Re-Envisioning the OTO in a pandemic – part 2

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

On Oct 25, 2020 e.v. 12 local leaders gathered together to work to figuring out how to navigate member needs in the midst of a pandemic that is spread by social contact.

Part 1 gave a description of how we structured our conversation and the problems we identified.

As anyone should expect, there are no magical answers within the constraints of current conditions. The real solutions will happen based on advances in medicine (vaccines, treatments, etc.)

The solutions that are easiest to reach for, are those that feed the mind. Classes can be consumed in person or online. Online may even have better reach due to lack of commute time.

But spiritual and emotional nourishment are harder to figure out in a socially distanced world. Full sensory experiences are also limited to mostly sound and sight.

Yet, some local bodies are finding ways to navigate within the current constraints. Some are finding ways to thrive. And others are trying to find a path forward.

This article is a collection of ideas, and includes the solutions and ideas generated in our workshop, as well as some things that some bodies are already doing.

In this article, we will share the solutions and ideas we generated.

Nourishing social connections

Social distancing has left many people feeling profoundly alone and isolated. This isn’t limited to our membership, but in an organization built on fraternity, distancing chips away at some of what is at our core.

Webinars and spending time with others on Google Meet, can often feel like a cheap facsimile that barely touches our human needs to connect with like minded others.

Many local bodies are exploring ways to spend outdoor time together in ways that are in accord with health department guidelines.

Some of these things may not seem to be directly related to O.T.O. in a core way, but each of them helps facilitate contact and fraternity.

  1. Outdoor campfire (perhaps with marshmallow roasting)
  2. Camping with social distancing
  3. Check in calls to members (asking if members would like to opt in to such may be helpful for some people but others may prefer to not participate)
  4. Watching a movie together, each in their own homes, but with side chat (press the start button around the same time)
  5. Watching magick oriented youtube videos together with side chat is similar but more focused

Facilitating play

We think of play as being something for children. But the power and pleasure of play can help strengthen a sense of connection and well being. Few things in life are better than sharing laughter.

Some of our local bodies are already doing activities like the following:

  1. Geocaching
  2. Snowball fight
  3. Sledding
  4. Croquet (no shared mallets and easy ability to maintain distance)
  5. Cemetery walk
  6. Scavenger hunt

Inspiring each other

  1. Art exchange (either local with centralized drop off or by mail)

Spiritual nourishment

This one gets closest to some of what is at the core of our existence. And without mass or initiations or even group ritual, it’s deeply impacted.

  1. Local bodies could send Cake of Light by mail or geographically smaller Valleys, may be able to leverage a centralized pickup place
  2. Participants identified a need for new eucharistic rituals that may have resonances with Liber XV: O.T.O. Ecclesiæ Gnosticæ Catholicæ Canon Missæ Perhaps these eucharists could be shared via Google Meet in order to commune together while socially distanced.

Intimate connection

  1. Some local leaders have found that when only 1 person shows up for a class, something unexpectedly positive can happen. That 1:1 conversation can nurture new members or potential members, and provides opportunities for personal conversations in addition to mentoring.

Support

Food insecurity and substance abuse are both up within the United States. Our members are not immune to these nationwide changes.

  1. Golden Thread Oasis is running a food bank where people in need can come and pick up food. (This may become its own blog post if there is interest.)
  2. Dove and Serpent hosts a Pagans in Recovery weekly meeting. You can find it every Friday, posted on the U.S.G.L’s shared calendar hosted by the Education Committee.

Ideas that are beyond individual local bodies

Some of the ideas and asks would require Grand Lodge support. Stay tuned for follow up on these items.

  1. Centralized place to find speakers for Google Meet calls. This is partially fulfilled by the Education Committee’s list of traveling lecturers. In 2020, “travel” could mean hopping on to a meeting with others.
    If you are a member in good standing and want to be added to the list, contact the committee directly.
  2. Crowd sourcing course content. This is central to the Education Committee mission but local leaders may not know enough about the program. Courses that are available are listed here. Contact the Education Secretary if you have ideas you’d like to contribute.
  3. Centralized place for rituals. There is a desire to have a repository that may help inspire people in their practices. Any rituals optimized for a Google Meet call would be especially valuable.
  4. Centralized Discord or Slack channel for all members in good standing.
    (Order wide social media has always been tricky. If you have a proposal, feel free to run it by the Electoral College).

Love is the law, love under will.

Re-envisioning the O.T.O. in a pandemic – part 1

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

The problem

No one joined the Order because we have great classes on Google Meet. Our core services of initiating and celebrating the mass are limited or unavailable. Our core values of fraternity and hospitality are challenged by social distancing.

Our needs for connection, belonging, and purpose don’t disappear simply because we can’t interact in our usual ways.

The doing

12 local leaders came together for a 3-hour workshop. We time-boxed to 3 hours but could have easily used another hour. Nonetheless, the creativity and ideas that came out of the workshop were inspiring, and there may be additional future opportunities.

The process

Design thinking is a process developed at Stanford University’s d.school and uses empathy to help understand needs. Once we have a deep understanding of the problems, it becomes easier to challenge assumptions and find breakthrough solutions.

We used a modified version of “classic” design thinking, with the following steps.

Step 1. Empathize – design thinking has its foundations in empathy. People paired off and interviewed each other. Interviewers were encouraged to be curious and ask, “why” as much as a child would. Interviewers dig for stories and emotional content.

Step 2. Define – needs are uncovered in step 1. This steps starts driving towards solutions by:

  • questioning assumptions
  • asking how to amplify whatever good is currently happening
  • asking how to remove or decrease the bad
  • identify unexpected resources
  • create analogies from identified needs or contexts

Step 3. Ideate – in this step, participants work to identify solutions. We use sketching as it frees up parts of the mind that are not as available when using words.

Step 4. Testing – design thinking is a flexible process and due to time constraints, we tested by sharing with the entire group.

Themes

We had some high level themes for identified issues.

  • leadership burnout
  • physical and mental health challenges due directly and indirectly to the pandemic
  • struggles with engagement and turnout for webinars
  • social needs are hard to fulfil
  • spiritual needs are mostly absent from current services

This article will focus on identified problems. A follow up article will share the solutions that the group found.

Burnout.

Local leadership is stressed, lacking sustenance, and is at risk of burnout.

Each of us stays in the Order for different reasons. What sustains and nurtures us are questions we each need to answer for ourselves. But when the entire infrastructure of an organization is pulled apart, whatever fed any individual member, may not exist anymore.

On a plane, we are told to put our own oxygen mask on, even before helping our children.

It is impossible to feed others when you are starving.

Physical and mental health issues are impacting our membership.

This issue is not limited to our Siblings.

Alcohol sales and consumption have sharply spiked in the US as a whole. Membership is not immune to this broader impact on the country. Lack of social interaction and exercise are also contributing to additional health issues.

Keeping people engaged is hard. Social needs are not well fulfilled.

This isn’t a shocker. People are using video calls for work and many don’t want to also use it to socialize. Sitting in a room with people is not as draining as sharing a screen.

Differences in online vs face-to-face meetings:

  • Online meetings are focused on everyone’s face.
  • There is no eye contact. It’s hard to tell if a person is listening.
  • With your face is the main focus, people can feel like they’re being watched and become hyper aware of how they look. Your brain is distracted by how you are appearing to others. Are you smiling enough? It’s exhausting.

Being socially connected with others is not the same as being on a video call together. And many people are burned out on virtual meetings. People that were enjoying online classes may not be showing up for them anymore.

Spiritual needs are not well met.

Magical practices can be solo or in a group. Many people find that the social aspects of the Order keep them more accountable in their solo practices too. Curiously, solo practices have also suffered in the pandemic due to lessened social bonds.

Surprising insights

The group surfaced a few points that provided deep food for thought.

Sensory inputs are constrained. We meet on Google Meet and we have sound and sight. But when we see each other in person, we also have touch, smell, and taste.

Are there ways to bring more sensory modalities into our interactions with each other? (This is one of many points we will look at in part 2.)

People need to play. While this isn’t a core part of what we usually think of as O.T.O., play facilitates social connection and makes us feel good.

Play is relaxing and makes us feel good.

In part 2, we will explore some ways to facilitate play in a safe, socially distanced way.

Part 2 is coming soon and will be a list of ideas that came out of the workshop.

Love is the law, love under will.