By Jon Biemer
August 21st, 2019 is a date I will remember. This is when I received an offer from Rowman & Littlefield to publish From Footprints to Handprints: Creating Sustainability to Heal Our Planet. How did I focus and stay the course long enough to reach this point of fruition? I have Processwork to thank for that.
I felt pulled in two seemingly incompatible directions.
The idea of getting a PhD with a cross emphasis in sustainability and spirituality intrigued me, even though I had no inclination to use it for consulting or teaching.
Also, for two decades, I had followed a Native American spiritual path. I left my full-time job, partly with the intention of deepening my commitment to ceremony and carrying medicine.
I brought my divergent callings to a Processwork class on altered states. We would learn about the diversity of dreams within ourselves, and how they insist we pay attention. The instructor used a basic Processwork technique of amplifying symptoms, in this case my yearnings. He asked class members to form two groups, each advocating an aspect of my dreaming.
The PhD group regaled me with congratulations for choosing their path and assured me that I would join a cadre of esteemed colleagues. I would receive a badge of honor.
The spiritual folk literally pulled me away from the academic crowd. They reminded me of my desire to help others. They appealed to a calling higher than the practical plane. They loved me.
But I couldn’t stop looking over my shoulder. I could not ignore the conventional crowd. The exercise ended in chaos — but I had to treat the PhD seriously.
During the break I filled a whiteboard with my reservations. I’m a slow reader. I don’t enjoy studying, let alone following rules. Spending four years – if all goes well – away from my environmental activism seems like a selfish distraction. I’d be spending less time with my wife. I wouldn’t be helping other people much either. And the significant cost… I was at an edge, a Processwork term for fearing change.
Two bubbles on that web of thought (some call it a mind map) stood out for me – “contribute something unique,” and “need to be recognized.” Ah… Those were the reasons the PhD was so compelling. I realized there may be other paths to meeting those needs.
Unfolding My Path
Upon hearing my story from the altered-states class, my wife Willow said, “You could get a PhD from the universe… rather than a university.”
That resonated with me.
I could intentionally treat my adventures in sustainability as coursework. I had already managed energy conservation programs professionally. I had supported ballot measures to curtail nuclear power. We were in the middle of an eco-remodel of our new house, creating a “food forest” in place of a lawn, and partnering with the Johnson Creek Watershed Council to remove invasive English Ivy.
For my unique contribution, I was already nursing the idea of the Environmental Handprint, the good we do, the ways we can change the system. Encouraged by my altered-states experience, I submitted and presented a professional paper about the Handprint, and… One morning the vision for a book crystalized.
I loved writing, but it had always been a lower priority than getting things done. But now a book would serve the role of my dissertation. Besides, I might receive some recognition.
The Gift of a Headache
Four years into my book project, work proceeded slowly. Some of my data was going out of date.
And another problem claimed my attention. Headaches. A fiercely intense pain over my right eye would claim my entire attention for about twenty minutes. They came mostly during sweat lodge ceremonies. The doctor had a nine-syllable name for these headaches and some medicine – which worked. But, after ordering precautionary imaging, he offered no physiological reason why I was getting them.
I brought that reality to another Processwork class. In this instance, I walked with the seemingly incompatible energies of my ordinary plodding self and the pounding energy of my headache. I moved first with one energy, then the other. Gradually, they fused into a lively dance. Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” came into my mind.
I moved with the music, feeling its punctuated downbeats. I admitted to myself that the heat of a sweat lodge was part of the headache problem. Yes, but that thought didn’t feel helpful. Processwork reminds us that physical symptoms can reveal wisdom that we are not already aware of, perhaps something needed for a breakthrough. I kept dancing.
Eventually, these words came to me, “The dance is my spiritual practice.” And then, “The dance, slowed down, is my walk.”
Suddenly I understood that my book – a walk of sorts – is a spiritual calling.
My headache told me that life was out of balance. It is okay to back off the sweat lodges. I’m not abandoning my spiritual path. I’m deepening it – as I hoped to do back when I took that altered-states class.
The labor and discernment I pour into my book is my commitment to serve. Making money is not my goal. However, it is important to find a mainstream publisher and partners willing to share this earth-healing message widely.
Therefore, engaging a book coach became yet another course in my advanced study.
From Footprints to Handprints required six years of writing and rewriting. It represents the practicality, creativity and persistence of millions of people who are contributing to a better future. It offers nearly two hundred Handprint Opportunities. And it reflects the power of Processwork to help inner needs make a difference in the outer world.
The image with this article, a green handprint superimposed on the 1972 NASA photograph of the Earth, is a symbol for sustainability, much as three arrows in a triangle symbolize recycling.
By Jon Biemer
Jon Biemer earned a Certificate in Process-oriented Psychology in 2014. He also is a registered Professional Engineer. He provides Organizational Development consulting to businesses and non-profits. Check out his website at www.JonBiemer.com. Contact him at email@example.com, especially if you’d like to receive publication announcements about From Handprints to Footprints: Creating Sustainability to Heal Our Planet.
Image credits: Jon Biemer