Inner Work as a Pathway to Collective Equity and Pleasure

As MAG staff continuously deepens our own learning and practice in the five elements that we believe are critical to a thriving justice ecosystem, we will be sharing more from our individual learning journeys alongside other kinds of learning. In this blog, Alison Lin, consultant with MAG, shares reflections inspired by Sheryl Petty's Catalyst Conversation at Confluence.

By Alison Lin

What happens when individually or collectively we are numb to equity?

Sheryl Petty, a senior consultant at MAG, invited participants at Confluence (a gathering for reflection, resistance, and rejuvenation that took place in June 2017) to imagine that our foot was numb. She guided us through recalling the familiar tingling and often painful sensation that happens when we start to move a numb foot. As the circulation returns it can be painful, yet moving forward we can feel a spectrum of sensations, for instance the pleasure of a foot massage or smooth texture of the linoleum floor.

Sheryl posited that when working towards deep equity, many groups have at least one numb foot. On an organizational level this may mean reckoning with non-equitable hiring practices, or on a network level this may mean reckoning with leaders facing their previously unacknowledged dominant culture practices, including racism. And this isn’t surprising given that one strategy of white supremacy to is disconnect people from their emotions, bodies, stories and innate wisdom in order to survive.  Sheryl invites people to unnumb their feet and allow their own deep wisdom to surface and circulate in finding equitable practices for their organizations.

Holding space and shepherding processes for equity involves empathy and compassion for all individuals involved, even when personally triggered. This means that, for those of us engaging in deep equity work, our inner work practices are not optional, they are imperative. In other words, Sheryl prompts us to consider, “When the floodgates open can you handle it?” With inner work,* we can engage and stay buoyed when the flood waters rise.

I am drawn back again and again to how our connection to source, what for some may be a specific faith tradition or for others a sense of connection to the earth, is critical to presently living into a world of love, dignity, and justice. Yet this connection is often not formally acknowledged as a part of our individual and collective ability to do the work. 

In my breakout group after her presentation, people agreed that we are ready for this flood. We went further in acknowledging how our deep faith and spiritual practices, and ability to hold a group through their own process of reckoning and healing, is often the magic that people want when they work with us. Group members raised questions about how and when we can bring our faith and magic explicitly into work that is often secular. These are questions I’d like to continue to learn about and reflect on in community.

This leaves me with two specific questions:

Sheryl Petty, Confluence, 2017

Sheryl Petty, Confluence, 2017

What are your practices to stay embodied when the theoretical floodgates open around power and privilege?

How do you explicitly incorporate your inner work into your project plans, organization, or network?

Inner work and deep equity can be places of pain, grief, and anger as well as healing and rejuvenation. So “How do we make justice the most pleasurable place to be?” as adrienne maree brown asked us at Confluence (more on this in a future blog). To inhabit this pleasurable place, we must invite parts of ourselves and our collective communities to unnumb. Otherwise we won’t know when we’ve arrived. May we all prioritize our own methods for connecting to our source in order to move from our cores as we navigate inner work with ourselves and others with humility so that all people and the planet can thrive.

If you’re interested in finding a path forward towards this pleasurable place with MAG, please let us know as we’re starting a series of small experiments with others to figure out where there is energy to move.

Images by Eugene Kim, Alison Lin


*Understanding Inner Work

Inner work refers to both the individual practices that support transformation, sustenance, and healing and the group practices that lead to clarity of purpose, deepened alignment, healthier relationships, more powerful strategy, and sustainability for the long haul of social change.

Inner work grounds and anchors us so deeply in our core being (purpose, commitments, values) that, the deeper our practice becomes, the less likely it is for us to be shaken out of it, no matter the outer conditions or circumstances.