Grantee Reflections

On Transformative Practice

In 2010, we asked our grantees: How do you define “transformative practice?” Below are some of their answers.

Forward Together: “In our work, we define “transformative practice” as approaches in our organizing and movement building strategies that provide a daily way to embody the change we hope to see within ourselves, our organizations and our society. We believe that comprehensive transformation can only happen simultaneously through the body and the mind, particularly in our fight for reproductive justice where we are challenging the systemic oppression and control of our bodies, gender, and sexuality that disconnects our mind, body and spirit. Our practice, called Forward Stance, results in individual, organizational and movement-level transformation by developing our ability to look within ourselves, learn to hold our power, and channel it toward our social change work. We describe Forward Stance as a mind-body practice that helps to build fierce individuals, effective organizations and proactive movements for social change. When introducing Forward Stance to individuals or groups for the first time, we begin by explaining that it involves a set of physical – although not strenuous – exercises that incorporate simple ideas such as how we stand and how we breathe from which coordination, awareness, alignment and collective movement can be developed. At first, people may not understand why a social justice organization has a physical practice and how it is relevant to our work. However, by the time we shed light on the reality of how in much of our lives we rely solely on our intellect to “think our way” through problems we face, that in our society many of us have disconnected our bodies from our minds, and that sometimes the most effective learning happens as a result of physical experiences, people are not only nodding in agreement and understanding but also intrigued as to what Forward Stance can do for them.”

Center for Transformative Change: “At the Center, our practice is transformative practice, and transformative practice is deep practice. Deep practice is cultivated over time. It isn’t a hobby. We make the meta-choice of lifting up our commitment to developing and nurturing our inner lives, above all else, with the understanding that it is reflective in how we show up in our outer lives. Transformative practices need an overall schema to tie them together in order to give contextual background so that the purpose for engaging in them is clear to the practitioner at all times. It is not enough to engage in deep practices without knowing to what end and purpose it serves.”

Jobs with Justice: “For Jobs with Justice, transformative practice means that we are intentional about our individual and collective role in transforming the way we lead and the way we work so that we can be as powerful and effective as possible as leaders, as an organization and as a movement building vehicle. We know that change takes time. We also know that it is easy as an organization to operate in constant crisis mode, which can prevent us from seeing or taking advantage of opportunities to organize for systemic change.  Therefore, transformative practice means that staff and leaders of our network are learning how to provide leadership in a manner that supports a culture of long-term movement building, effective, reflective, and sustainable engagement, and bold vision. We strive to build in transformative practices into our daily operations, trainings, program, and our one on one and collective relationships.  Two important concepts we stress are interdependence and active listening – listening to one another as if we will each learn something from every interaction we have with one another.”

Movement Strategy Center: “Transformative Practice is an intentional activity, or set of activities, that a group (or individual) does regularly over an extended period to ground itself in purpose and facilitate deep growth, embodiment and transformation. It is something done repeatedly over time to cultivate a “way of being.” Transformative practice is evolutionary and iterative – as we grow closer toward our core values and vision, we are able to see the next level of growth and change. The particular practices that groups take on need to be grounded in their purpose and intention for their own becoming and the world. For example, a group that is focused on Ecological Justice might incorporate community gardening and permaculture into their practice in order to deeply connect with a particular piece of land and ecosystem and to directly experience interconnectedness from this vantage point. Transformation itself implies a depth and fundamental shift in thinking, form or being that is different than “change.” Because of this there is an “undoing” that needs to happen in order to make room for something new to emerge. This undoing can happen in crisis, but it can also be facilitated by an intentionally transformative practice.

Social Transformation Project: “Transformative practices are exercises designed to create, through repetition, intentional shifts in awareness, patterns of thinking, and habits of action.”

stone circles: “At the root, transformative practices are a doorway to creating the kind of world we all want to live in. It is a huge range of tools that implicitly recognizes a pattern in the world of work that begs to be reversed or shifted in some way. We have all fallen prey to the realities of the larger culture in which we live and this has handed us a set of norms that inevitably do not “fit” as one progresses on a path of spiritual maturity. We’re less interested in meetings that do not reflect an engaging process. We do not want to participate in groups that do not elicit mutual understanding and respect. We are tired of strategies that rest in “us vs. them” dynamics. But how to change?  It is one thing for an individual to have an epiphany and attempt to begin operating differently.  It’s another for whole entities – organizations, coalitions, etc – to find other paths through decision-making and collaboration. This requires some shared practices.  Let’s start this meeting differently. Let’s experiment with more direct and compassionate communication.”