By Heather Box
It is a common practice that midway through our workshop I will notice Julian with an unusually serious face signaling to me to come outside. I know the routine. He is going to tell me we have fallen behind in our agenda and he is going to stress that we aren’t going to make it through our curriculum. I will listen to him until he throws his hands up and tells me there is no way we can catch up, then I know it is time for my standard response and I start to assure him that people are getting a lot out of the workshop even if we aren’t going to make it all the way through the curriculum. I have to remind both of us that in our workshop people are in the process of taking a major step in their own leadership and we can’t just rush them through. We usually go back and forth a few times before we start laughing and head back in together to finish the best we can.
But last Saturday when he pulled me aside I didn’t feel I could assure him of anything. The day had been going great, but then there was an extra long lunch break and it seemed all of the inspired energy from the morning had dissipated. And with a group of ten people from ten different islands there were a lot of cultural considerations in the room and as facilitator we didn’t know exactly how to push or encourage the group. The most obvious challenge was that most people weren’t opting to share in front of the large group, which made it more challenging for Julian and I to assess how well the participants were grasping our curriculum.
Outside, Julian pulled the folded paper out of his pocket with the agenda scribbled on it, “We are so behind Heather, and I am not sure it is resonating with people.” I felt tired and worried that we had come all the way to Fiji and five hours into the first day of our workshop we weren’t sure it was working. We had been trusted with two of the four days of an inaugural retreat where a group that calls themselves the 350.org Climate Warriors had come together from islands all across the region to launch a Pacific Islander storytelling project around climate change and to develop a new leadership structure for the group. Our workshop and each warrior having the experience of powerfully telling their own story were critical components of their project. I looked at Julian, my face was hot with worry and asked, “Is this the one workshop that isn’t going to work?” I threw my hands up. Julian looked down, shook his head and said decidedly, “We need to get a few people in front of the room.”
So we set out and spoke with people one by one and asked them if they would be willing to get up in front of the group. We got a few reluctant yeses and we knew that was all we needed.
What happened that afternoon will forever inspire and motivate me to do this work.
We gathered in a large circle and our few brave volunteers spoke up and shared their stories. Julian and I listened on the edge of our seats, anxious to see how willing people would be to deeply share their stories. Julian set the timer for four minutes but as soon as the first Pacific Climate Warrior started to share, the room transformed and I saw Julian decide to stop the timer and let the person share for as long as they needed to. Courage, honesty, vulnerability, love, laughter, and tears poured down across the room and one by one each person stood up to share their truth from the bottom of their heart.
As I sat there cross-legged on a couch, my knee touching the leg of the love of my life, I watched the group commit to being their full, beautiful selves in front of each other, knowing that 327 incredible people funded us through our Indiegogo to be in this room with these people, I was overcome. I searched for words for how I felt: lucky, blessed, honored, grateful…they all seemed so insufficient.
Then I saw Koreti, the leader of the group, stand up and share her truth in such a powerful way that gave each one of us in the room the space to be our full, complicated selves, and the truth of what I felt overcame my whole body: freedom. That was what I felt right then: free. There has never been a room where I felt this statement more truly: Your truth will set us free.
That is what I watched that day. I watched courage being passed around like a hot potato, I saw love exchanged with reckless abandon and felt peace come over the room as each and every one of us grounded in the truth of ourselves and each other. I left the training last week more motivated than ever to do this work, and as we head into four trainings this week in Fiji’s capital city I am bringing the power shared in that room with me.
The Climate Warriors have all gone back to their islands and are working on getting ready to share parts of their stories publicly. Their stories of love, perseverance, and the choice to live fully stand to inspire the whole wide world.