Continuing to Take Action
by Kathleen Yeager
Some of us came to the end of the 2021 Taking Action course, but weren’t quite ready for it to be over. It was a year into the pandemic. Collectively, we bemoaned that the course was only offered once a year. Participants Steven Bluestone along with Mary Ann Heywood had an actionable solution: Let’s continue on our own!
It’s almost three years later and our Action Group continues to thrive. This article addresses five considerations that we believe have sustained our group, along with some tips as to how you might form a group of your own.
- Start the ball rolling. Before the course ended, a couple of participants seized the day, suggesting that we set up a support group. It’s important, as Christina Bell points out, to not let any time elapse between the course ending and the support group starting.
- Meet at a mutually convenient time. Once the course was over, we chose to meet at the same time as Gregg’s support group had, that is, Wednesdays at 12:30pm. That worked for most of us, most of the time, and allowed Dianne Jarrett to join us from England at 5:30 pm. Our meetings are one-hour. We start on time and end on time, and we meet every week with the exception of major holidays.
- Share responsibility for the group. It took time and patience for us to come up with an equitable way to do this. We credit Mary Ann Heywood with shepherding us through the first steps, which involved collecting emails, sending out the Zoom link, and coming up with a format for the first meetings. Over time the roles of Zoom initiator, facilitator, and timekeeper became separate roles, which continue to evolve.
- Set expectations collectively. In the beginning, we functioned exclusively as an accountability group, talking about the progress we had made on projects initiated during the course. We divided the time evenly between members. Each member spoke without interruption for 5 – 7 minutes, depending upon the size of the group that day. Then, if a member wanted feedback or suggestions from the group, they solicited it. Speaking without interruption allowed us each to think aloud, often resulting in a better understanding of our own projects. These early meetings helped us explore our projects, and even change course as necessary. It also allowed us to know one another’s projects better.
- Create a supportive environment. We all agree that this is the glue that keeps the group going. We cheer one another on, offering suggestions when asked for, careful not to shame. Steven finds that the group and his commitment to it ‘is the container’ that keeps him on track’ He shows up, independent of how he feels. The good news is that he almost always finds himself fulfilled by participating. Pamela Timmins has appreciated ‘processing the practice of The Art of Taking Action’ while applying it to her legacy project. She continues to enjoy ‘developing meaningful relationships with several To-Do members’, a sentiment echoed by others. As Maryanne Barry put it, ‘the group is a gift, especially during the pandemic, to check in weekly with a wonderful group of caring givers. ’ Maryanne credits Christina with the phrase ‘caring givers.’
More recently, we’ve been alternating the format. One week is an accountability session and the next a work session. During the work sessions, we meet briefly at the beginning to say what we’re going to do and then we each work on our projects. We check in briefly at the end of the session.
We have also begun doing several longer work sessions, which are determined well in advance, so that all can participate easily. The longer work sessions are two-hours in length, and are strategically scheduled so that they continue to be special. We started the New Year with one Marathon three-hour session! Scheduling these with members in as many as four different time zones requires extra consideration.
Members also participate via email, sending the three things that they want to accomplish (known in the course as “The Three Jewels”) to the group.
Here are a few examples of what we’ve been doing. Christina continued practicing taking care of herself. Dianne continues to work on her walking and fitness. Kathleen had her house painted. Maryanne completed 2021 taxes monthly. Pamela is organizing a visual art exhibition of her work from 1970-2020 at a local library gallery. Steven has shown up on a nearly daily basis to write stories to use in math lessons.
Crossing time zones and an ocean, we have formed an intimate group that has come to know one another, our struggles, losses, and, definitely, our achievements.
This was our process. Your group will have its own form and its own challenges. One thing that I know about groups of this nature, whether in person or online, is that keeping to a regular schedule helps continuity. Making sure that each person is given equal time to speak is another, and that no one person ends up carrying the load.
And finally, here is a poem we’d like to share by a member of the Taking Action group:
To My Action/Being Buddies
by Maryanne Barry
He kicks back the entrance rug with a desultory foot, this keyhole man
As spent and pinched as I on this sultry, sunless Monday.
He leaves a crimped round opening, hole too small and dark to circle friend or foe.
From door to screen, I lean on Qigong for larger vistas
Peer through thumb and index triangle for new perspective
But the opening shrinks, the vision clouds, the body will not bow.
At last you arrive and the air rises, light and crystalline.
You are zoom-squared but unbound by geometrics
My key-whole gang.
You move––despite splintered limbs and sandpaper feelings.
You send bits and bobs, lobs of story, song, and string into the world
With hearts full of openings
As wide as sky
As deep as sea
As lustrous as jewels
As true as vast galaxies of sunflowers.