The Bridge Institute Program of Cultural Change and Mentoring
This is a plan for a program to assist people in making a paradigm shift and realigning their lives with a new set of cultural values. Participants are invited to spend a year as apprentices in a supportive structured environment to learn tools for personal growth and mirroring, experience the co-creative process, and live interdependently and in balance for a long enough period to integrate values shifts. On-site staff will provide mentoring and instruction in a wide array of topics including gardening and all manner of food preservation, fiber arts and making clothing, conscious breathing and massage, group dance and martial arts, philosophy of daily living, how to process grief and anger, and healing old emotional wounds. Those who graduate the program have the option to continue in it to deeper levels or to join other “Bridgers” start their own cooperative living projects to apply what they’ve learned.
There are 3 main phases for Bridgers to move through: Apprentices start at the Commons, then have the option to graduate to being Acolytes at the Retreat (“Acolyte”), and finally have the opportunity to become Mentors. Mentors can graduate to become Teachers, Teachers can graduate to become Protectors. Between each level is a ritual to mark the rite of passage and help people transition. Participants at each “level” assist those entering earlier phases. Students of any level are always welcome to return to the Commons for day or two at a time if they would enjoy the routine or need to re-balance their self-care habits.
This program will require a significant amount of funding and support. If you’d like to see a more detailed plan, to participate, to support, or to donate funds or resources to help make this program possible, please visit The Bridge Program link at www.thebridgers.org.
Goals of the Program
- Personal Growth through Self-Care, Present Moment
Awareness, and the Love of Learning.
The foundation of the Bridge is learning to nurture oneself. The program instills this habit initially through a very rigid daily structure involving stretching, exercise, rest, and a healthy diet. Classes in meditation, movement arts, massage, communication skills and emotional healing will deepen students’ awareness of their physical and emotional energy. As their awareness grows, they will learn to effectively balance periods of rest and reflection (taking naps, journaling, or simply sitting quietly) with periods of exertion and instructed activity (working in the garden, for example). This crucial balance of activity and rest is vital to the practice of self-care and will provide the foundation for stable health and well-being.
Another primary emphasis throughout the curriculum is how to cultivate one’s awareness. The key to happiness, or “happen-ness”, is feeling grateful. The key to feeling grateful is being in the present moment. The more we can appreciate whatever is happening, the greater our happiness and the more open we are to learning whatever lessons present themselves to us. Through guided activities (such as nonviolent communication practice) and cultural experiences (such as giving thanks before a meal), students will be encouraged to appreciate the present moment and open themselves to the lessons offered by the school of everyday life.
Finally, it is crucial that each person cultivate their desire to co-create in the world and experience the joy that comes from pursuing that desire. Students will have many opportunities to make things with their hands, from playing music to making their own clothing to carving bows and arrows. It is hoped that these experiences will spark students’ curiosity about the world, grow their sense of belonging on earth, and open up pathways for future co-creative exploration.
- Security through Cooperative Kinship.
The second key emphasis of the program is the experience of living in supportive community. This includes mirroring (offering each other insights on our personal growth) and mutual interdependence. As much as possible, participants will rely upon each other for their food and housing needs, with help from mentors and teachers along the way. Students will serve each other food rather than taking their own, help each other food production and processing (growing, harvesting, and preserving meat and produce), and everyone will help with the daily chores and maintenance of the shared housing (cleaning, firewood, laundry, etc).
The program will have different levels for students to move through: first apprenticing at the Commons, then becoming a Mentor at the Retreat, then on to being a Teacher. This allows for a more structured shift into the new lifestyle. Incoming apprentices will not initially be expected to be able to keep their own balance or mirror well for each other, but will learn quickly with the help of Mentors who have experienced the full year at the Commons.
3. A Starting Point for Cultural Change
The intention behind offering people a supportive space for personal growth and living in interdependence is to encourage a broader cultural crossover towards cooperative living and emotional-spiritual well-being. It is hoped that those who graduate the Commons and choose to leave the Bridge Program (rather than staying on as Mentors) can band together in a group business or set up a similar program in another city. The Bridge acts as a training ground and a connection point for people looking for a different way of life.
The Bridge Program is designed for young people coming out of high school or college (but not limited to that demographic) who are dissatisfied with the choices offered to them in this culture but are still hopeful and energetic enough to attempt a different way of living. Applicants would be recruited from high school and college campuses as well as at regional gatherings and events. Desired qualities of apprentices include:
- genuine desire to live differently right now (not just fearfully preparing for the end of the world) and recognition that people are deeply removed from all that brings joy right now
- disillusionment with the cultural belief that this is as good as it gets amidst widespread depression
- feeling that any change is better than the absence of the sacred in life right now.
Apprentices are selected through a correspondence course on the principles of living in balance and submission of daily journals. In general, students should be people who want to bend and change to a new way of living, not content with the way things are.
Although participation in each level is completely voluntary, we’d like to encourage a strong sense of interdependence. The tasks and topics of the program will naturally be difficult for people at various times, but students will be strongly encouraged to participate fully rather than “opting out” of some activities, especially at the Commons. If someone is extremely resistant to an element of the program, they will be encouraged to take space from everyone to sit quietly with themselves and figure out what they are feeling and where the resistance is coming from. Or, alternatively, the rest of the group will wait patiently until the reluctant person or people are ready to join again.
Phases of the Program
The initial Commons experience takes place in a shared living facility in a quiet urban neighborhood with a very structured and focused curriculum. The goal of this first phase of the program is to instill a highly structured routine of self-care, starting with rest and basic everyday hygiene and incorporating stretching and physical exercise, until each Apprentice finds their personal balance (maybe 6 months). Each participant sews their own outfit/uniform of overalls and a simple shirt and wears this daily during their stay in the program.
The schedule at the Commons looks like this: six days a week, Apprentices wake at the same time and begin the day with dream-telling, stretching, and journaling. After a snack and basic chores, they circle up for class time. Classes begin with song and include subjects such as nonviolent communication, cooking, basic massage, martial arts, philosophy of daily life, and earth skills (firemaking, hide-tanning, shelter-building, herbal medicine, growing/harvesting food, etc). Noontime brings lunch of simple healthy fare, followed by games and dancing or rest. In the afternoon, apprentices work in the garden until evening when they meet for dinner. The evening ends with storytelling and/or massage and bed. There are also regular opportunities for ceremony and ritualized reverance, which could include intentional sweats (sauna/sweatlodge), dance and song, or other forms of group ritual. This routine provides a set structure to support people in the work of shifting their values and living in tribe. One day a week is an optional field trip so that participants have a chance to reflect on their own and/or leave to interact with the world outside the program, although they will be strongly encouraged to remain immersed in a schedule of balanced living.
At the end of the Commons, participants do a vision quest. In order to continue on to the Retreat, students must demonstrate their skill and commitment by butchering and cooking a chicken. These ceremonies, similar to the graduation ceremonies of high school and college, assist people in their personal growth and spiritual development while also strengthening the cohesion of each group and clarification of roles as people move through. Acolytes live in their own space, the Retreat, which is similar to the Commons but less structured and more in-depth. At the Retreat, Acolytes are more free to trust their own understanding of their personal rhythms and work as much as they need to each day, eat when they need to eat, etc., but still within a strong daily structure. Each Acolyte assists 2-3 incoming Apprentices at the Commons, a chance for Acolytes to develop their ability to clearly see and mirror for other people.
Mentors mirror for Acolytes and conduct some of the classes at the Commons.
Additional Program Elements
Celebrations/Parties. We celebrate all the lunar events, keeping in mind that they are celebrations only, not like the pagan festivals that were agriculturally oriented. we gratefully recognize the polarity of the world, light and dark, not asking for fertility and harvests.
Self-forgiveness and Disclosure. Participants have the opportunity to disclose experiences and feelings with an objective listener. Disclosure is a safe place to be honest with another co-creator about the self-perceived judgments about one’s own thoughts or actions. It is a chance for making peace with oneself through atonement and forgiveness, not from others so much as for/from oneself. As we grow and change, it is natural to make mistakes, and to damage ourselves and others. Because of our cultural training, we tend to formulate identities for ourselves as “bad” people based on these experiences. Therefore, personal penance or atonement is an essential tool for self-forgiveness and identity change. In order to reinvent our identity on a visceral, not an intellectual, level, we must experience pain from sore muscles and altered routines.
Safe Experience of Touch. All humans need touch by nature. We are a herd animal, meant to be with others of our kind. It is vital that we establish safe ways to give and receive touch – through massage, dancing, and games, for example. When these forms of intimacy are an integral part of life, we feel more alive, connected, and secure, and less desperate for “sexual” encounters.
Money in the program. Money is a tool, but it’s not holy. Money comes and goes, but people are going to be around longer, so people are more important than money. For that reason, the Bridge program will accept donations but will not ask people to give money. Donation boxes or funds will be kept somewhat out of the way but all funding decisions will be made transparent. Donations will be accepted quietly as a minor aspect of interactions so that the focus can be on people. Also, the experience and benefits of living in community are realized only when people depend on each other for their food/needs. Without that, the depth of shared experience and mutual support/need is minimal. Funds will be used primarily for community outreach.
It is also important, however, that Bridgers be protected financially from the broader money-driven society. Without a safe shielded place (land or housing) in which to grow and teach, the first steps in creating community are stifled. Ideally, the program would have enough money to run a few years of this collaborative experience on a purely scholarship level and offer separate forms of the lifestyle experience for people who would be willing to pay. In a program centered around personal growth, people who pay may resist challenges to their way of seeing the world or themselves and find fault in the program rather than try out a new way of thinking or being. In the case of a discord or dissatisfaction if participants are asked to pay, an immediate refund will be issued and the student encouraged to find another meaningful experience elsewhere.