Trathen Heckman on Hope, Heartbreak & How Inner Work Can Change the World
Nurturing hope during times of small- and large-scale unrest can feel like an enormous undertaking. When the world around us is underwater, staying afloat is an accomplishment in and of itself. During times like these, are there ways in which we can contribute meaningfully, build power, and rise to the challenges before us?
Trathen Heckman, the founder of the action-inspiring nonprofit Daily Acts, believes our greatest power for transformation may lie in our closest communities, in small daily acts of courage and conviction, in small groups of unstoppable world-changers, and small gardens that revitalize communities and reconnect us to nature’s operating instructions. In his new book, Take Heart, Take Action (read an excerpt here), Trathen discusses how individuals and communities can be a catalyst for significant positive change.
We caught up with Trathen to discuss his book, philosophy for hope and action, and what he’s working on now.
Bioneers: Why did you write Take Heart, Take Action?
Trathen: In a dark and stormy world, we need bright beacons and a good compass to guide us. The stories and tools in Take Heart, Take Action show how small acts and groups can make a big difference.
I also wanted to answer two questions I get asked a lot. How has a small group like Daily Acts created so much positive change through all manner of crisis and difficulty? And how do I stay so inspired and engaged after decades of navigating such challenging terrain?
As people, organizations, and movements rise to this moment and prioritize nurturing networks, regenerating ecosystems, and unleashing the power of community, the small, engaged groups in every place are essential. Your daily acts are essential.
This book is an ode to the reverent, resilient, and irrepressible spirit in each of us, and in the small groups everywhere who change things for the better time after time. I hope people, groups, and communities will get more inspired and empowered to both rise to the moment and sustain for the long haul.
Bioneers: During times of unrest or misfortune, many people find themselves feeling incapable or uninterested in taking even small steps to better their lives or the world around them. Do you have any advice for moving beyond this hesitation?
Trathen: Three things, which form the focus and flow of the book:
First, start with your heart and what inspires you. Inspiration is a natural motivator.
Second, really claim the power of your daily actions. Starting small feels more doable, thus removing barriers to action. As Charles Duhigg writes in the Power of Habit, “Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.” The irony of this big planetary moment is that while our efforts can feel inconsequential, there has never been a time when our small acts and groups have mattered more.
Lastly, create and nurture community however you can. This is how nature sustains the web of life.
The simple steps of starting with our hearts and reclaiming the power of our actions in a way that cares for life’s relations seems like a pretty infallible approach. Said another way, following your interests to find your passion and contribute your gifts to a larger cause helps you tap into the deepest intrinsic drivers of human motivation. And it feels damn good.
Bioneers: What brings you hope? On a deeper level, there’s a real question right now of whether humanity can be saved from its own self-destructive tendencies. Do you believe that we can get ourselves out of this mess, and if so, what gives you that sense?
Trathen: Like many, I’ve had my heart break countless times in this work. That said, even with the survival of humanity and a lot of other species on the line, there is a lot that brings me hope. Not hope as in a blind faith that our problems will solve themselves. It’s hope, as an inspired state of living, taking action that matters and meets one’s needs while tapping into the regenerative powers of the earth. It’s hope as an embodied, engaged commitment to claim whatever agency you have to be the change you seek, here and now.
I see so much transformation happening in the grassroots, local governments and wider social movements. I see change agents in all systems and at all scales who are waking up and taking urgent action. Whether it will be enough is a different question. We just have to dream bigger, bolder, and more collaboratively and get to work at regenerating the hell out of it all. For me, it’s about keeping a balance between inspiration and urgency without losing one’s sense of eternity or the magic and mystery of a world made of the dust and stuff of stars, in a galaxy that spirals like your blood and bones.
Bioneers: In your experience, where do humans struggle the most in their pathways toward discovery & positive productivity?
Trathen: I think we’ve lost the truth of who we are. Most folks no longer feel a meaningful, consistent connection to their power, to community, and to this living, breathing planet.
It’s also easy for people to be aware of an overwhelming array of problems nowadays. But where we should spend most of our time is in our circle of influence. When we do this, we build power, skill, confidence, connections, and momentum to influence bigger things. With a strong compass, good personal practices, and a steady focus on things you can positively influence, you are able to hold more of the hurt, confusion, and complexity that comes with seeking to affect wider collective change. To transform bigger systems, the awareness of the people in those systems must change, and this starts with us. This is an important link between personal and community transformation.
Bioneers: Much of your book focuses on intention, breath, meditation, personal habits. Have you encountered critics who say this pathway doesn’t reflect enough urgency, considering the urgency of the world’s challenges?
Trathen: Take Heart, Take Action is laid out in four sections — Reverence, Ripples, Relationships and Resilience. These are Daily Acts Organization’s four core values and operating principles. Whether at an individual or group scale, they function as a sequential framework. The first half of the book is focused more on personal stories and practices, because change starts with us. The second half looks at how you apply these strategies at an organizational, coalition, or community scale with examples from Daily Acts’ work and numerous coalitions and collaborative efforts. It’s about taking heart and taking action together, aligning many partners and communities to affect bigger transformations.
What we’ve long sought to show is the impact you can achieve through a Be the Change approach. Whether it’s mobilizing hundreds of gardens, launching new collaboratives in response to drought and fire, or helping move a city from climate laggard to state and national leader, the results usually speak for themselves. There are many challenges, of course. But aren’t there always when dealing with humans? That’s why we joke that ecosystem restoration is the easy part. The real work is in the egosystem restoration. It’s why we take a lead-from-within approach to affecting bigger collective change.
Bioneers: How can people get a copy of your book and support Daily Acts’ work?
Trathen: If you are ready for a good read or inspired to support our work, you can get a copy of our book and donate to our Take Heart, Take Action Crowdfunding Campaign until November 14th. You can also visit www.dailyacts.org. But most importantly, as we say at Daily Acts, take heart, take part, take action. It’s time to rise.