that the process did indeed help people who had never met before connect at a deep and meaningful level.