Last May as I entered my 84th year, I felt glad about that number: it seemed so rich, roundy and potent. Now that the year’s complete, I look back and see how rich and round it actually turned out to be. I wish I could make a tapestry, like an Indra’s Net, of the faces in the intensives and workshops and courses - faces young and old made beautiful by truth-speaking, luminous with tears and laughter. The encounters are beyond my powers of description, but I can convey some of the themes and thoughts, starting with this lovely birthday video I received from children in Bryansk and Novozybkov in Russia. These beautiful children are all working with the Viola organization to keep on recovering from the radiation from Chernobyl (link coming soon).
Marvel of mind: the power to choose
We can choose where we put our minds. Our minds won’t staeny there, of course, because minds like to run around. But then we just choose again and return the mind to where we want it… till it wanders again and we bring it back again. (Do you suppose choice-training is the point of meditation?)
Years back when I was rooting around in systems theory and the Buddha’s teaching of karma, I saw that both these perspectives reveal choice-making as the genesis and essential nature of the self. If you want to find out what and who you are that’s where to look. In the course of our evolutionary journey that capacity to choose, to pick the path you intend to take, arose with the emergence of self-reflexive consciousness. Indeed, that’s what self-reflexive consciousness is. (If this interests you look at chapter 4 in World as Lover, World as Self, and chap 9 in Mutual Causality).
Now, forty years later, with everything growing more perilous, I experience a whole new dimension of gratitude for this power. Just as Chris Johnstone and I start our book, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy, so I often begin talks and workshops with the three stories or realities shaping our world today. Which do you choose to put in the foreground: Business As Usual in the industrial growth society? Or The Great Unraveling, as ecosystems and cultures fall apart? Or the Great turning to a life-sustaining society? Each story is true and happening right now. The question for each of us is which do we choose to identify with and devote ourselves to.
Red Tail Hawk
The other day in our People of Color group in the WTR, Rose Elizondo gave me a feather. It is weightless and lovely with bands of silvery beige and brown. It is from the red-tail hawk, and Rose explained that it represents the power of choice.
The Great Turning, the largest social movement in history, is created by millions of individuals making their own individual choice to act for the sake of life on Earth.
In Tibetan Buddhism the first Preliminary Reflection, as taught to me by yogi Antrim of Tashi Jong one vivid summer 23 years ago, is to contemplate how rare and precious is a human birth. The preciousness has nothing to do with superiority or worth, but rather with the belief that, of all the realms of existence, from animals and hungry ghosts to devas and jealous gods, only life as a human allows you to choose the uses of your mind. It lets you “change the karma.”
A water-stained notebook from that summer in Tashi Jong holds my attempt to take in the immensity of the gift. “So may life-times and forms it has taken to knit the circuitries for self-reflexive consciousness. So much endurance under the heavy hand of fate and the blind play of instinct, to gain at last the ability to consider and judge and decide. So many mute yearnings to act and speak for the larger whole, until this present dawning, when you enter the dance of your own volition.”
The Flame in the Heart
In the Buddha Dharma, as many of you know, there’s a word for the motivation to act for the sake of all beings. It is bodhichitta. It is the intention generated by the bodhisattva, who is the one who knows we are not separate from each other, but are held, as Martin Luther King put it, in “an inescapable network of mutuality.” So bodhisattva also knows that there is no private salvation.
I love it that in Active Hope, my co-author Chris, who is not on the Buddhist path, wanted to retain those two Buddhist-Sanskrit terms: bodhisattva and bodhichitta. There is no English equivalent yet for either one.
I was told by Tibetan teachers that bodhichitta is like a flame in the heart, and that I should prize it and at all costs protect it from flickering out. I’ve come to see two amazing things about this flame in the heart. First is the realization that, no matter how uncertain the situation appears, your bodhichitta is the one thing you can count on. And, the second thing about bodhichitta is that it frees you up from constantly trying to judge your effectiveness or compute your chances of success.
Perhaps I so love the deep time and deep ecology practices we do in the Work That Reconnects because they give us an experience of bodhichitta. To step aside from our usual identity and speak for another life form, or for a person of the future, immediately opens up the horizons of our self-interest. Care for the welfare of even distant others then feels natural, strong, and so obvious it’s easy. So. when by our moral imagination we make future generations present to our minds, they teach us bodhichitta, strengthening us to act for the ongoingness of life on Earth.
A beautiful development in my life this last year has been my deepening relationship with Canticle Farm, an urban community initiated by my personal assistant Anne and her husband Terry Symens-Bucher, both secular Franciscans . The community is located in the Fruitvale district of East Oakland, where the Great Unraveling is especially apparent in the lives of the marginalized and the poor. Currently comprised of 9 residents living in 5 houses on one contiguous body of land, Canticle Farm's Franciscan mission embodies all three aspects of the Great Turning. Residents are facilitating the Work That Reconnects as well as integrating it into community processes. They are committed to integral nonviolence, spiritual disciplines, service in their neighborhood and beyond, and experimenting with gift economy. Their practices include receptive silence, radical liturgy, rights of passage, shadow work, and soul-centered emotional, psycho-spiritual development. They have a large garden in which they grow some of their food, and hold an intention to source the rest locally. Once a week they glean fruit and receive donations of organic produce from the farmers' market, and give it all away in the neighborhood as what is named "fruta gift."
I have recently had the privilege of teaching at Canticle Farm in a ground-breaking application of the WTR for people of color who are themselves intending to facilitate the work. This dance has brought me new insights into the work, as well as touched my heart in profound ways. I also loved facilitating a weekend workshop at Canticle Farm last month, the first of what will be many opportunities to work with me in that setting. I loved being so close to home, yet in encompassed in nature (oh the blooming wisteria!) in the middle of an urban area, in a community embodying the Great Turning.
On this birthday of mine, if you would like to give me a present, I invite you to support Canticle Farm at this crucial moment of its evolution. Their goals are ambitious, as they intend to purchase two of the houses they currently rent, for which they will need $600,000. Meanwhile, their monthly rent is over $3000. Please visit their website to donate: www.canticlefarm.wordpress.com, or mail a check made payable to Canticle Farm, 1968 36th Ave. Oakland, CA 94601. [Canticle Farm is awaiting its 501c3 status; all donations made now will be retroactively tax exempt once they receive this status].
Such love does
the sky now pour,
that whenever I stand in a field,
I have to wring out the light
When I get
- St. Francis of Assisi
In a few hours the party begins, friends and family will be gathering to celebrate with me this precious life—and where? You guessed it: Canticle Farm. Love ever, Joanna
P.S. And here's a special treat created by Peggy Macy to be shown at Joanna's 84th birthday party!
Before I depart again for points east, I want to tell you about our recent ten-day intensive in North Carolina, and then share some new practices in the Work That Reconnects (WTR), as well as some quotes you’ll appreciate.
NORTH CAROLINA INTENSIVE
Wrapping up in early June, the North Carolina intensive was well served by the preparations of its local team (Hope Horton, Jodi Lasseter, Gregory Louie, and Eleanor Hancock) and their commitment to grounding the WTR in their region. Some thirty of us gathered at the lovely, rural center belonging to Stone House. Situated on 70 acres between Chapel Hill and Greensboro, Stone House co-sponsored our event--a perfect fit given its focus on social and environmental justice < http://www.stonecircles.org/> and its director Claudia Horwitz, author of Spiritual Activism. The scholarship fund, to which a number of you have made donations, helped us bring in more youth and people of color; I am grateful for their presence with us and for your generosity. We started with a weekend workshop for newcomers to the WTR, ten of whom then stayed on for a full week to follow, with more folks coming in with experience of the work.
| Work That Reconnects SE Intensive, 2012 photo by Sarah Vekasi, Morning Teaching
The event was distinctive in its dual focus: 1) on the southeastern states; and 2) on energy issues in that region. We spotlighted these issues with a panel of speakers: Sarah Vekasi, an eco-chaplain in Appalachia, spoke on mountain top removal coal mining; Don Safer, veteran Tennessee activist on Oak Ridge National Laboratory briefed us on nuclear power issues; Sammy Slade from NC Warn detailed current policies and legislation involving huge (preconstruction) rate hikes; and Tamara Matheson helped us understand what’s at stake in hydro-fracking. The speakers’ impact on the intensive is captured in the words of Elizabeth Erb, a participant.
“Monday night’s panel changed my life. First, having that information brought forward and presented within the workshop added fathoms of depth and meaning to the week. If there was any doubt about the need for us to really focus in, it was squelched. On a personal level, I was undone… blindsided by the fracking information. If anything is ever needed for me to have compassionate empathy for foot-dragging-folks-in-denial, I have only to look in the mirror. I think I listened and finally heard so deeply because: 1) there was little choice (! Often necessary in my case!) and 2) because I was counting on a Truth Mandala the next day. My biggest hope/fear/challenge centers on how I will move forward with that information.”
Most folks in our intensive took advantage of the one-on-one consultations that Anne Symens-Bucher offered under the arching branches of an enormous pecan tree, precious moments that brought fresh clarity to the life changes faced in these times. There’s great gratitude too for Sarah Vekasi’s role as she assisted me in facilitating the teaching sessions and organized the afternoon and evening programs. Sarah brought her rich experience in the WTR and her use of it in her groundbreaking Ecochaplaincy work<http://ecochaplaincy.net/> The subject of her M.Div. thesis at Naropa University, it has, over her last three years in Appalachia with communities struggling with mountaintop removal coal mining, grown into a substantial and priceless body of work.
I was delighted that Sarah and Jodi Lasseter organized a track for facilitators and wannabe facilitators that ran through the week for one and two hours each afternoon. At each gathering everyone first reflected on the morning session from his/her perspective as participant; then took on the perspective of facilitator to see the choice-points and harvest what was useful and good. This kind of “training” in the WTR was a breakthrough for me.
|Joanna with young activist, Mitra Sticklen, who intends to use the WTR to involve more young people in the food justice movement. Photo by Sarah Vekasi
MORE NEW PRACTICES
I love how the WTR encourages us to discover and invent new practices. Here are some recent ones:
Aryeh Shell, on a Rotary Peace Fellowship in Buenos Aires, is writing her thesis on the threats facing Mayan campesinos with whom she did field work in Honduras. At first her grief for them sapped her energy, but then she found a way to feel their presence and support.
“I have started a meditation practice, based on a story I read in Thich Nhat Hanh's book, of sitting with the photographs of the amazing Hondurans that I met in the Aguán who are impacted by the militarization in their communities and who are struggling for land and life. I sit and breathe with them, look at their faces, remember their voices, and connect to their suffering, their hopes, their grief, their struggle and then it is not just me that is writing this thesis, but we are. As I have felt some overwhelm by the macabre connection between neoliberalism, agrofuels and militarization, this practice drops me into a deep sense of communion and solidarity so that my thesis is not simply a theoretical analysis of the situation, but a pilgrimage into the heart.
Ongoing drop-in group for the WTR
Kaia Svien in Minneapolis hosts a biweekly gathering where she offers the WTR. She writes:
“These days I am offering the work in ongoing 2-hour sessions every other week. People can either drop in or come each time as the sessions are both self-contained and part of a series. We honor the emotions by recognizing that each person speaks for him/herself and is also sent by Earth, carrying a message of how humans are awakening. Then we do a practice of interbeing from (WTR’s) large treasure box. These sessions are designed to give people support over time. I’ve done enough now to have new forms arise at times to match events. Luscious!
Open sentences for couples
On a Sunday last April my son Jack and I co-facilitated a half-day workshop as a fundraiser for his church. we managed to complete the whole spiral of the WTR, thanks to ample use of Open Sentences. Shortly afterwards he showed up at the monthly meeting of his couples group. His wife was away on a trip, and he only discovered upon arrival that he was responsible for the evening’s activity. Without batting an eye, Jack led the group around the spiral with the following Open Sentences:
1. “What I love about our relationship is…”
2. “When I think of where we remain separate and fearful, I feel….”
3. “When I remember that I have chosen my one and only, and this is it, I want to…”
4. “Something I can do in the next month to deepen the experience of love in our relationship is…”
Jack asked each person to write their answers down first, and then take turns reading and listening to their partner.
This is an exercise concocted last fall at Rowe Conference Center, when I wanted to give people a short spell in nature before the rain started up again.
Go outside. Let yourself be drawn to a natural object, a stone, a plant, a tree. Let this life-form become your teacher. Watch and be with it. Let it tell you of three strengths that are yours: One is a strength you were born with. The second is a strength you have won through hardship. The third is a strength you will discover as you take part in the Great Turning.
Council of All Beings variation
Elizabeth Erb of Asheville shares this addition to a Council of All Beings she and her husband David Williams led with their UU congregation.
After letting our masks down, everyone had a note card and pen. While both awarenesses were still present, we each wrote on one side of the card an intention or promise as a human expressing what we will do or how we will honor the identity that has arisen in us. On the other side of the card we wrote the message to us humans from the being that had arisen in us. We were a small enough council, so we could read both sides of our cards to the group.
Buffalo arose so strong in me and is a no-nonsense, straight-shooting giant who had a mouthful to say. I will forever treasure his advice (mandate—he doesn’t “suggest” things!) for me. It is on my refrigerator and I am made more solid and bigger each time I read it.
WORDS FOR THE GREAT TURNING
Occupy and Nonviolence
In Street Spirit; printed by America Friends Service Committee and sold by homeless men and women on the streets of the Bay Area, I found a great interview with George Lakey on the Occupy movement and the importance of nonviolence. Here are few lines:
Those in Occupy who want to be cynical about the intentions of the 1 percent might ask themselves: Why is it so important to the 1 percent that we believe that violence is more powerful? It’s so important because they know they can beat us, because they are the ones who have the overwhelming instruments of violence. They can keep us in line as long as we believe that violence is the most powerful force. So it is this massive manipulation that is thousands of years old, maybe older than that, and it’s totally in alignment with the patriarchy…
Violence offends us. Violence is actually against human nature—it offends us… the sight, the smell, the sound of violence is offensive. It violates our sensibility… [Violence] delegitmizes [the authorities]. What’s going on with Syria right now? The government of Syria has turned from a so-so state into, in the world’s estimation, a rogue state because of the use of violence. Violence discredits the purveyors of it.
With my book group I’m reading In Mortal Hands, a history of nuclear weapons and power, and I’ve been struck by a phrase of Andrei Sakharov. Long before his Nobel Peace Prize, and long before he became a dissident within the USSR, Sakharov was assigned to the development of the Soviet hydrogen bomb. Even back then, at age 27, he was reported to have “distinguished himself through the clarity and correctness of his thought.” But he could not sleep. “You know,” he told a colleague then, “I have internal hysterics.”
The phrase describes well what comes upon me at moments, such as when I think of the storage pool of irradiated fuel rods at Fukushima’s 4th reactor, or of what fracking does to
the waters of Earth.
Moral Overload and the Resilient Bodhisattva
My friend Dennis Rivers writes about the deluge of information that requires our attention and empathy. In a recent writing he discerns possible adaptive responses http://liberationtheology.org/moral-overload-and-the-resilient-bodhisattva. Two in particular I would like to digest. One is::
...to define global moral challenges as belonging to communities rather than individuals, so that the individual does not feel like a failure in relation to all those calls for help…
A second response would be for a person to develop an inward culture of forgiveness, in which one accepted that one lived in a broken and suffering world. This would involve considerable emotional maturity, and an acceptance of one’s finiteness. Although in the face of the sufferings of the world, I might earnestly wish that I were a hundred people rather than just one, focusing intensely on forgiveness might allow me to forgive myself for being only one, and find some sustaining satisfaction in embracing a smaller
Open-sourcing the Work That Reconnects
I have a perennial question about how to share The Work That Reconnects in a way that allows it to stay flexible and alive in a world that uses copyrights and credentials for quality control. I was gladdened to read Shannon Richmond’s response to the way I have chosen to share the work:
“I want to thank you for your openhandedness with the Work That Reconnects. I am so touched to witness how you share it. Giving it away in the celebration to us and others is an embodiment of the Life Sustaining Society! I rejoice to witness this integrity of not just talking about shifting consciousness but doing it! I am delighted to receive the work in such a way and I will share it with the same spirit of openhandedness, celebrating our interconnectedness. I will keep in my heart-mind that together we will rise as I go out to teach and share this work. I’ve been so tired of the competition and the way that transformation work can get commodified. Thank you for this refreshing alternative!”
Psychological and Social Demands on Leaders in the Great Turning
Suzanne Moser is a Santa Cruz-based climate scientist whom I met in a past intensive, and who now has written a chapter for the forthcoming Sage Reference Handbook of Environmental Leadership (Gallagher et al.). It’s called “Getting Real about It” and here are a few passages. It<http://www.susannemoser.com/documents/Moser_Getting_Real_About_It-preprint.pdf>
“What seems assured is that the leaders of the future will face not just new, more difficult, and more pervasive environmental challenges than ever before, but will need to be adept in a range of psychological, social, political skills to navigate the inevitable human crises that will precede, trigger, and follow environmental ones. Future leaders will need to be not just experts in climate change, or a particular environmental field, but be capable of holding that which is happening to and in our world. They will need to mentor, guide, and assist people in processing enormous losses, human distress, constant crises [as well as help in] maintaining, restoring, and rebuilding—despite all setbacks—a viable planet, the only place the human species can its home…
“The landscape you will find yourself in…. is a different one. Despair lives there, along with helplessness and anger, fear and disorientation, undoubtedly also unspeakable sadness.
“… as much larger portions of society awakes to this emerging reality, there is likely to be a lot of confusion, a lot of not-knowing, uncertainty, and probably still a good deal of hanging on to hope-against-hope and denial. To speak clearly and calmly to what is, and what may yet come, cuts down on that confusion, cuts through the strange fog that people are in when they don’t understand or deny reality. It’s clarifying, grounding to be real with others.
Fukushima and Other Nuclear Challenges
A lot of us are holding our breath over the precarious containment of irradiated fuel rods at Fukushima’s Reactor #4. The magnitude of perils presented by this ongoing disaster, and especially government silence about the radioactive fall-out it’s generating, make it very hard to get reliable information. I have found the folks at The Ecological Options Network http://eon3emfblog.net/ to be a great resource.
Tomorrow night I’ll speak at a rally on the steps of the Berkeley City Council about the resolution it will vote on as to whether to ask for the closure of California’s two nuclear power plants, San Onofre and Diablo Canyon, a Fukushima look-alike with its GE Mark 1 reactors and its coastal location next to major earthquake faults. We’ve sent Council members a short youtube video featuring mothers of Fukushima, and I hope you’ll look at it too <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zYQNd2ybiDg&feature=youtu.be>.
Over the last forty years my own personal resolution to stop nuclear power and weapons production has been deeply informed and inspired by a remarkable scientist: Sister Rosalie Bertell. A Grey Nun of the Sacred Heart and.a pioneering radiologist conducting research on the health effects of emissions from nuclear power plants, she testified at many a trial of anti-nuclear activists. Sister Rosalie died June 14th. Join me in honoring her; you’ll see her on this video as she describes the depleted uranium weaponry we are using in our military operations. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgQ79-oDX2o.
Yours ever, in solidarity and love for life,
Groundhog Day, St. Brigid’s Day, Candlemas. Well, in addition to bringing a favorite movie to mind, this day seems to be about wondering if more light is there, and if spring is really coming. Well, that fits.
Have you noticed, in this Now that we’re living, how both the dark and the light seem to be intensifying?--and the swings between them swifter? Both the Great Unraveling and the Great Turning are accelerating.
On the Great Turning side, there’s no doubt about it: the Occupy movement is waking us up to the core pathology of our nation and, indeed, of capitalism worldwide (even making it okay to say “capitalism”!). Respectable mainstream journals and media are all of a sudden describing Wall Street’s financial and moral failures, with juicy disclosures of high-level venality and appalling reports on the poverty swallowing more millions of our people. Knowing this is bitter but essential.
So the Great Unraveling is being illumined by the Great Turning. Some of its features that have gripped me of late concern lost civil rights. With the National Defense Authorization Act, Congress actually voted to strip away last remnants of habeas corpus, and made each of us susceptible to indefinite detention in the hands of the military, without charges or trial, on mere suspicion of aiding the enemy. It’s important that we know this.
It fits with our mania for locking people up. Despite its enormous cost, our prison population has increased till it’s higher than any other nation, including China: it is now, in absolute terms, 25% of all incarcerated around the world, though the U.S. is only 5% of global population. To take part in the Great Turning we must know this.
To take part in the Great Turning, we must know about the ongoing disaster of Fukushima. We are being denied reporting of what’s befalling the Japanese people, and even information we need in order to protect our families from the radioactive fallout reaching us by air and sea. Each act of truth-telling, such as Arnie Gundersen’s reports on Fukushima is part of the Great Turning, a jewel in Indra’s Net. See www.fairewinds.com
The other night at dinner, as we were sharing news and views, my Creation theologian friend Matt Fox said, “Courage is the first sign of the Spirit. It is the root of all the other virtues.”
I loved his saying that. It caused me to think how courage is the essential ingredient of truth-speaking, how it sparks our fervor and our self-respect, how it lets us discover new strengths, new allies. And I got to reflecting on how lucky I am that the work I do acquaints me with so many courageous people. For example:
Last weekend in Boise I gave a workshop on nuclear guardianship for the Snake River Alliance, which is Idaho’s nuclear watchdog and clean energy advocate. Among the many inspiring folks I met was Beatrice Brailsford, who lives out near the Idaho National Lab. For over 30 years she has been keeping her eye on that huge nuclear mega-complex, and also on vast fields of plutonium-drenched waste from Rocky Flats. Dumped into unlined trenches directly above the great Snake River aquifer, the toxins are seeping down through the soil to the source of the region’s drinking water. Challenged by the Alliance, the Department of Energy has begun digging up one section of the mess. “We have to keep on it,” Beatrice said with calm simplicity. “The plutonium lasts forever, so that’s how long we’ll be at it—forever.”
And I think of Doug Mosel who served as my personal assistant for seven years when he lived in Oakland at the tail end of a career as a corporate trainer. A study group on deep ecology brought him into my life. Soon he was co-teaching with Fran and me. If Beatrice’s brand of courage is to face the horrible and stay put with unwavering presence, Doug’s is the courage to change course when called to a different aspect of the Great Turning. In our intensives he had been teaching powerfully about the food revolution and the return to locally controlled agriculture, when he became aware that no wheat was being grown in the counties north of San Francisco. So he upped and moved out there, despite lack of land and capital. Now six years later he is producing the first wheat grown in Mendocino County in four decades. Not only is he growing heirloom varieties of wheat, oats, barley and rye, but other farmers in five adjoining counties have followed suit. Furthermore, to produce the quality of flour he wants, he has seen to the import and operation of an Austrian stone mill.
Chris Johnstone, my co-author in the U.K., shows me another face of valor: the courage to stand up for one’s rights to health and well-being—and, of course, in the process, defending others’ rights as well. In our book to come out next month, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess we’re in without Going Crazy, Chris describes the dramatic ordeal he triggered when he was a medical intern in a British hospital. Extravagant hours were the norm for interns, often up to eighty a week, sometimes over a hundred. Experiencing the exhaustion and depression this kind of pressure produced, seeing the dangers and accidents that resulted, Chris was surprised there wasn’t a campaign to improve conditions. “We don’t have the power here,” his fellow-interns told him, “there’s nothing we can do.” He began meeting with like-minded doctors, and eventually considered legal action against the National Health Service. This had never happened before and at each step of the way he was advised against it at the cost of his career. Yet he pushed through. The case generated so much domestic and international publicity that finally, five years down the road, the National Health Service settled out of court. The case was won and the age of hundred hour work weeks was over.
The courage to receive and follow a vision, to risk comfort and security in radically rearranging your life, that’s what I see these days in Anne Symens-Bucher and her husband Terry. When Doug went north, Anne replaced him as my personal assistant. I had known her as a founder of the Nevada Desert Experience (a faith-based protest presence at the Nevada Test Site), a secular Franciscan, and the busy, home-schooling mother of five children. Watching the deteriorating conditions and the mounting gang violence in their east Oakland neighborhood, Anne and Terry decided to open up their family compound and turn it into an urban center for growing food and people. Honoring St. Francis they would call it Canticle Farm, for Francis’s beloved canticle for Brother Sun and Sister Moon. Young people had already been showing up, now more began to arrive and move in, generating regular meetings for gardening, clean up, rituals, meditation, workshops, you name it. Last week the papers of incorporation arrived. Canticle Farm is now a legal reality. That’s good, because on the next street Anne saw a For Sale sign on a house adjoining the rear of their property. She immediately envisioned it as a nonviolence training center, a good thing for that street where a shooting had just occurred; it’s the turf of two gangs and the tensions are high.
It’s a fairly big house and all you need to do to make it part of Canticle Farm is move the chicken coop and take the fence down—oh, and first raise two hundred thousand dollars. That’s happening. Meanwhile I learn more definitions of courage. It’s betting on your values and trusting what will emerge. It’s readiness to risk your personal security and have your life turned inside out.
The young people coming to Canticle Farm demonstrate the power of the Work That Reconnects, because that’s how most of them heard of this new community and were motivated to join. I have loved having them show up at my workshops and I have become powerfully committed to increasing their numbers. Few can afford even the modest fees for a residential intensive, which is long enough to be really transformative. That is why I am making an appeal for a scholarship fund for young activists. Please read about the particulars here to see how you can support a young activist in the Great Turning.
Yours in gladness for life,
Dear friend in the Work That Reconnects,
With 2012 underway I am determined to make the Work That Reconnects more available to young activists. And I am writing you, who have experienced the power of this work, to help me do that. May I ask you to contribute to a scholarship fund?
In my workshops over the past three years the number of activists in their teens and twenties has been growing. I am awed by their realism about what's at stake, and their readiness of mind and purpose. The longer residential intensives clearly deepen their understanding and confidence; yet they are in most cases the least able to pay even the modest fees for room, board, and tuition.
In the next nine months, before the November presidential elections, I will lead a number of residential events where I want to see young activists from diverse socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. These events include three intensives of nine-and ten-day duration to take place in North Carolina in May, on Vancouver Island, B.C. in August, and in Soquel, CA in October as well as a five-day "men only" retreat I will co-teach with three male colleagues in late March. See my Calendar for particulars.
Your gift can help a young person come to one of these for a life-changing experience. I'm glad to ask you for it, because:
- I've seen how the Work That Reconnects gives young activists vision and steadiness, both in facing the Great Unraveling without panic or giving up, and in opting for solidarity and adventure in the Great Turning. I love how it helps them see their own strengths and courage.
- I want them to experience the Work with me, while I am still teaching (I turn 83 this year and have made no commitments in the U.S. after October 2012).
To give you an idea of how you can contribute to one young activist, it costs approximately $150 per day to attend a Work That Reconnects Intensive (including room, board, tuition).
There are three ways you can make your gift:
- For a tax-deductible donation, send me a check made payable to "Terra Foundation," with "WTR Scholarship" in the memo line. Mail it to me at: 2812 Cherry Street, Berkeley, CA 94705.
- If tax deductions are not necessary, make the check payable to "Joanna Macy Intensives" and send to me.
- You can donate through my paypal account on my website and inform me by email:
Thank you for considering making this possible. I have never made this kind of request before, and I feel supported in knowing that you are part of the Work That Reconnects community. In grateful solidarity,
It was late August week at Big Sur. Esalen Institute gave us a tented pavilion overlooking the sea so that two dozen folks in their twenties could join me in the Work That Reconnects. Our event was organized by Joshua Gorman, engaging and tireless founder of Generation Waking Up. Here's how he conveys his vision:
"A new generation of young people is waking up. We are the middle children of history, coming of age at the crossroads of civilization, a generation rising between an old world dying and a new world being born. We are the 'make-it or break-it' generation, the 'all-or-nothing' generation, the crucible through which civilization must pass or crash."
So much beauty of place and face, I wondered if I'd wandered into Eden. Flowers and rows of veggies running up to the cliff's edge. Early foggy stillness turning to breezes out of blue sky and sea. Hours of quiet sharing and rapt concentration erupting into free singing and rap and dancing bodies.
I was moved that they saw with such clear eyes the crises of our time, the ecological unraveling, the political bankruptcy. The courage to see things as they are breeds a simple, radical readiness to come alive and act for life.
Earlier in August at a gathering of veteran facilitators at the Land of Medicine Buddha, I shared stories from my life and teachings I’ve drawn from over the years, that have helped to shape the Work That Reconnects. DVDs of those talks judged useful to other interested parties will be made available by mid-Autumn when they are edited.
Taking part in this gathering were nine colleagues of mine who had earlier agreed to give of their time and attention to counsel me about future structures and directions of the Work That Reconnects. While I welcome suggestions from all quarters, it is good to have a trusty, stable team I know I can count on. Knows as Stewards of the Work, these nine are: Molly Young Brown, Barbara Ford, Kurt Kuhwald, Randy Morris, Chad Morse, Coleen O’Connell, Kathleen Rude, Kari Stettler, and Anne Symens-Bucher.
At the close of the larger gathering, we all met for two days. To relax a little before we started work, we went for a beach walk at Rio del Mar. It was a brilliant, sunny afternoon, exuberant with pelicans above us and dolphins out to sea, when someone showed up who may be the tenth steward. Seeing us sitting in a row looking out over the waves, he swam clear out of the water, heaved himself up on dry sand, and without pausing flippered himself right up to us, as if with the most urgent communication.
It was delivered with eye-to-eye contact and a long, silent, open-mouthed speech before he turned and went back out to sea.
Today I finished proofreading a book to appear next March. Active Hope: How to Face the Mess we're in without Going Crazy, co-authored with my long-time colleague Chris Johnstone of Bristol, England, aims to bring basic assumptions and ingredients of the Work That Reconnects to a mainstream readership. In the process some valuable new perspectives on the Work have emerged. A look at the Table of Contents can give you an idea of some.
Part One: The Great Turning
Chap 1: Three Stories of Our Time
Chap 2: Trusting the Spiral
Chap 3: Starting with Gratitude
Chap 4: Honoring Our Pain for the World
Part Two: Seeing with New Eyes
Chap 5: A Wider Sense of Self
Chap 6: A Different Kind of Power
Chap 7: A Richer Experience of Community
Chap 8: A Larger View of Time
Part Three: Going Forth
Chap 9: Catching an Inspiring Vision
Chap 10: Daring to Believe it is Possible
Chap 11: Building Support around You
Chap 12: Maintaining Energy and Enthusiasm
Chap 13: Strengthened by Uncertainty
The tenth anniversary of September 11th, 2001 is upon us. How grim it is to look at what that event has occasioned for our country and our world. The immediate enactment of the Patriot and Homeland Security Acts and presidential directives swiftly stripping away constitutional rights have led to the emergence of a national security state, where fear induces obedience and torture is acceptable. War-making to avenge the attacks followed as quickly, killing millions, displacing millions more, and establishing military occupations that have no end in sight.
As I described in earlier blogs, I have been trying to get my head around what these wars are costing us. Some estimates run to a trillion dollars a year. So, how do you conceive of a trillion? Here's one way: Think a dollar a second. A million seconds is 12 days. A billion seconds is 32 years. And a trillion seconds is 32,000 years.
That gives a notion of the cost in money and decimated social programs. Such losses can be computed. But I don't know how we figure the moral price we have paid. If we had the courage to look, there might be a way to estimate what this has done to our minds, our souls, our self-respect.
For my own self-respect, I need to do more than oppose our military operations. I need to speak out publicly about 9/11--which I'll be doing this week at an event with former Senator Mike Gravel and other--joining my voice to those who demand a new, official, unbiased and unstacked commission of inquiry. Until such an inquiry is held, I don't think we will free ourselves as a people to regain our power to govern ourselves.
Please know that I'm hale and hearty, grateful for the beautiful people I get to work with. I love being with my family too. Peggy, my "baby," just turned 50, which we celebrated with two events; one on the exact day at her and Gregoire and Julien's treehouse in Aptos, and the other, yesterday, in Tilden Park in the Berkeley hills with music and feasting and yet more friends. I wandered about in a daze of happiness, listening to Irish bouzouki, feeling the play of sun and shade, and watching my children and their children and other people's children race around in a Round-Robin game of badminton. I wished Fran could see it all. Actually, though it's been two years and eight months since his passing, he seems more present to me than absent these days, and that feeling is sweet beyond words.
Yours in gladness for life,
On Winter Solstice half a year ago, I embarked on a solo retreat that lasted until Spring Equinox. Away from the family so much when I work, I chose to spend those three months at home, open to visits with grandchildren and occasional walks with friends. No phone, no email--that was easy. It was more challenging to be both retreatant and retreat director, but I set a routine and loved the generous, alternating spells of meditation and study. Loved the amplitude of the silence and the cessation of hurry. The weekends, though, were often hard and afflicted with doubt.
I rejected the thought of a news fast, and tuned into Amy Goodman a couple of days a week, more often as Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings unfolded in January. In March when Fukushima Daiichi blew, I'd go online to catch the latest report.
The exploration I undertook was into Deep Time. My fascination with immensities of time, past and future, is linked to the radioactive contamination produced by nuclear weapons and power production--to what I imagine future generations will call the "poison fire." I can't get its immeasurable longevity out of my mind, or the need to tell the future ones what it is and how to protect themselves from it. So Deep Time has haunted me for decades. It has become a staple of the Work That Reconnects, inspiring the invention of interactive processes that are powerfully moving. Deep Time is a defining feature of the Nuclear Guardianship concept and Ethic, the focus of chapters in World as Lover, World as Self, and the theme of courses taught with Sean Kelly at the California Institute of Integral Studies. Now I wanted to give myself to it more fully.
My sitting and walking practice was largely but not exclusively vipassana (Theravadin Buddhist insight meditation). My reading ranged from French phenomenology to radiation physics to Zen master Dogen. With Dogen's remarkable writings on time, the interexistence of past, present and future became almost palpable, a capacity of mind and body opened by rapt and grateful intention. The Bodhisattva Kshitigarbha, known in Japan as Jizo, had been familiar to me, but on my retreat he/she (an androgynous figure) suddenly appeared as an embodiment of, and conduit to, the future beings. This has brought me great benefit and gladness.
I am not in a hurry to write down what I learned on my retreat, but it has been good to share reflections at the workshops and classes lined up for the spring months, including weeks at Naropa University, Spirit Rock Meditation Center, and a ten-day intensive in Guelph, Ontario. The engagement from which I just returned was for the Rocky Flats Guardianship Project in Boulder, Colorado. Rocky Flats is a dismantled bomb factory where, for 37 years, the plutonium pits or triggers for every US nuclear warhead were made. From numerous accidents as well as illegal burning and dumping, its vast area at the foothills of the Rockies is highly contaminated with plutonium, the most lethal substance on Earth.Yet the Department of Energy has given the land to the Department of Interior to be opened to the public as a wildlife refuge and recreation area. Some local citizens see this as a travesty, and as a call to nuclear guardianship to block these plans and keep the area off-limits.
Despite the considerable duplicity and frustration they've encountered, this handful of men and women are determined. They love the guardianship concept and believe it can rally people to act with conscience for the sake of present and future generations. I came last week to give the fourteenth and last of a series of public talks, and a day-and-a-half workshop on making guardianship a reality. Having rarely led the Work That Reconnects for such an immediate, urgent, and specific task, I was unsure of how ready the two dozen participants would be to engage in the early stages of the work before getting "practical." I even wondered about taking the space for doing Deep Time work (the double circle with the seventh generation) before getting on with plans. But it was worth it 200%. Everyone moved with such vigor into strategizing goals, roles, and next steps, their efficiency was dazzling. Not only are specific plans circulating and follow-up meetings in process, there's also such pleasure in working together.
Love from Joanna
And in closing, four quotes and a sonnet:
"Time is not an object of our knowledge, but a dimension of our being." - Maurice Merleau-Ponty
"If we are in fact destined to make contact with a sort of eternity, it will be at the core of our experience of time." - Maurice Merleau-Ponty
"The point of time for bodhisattvas is to enter into and inhabit time, in all its temporal aspects, and not to escape into some timeless state." - Taigen Dan Leighton
"See each thing in this entire world as a moment of time….The time-being is all the time there is… Each moment is all being, is the entire world." - Eihei Dogen
And from Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus:
Does time, as it passes, really destroy?
It may rip the fortress from its rock;
But can this heart, that belongs to God,
be torn from Him by circumstance?
Are we as fearfully fragile
as Fate would have us believe?
Can we ever be severed
from childhood's deep promise?
Ah, the knowledge of impermanence
that haunts our days
is their very fragrance.
We in our striving think we should last forever,
but could we be used by the Divine
if we were not ephemeral?
- Rainer Maria Rilke, Sonnet to Orpheus II. 27
In this hour of anguish we reach out to our Japanese colleagues and all beings of that noble and stricken land. As our hearts unite in prayer for them, we experience our own non-separation from the immeasurable suffering inflicted by the successive earthquakes and tsunamis, and by the nuclear catastrophe these have triggered.
Having just begun the last week of my three-month retreat, I break silence to give voice to my solidarity with you all. By speaking to you, I remind myself of what we can remember in this time of grief and fear.
It helps me to remember what I learned in Novozybkov with survivors of Chernobyl: that is that there are two basic responses to massive collective trauma. One response is to let it destroy our trust in life and in each other, plummeting us into division, blame and despair. The other is to let the shared cataclysm strengthen us into greater solidarity, and deepen our knowledge of our mutual belonging in the web of life. Your communications are evidence already of that second response. Indeed the Work That Reconnects has been preparing us for it.
We remember to breathe. As we have practiced, we breathe through the reports as we hear and the images of disaster. This helps us simply take in what is happening, and not be blocked by horror or the desire to fix or flee.
We also breathe with those who are caught up in this tragedy, in the intensity of panic, shock, and loss. Feel how this breathing-with helps your heart-mind fearlessly and tenderly embrace them.
You see, if we understand and accept the Great Unraveling, we can let it break us open to greater realizations of our innate solidarity. That this realization in itself is a kind of "enlightenment" has been brought home to me in my retreat by two great teachers of Japan.
One is the 13th century Zen master Dogen. He illumines our connections with the ancestors and the future ones, so that we can experience these connections in the immediate present moment. So does the other figure, the archetypal bodhisattva Ksitigarbha, who is beloved in Japan, where he/she is known as Bodhisattva Jizo, with images .everywhere Both of them help us realize that we are not alone in this moment of time, but surrounded by past and future generations ready to help. We who inhabit the present can do what they cannot: that is to make choices and take action/ But the past and future ones are right at our side with support and guidance.
Also, to hold steady and open in this anguished time, try the Spiral of the Work That Reconnects. As I take in the catastrophe in Japan, the Spiral serves to ground my heart-mind, and widen its dimensions. It brings gratitude for all those at work to bring support and clear reporting. It helps me honor the heartbreak, to simply open to it and let it reveals our true nature and mutual belonging. It shows me how solidarity can move us forward, and offer us practical, immediate steps to alleviate suffering and enact safe, sustainable, and sane energy policies. An obvious urgency is to stop US Government subsidies and loan guarantees to nuclear industries, including bills that are before Congress now.
As radiation from Fukushima spreads, I know that protection of self and family is on our minds. I'm asking Anne to append here two kinds of information: about health measures, and some links to breaking news from Japan. See our page dedicated to this issue:
I guess you can't spend a year guiding the Work That Reconnects without it bringing some changes in your psyche. For me, as I look back over the twenty or so workshops I gave in 2010, I am awed and stretched by the truth-telling that occurred in every one, This happens reliably, whether we're only a dozen for half a day or a hundred and eighty for a week, as in Germany last June. And it happens as well when the work is given a particular focus or modality, like the Deep Time focus of the workshop in Ghost Ranch in New Mexico or the one using poetry throughout, as in Oakland at the Sophia Center.
Each time I am shaken open by the depths and ferocity of the caring that's expressed for what is happening to our world. Since, from the outset, we ground the work in gratitude, the truth-speaking comes from the heart, undistorted by resentment and complaint. The raw honesty kindles so strong a sense of solidarity that I fall in love again with life, and with each one of us trying to keep heart and eyes open in this dark time.
It seems of late to be getting a lot darker. The horrors inflicted on the Gulf of Mexico, still unacknowledged. The refusal to act on climate change, even as islands sink and species die. The betrayal of all but the very rich in Obama's collusion with right-wing and corporate interests. And our war-making; the brutality, illegality, and astronomic costs of it--to say nothing of what's equally baffling and ominous: the public silence.
What helps me face all this without going crazy, and what I emphasize now in my workshops, is to look at our world today in terms of the stories being enacted.
In the encounters and adventures of the past half-year, it's been hard for me to tell whether the Work That Reconnects is spreading at a faster tempo, or whether I'm only now realizing how far it's traveled. In any case, the work seems to precede me wherever I show up. People come to workshops counting on the freedom they'll find to tell the truth about what they see happening to our world; and they come ready to take themselves seriously as agents of change.
ON THE ROAD
Praise be for the health and energy that still allow me at 80 to travel, teach, and learn. A long-planned workshop on Holy Isle, a Tibetan Buddhist center devoted to ecological renewal, brought me in September with my assistant Anne to the Hebrides in western Scotland. I felt right at home there, not only because of activist friends, like Natalie McCall who initiated the event, but also because the center's founders are Ka'gyu lamas familiar with Tashi Jong, the Tibetan community in NW India that's been an important part of my life. Remembering my time at Holy Isle, I feel invigorated by its wild, windswept beauty and the wild brave hearts I was blessed to know there. Afterwards, escorted by Jane Hera, generous colleague in the Work, we wound through the magical mauve hills of Mull, sailed to the fabled isle of Iona, and generally took our own sweet time getting to our next engagement at the Findhorn Foundation.
Returning to Findhorn for the seventh or eighth time since 1986, it felt, as it does to so many, like coming home.
It was my first time back without Fran, and I felt quite bathed with love. This time two events were planned: a week-long intensive drawing participants from the continent and across the UK, and a 2-day workshop offered as a gift to the Findhorn community itself. The team that supported me in both programs included, along with Anne, Findhorn friends like Hanna Morjan and Gill Emslie who are seasoned facilitators of the Work That Reconnects. It was such fun to plan, plot, and improvise together--and how I loved the singing.
This month, once again, our annual intensive in the Work That Reconnects took place at Land of Medicine Buddha. That Tibetan retreat center among California's coastal redwoods is both unassuming and magical: simple quarters, clean as a pin, and huge intricately-painted prayer wheels, long wooden porches and gilded Buddhas smiling into the oak trees. It held forty of us in its serene and generous arms as we looked at ourselves and our world, and what this planet-time is asking of us.
Fran Macy loved these intensives and this was the first without him. My family wondered how I would fare without him at my side. But he was not absent--I felt him in the forms and structures we'd created together, and in the parts of the land he loved, not to mention a special place by the creek he claimed on his last Medicine Walk. It was sort of like encountering him. "Oh there you are, hello again."
Two things this month--a visit to the Tar Sands in Alberta, and new stories from Russian colleagues about ongoing effects of Chernobyl--stoke my impatience with current debates on energy. I'm sick of strategies that don't center on efficiency and lifestyle changes. I want to puncture the delusion that nuclear power or fossil fuels have a place in our plans for a decent, sustainable world.
I first heard about the Tar Sands from Clayton Thomas-Muller, a young campaigner for the Indigenous Environmental Network, when he spoke at Bioneers in 2006. His words and pictures so riveted my attention that when an invitation came the next year to a conference on Ecology and the Helping Professions at the University of Calgary, I accepted with the idea of going on from there to see for myself what he had described. My plans for Alberta in May 2009 soon included talks and workshops in Edmonton and Banff, and the company of my Canadian-born friend Jennifer Berezan to enrich the events with her fabulous singing. Jennifer and I used our honoraria for the Edmonton event to fly, with my assistant Anne, North to the Tar Sands.
Easter Sunday, April 12, 2009
The flood of messages pouring in since Fran's death on January 20th has been profoundly nourishing. The loving and insightful words go straight to my bloodstream. They accompany me as I cope with the shock and the huge, sudden loss. They lift me up again and again, which is good because often I fall into an unrecognizable, empty place. Your words lift Fran up too, hold him high to show the brilliant goodness and class of the man. The memories of us that you describe bring our life together back into focus for me--and put ground under my feet.
I'd like to tell you a little more of what happened than you will find in the memorial website (www.francismacy.com )
No one was with Fran when he died. I had gone down to work in my cottage in the garden, after he and I dragged ourselves away from watching President Obama's inaugural parade, and gave each other a long, strong hug of jubilation. The doctor says the heart attack was instantaneous, but we don't know exactly when it struck. Daughter Peggy, coming upstairs about an hour and a half after that last hug, found him lying back across our bed with one hand, already cool to the touch, resting on his heart and the other holding a copy of The Nation. Within minutes firemen and paramedics from the fire station down the street were attempting to revive him, and grandson Julien was running to find me, screaming "Something happened to Opa!" Imagining they detected a flicker of a pulse, the medics took Fran to the ER at the hospital some five blocks away. Peggy and I followed, with Jack, Barbara, Anne and Enid joining us. We didn't wait long before Fran's death was confirmed.
Given the shock of the suddenness of it all, it made a huge difference to bring Fran's body home. It took some doing, but I was determined--and finally succeeded, thanks to the green burial cemetery in Marin which Fran and I had already joined. They sent a mortuary vehicle to which the hospital could legally surrender the body--and then brought it to our house.
Year's End 2008
Within days of Obama's election an all-men's retreat in the Work That Reconnects took place at Land of Medicine Buddha in Soquel, California. I was grateful beyond words for the privilege of being there. To convey the flavor of that event I will quote Earl Brown of the facilitators team, excerpting passages from his website (condorpeople.com).
"Can the human male overcome the violence that has been the hallmark of patriarchy and act responsibly on behalf of future generations? … Is the definition of masculinity and what it means to be a man changing? During a three-day retreat with a remarkable group of men, lead by one courageous woman, these questions and others were addressed in open discussion and group process.
"Thirty nine men met Joanna Macy and her co-facilitator husband Fran… to investigate men's place and responsibility in the twenty-first century… Facing what appears to be the collapsing of Industrial Society and the hope generated by the election of Barack Obama,.. men spoke openly about what it was for them to be alive at this time. This was the second gathering of men to be guided by Joanna and Fran in the Work That Reconnects."
Nov 11, 2008
Like many of you I'm still trying to believe what happened last week. Even though I have issues with some of Barack Obama's stated views, especially in foreign policy, the miracle is that he was elected--and by a landslide. I hadn't dared to hope for that. And now each day's news and photos still deliver such a charge, I hardly know how to speak my gladness--except to repeat how grateful I am that I've lived long enough to see this.
My heart is moved by so many dimensions of this amazing moment in our history. My heart is moved by Barack and Michele's courage from the start. And by the hundreds of thousands of women, men and youngsters who worked tirelessly for months in every corner of the country, many taking leave from jobs and school to devote their efforts full time. And by the massive, joyous celebrations that continue to erupt. This outpouring is more than about winning; I feel it coming from the soul of our nation, even showing me that our country has a soul--a hunger for decency that those who wielded power have for so long not perceived or understood.
Right now I am feeling especially thankful for a diligent bunch who, over the last four years, set themselves the task of determining and proving how voting machines were rigged to allow the theft of the 2004 election, so that it wouldn't happen again. They call themselves Velvet Revolution, and for the breathtaking story of how, in the nick of time, they brought their accumulated evidence to legal action to compel testimony from Karl Rove and his key operative Mike Connell, see their web site www.velvetrevolution.us and www.rovecybergate.com.
October 27, 2008
Well, it's happened. The financial meltdown so long predicted has begun for real. Even if we knew it had to happen, it's scary. Stock markets crashing, foreclosures skyrocketing, the biggest banks going belly up, jobs disappearing. With so much suffering for so many, and more losses foretold, it's hard not to feel the panic.
I'm scared of what that panic will do to our country--corroding our trust in each other and in the future, when we need it for the Great Turning. At moments I feel fear about my own life, wondering what it will mean for Fran's and my work for the world, if the cushion of savings he's so carefully husbanded evaporates.
So I am grateful for teachers who, at just the right moment, remind me to hold a larger perspective. Here are three who have been of particular help: Minqi Li, Robert Reich, and Granny D.
Minqi Li is economics professor at University of Utah. He shook me awake to the realization that this economic collapse, far worse than anything since 1929, is what life on this planet needs for the survival of complex life-forms. He says that in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to avoid irreversible climate disaster, "the world economy must contract at a historically rapid clip--at an annual rate of -1 to -3.4 % between now and 2050…. Economic growth will have to be thrown into reverse."
This year's ten-day training intensive in the Work That Reconnects took place once again at Land of Medicine Buddha, southeast of Santa Cruz, California. Earlier this month, amidst redwoods and prayer-wheels, thirty-nine of us from five continents moved through the spiral of the work. It was like entering the heart of the world, and finding it in the depths of our own being. That stemmed, I believe, from the exquisite, almost excruciating tension between our awareness of unbearable suffering and a dawning sense of unbelievable promise. Truth-telling bred such trust and respect between us, I imagined our heart-minds as interlinked as neurons in a neural net.
As usual my co-teachers were Fran Macy and our veteran intensive coordinator Doug Mosel. Doug, in his commitment to local food sustainability, has become a full-time farmer and organizer. His offering to our group's altar this year was freshly harvested grain, including the first wheat to be re-introduced to Mendocino County.
As usual the goals of the intensive were clear from the start. Since they have guided us well, I'll list them for you here:
1. To sharpen our perceptions of both the unraveling of the industrial growth society and the emergence of a life-sustaining society.
2. To understand cognitively and to integrate psychologically and spiritually the Work that Reconnects. This includes: a) conceptual learning (e.g. living systems theory, deep ecology); b) spiritual practices from several traditions, especially Buddhist; and c) interactive processes (including despair work, deep ecology and deep time exercises, rituals, and collaborative small group work.
3. To build strong, lasting connections with sister and brothers warriors for life on Earth, that can provide mutual support under conditions of political repression, economic breakdown, and ecological collapse.
4. To review our lives, reflect on our gifts, and clarify our intentions for taking part in the Great Turning.
Back home from much travel this spring, Fran and I celebrate by having the grandchildren overnight--Jack and Charlotte 's two girls coming over from their Fulton Street house six blocks away, and Peggy and Gregoire's son migrating up from the downstairs flat. Julien and Eliza (both 10) and Lydia (7) are still so harmonious and high-spirited together, ready for anything, that these times with them seem ever more precious. Despite Dharma teachings of impermanence, I yearn for these moments to go on forever. One of our games last night was "Mystery Tray." In teams you find and arrange a dozen or so assorted objects on a tray, cover them with a cloth which you then whip off to let the others view the display for 20 seconds max. The next time you do it, you have removed one of the objects. The aim, of course, is to see how fast the others can detect what's missing. What I most detected was the large gap in powers of speedy observation between ages of seven and seventy-nine.
So we take joy in our families while across the world other families, by scores of thousands, are buried by mammoth earthquakes, drowned in cyclones, lost to each other in floods and rubble, crying for food in makeshift camps. Their suffering is beyond my capacity to conceive; but maybe I can try to breathe with them. We are linked to each other like cells in the living body of Earth. I can almost feel that connection, like an ache in the heart. It reminds it is for them, as much as for our own children and grandchildren, that Fran and I keep taking our work out into the world.
Climate change and peak oil were the focus of this year's weeklong Easter conference at the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland . Fran and I felt privileged to take part, and harvested knowledge and inspiration from the lively participants as well as co-presenters, such as Richard Heinberg (Peak Everything is his latest), Rob Hopkins (founder of Transition Towns movement), Megan Quinn (outreach director of Community Solutions), and Richard Olivier (who drew us into Shakespeare's As You Like It to discern qualities of green leadership).
On the web site www.Findhorn.org/events you'll find a pretty full description of the conference, which included the 2-day, 5-session workshop we conducted at the outset. The descriptions were posted nightly without opportunity for presenters to check their accuracy, but they do convey the flow and the fare as we followed the spiral of the Work That Reconnects. With 250 people participating, we were challenged to invent new forms, especially for the part that's most intense: Honoring Our Pain for theWorld. That session began with poetry and spoken reflections on the power, liberation, and solidarity that comes with owning our collective grief. Then people clustered in foursomes to tell of their experience of the "great unraveling." After that they sang together, over and over like a chant, words of Adrienne Rich put to music by Carolyn McDade.
My heart is moved by all I cannot save.
So much has been destroyed.
I have to cast my lot with those who,
age after age, perversely,
with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.
The second half of that session is omitted on the Findhorn web site, so let me tell you what we did.
Another big storm is predicted, with likely slides, floods, and outages, but right now the sun is making a surprise appearance. It catches in the drops and drips from last night's rain. The soggy grass I squish across on my way to my cottage is strewn with glitter. The leaves of my winter kale display fat, transparent pearls that, when I lean over and look, reflect the world.
This new year feels like that. Beauty and radiance amidst all the dangers and dire predictions. Even the numbers, 0 and 8, have a comfortable, promising look, round like the shiny globules on the kale. "8 sym-bolizes good fortune in China ," says a travel ad for flights to Beijing . Zero is excellent, too. It's the empty hole in the hub that allows a wheel to turn.
The lightness I feel must have some connection to the primaries. It's like old times, the notion that we might have a real choice, limited as it is. The refrain I sing in my talks and workshops, after all, is the power of intention, the privilege of being choice-makers and channels for change. But I'd about given up on seeing that in electoral politics. When Fran and I were courting fifty-five years ago, we took the NY Times along with our picnic basket and read Adlai Stevenson's campaign speeches aloud to each other. We never tired of his eloquence, wisdom, and wit. Now, watching Obama's speeches, we feel the same excitement. It's all the greater now, because that kind of honesty and intelligence has grown so rare as to be almost extinct, and because I'd thought the American people had gone to sleep. Also, I am deeply stirred by Obama's courage--running for president in a violent and racist nation. Courage is contagious; so every day his campaign continues we'll be braver for it.
The year was bright from the beginning, as I think of our weeks in Vermont last month. I love working at Cobb Hill with its Sustainability Institute and co-housing community founded by Donella Meadows, whose systems teachings I have prized over the years. This time Fran came with me, and we went in January, when the farmers can take more time for our workshops. I grimly braced for wintry weather, forgetting how different dry cold is from the dank cold of the northern California coast. But sunny skies favored us, shining over snowy fields and hamlets, and the air so bracing, each breath is a tonic. Morning, noon, and moonlit night, every chance I got, I strode out into it, filling my lungs and studying the colors of the snow.
While we were there, Beth Sawin of the Sustainability Institute and Jay Meade, who like Beth is a resident of Cobb Hill, tried out their new, double-feature presentation on climate change. Beth, a scientist, is founder of an innovative educational project called Our Climate Ourselves (http://sustainer.org/oco). Jay is a painter and installation artist, whose street dramas, stage sets, and giant puppets enlist all ages to enliven the Great Turning. Their teamwork grows out of the realization that the challenges of climate change are so vast, and still so remote from our daily lives, they are hard to contemplate. And it expresses their conviction that the scientific data must be accompanied by art in order to engage our imagination and our will. Their double feature consists of a slide show by Beth presenting up-to-the minute information on the crisis, followed by a shadow-puppet drama that looks back from the future on arduous but eventually effective human responses.
The combined show was presented twice, and I noted quite a contrast in the way it was received. The first time, at our Cobb Hill-centered workshop, the shadow puppet show followed directly after the slide presentation with its sobering graphs and timelines. And we all thought the program quite effective. The second performance was scheduled to take place on the Friday evening of a large public weekend. Since it was the overture to a workshop where people came with expectations of experiential work, we decided to interpose an interactive process between the two parts of the show.
Over a hundred were present in the old Sumner Mansion as the lights dimmed for Beth's slide show. She'd brought in some new material. The serial photos of progressive Arctic ice melt and graphs of CO-2 acceleration struck me as even more alarming than before. For the first time I felt physically the grip of fear in my gut, a chill through my body. So I was glad that we had decided to insert an Open Sentence exercise, to help people just be with the information and the feelings it provoked.
Everyone in the audience turned to one other person to work in pairs, and the three Open Sentences were these: (1) Of the facts I just heard about climate change, what strikes me most is… (2) The feelings that come up in me as I hear this information are… (3) What I appreciate about having this information is… That third one made people laugh--which was a nice release; but it was good to take seriously too, and realize that after all we do want to know.
After 15 or so minutes of that process, the shadow puppet show erupted with Jay's antic silhouettes, jazz and marching band music, and a script both earnest and fanciful. It evoked cheers, tears and laughter as it echoed the message of Beth's report--and helped us digest it within a framework allowing for hope in human ingenuity and perseverance. I was struck by how much livelier and more appreciative the response was than at the first performance, when it followed straight after the science. The whole evening was pretty strong medicine, and set the tone for two days of wonderfully determined and high-spirited work.
As I write, Kalli Rose Halvorson stops by for tea. She tells me how auspicious is the year of the Earth Rat, which we are now entering. In San Francisco tomorrow the parades will roll through Chinatown , storms notwithstanding. An astrologer and student of Taoism, Kalli sketches out for me some of the qualities Earth Rat brings forth.
The mantra for an Earth Rat year, she says, is "Break It Down." Break down old habits and obstacles. Break down problems into discrete pieces and tasks. The image: a family of glossy-pelted rats are looking at a large warehouse packed with rice. They know they can take the huge structure down. Each will focus on her own immediate job, her bit of the wood to chew. This is not a time for multi-tasking, Kalli emphasizes, but just working away sequentially, consistently, in the most ordinary fashion--for real change. Politically, she says, entrenched incumbents can forget it. Their defenses crumble; familiar biases get deconstructed; this is the time for a fresh start.
I just discovered a new saint, and the kind of strength he evokes is similar to Earth Rat's. I have been reading about New Orleans as I prepare to leave for a retreat with sixty of its community leaders, and one of the books acquaints me with Saint Expedeet (also called Espidee). I immediately want him in my pantheon and in my life. Finding my daughter Peggy at work in her kitchen, putting final stitches on a stuffed cat, I ask her to make me a little doll of this saint to put on my altar.
To tell you his story, I'll just quote from the book, which is Voodoo Queen by Martha Ward. "As beloved in the city as St. Anthony, St. Roch, the Virgin Mary (and others)…, this saint, however, does not belong to the Catholic church…. It seems that a statue of a Roman foot soldier intended to be part of a crucifixion tableau became separated from its companions. When the missing piece turned up on the levee of the Mississippi in a box marked EXPEDITE, things began to happen quickly. Word spread of a recently arrived saint who could bring things to a rapid conclusion. In New Orleans speedy results are the true miracles…
"St. Expedeet wears the garb of a Roman soldier and crushes a raven beneath his foot. The bird manages to croak Cras! Cras!--Tomorrow, tomorrow--wait, procrastinate, do it later, mañana. Espidee, however, points firmly to a sundial inscribed HODIE. Today. Do it now." There are some fine stories of how the saint, when you call upon him, immediately helps you get things done. I am also glad to know the Latin word for tomorrow and the etymology of procrastinate.
What fine spirit for this year! May Earth Rat's and St. Espidee's blessings abound in your life and mine.
Last week of 2007: time to think of the gifts this year has brought. I'll drop my preoccupation with calamities--the endless war-making, the betrayal of the poor, the evisceration of Earth. The litany of shame should not surprise: in the death-throes of the industrial growth society, the Great Unraveling accelerates. But that's not all that is under way. As I've seen and said a thousand times, the Great Turning is happening, too. Time to reflect on what that invisible revolution has meant to me this year.
It is most immediate to me in the people who've come into my life, bringing priceless companionship and revealing fresh forms of creativity and courage. From scores of workshops, retreats, and gatherings this year, their faces appear to my mind's eye. Weaving through our shared experiences come insights to inform my heart and mind--and I want to remember them now, as 2007's gifts to my soul.
The gift of uncertainty. This came with fresh clarity during the last two months: in a course on the Great Turning at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) and in a workshop-cum-intensive organized in Louisville , Kentucky . In both of these journeys, there was a rare and undefended sensing of both the peril and the promise of our time. And that simultaneity--the concurrence of the Great Unraveling and the Great Turning--became a source of revelation. No way to know how the story will unfold. We'd prefer to be assured of a happy ending. Many want that assurance so much they'll do anything for it, even close their eyes. But when we let go of that wish, something wonderful can happen. Eyes and hearts open. The world comes into focus. As we know from emergencies, danger itself can liberate us into fuller presence.
To quote from Edgar Morin, whose book Homeland Earth was part of our CIIS course: "Yet if the situation is logically hopeless, this indicates that we have arrived at a logical threshold at which the need for change and the thrust toward complexification can allow for the transformations that could bring metasystems into being. It is when a situation is logically impossible that novelty and creativity, which always transcend logic, can arise. Thus, it is when the chemical organization of groups of millions of molecules became impossible that a living auto-eco-organization first appeared."
The gift of intention. Uncertainty, when accepted, sheds a bright light on the power of intention. That is what you can count on--not the outcome, but the motivation you bring, the vision you hold, the compass setting you choose to follow. Hence the essential importance and beauty of bodhicitta, the motivation of the bodhisattva. In the Buddha Dharma it is also called adhitthana, which connotes resolve and steadfastness in choice, and also the physical foundation of a building. As we explored together how intention can work in our lives, other images arose: we saw it as a rudder by which we can steer, as a vehicle we can ride, as refuge, the one thing we can be sure about.
Resolve can save us from getting lost in grief. In Kentucky I came to know activists against Mountain Top Removal. I learned what is happening to the landscape and culture of Appalachia : how coal companies use dynamite to pulverize everything above the underground seams of coal; how bulldozers and dragline machines 20-stories high push the "overburden" of woodlands and top soil into the valleys, filling the valleys. Two thousand miles of streams have been buried, they say, and 450 mountains already gone. Cut open a fish, they say, or a deer that had still been walking, and the insides are black--like the water coming out of kitchen faucets. (for a slideshow go to http://www.alternet.org/environment/70475/)
And I saw how the activists are held steady by sheer intention. Though the nation seems oblivious of this tragedy, though state and federal governments look the other way, and major environmental organizations give no priority to the issue, these men and women persist in the vision that Appalachia can somehow be saved. They hold to their resolve that future generations may know slopes of sweetgum, sassafras, magnolia, the stirrings of bobcat and coon, and, in the hollows, the music of fiddle and fresh flowing streams.
The gift of devotion. Intention is nourished and illumined by love. Last week in our home, on Winter Solstice, a ritual took place, which I'll not soon forget. Nine of us gathered to honor the power of the goddess Kali as experienced by a devotee engaged in what she calls the "dance of cancer." A good thirty years younger than I, my friend is suffering an aggressive lung cancer, and coping with intense chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Through lore, chanting, and scholarship, she shared with us the liberation she finds in the presence of Kali Maa, Mother of All That Is.
Through my friend's words and vitality, I saw how uncertainty, when fully accepted, can deliver us into the only real time we have to live: the present moment. Here, in the priceless Now, my friend is sustained by her devotion to Kali, sees her as encompassing everything--the cancer itself and the chemo drip into her veins and her body's will to heal. I want my own love for life to be as strong as that. I want my devotion to Gaia to be that joyous and sufficient. I think it is, if I put my mind to it.
And, finally, this year has been graced with the gift of books. Of the four I would note, these first two are mine.
World as Lover, World as Self came out this fall in a lovely and leaner form than the original 1991 edition. For six intense weeks last winter I rewrote, reorganized, added new sections and chapters, culled others. To keep from drowning I hired my young colleague Aryeh Shell, who had just returned from a year in El Salvador . "Be my boss," I said, "There are so many pieces here, I need you to see the whole and not let me get lost in details." We had a great time together. I've also enjoyed the public readings that Parallax Press has scheduled in the Bay area. My favorite so far was at Berkeley's First Congregational when Jennifer Berezan joined me to offer, interspersed with my readings, songs of hers that I cherish, such as "Praises for the World" and "She Carries Me." It was so happy an occasion for us both that Jennifer will join me again in March to enrich a talk I'll be giving on the Great Turning at the Sophia Center in Oakland .
For almost two decades, Norbert Gahbler, a trainer in the Work That Reconnects and translator of several of my books, has served as interpreter for my workshops in German-speaking Europe . He is so familiar with my thinking, and so deft in conveying it, that I sometimes imagine a bridge of neurons interlinking our two brains. For some time now he has been seized by the conviction that stories are uniquely effective in opening people's understanding, and that some of the personal stories I tell while teaching should be offered to the public in their own little book. Norbert already knew which ones he wanted. Having interested a German publisher (Junferman), he and another close colleague of mine flew to the States in February for ten days of talking and taping. Our subsequent, long-distance work together flowed easily, and now the book is in press, due out in 2008, well in time for a June conference in northern Germany on the Work That Reconnects and the Great Turning. It's a slim book, can almost fit in your pocket. Its title: Fünf Geschichte die die Welt verändern kann, Five Stories that can Change the World--though actually a sixth tale slyly enters before the book closes. Going over the final copy, I was moved to tears by Norbert's ample and eloquent framing of each story, and by the stories themselves. Maybe, sometime, an English translation will appear.
Given the work I've been doing to open up our experience of time and expand the temporal context of our lives, I delight in the new book by Buddhist scholar Taigen Leighton. His Visions of Awakening Space and Time ( Oxford , 2007) brings out the deep ecological implications of Mahayana teachings. He focuses on the great 13th century Japanese Zen master Dogen, and especially Dogen's commentaries on a remarkable passage in the Lotus Sutra, where bodhisattvas are portrayed as emerging, not from a transcendental dimension, but from the very body of Earth. Here physical reality itself is recognized as a dynamic agent of awareness and healing. And our capacity to awaken into wisdom and compassion appears not as some noble, personal achievement, but as a function of our self-organizing universe.
The last week has brought into my hands a remarkable work by depth psychologist and wilderness guide Bill Plotkin. In Nature and the Human Soul (New World Library 2008) he offers a groundbreaking, ecopsychological matrix in which each successive stage of maturation is presented in terms of challenges offered by both the natural world and the Great Turning to a life-sustaining culture. Plotkin's work bids fair to transform the way we see our lives. It has done that already for me, especially since it draws illustrative material from interviews with me and from my memoir Widening Circles.
At this gateway to a new year, alive with uncertainty and adventure, please receive my warmest and most companionable greetings.
Every once in a while a book comes along that excites me so much no friend escapes hearing about it. I passed it immediately to Fran who took it on our mini-vacation in the Sierras last week. As passages were read aloud beside the Yuba River and talked about on mountain trails, I found myself digesting the book more thoroughly, like a cow taking her food through all four stomachs.
It's Paul Hawken's new book, Blessed Unrest--and it's about the Great Turning, though he doesn't use that term. He calls it "the movement with no name." Though this movement is global in its sweep and unprecedented in its scope, it's as invisible to politicians and mainstream media as the ground under our feet. Without any leader, guru, unifying platform or ideology, it arises locally in small discrete endeavors and astronomical numbers, "like blades of grass after a rain." It manifests through people, groups and networks acting "to save the entire sacred, cellular basis of existence--the entire planet and all its inconceivable diversity." Sound familiar?
As we discover in the Work That Reconnects, it takes a shift in perspective to bring new phenomena into view. For Hawken it was the dawning realization of the sheer quantity and variety of nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations arising in our time for the protection of life. Following a hunch, he started compiling lists, indices and databases, and soon estimated their number as well in excess of a million. Sprouting from the ground up without any apparent coordination, and interweaving to collaborate without any central authority, their concerns embrace the full range of environmental causes and social justice issues. "Social justice and attending to the planet proceed in parallel; the abuse of one entails the exploitation of the other… Our fate will depend on how we understand and treat what is left of the planet's lands, oceans, species diversity, and people."
And in learning to do that, our greatest present resource lies in the practical wisdom of those native cultures still managing to survive the assault of corporate globalization. "The quiet hub of the new movement--its heart and soul--is indigenous culture. Just as a wheel cannot turn without a stationary hub, the movement reaches back to the deep and still roots of our collective history for its axle. For indigenous people, the relationship one has to the earth is the constant and true gauge that determines the integrity of one's culture, the meaning of one's existence, and the peacefulness of one's heart." Some five thousand of their distinct cultures are still seeking to protect their homelands, which constitute one fifth of our planet's land surfaces. Their contribution to humanity's survival is not their lifestyle so much as their experiential knowledge diligently gleaned from generations of interaction with the natural world.
We are fully capable of learning from these primal traditions thanks to teachers that have graced our own, more recent history. Hawken gives me fresh appreciation for the brilliance and relevance of Emerson, for example, in helping us re-find our place in nature; and his chapters on contemporary science do the same with engaging clarity. Here, as he interweaves recent discoveries in biology and immunology with global activism in defense of life, I find the book's greatest and most startling gift.
After describing the extraordinary intricacy and effectiveness of our body's capacity to protect itself, he says this: "The immune system is the most complex system in the body… The movement, for its part, is the most complex coalition of human organizations the world has ever seen."
"The hundreds of thousands of organizations that make up the movement are social antibodies attaching themselves to pathologies of power. Many will fail, for at present it is often a highly imperfect, and sometimes clumsy movement. It can flail, overreach, and founder; it has much to learn about how to work together, but it is what the earth is producing to protect itself." (my underlining)
"Five hundred years of ecological mayhem and social tyranny is a relatively short time for humanity to have learned to understand its self-created patterns of systematic pillage. What has changed recently is the use of connectivity. Individuals are associating, hooking up, and identifying with one another… They are forming units, inventing again and again pieces of a larger organism, enjoining associations and volunteers and committees and groups, and assembling these into a mosaic of activity as if they were solving a jigsaw puzzle without ever having seen the picture on the box."
"But immune systems do fail; this movement most certainly could fail as well. What can help preserve it is the gift of self-perception, the gift of seeing who we truly are… What it takes to arrest our descent into chaos is one person after another remembering who and where we really are."
Cheers and blessings to you all in the Great Turning,
I am writing on Twelfth Night, a dozen days since Christmas. That means it is Epiphany, or Drei Königstag, the day the three kings arrived, bearing gifts, guided by a star in their search for the sacred. They found it new-born in a cowshed, and worshipped it. Our holiday gift-giving stems from that story, but what I treasure most is captured in its name. Epiphany: the manifestation of the sacred. I love this day. I love it for what it declares as possible and what it reminds me to do. To let what is holy appear to my eyes, to discover it right here in the midst of life, igniting into radiance when, for a moment, I pay attention.
Perhaps because so much of our world is endangered now, appearing more fragile, more impermanent than ever before, the beauty of it can be excruciating. Walking to my cottage to write this, I catch, for the first time in months, the fragrance of jasmin; see on a cloudbank overhead the sunset's last reflections; pick up from the grass a cardboard airplane Julien had been flying from the upstairs deck. You know those moments, when even the most ordinary pierces the heart.
When I was a boy, each week
On Sunday we would go to church
And pay attention to the priest
He would read the holy word
And consecrate the holy bread
And everyone would kneel and bow
Today the only difference is
Everything is holy now
Everything is holy now.
On the last morning of our workshop in Nova Scotia , one of the participants, Heather Scott, played a recording of this song as her offering to the group. "Holy Now" by Peter Mayer was a perfect closing for our five days together. Our hearts were so wide open and new, each moment felt like an epiphany.
I was in Oakland this morning and afternoon doing a benefit for the Green Sangha. It was a luminous day. Sun glinting off Lake Merritt , light-filled hall brimming with voices, then flute music, then rapt silence as the two or three hundred present practiced anapanasati, mindfulness of breathing in and breathing out. Randy Hayes, joining me on the program, brought his distinctive warmth and clarity from his decades of eco-activism since he founded the fabled Rainforest Action Network. The event was named "the Great Turning," and Green Sangha organizers saw to it that some real work got done. With the materials and information they supplied, each attendee wrote a letter--either to the California Chamber of Commerce telling them to get behind the state Assembly Bill cutting greenhouse gas emissions, or to the CEO of Whole Foods urging the chain to reduce, and eventually eliminate, its use of plastic bags and containers, so toxic to Earth and all beings.
The Green Sangha consists of chapters which meet monthly in people's homes so they can meditate, then share information, then plan actions to carry out together. One of their chapters' initiatives, Rethinking Plastics, teaches people how to give PowerPoint presentations on the hidden dangers of plastic, provides a Traveling Display to take to grocery stores on Saturday mornings to educate customers, and organizes Nature Ware parties describing the ecological and health costs of plastic and showing healthy alternatives that are already available. (www.greensangha.org) [Between half a trillion and 1 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide per year – an average of 150 bags per year for every person on Earth. These bags are made with petroleum (or genetically engineered corn) and virtually indestructible; they leech their toxins into the food chain, and kill more than a million birds and huge numbers of sea mammals and fish.]
Along the same lines of matching actions to Dharma teachings, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship has an award-winning magazine, Turning Wheel. The last issue, inspired by BPF's founder, Robert Aitken Roshi, and entitled "A Call to Action," includes an interview with me. I'd like to quote here from my opening remarks.
TW: This issue of Turning Wheel is a "call to action" in a time of urgency. What actions would you call people to?
Joanna: The phrase suggests sounding the bugle and getting everybody to run to the barricades. That's the response we've become habituated to: urgency, urgency, urgency! At this point, I'm convinced that it is too late to turn around the collapse of the industrial growth society, and that the task we all have, and one that I find worthy and exciting, is to help each other through it, saving what we can, and making sure that the collapse destroys as little as possible.
There's so much to save. There are many mental, spiritual, and psychological tools that we can give each other, as well as linking arms to slow down the destruction and to create new forms, new structures, new Gaian ways of doing things.
The Great Turning, as a concept and perspective, helps us understand that the industrial growth society is doing itself in. There's no way to save it, and why would we want to? There's also no point in buckling on the armor and heading out to destroy it, because it's doing that job very well itself.
So what we want to do is focus on serving life as best we can in this time of unraveling and destruction…
TW: Do you think some fronts are more urgent to work on than others, or do you think it's all equally urgent?
Joanna: Some clearly have more repercussions, deeper levels of causality in our planet's system. Rising sea levels and shifting ocean currents caused by melting arctic ice, for example, could bring on famine quite rapidly.
It's just common sense that some issues are more urgent than others. But the problem with prioritizing is that we can start to compete in urgency, to say, "My issue is more important than your issue." If we are fully, undividedly responding to this time of crisis, we won't try to harangue each other. We won't say, "What are you doing just working for women at the rape center when there are…blah, blah, blah." I find that tiresome in the extreme. All these concerns are interrelated. An attitude that says: "I'm doing this, but I totally respect what you're doing" will serve us better in the long run.
Also we need to realize that we may not succeed, and to actually take that in. Because we suspect it, so we might as well bring it around from behind our left ear where we don't want to look at it: We may fail. Like everything else in life, the Great Turning comes with no guarantee we'll pull it off. But this is our chance you know? The very dire nature of our situation helps us drop our dependence on seeing the results of our own actions. Once we drop that, then we're almost unstoppable. It's very liberating.
The Work That Reonnects lends itself to any issue. This is certainly demonstrated Down Under. "Stillness in Action" retreats, combining this groupwork with Dharma talks and sitting practice, were invented in the 1990s by Bobbi Allan and Simon Clough in New South Wales , and continue to spread in other regions of Australia . They resemble somewhat the retreats I offer at Spirit Rock Meditation Center from time to time, but they have their own distinctive structure and quality.
In Melbourne , folks who've trained with me now offer events which specifically apply the Work That Reconnects to the issue of oil depletion and the end of cheap energy. "The Heart of Peak Oil," orchestrated by Dot Green and friends, opens the gate to effective action by breaking through the numbness and denial that so often blanket people's responses to this crisis.
My colleague of many years, John Seed, who gives "road shows," talks, and workshops in the U.S. as well as across his native Australia , is using our work to rally people to face the oncoming disasters of climate chaos. He and his partner Ruth Rosenhek, along with other seasoned facilitators, are launching a campaign which, at each locality visited, includes a roadshow (talk with music and song), a one-day workshop called "Climate Change Despair and Empowerment," and plans for an ongoing study-action group. Here's some of John's language in promoting the workshop:
In "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore noted that with respect to catastrophic climate change, many people go from a position of denial, straight to hopeless despair without leaving any space for action in between.
One reason why this is so, is that people in our culture have not learned how to deal with their deepest feelings of anguish, rage, terror, and despair at what is happening to our world. Yet these feelings are a profound and irreplaceable element of our intelligence. It is feelings that "move" us… Without them we are paralyzed, caught in the onrushing headlights of catastrophic climate change unable to find the personal resources to fight back with the vigor and passion that the situation surely warrants.
(In her books…Joanna Macy) describes a spiritual technology that allows us to transform these feelings into empowered and effective action… Suppression of these feelings leads to a sense of dispirited helplessness, paralysis, "it's too late anyway," "what can one person do" etc. (But) when in a workshop we create a safe container and a process where these feelings are invited to inform us, invited to express their wisdom, then joy, motivation, and empowerment inevitably follow.
Equipped once more with our emotional and intuitive intelligence, in the second half of the workshop we will nourish our ecological identity by exploring deep time and anchoring ourselves in the 14 billion year history of the universe and the 4 billion years of life on Earth.
From here, participants will be invited to creatively vision a sustainable future for our cities and towns and commit to making changes that will allow for fuller engagement in the complex issue of climate change. Networking and resources will be offered to catalyze study-action groups and inspire existing ones.
Couple friends of mine have just published books that I would like to plug. Physician and musician Chris Johnstone of Brighton , England , has distilled his wit and wisdom, accrued through years of counseling addiction recovery and facilitating the Work That Reconnects, into a vibrant new book: Find Your Power. It's now published in the US , so you'll be able to get your hands on it.
Chris writes that he is now making a DVD about using tools the book describes for cultivating inner resources to tackle personal and planetary issues. He says it features "three puppets coming to one of my workshops. One wants to become happier, another wants to give up smoking, and the third has just seen al Gore's film and wants to do something about climate change. But in their way are the dreamblockers of fear, cynicism and disbelief, played by three other puppet characters…." He started filming last month. For word of its availability, as well as news of developments and workshops in Europe , check out his web site www.greatturningtimes.org
The other book is by Jim Schenk of ImagoEarth in Cincinnati , and it's called What does God Look Like in an Expanding Universe? Many images of God, death, and afterlife, arising from the old cosmology, are so detrimental to life on our planet, that new metaphors seem essential for survival. In order to find them, Jim invited theologians, scientists, artists, poets, and thinkers of all walks of life to share their thoughts on "Where do we come from," and "Why are we here," and "What happens after death." The result is a collection of reflections attuned to the new cosmology.
Anita Barrows and I continue to harvest deep pleasure in translating the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. Here's a poem from his Neue Gedichte. Written just about a century ago, it captures the sweet hunger of the heart from which Epiphanies arise.
This is what he had ordered from the painters' guild.
It's not that the savior himself had appeared to him,
or even that one single bishop
ever stood beside him, as depicted here,
gently laying his hand upon him.
But this, perhaps, was all he wanted:
to kneel like this.
He had known the desire to kneel,
to hold his outward thrusting self
tightly in the heart,
the way one grasps the reins of horses.
So that when the Immense might happen,
unpromised and unpaid for,
we might hope that it wouldn't notice us
and thus, undistracted, deeply centered,
it would come closer, would come right up to us.
May all be well for you.
This fall in the East in two separate five-day events, I offered the Work That Reconnects --and found myself re-connecting to two powerful women who weren't even there. Along with all who actually took part in the work, Dana and Daidee seemed present as well. One was a great systems thinker and organizational player in service to a sustainable world. The other was my grandmother.
Over the years in the courses I taught I relied on Donella (or Dana) Meadows' books (the classic Limits to Growth and especially Beyond the Limits) to make systems thinking both intelligible and dramatically relevant. I counted on her monthly "Dear Folks" newsletter, as well as her syndicated newspaper column "The Global Citizen," to lift my heart as well as furnish my mind. I never met her, though, till the day we taught together at the Institute for Deep Ecology summer school. It wasn't long after that when, in full flower, at the height of her powers, Dana died. Just after moving to the Hartland,Vermont farmland where the consulting firm she had founded and the co-housing community she had inspired were settling in, she was struck by a sudden fatal illness.
So you can imagine how strongly, on my first visit to the place, she kept entering my mind. These are the maple-wooded hillsides she loved, this the "welcoming garden" she planted by the road; this lovely lanky man is the Stephen who created in partnership with her the organic, horse-powered farm; this spacious, welcoming structure we're working in is the Common House where she lived the last month of her life.
I was brought there by Edie Farwell, whom some of you from my intensives know. As resident of the Cobb Hill Co-Housing Dana founded, a member of Dana's Sustainability Institute, and director of the program created in Dana's memory (the Donella Meadows Leadership Fellows), Edie had long nourished the notion of bringing these different realms together for an experience of the Work That Reconnects.
Here are some words Edie recently sent out describing the event:
"The workshop was a first on many fronts. It was Joanna's first time with us. It was the first time that participants from the two classes of the Donella Meadows Leadership Fellows Program met together. It was the first time that 100% of SI staff were in a workshop together. Usually a subset of us go to workshops, but never before have we had all eleven of us attend a workshop in full. This was also the first time that Cobb Hill members participated in such a workshop together, and first time to join forces with the Fellows and with SI.
"It felt as if all four of these groups were circles that revolved around carrying on some of Donella (Dana) Meadow's work - the two classes of Fellows in her name, SI which she founded, and Cobb Hill which she co-founded and for which was a primary visionary. At the end of the workshop it felt like one large circle of us all working together carrying on Dana's work, Joanna's work and each of our own work for sustainability, both collectively and individually.
"Joanna led the sixty of us in a series of experiential sessions, presentations, activities and discussions…we found exceptionally powerful. Her main tools are systems thinking, Buddhism, and deep ecology, and more recently deep time. She uses systems thinking to show how we are leaving behind the industrial age and moving towards a life-sustaining civilization (or a sustainability age as Dana called it), Buddhism to show how we have choice to form our future and to strengthen our effectiveness, deep ecology to learn from plants and animals, and deep time to delve into how future generations will view this era.
"A primary goal of her work is to empower people to fend off apathy, despair and overwhelm, and to do their part as fully and effectively as possible to help bring about the sustainability age, or the Great Turning as she calls it. She uses exercises, tools, and teachings to inspire people to be knowledgeable about the extent of environmental and social devastation around us, to fully feel it, to not shut down in the face of it, and to have the wherewithal to find joy in this world even in the face of bone-deep knowledge of the increasing challenges. And to be clear on the most effective strategies each of us can do. Dana's Beyond the Limits is a primary book on which she bases much of her work. A related goal of Joanna's work is to help communities facing crisis or uncertainty to choose the path of solidarity, learning, strength and unity, rather than isolation, despair, and in-fighting.” http://www.sustainer.org/fellows/MacyReport.htm
I loved my time at Cobb Hill, loved the clear air of late September and the turning colors, loved being in the company of people banking their lives on a livable future. On our last full day together there was a collective move to create a memorial service for Dana. The ritual, very simple, was spacious and deep. Fall flowers from her "welcoming garden" were placed in the center of the big room at the top of the Common House, with a photograph of her face set beside it, and in concentric circles we all took our places. As we entered, the opera music Dana loved, the very CD she was playing near the end--a love duet from La Traviata--engulfed the room. Then, in the ensuing silence, people spoke, randomly and simply. It was a completion that was also a new beginning.
When I could get her to talk about her childhood, my grandmother Daidee would tell of how her great-grandparents left Virginia at the time of the Revolutionary War. Loyal to the king, they pulled up roots and transplanted themselves to New Brunswick. There, in Canada's Maritime provinces, my Whitehead and Hartley ancestors lived for over a century, until they journeyed west to Minnesota by covered wagon. Daidee was ten at the time, with a dozen living brothers and sisters. Feeling a strange pride in that stubborn ancestral line, I had an avid appetite for her stories of early years in a land I pictured as wild and wind-blown.
This month, after Cobb Hill, I went there for the first time. At a rural training center called Tatamagouche on the north shore of Nova Scotia, I shared the Work That Reconnects with over fifty people from the Atlantic provinces, as well as Quebec, Ontario, and even the Yukon. Beauty surrounded me and filled me to overflowing. It came in the form of wide skies and wide waters where blazing trees were mirrored and wild geese swept in. It came in the form of attentive, thoughtful faces breaking into tears and laughter and song. Maybe you've heard some of them singing, in recordings of the women's choirs across Canada performing Caroline McDade's hymns to our living planet (e.g. O Beautiful Gaia).
So I thought of Daidee, as I do most days of my life, though I haven't seen her for fifty years. There in the land she had walked as a child, I imagined how those very skies and shores watched her grow, how they nourished the courage and curiosity she would manifest her whole life. I am so like her, in the shape of my face and the contours of my mind. I wonder what she would make of my break with patriarchal religion, and if she would stir, as I do, to these women's soaring voices praising Gaia.
I am grateful for the strong lives that have woven into mine.
What I love about the Work That Reconnects is the voices that come through. I mean the voices of our ancestors, the future generations, and the other species with whom we share this planet. They are rarely evoked or even mentioned in public debates about policy options, as relating, for example, to climate change; but we need to hear them if we're going to meet the crises of our time with any moral intelligence.
These voices are right here. Given the deep connections that interweave us with the web of life, they are within us. No special magic is required to call them forth. Those of you who have come to workshops know how simple it is to sit down together, set a shared intention, and by the power of our imagination, speak on behalf of another being. Each time this happens, I am awed by the clarity and authenticity of the words that come through. I think I have never loved people more than at the moment when they slip aside from their persona and lean forward in utter concentration to let another perspective be communicated. In that moment, as we shift our perspective to that of a different being and give it our full attention, the walls around the separate ego dissolve into wider contexts of space and time. Afterwards we are never quite the same; notions about our needs and entitlements have shifted a bit, and so, to some degree, has our sense of who and where we are.
Since the Council of All Beings began happening over twenty years ago, many thousands of people have had the experience of speaking on behalf of another life-form, be it an animal or plant species, or a feature of the environment like a river or mountain or the wind. More recently, as "deep time" work becomes ever more relevant and rewarding, it has brought an array of practices that breed felt connections with past and future generations, and that let us speak to them and for them.
Such use of the moral imagination is urgently needed right now. In response to oil depletion and climate change, the campaign for a new generation of nuclear power stations is gaining ground. In the name of assuring a supply of "clean" energy in amounts deemed essential for a vital economy, this campaign is being waged not only by the nuclear industry and its servants in government, but also by reputable figures allied with environmental causes. These pundits soberly "crunch" the numbers and argue that to maintain an operative economy and tolerable lifestyle, nuclear power is the only "rational" alternative before us.
I'm tired of talking back to these people in my own voice. I'd rather make other voices audible. I'd like the ancestors to chime in and remind us of the millennia they managed without refrigerators, and still crafted lives of nobility and purpose. And how the art and wisdom and discoveries they've left us required no turbines or transmission towers. As for the future ones, who will live with the radioactive wastes we leave behind for ages longer than life on earth, it is not hard to imagine what they would have to say. If they can trace the causes of their suffering, they'll surely wonder at our level of humanity. They might ask us to look at victims of contamination in our present-day world, at uranium miners and down-winders from test sites and children of Chernobyl --and to see in them their own future faces.
Those native to this land have known for a long time how to listen to the future ones. That each choice and change of policy be weighed by its consequences for the next seven generations was a teaching of the Great Peacemaker a thousand years ago. Observed to this day by the Onondaga and Mohawk Nations, it is similar to indigenous practices across the continent. The recently established Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) is giving fresh fresh emphasis and institutional form to this regard for the future. At a gathering last year in Bemidji , Minnesota , the IEN issued a statement on Seventh Generation Guardianship. It deserves to be adopted by us all. The full text is available through the website of the Science and Environmental Health Network, www.sehn.org), but here are a few words.
At the outset "the first mandate" is set forth: "to ensure that our decision-making is guided by consideration of the welfare and well-being of the seventh generation to come"
Then, after addressing the harm that has been done in recent times to the natural world and its indigenous peoples, the statement concludes in this fashion:
"Who guards the web of life that nurtures and sustains us all?
Who watches out for the land, the sky, the fire, and the water?
Who watches out for our relatives that swim, fly, walk, or crawl?
Who watches out for the plants that are rooted in our Mother Earth?
Who watches out for the life-giving spirits that reside in the underworld?
Who tends the languages of the people and the land?
Who tends the children and the families?
Who tends the peacekeepers in our communities?
"We tend the relationships.
We work to prevent harm.
We create the conditions for health and wholeness.
We teach the culture and we tell the stories.
"We have the sacred right and obligation to protect the common wealth of our lands and the common health of our people and all our relations for this generation and seven generations to come. We are the Guardians for the Seventh Generation."
The Science and Environmental Health Network, which we can thank for conceptualizing and promoting the Precautionary Principle under the inspired leadership of Carolyn Raffensperger, worked with the IEN to catalyze the Bemidji event. Aiming to help identify and designate guardians for specific places, species, languages or communities, SEHN is working on the legal framework to be used, as well as on training materials, and eventually a web site to come on line in November. In February I met with some of its key players, when Carolyn, Nancy Myers, and Ted Schettler came for a invigorating two-day visit. It's wonderful to work with folks who operate with equal facility on both the right and left sides of the brain. That's a fine capacity for the Great Turning!
Blessings upon you of this present moment and all our companions in deep time.
Everything's burning. Iraq is burning. Gaza is afire, and Lebanon and Afghanistan. Flames engulf homes, neighborhoods, hospitals, power plants. Bodies, say reports, are too charred to be identified, and in Gaza are found burning from within as well from without. What new weapons are being used, people ask.
California is burning. Some hundred thousand acres of state forests, desert scrub, wooded canyons and hillsides are ablaze in wildfires. The tally of homes being lost, the numbers of firefighters engaged, all are reported by the media. But there's little if any mention at all of the weather patterns that are turning the state into a tinderbox.
Everything is burning. So began the Buddha's famous Fire Sermon, one of his first public teachings after his enlightenment. "All things, oh brethren, are on fire. Our eyes are on fire, and all our senses and feelings. Our minds are on fire. They burn with the fires of craving and hatred and delusion." Just that bluntly, he summoned people to see their own suffering and the cause of it. So they could stop. So they could enter the coolness of stopping and be free.
Tears might begin to quench the flames. If we can't be monks and cool the passions in meditation, we could at least cry. But tears are discouraged. The coffins of our own war dead are forbidden to be shown.
And even if those thousands of body bags and flag-draped coffins were allowed to be seen, when would we find time to stop and take the suffering in? We can't afford to stop. The grief is too great. The hurry that drives our lives is a kind of fire too.
Last semester at the California Institute of Integral Studies Professor Sean Kelly and I taught a course called "The Fullness of Time." We explored different ways humans have experienced time through the ages. We sought to understand how time today has become so accelerated, how technological and economic forces that cause this to happen, and what it is doing to our attention span and our relations. Then, as promised in the course's title, we explored ways to regain the human capacity to live in a wider context of time, graced by felt connections with past and future generations. We have the ability and birthright to enter that fully into the generosity of time.
From all my workshops and explorations into "deep time" I had a lot to pour into that last part of the course. But it was the middle part on accelerated time and The Tyranny of the Moment (the book we used by Norwegian sociologist Thomas Eriksen) that I'll recall most vividly. It highlighted for the students the drivenness and pressures of their lives, the short-cuts and nagging incompletions, and it opened up grief. It illumined how fractured the mind has become, how hard to fully attend to our collective losses and shared opportunities. Recognizing this, we made sure to start each class with meditation. We learned how the simple practice the Buddha taught called anapanasati or "mindfulness of breathing-in and breathing-out" can help us stop and be more present to ourselves and our world.
The time acceleration of our era, and its effect on the human capacity to track and attend, is both a cause and a consequence of what David Korten calls the "Great Unraveling." It is no secret that the complex social systems and ecosystems on which our lives depend are coming apart faster and faster, given the ways the natural world is being commodified, consumed, and fought over. In his new book, The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, Korten points to the Unraveling as the sole alternative to the Great Turning, and the inevitable denouement should it fail.
The Unraveling, which is well underway, can be slowed down. Given the self-organizing capacities of open systems, it can be eventually reversed. But it has to be noticed first. It has to be seen and experienced and felt. That's hard to do when you're on the run, and don't have time to look and feel.
I have recently been given a hard lesson in stopping--or, more precisely, being stopped. For over a year the plans for this June and July had been arranged: six teaching events in UK and Germany, carefully prepared and promoted by local organizers, along with a visit to son Chris in Amsterdam and at the end a holiday with him and my husband Fran in Scotland. Seven weeks crafted like clockwork. Then fate intervened. A virus picked up on the east coast in late May, aggravated by a grueling flight home, put me first in the hospital and then on extended recuperation at home, which continues even now.
Since my life was at no point endangered, this turn of events is hardly worth mentioning. But the learnings I received are worth noting. They seem to be threefold:
(1) One is how accustomed my mind had become to a busy schedule and swift pace. Stopping is disorienting, even challenging to my self-image. I had a role to play, things to say, group skills to employ. Being an ordinary Earthling in an extraordinary time on Earth, could that be enough?
(2) Three of the workshops I was to lead, including one of eight days, took place without me. They went swimmingly. The local organizers drew on their own experience of the Work That Reconnects to lead it themselves in their own special ways--to their great delight and the appreciation of their peers.
(3) And lastly, larger spaces in my mind and vistas of my world gradually opened up for me once I had nothing more "urgent" to do. My friend Frederick Franck was dying at 97, and from my bedroom I accompanied him--or rather let his remarkable life as an artist come to me with exquisite clarity. Each sculpture and painting I'd loved appeared to my eyes; I could walk each step into Pacem in Terris, the sanctuary he'd created from an old mill outside New York, and feel the stones, the texture of the wood, the breath of the river. I let the books come to hand that wanted to be read: I was with Ishi for a while, in Theodora Kroeber's book of that name, imagining what it was like to be the last one alive of your whole people. Ninety years ago he spent his last summer right here on Cherry Street, at the home of an anthropologist just two doors down. For a spell it was books on central America that drew me because my friend Aryeh is making theatre with Salvadoran villagers, and I read biographies: first Archbishop Romero and then Father Roy Bourgeois and Sister Dianna Ortiz, whose lives are devoted to stopping US-sponsored torture in this hemisphere. Books about Goethe and his way of knowing plants hooked my interest after my friend America regaled me with her learnings at Schumacher College, and I began piecing that together with fresh thoughts about the properties of open systems. There was time, again and again, to sit by my altar with my friend Maya who has been receiving from me the Yamantaka practice, passed on by the great yogi Antrim of the Tibetan community of Tashi Jong. She knew him with great reverence and love, and returns soon to India to live nearby.
All of this unfolded with a sweet unhurried spaciousness, and so did my hours with 9-year old Julien, playing Crazy Eights on my bedspread, and my daughter Peggy, playing Boggle on the kitchen table or in the tree-house in Aptos that Gregoire built. My first excursion was to join them there for two days last week. They took me with their kayaks out into the Elkhorn Slough to hang out with the otters and pelicans and seals. You have to be very very quiet. Then you can see what's going on.