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.
I just got home, a bit chilled and damp, from standing in front of UC Berkeley's Boalt Law School . I'm glad I went because, given spring break and the weather (25th day of rain this month), we were even fewer than usual at our weekly vigil and teach-in. My friend Sue Moon, editor of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship's journal Turning Wheel, was the one this time to stand on the sidewalk on a narrow box and wear a black cape and hood, with wires suspended from her wrists. And today David Sylvester, ex-reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, took the role of teacher before he spends three months in prison for trespassing at the infamous School of the Americas .
The teach-in is about the Bush administration's openly defended policy of torture. It is held at the law school here because John Yoo, the legal architect of that policy, is one of its professors.
Each time I take part I learn a lot. Sometimes the information I harvest enters my dreams, and I awaken sickened with grief and dread. What are we as a nation doing to ourselves? What is in store for us--as perpetrators or, scarier yet, as dissenters? One morning, to pull myself together, I wrote a kind of prayer.
I am given to know
what my mind cannot hold.
So I give my mind
to what it cannot know,
the deep dark cradle of its being.
Here are some things I learned today. That the hooded torture victim, whose image is sadly familiar by now, tries to keep his arms extended sideways because lowering them delivers a strong electric shock. The posture this method enforces causes the victim to feel partly responsible for the agony that comes when he can no longer sustain it. Sophisticated torture methods, such as those taught at the School of the Americas , add to the physical pain the psychological pain of failure and self-blame. That is obviously the case as well with the many forms of humiliation being invented and, automatically now, employed.
I learned that John Yoo's arguments for the necessary freedom to use torture are based again and again and again on that fateful event that justifies everything. 9/11 ushered us into a new world where old rules no longer apply. Confronting a ubiquitous and elusive enemy, national security requires for its protection a "single, rational actor" a "unitary" executive, unencumbered by outmoded constitutional and legislative constraints.
On the brighter side, I learned that our Uruguayan friend Andres, who spoke at an earlier vigil, has been successful in his mission. He left two weeks ago with an anti-torture delegation to meet with government leaders in Bolivia , Uruguay , and Argentina ; and David reported today that in each capital agreement was reached to no longer send military personnel to be trained at the School of the Americas . Andres Conteris is a student in the course that I'm teaching at California Institute of Integral Studies. We will surely celebrate when he gets back.
That course, full day sessions on Fridays, meets tomorrow, and I must stop now to prepare. Its subject is the changing human experience of Time. Co-teaching it with Sean Kelly of the Philosophy, Cosmology and Consciousness program, I am enjoying the scope it gives me to indulge my fascination with this subject. The need to look afresh at our relation to time and expand our temporal context first arose for me as an essential challenge of nuclear waste--a karma, or consequence of actions, that extends into the future for thousands and even millions of years. Deep time practices have long been a rewarding component of the Work That Reconnects, and I was ready to view the subject through a more academic lens.
I've relished the agile-minded students and my sweet, learned co-teacher, but I've missed some of the depth, flow, and coherence that arise when discussions are embedded in experiential and ritual work. Inserting the occasional exercise doesn't do it. For example, our class sessions on acceleration of time--on the speed and hurry produced by nanotechnology and growth economics--revealed a surprising amount of grief. And it has been hard (ironically) to let it work itself through within the confines and tempo of our curriculum.
Tomorrow's class is about "integral" time, where time is not objectified or externally measured, but retrieved as an internal factor or function of the living self. Not something you have, but something you are. Like Zen master Dogen's teaching of "Being Time."
But the clock above my desk shows an externally measured hour that will allow precious little preparation or sleep, if I don't sign off now.
Grande Virada: that is Great Turning in Portuguese--and a theme that resonated strongly with the eight hundred or more Brasilieros whom Fran and I have just had the good fortune to meet and work with. It reflects their hopes in bringing populist president Ignacio Lula to power and initiating impressive steps toward sustainability and working together for Earth.
Nossa Vida como Gaia, our life as Gaia, was the other interweaving theme. It is the title of the Portuguese edition of Coming Back to Life, published in Brazil in the course of the last year, with a foreword by liberation theologian Leonardo Boff and the most beautiful cover that ever graced a book of mine. It portrays a tropical coastal ecosystem held in a fragile scallop shell which is already beginning to crumble into deep blue, star-strewn immensities of space. Fran and I went to meet the artist Jose Gomez in the town of Guaratingeta and view the original oil painting. I came to see it as a visual metaphor for anguish over the drying of the vast Amazon, where deforestation (reaching 17%) now affects its capacity to generate and recycle rainfall, and threatens implosion of the ecosystem seen by many as our planet's lungs. The river is now at its lowest in human memory. It is stranding countless settlements (including Manaus, city of 5 million) that are dependent on access by boat. Gomez's painting also conveys the love than can awaken when we face such fragility and feel a common imperative to protect the web of life.
Our month-long teaching tour in Brazil was arranged by environmental leader Amalia Souza, whom some of you will remember from two of our intensives in the Santa Cruz hills ('00 and '03). She is, in her own person, a kind of embodiment of the Great Turning: in addition to instigating the translation and publication of Nossa Vida como Gaia, her activism includes trusted relations with indigenous peoples, provision of material support for environmental causes through Global Green Grants, and groundwork for an ecovillage in her area. Not only that, she sings. The three weekend workshops we did together, as well as the weeklong intensive, were enriched by her guitar and the marvelous range of her voice.
Our work in Sao Paulo was sponsored by a bank. The Banco Real (ABM MRO Real, to be exact) has embraced sustainability as its goal, and is serious about it. It provided venue and large audiences for presentations with interactive work on the subject of the Great Turning. Of great value to me personally was the invigorating glimpse it gave into what the Great Turning can mean in banking terms. The bank, for example, is applying environmental conditions to all loans (i.e. need to show loan's effects on local ecology and its measures to protect and restore same), and it has initiated microcredit schemes in urban slums, which already are proving highly successful in term of results and repayment rate. A key staff player in this overall effort is Christel Scholten, with whom I was happy to find strong connections through both the Bath (UK) School of Management and the Meg Wheatley-inspired Pioneers of Change.
The work with Brasilians freshened me with a renewed sense of what it means to realize our life as Gaia. In the presence of their passion for life, their erotic take on existence, that phrase became more than a conceptual anchor. I felt again the full charge of what our planetary identity can mean, and how it can inspire and sustain us.
Upon my return last week, in this dark solstice time, I took a day's retreat to look at the year now coming to a close. Its gifts have been many. In the quiet solitude of my backyard cottage I reflected on them, drawing the year's engagements with colors and circles on a large sheet of paper, then dropping into them to feel the deepening changes they brought. First, I took to counting: 91 full days of group work, 4 continents, this many workshops and intensives, that many participants… Hundreds of faces began to surface in my mind's eye, like so many bodhisattva icons. Then the connecting, unfolding flows began to reveal themselves, showing how pervasively the year has been affected by its first event, the 30-days in Australia, called "Seeds for the Future."
Now I can say what I couldn't then: that the collective immersion in a larger context of time, with sustained attention to the needs and perspectives of future generations, has acted as a blessing, or a solvent, on all that has followed. I say "solvent" because it has loosened for me some of the pressures and fears of the present moment. Bringing me into a sense of closer company with the ancestors and future beings, it has made it easier to live with the radical uncertainty of our time. "Radical uncertainty" has emerged, I see now, as an ever more important theme in my work this year. As we set our sails for the Great Turning, it brings a kind of sober, bracing freedom from demands and complaints of the small self. And it brings an ever-fresh recognition of the power of intention and choice, which, like the rudder of our craft, is what we can put our hands to--and the only thing we can control.
Such reflections on the effects of the 30-day in Australia make me grateful for the prospect of another 30-day in 2007. "Seeds for the Future II" is scheduled to take place on a wild stretch of coast in Oregon in the early fall of that year. See my schedule on this web site for particulars.
My month in England in May of this year brought particular rewards. It coincided with the fuller emergence of Gaiabeat Productions, purveyor of tapes, CDs, and training materials created by British colleagues who have also brought forth the Great Turning Times. You can access this amazing e-newsletter by contacting
with SUBSCRIBE in the subject header. A concatenation of energies has brought strong follow-up to the workshops of last May. As a local organizer just wrote, in announcing a 3-day retreat in Devon, "Coming to the end of 2005, it feels like it was a great year for Shambhala Warriors. (Since Joanna's events) there were several workshops attended by over 300 people and that's just the workshops lasting longer than two days… There is such a lot of momentum."
And coming from Britain--here are some portions of the Shambhala Warrior Mind Training, which I would share with you as a New Year blessing. It comes from John Wigham, known as Akuppa in the Western Buddhist Order, who came into the Work That Reconnects through a week I taught last April at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in California. He is a writer, organizer, and former City Council member of Newcastle-on-Tyne.
Firmly establish your intention to live your life for the healing of the world. Be conscious of it, honour it, nurture it every day.
Do not meet power on its own terms. See through to its real nature--mind and heart made. Lead your response from that.
Simplify. Clear way the dead wood in your life. Look for the heartwood and give it first call on your time, the best of your energy.
Put down the leaden burden of saving the world alone…
As a bird flies on two wings, balance outer activity with inner sustenance.
With great patience to yourself, learn to make beautiful each action, word, and thought.
Sit with hatred until you feel the fear beneath it. Sit with fear until you feel the compassion beneath that.
Do not set your heart on particular results. Enjoy positive action for its own sake and rest confident that it will bear fruit.
Staying open, staying grounded, remember that you are the inheritor of the strengths of thousands of generations of life.
Staying open, staying grounded, recall that the thankful prayers of future generations are silently with you.
Staying open, staying grounded, know that the deep forces of Nature will emerge in the aid of those who defend the Earth.
When you see weapons of hate, disarm them with love.
When you see armies of greed, meet them in the spirit of sharing.
When you see fortresses of narrow-mindedness, breach them with truth.
When forces of power seek to isolate us from each other, reach out with joy.
In it all and through it all, holding to your intention, let go into the music of life. Dance!
Yours for the "grande virada,"
I spent a month in the east this fall, sharing the Work That Reconnects in Michigan, New York, Massachusetts, and Maine. I return with an abundance of gifts. They include the glory of the autumn trees, though the leaves are turning later now, weeks later with each passing year. And they include the beauty of the human heart, revealed in the workshops and unaffected by weather patterns. I want to tell you some of the ways I experienced it.
There is green in the heart of Detroit. In the capital of the automotive age, rusting, empty factories have given way to grassy fields and urban farming. New citizen efforts are sprouting, from cooperative bakeries and senior housing to festivals celebrating the city's natural history, and a vibrant high school for teen-age mothers set amidst barnyards and solar rigs, with a curriculum involving care for goats, sheep, windmill, and babies. These glimpses of our post-industrial future made my heart sing--and song was plentiful. At my workshop organized by Unitarian Universalist women of Michigan, many of the participants belong to the choruses singing the anthems of Caroline McDade across North America. In my intensives I have used Caroline McDade's CDs, especially "O Beautiful Gaia," so I asked the women to sing in the course of our work together--and bathed my soul in those strong hymns to our sacred Earth.
In Massachusetts and Maine I wondered at first if the quality of the workshops would suffer from the high numbers of participants. Because of space needs (I like to move people around a lot), I rarely do more than one full day when the count is ninety or more. Yet, from start to finish, these packed workshops turned out to be just as focused as those of three or four dozen, and just as remarkable in their sense of deep and alert presence. Actually, there seems to have been, in all the groups this year, a more solid and even fiercer sense of purpose than ever before.
As I ponder why this should be so, this is what I come up with. First there's the political darkness that has befallen our nation since the coup of January 2001, and especially since last November's second stolen presidential election (a fraud recently confirmed by the GAO). In discussing the options available to us as citizens, Richard Heinberg in his recent Museletter reflects views I hear from coast to coast, when he points out that, "the federal government is quite literally dysfunctional... Many books have been written about the hypocrisy, ineptness, and even criminality of Washington's elite, and how matters of state managed to degenerate so utterly and completely during the past few decades and especially the last few years... The US government has given up on the republican (with a small "r") form of government and is preparing a totalitarian future for its citizens. Unable to deliver on its economic promises, it is hunkering down for the inevitable class conflict. One can hardly write such words," he adds, "without experiencing strong emotions--principally rage, sadness, and fear."
Many people come to my workshops to simply and soberly acknowledge the kind of reality Heinberg describes. They come to tell the truth about what they see happening to our world, and to face it together without diversions of endless argument or embarrassment for the rage, sadness, and fear that arise. Hence the seriousness of purpose: for without fully being with the truth of our situation, there's no way to change it. It's not surprising that the first aspect of the Work That Reconnects which the folks in Maine planned to share with their home communities was the Truth Mandala.
So, clearly, the strength of presence I feel in the workshops is a function of the power of attention--and how we choose to direct that power, which is intention. Since the 30-day "Seeds for the Future" event in Australia early this year, I've been including the practice of anapanasati, mindfulness of breathing-in and breathing-out. It's no longer just an optional meditation before breakfast, but a basic element in each days' teaching sessions. Furthermore, in the systems lessons, I dwell on our capacity for intention--how it's evolved that we are able to choose where we focus and direct our mind. I see it as the defining characteristic of self-reflexive consciousness. This marvel enables us, in Buddhist terms, to change the karma. It is the great and sacred gift we bring to our world.
On my trip I met Jack Manno, who teaches economics of sustainability at SUNY's school of Environmental Studies and Forestry. I copied these words from a textbook he wrote: "Human attention is among the most powerful natural forces in the universe. When an individual decides to turn his or her attention to understanding something, accomplishing something, changing something, the resources available to that individual are mobilized, and the world begins to change. When groups...turn their collective attention to shared goals, the potential results are even more dramatic. Since economics is fundamentally about the allocation of limited resources among competing uses, this book is about an economics of attention."
What Jack calls the turning of attention--i.e. the conscious choice of how to use it--is what I mean by intention. And the dramatic results he alludes to were certainly evident in the explosions of ideas ignited in the final, "Going Forth" part of the workshops.
Yet what moved me more than the actions envisioned was, again, the quality of presence. During the week at Rowe I tried to describe it in my journal: "Thanks to the sweet strong attention these people bring and sustain, it's like swimming together, in a school of fish. There are moments of such shared depth, it feels like entering another element, as if we'd pierced some barrier into a realm of mind beyond all words. At the center of the heart, it encompasses the universe."
I leave now for a month in Brazil, accompanied by Fran, preceded by a beautiful Portuguese edition of Coming Back to Life, and organized by our dear colleague Amalia Souza who's got workshops, talks, and an intensive up her sleeve.
In gladness for the work and the world we share,
Images of disaster proliferate. Even those of us whose homes are not flooded, bombed, or bulldozed, are living with a sense of catastrophe. I reflected on this Saturday with Anita Barrows, as we were translating a Rilke poem. Speaking out of her large psychotherapeutic practice and her years of teaching graduate seminars in psychology, she said: "Collective trauma and extinction of life are the backdrop of everything else we do."
I discovered this 28 years ago when I started the despair and empowerment workshops, which were the first form of the Work That Reconnects. I learned that within everyone--whatever their political views and however competent or complacent they may appear--there is, at some level of their consciousness, grief for our world. Like cells in a living body, we feel it when our larger body is in trauma. Whether as sorrow, anger, fear, or any mix of them, we feel what I came to call "pain for our world." It comes with being part of the web of life, which can be expressed differently as Indra's Net or Gregory Bateson's "wider circuits of knowing."
Seeing the devastation in New Orleans and the Gulf States triggers not only sorrow for the victims, but also dread of more and vaster horrors yet to come. Those who know hurricane Katrina's true name, global warming, can sense the dimensions of suffering in store for all of us.
Last month at the August intensive in the Work That Reconnects, Dahr Jamail, fresh from Iraq, showed us videos of Falluja. In distance shots of the bombardment, you can see fireballs like nuclear blasts erupting inside houses from uranium artillery. Then there are long silent close-ups of the rubble, survivors looking for their families, picking up body parts and peeling patches of skin off the walls, as they step through rooms and courtyards guttered of life by clusterbombs.
To watch these scenes arouses not only outrage but foreboding. What fate, one wonders, awaits a nation that has perfected such diabolical weaponry, and used it with such deliberate extravagance. Already the psychic retribution can be measured in terms of our own censorship, lies, and corruption--and such moral obscenities as the hero-action movie being made with Harrison Ford: "The Battle for Falluja."
The question that has haunted me for decades surfaces again. How to live with the knowledge of the destruction we are bringing on ourselves and all life? No amount of activism, prayer, or meditation can alter that knowledge. So how do we stand open-eyed in the face of apocalyptic events, and still find joy in serving life? And, if we can do that, what transformative powers will arise in us?
Years ago a French magazine carried an article about despair and empowerment work, entitled "Travailler avec l'angoisse planetaire" (working with planetary anguish). In his introduction the editor, Gerard Blanc, calls it a rite of passage. He points out that in adolescence we internalize the reality of personal death, and primal societies formalize this stage through rituals offering access to the rights and responsibilities of adulthood. Blanc wonders if humanity, in its planetary journey, has not reached a comparable stage, since we perceive for the first time in our history the possibility of our death as a species. Facing our despair and anguish for our world is, in effect, a kind of initiatory rite, necessary to our growing up, required for our maturation as a species.
This implies, of course, that growing up--in this case, acceding to the rights and responsibilities of planetary adulthood--involves radical uncertainty. It means accepting that we do not and cannot know whether we are here to serve as deathbed attendants for our world or as midwives to a new chapter of life on Earth.
At the end of an interview this year with a British-based Permaculture magazine, I reflected on this radical uncertainty. I used the double metaphor of hospice worker and midwife, then went on to say:
The process of being with someone who's dying and the process of attending a birth have many features in common. We can only be grateful for this moment, this breath, this incredible capacity to direct our attention. With our self-reflexive consciousness, we're given that capacity. No need to get whiney and demanding about whether things are going to be just the way they always were. Well, just the way the way they always were wasn't actually that great, when you look at it.
Whatever happens, this can be a moment of unparalleled awakening. We have a sense of what it means for an individual to wake up. For the collective to awaken, we cannot even imagine what it will be like. The evolutionary pressure on us now, which can feel so ghastly, pushes us toward this awakening. Life-forms have gone through periods when it must have seemed totally hopeless. For example, when oxygen was a poison, who could have imagined that life would develop the breathing apparatus to use it?
M (the interviewer): Do you think that it is because of the nature of the human mind, with its huge creative abilities but equally destructive impulses, that we have to be taken to this brink before we can focus our energies creatively?
J (me): It sure seems that way. But I am open to the possibility that this could be the end and that we will discover our capacity to love each other at the moment of our collective death. I don't think we've been given any absolute guarantee that conscious life on Earth will continue. It might. It might not. In either case, this is a most extraordinary and beautiful moment. Because in this moment we can make a choice for loving life and taking care of each other. Right up to the end, we can make that choice, and that's glorious. So we don't need to ask, "Will it go on forever?" This moment is forever. In this moment I can honor the ancestors, honor the future beings, honor you, Maddy and Tim, and the beautiful work you are doing. And there's no end to that.
M: And that's enough for you?
J: Well, there isn't really room for much else.
Blessings to you all,
P.S. Do you know that Anita Barrows' and my second book of Rilke translations is out? Look for In Praise of Mortality: Selections from Rainer Maria Rilke's Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus. We're happy that it includes the German originals. Our first volume, Rilke's Book of Hours, will be republished later this year in a centenary edition with new material and (at last!) the German too. That first book has had a wonderful career, selling over 60,000 copies, inspiring many choral works and songs--including (ta-daa!) a Carnegie Hall concert with Renee Fleming. There will be a concert tour soon and a CD, which I'll try to note here when dates are definite.
Anita and I find the process of getting inside Rilke's poetry so deeply rewarding that we seem unable to stop. At a gentle pace we proceed with a third collection. Saturday, when we got to talking about extinction, we had just translated these two from 1905:
In the fading forest a birdcall sounds--
how strange to hear in a fading forest.
And yet that birdcall roundly rests
in this moment that it made,
as wide as the sky over the fading forest.
All things weave together in that cry:
the whole land seems to lie within it,
the great wind seems to rest within it,
and the instant, which wants to persist,
stops still, as if knowing things
arising from that cry,
that one would have to die to know.
How far from us everything is,
and how long gone.
I think the star whose light
reaches me now
has been dead for thousands of years.
I think I heard
in the boat that went by
something anxious being said.
In a house a clock
has struck the hour...
In which house?
I would like to go out from my heart
and stand under the great sky.
I would like to pray.
One of all those stars
must surely still live.
I think I used to know
which star may have kept on shining--
which one, like a white city,
rises still at the far end of its light.
Last night at Black Oak Books Anita Barrows and I had the delicious pleasure of reading from our translations of Rilke's Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus. In Praise of Mortality appeared in March in a beautiful edition from Riverhead Books. We've read from it already on the air, thanks to a local (KPFA) newscaster's love for poetry, but it was a special joy to be face-to-face with a hometown audience, sharing the depth, passion, and beauty to be found in these great works.
It has been an invigorating quarter-year since I wrote here last. Despite unrelenting bad news, the response I've found to the Work That Reconnects has been as swift and strong as ever. Participants at workshops and retreats seem readier than ever to grapple with the grimness, speak their hearts, and team up for action. The honesty is electric. It seems that the more obvious and delusional our leaders become in pursuing dreams of empire, the more I see arising in people a passion for integrity and consequence.
Deep Time work is wonderfully bracing in this regard, especially for facing climate change and end of oil. Those twin challenges have riveted my attention. In England, where I spent the month of May, one of my workshops and public talks was sponsored by COIN, the Oxford-based Climate Outreach Information Network. I read a lot in preparation, but I learned more from the folks I met, who seem far better informed than here, thanks to their less controlled and more grown-up public media. Upon my return I took part in a UN World Environment Day event in San Francisco, where Al Gore gave a stunning presentation on climate change with photos from space and animated graphs. It was shocking and, at the same time, reassuring--that the word was actually getting out.
The end of oil has been featured at my intensives for some years now, thanks to the compelling work of Richard Heinberg, author of The Party's Over and Powerdown. A professor at nearby New College in Santa Rosa, Richard has become the voice on public issues that I most respect. I felt honored to be asked to appear with him at a recent Oakland event where he reported on the ASPO (Association for the Study of Peak Oil) meeting in Lisbon he had just attended; but, having no expertise on these matters, I wondered what I could meaningfully contribute. Then I recalled Deep Time work. I evoked the seventh generation and what its storytellers, as you can see below. And before Richard spoke, I asked the left hand side of the big church hall to listen to him from the perspective an ancestor and the right side from that of a future being.
The Buddhist journal Inquiring Mind just wove the talk I gave that night, along with the one at Oxford, into a single piece for its fall issue. They abridged some of the oil and climate stuff, and brought forward the Buddhist bits, but I think you'll enjoy it, so I'm putting it in below.
For INQUIRING MIND
Submitted June 27, 2005
THE END OF OIL, CLIMATE CHANGE , AND THE GREAT TURNING
(Adapted from Joanna's talk on June 14 for the Postcarbon Institute in Oakland California, where she appeared with oil-depletion expert Richard Heinberg, author of The Party's Over and Powerdown. This piece also draws from her speech on May 9th in Oxford, England, for the Climate Outreach Information Network.)
In Buddhism, there are two mudras, or hand gestures, that I cherish. Statues and paintings of Buddhas and bodhisattvas often show them. One is the Fear Not or abhaya mudra--right hand raised at chest level, palm outward. It says, "I will not be afraid of the fear. I will not close down, I stay fully present." It's strikingly similar to the gesture of greeting associated with American Indians. "How!" they said, as I saw in the movies, and later I learned the meaning of that raised empty hand: "See, I carry no weapon, don't be afraid."
The second hand gesture I give you tonight is the Earth-touching one, the bhumisparsa mudra. Its other name is Calling the Earth to Witness, and it connects with the story of when Gautama, soon to become the Buddha, sat down under the bodhi tree. I picture him saying, in effect, "I am not going to get up until I have broken through to the secret of the suffering we cause ourselves and others. Until I wake up to that, I am not going to move." Well, this infuriated Mara, the embodiment of sin and death. Mara sent demons to frighten Gautama and dancing girls to distract him; but the Buddha-to-be didn't waver. Finally, Mara challenged him outright. "By what right and authority do you think you can solve the mystery of suffering? Just who do you think you are?"
And Gautama offered no personal credentials. No curriculum vitae. He didn't say, "I'm the son of a king. I graduated summa cum laude from the Yoga Institute or went to Harvard Business School." He said nothing at all about himself. He just touched the Earth. It was by the authority of Earth that he sought liberation from suffering.
So we can make that gesture too. We can touch the Earth. That act, even if only mental, reminds us of who we are and what we are about, as we confront the collapse of our oil-based economy and our oil-damaged climate. We are here for the sake of life. By the authority of our belonging to Earth from the beginning of space and time, we are here.
These Buddhist mudras are mirrored in the protocol which the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois Six Nations Confederacy used when opening their treaty meetings. You can make the following gestures mentally or physically.
We offer salutations and respect to all present at this meeting and to all who will be affected by it.
We brush off the chairs on which we sit--
to make a clear space for a meeting of minds.
We brush off from our clothing any debris picked up on the way--
to clear our minds of extraneous matters.
We wipe the blood from our hands--
to acknowledge and apologize for any hurt we have inflicted.
We wipe the tears from our eyes--
to acknowledge and forgive any hurt we have received.
We take the lump out of our throats--
to let go of any sadness or disappointment.
We take the tightness out of our chests--
to let go of any fear or resentment.
We acknowledge and pray for guidance
to the Great Creator Spirit of All Life.
Ho. So be it.
The Six Nations Confederacy, we are told, weighed every decision by its effects on the seventh generation. To adopt such a practice ourselves, we would need to let the future ones figure in our minds. To help me do that, I've been trying to imagine what storytellers of the seventh generation may recount about us. Maybe they'll say something like this:
"Once there was a mighty people. They possessed the greatest concentration of economic and military power the world had ever seen. And that vast power of theirs derived from ancient sunlight stored deep in the body of the living Earth. They felt entitled to that black gold--entitled to use it all, leaving none for us who came after. They felt entitled to it even when it lay under other peoples' lands. They felt it was theirs, because they had come to depend upon it in every aspect of their lives-- in food, clothing, shelter, in travel and transportation and communicating with each other. They had lost the ability to imagine any other way of life.
"A few voices warned that the black gold would run out and that its end was soon approaching. But those voices were hard to hear. More warnings came: that the burning of the black gold was disrupting the seasons and weather patterns, bringing vast climatic changes in the very metabolism of Earth. But that seemed too huge and too remote to take seriously, until...
"Until, faster than anyone had foreseen, it all began to happen. The black gold grew harder to find, costlier to pump. They called that point, when the decline began, Peak Oil. And at the same time, it was plain to see how melting arctic ice was altering the ocean currents which had steadied the climate for thousands of years. Droughts and flooding increased, giving a hint of the suffering in store from hunger and rioting and mass migrations."
This much, we know, the future storytellers can say. What will they go on to recount? What ensuing drama will they recall?
That is partly up to us, of course, because we are living it. We cannot make the realities of end of oil and climate change go away, but we can choose how we're going to respond.
It seems to me that there are two kinds of response to massive collective trauma. One is to contract--to close down in denial and fear, to tighten the heart and the fist. The other is to open up--open eyes, heart, hands, freeing the capacity to adapt and create. We know we're capable of that, because it is happening now all around our world.
A revolution is underway. You may not see it, if you don't know where to look, for in the words of Gil Scott Heron, "this revolution will not be televised." But once we become aware of this tidal change, the end of oil appears not as some hopeless, ghastly fate, but as an adventure requiring all our wisdom and passion for life.
This adventure is what many of us call the "Great Turning." It is the epochal shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining society. This is the context in which to view the end of oil and climate change. Those two major disrupters of normalcy weave through all our other environmental battles, and they are at play, as well, in our militarism and social inequality and abuses of political power. More clearly than other crises and calamities, they sound the death knell of our industrial growth society.
So those future storytellers, looking back at our time, may go on to speak of the Great Turning. I can imagine them saying, "Our ancestors back then, bless them, they had no way of knowing if the Great Turning could succeed. No way of telling if a life-sustaining culture could emerge from the death throes of the industrial growth society. It probably looked hopeless at times. Their efforts must have often seemed isolated, paltry, and darkened by confusion. Yet they went ahead, they kept on doing what they could--and, because they persisted, the Great Turning happened."
For us alive today in the midst of it all, we can learn to see the Great Turning by bringing into focus its three dimensions. They co-arise and reinforce each other. The first dimension is holding actions in defense of life; they function to slow down the destruction caused by the industrial growth society, and buy time for more fundamental changes. The second includes all the life-affirming structures emerging now, fresh social and economic experiments ranging from land trusts, ecovillages, and local currencies to alternative forms of education and healing, many of them inspired by old, indigenous ways. And the third dimension consists of a profound shift in our perception of reality. As the ecological and systems worldview takes hold, our planet appears to us, not as supply house and sewer, but as a living web of relationships. And as ancient spiritual teachings resurface, we awaken to our essential identity with this web of life and accept our sacred responsibility to honor and serve it.
This multidimensional revolution holds such promise that I can't help thinking of it as comparable to the First Turning of the Wheel, when the Buddha Dharma broke forth upon the world. Once again the reality of our radical interconnectedness with each other, and all beings through space and time, becomes clear. And now our very survival depends on our waking up to that reality.
This Great Turning alters none of the facts about end of oil and climate change. It cannot save us from the immense and painful challenges they bring upon us; but it does enable us to engage them wholeheartedly, with wisdom and courage. For, like those two mudras--Fear Not and Touch the Earth--it grounds us in our mutual belonging.
In that mutual belonging is our solidarity--with past and future generations, and with each other. There is no end to that resource. It will never run out.
On the first full moon of this year, 43 of us gathered on the southwest coast of Australia to spend a complete lunar cycle on a journey together into deep time. The event, organized by the Gaia Foundation in Perth, was called "Seeds for the Future: Deep Time, Lunar Time, Dreamtime."
Imagine stepping aside from the pressures of daily life and, amidst the wild beauty of ancient coastal forest, opening to a wider time frame from which to see the perils and promise of this historical moment. Imagine taking 30 days, together with fellow activists from three continents, and using the Work that Reconnects, arts, drama, silence and ritual--along with reports on key issues (like genetic engineering, nuclear build-up, end of oil)--to call our larger, ecological self into play, to rediscover the gifts of the ancestors, and to learn what coming generations need us to do.
You're not the same after such a journey. For me the changes seem too deep and inward to describe, though I notice an easing in my heart, a clarity in perception, and a spontaneity in teaching that feel new to me. Still it's hard to talk about what happened; so I'll borrow the words of others who were there, and better than I in reporting to their friends.
From John of Perth, co-founder of the Gaia Foundation:
"(It was) a most significant event in the history of the Work that Reconnects--an important part of the attempt to shift from the cancerous Industrial Growth Society and its hypnotic trance, to a genuine Life Sustaining Society of the future. This Great Turning is necessary not only for human survival, but also for the survival of complex life on Earth. It effectively means the transition from a civilization built upon limitless consumption, and the greed, fear, hatred and delusion associated with that, to (one) built upon radical generosity, courage, love and truth. The depth of our current difficulties means that we humans, as a species, will be required to take 'the longest stride of soul folk ever took,' as Christopher Fry showed...
"The ego-locked self-reflexive consciousness of us individuals must be recognized as a transitional, not the ultimate stage of evolution--We urgently need awareness on a planetary scale of a larger evolutionary and ecological self. The appearance of this larger Self is a necessary condition to secure the survival of human life on planet Earth."
From Emma, young activist in refugee and women's rights:
"We came together as "seeds," intent on recognizing our inherent potential, and emerged a month later as seedlings, tender yet strong, nourished by the courage, honesty, insight and compassion that overflowed within the group. We held each other through the longest, darkest hours of the human soul: we dove into the wellsprings of our grief and despair--our fears that there'll be nothing left for our children's children--and we emerged on the other side, celebrating together our strength and solidarity, and our place in the 'family of things.'
"The process led us from the microscopic lens of the present moment to the vast expanse of deep time. We traveled back in time to learn from our ancestors, we traveled forward to consider the viewpoint of future generations, and we applied ourselves to the excruciating detail of what is happening right now: the political repression, the corporate globalisation, the oil-addiction, the nuclear madness. We voyaged within in search of stillness, and we explored our greater being as a part of the living system we know as Earth. We traversed the diverse landscape of human emotion: we wept, raged, laughed, howled, loved and grieved.
"When we weren't in teachings, we were celebrating, sharing, or quietly reflecting, with a renewed awareness of the joy of being alive. We hugged, we danced, we talked late into the night. We slept under the stars and swam by the light of the moon. We had theatre groups, singing groups, discussion groups, training sessions. We had excursion days and days of silence. We had precious time with the local aboriginal custodians of the land, who welcomed us into their hearts and home and took us to the sacred mountains where their ancestral spirits abide.
"The point of all this catharting and connecting was to empower us, to give us strength and resources to work toward a life-sustaining alternative to the self-destroying 'industrial growth society.' Grounded in Buddhism and systems theory, Joanna's work provides a theoretical and extremely practical framework for this shift, which comes from within, through facing our enormous fear and despair and awakening to our fundamental interconnectedness. It is based on the understanding that activism and spirituality are inextricably intertwined.
"The retreat was an opportunity to deepen our spiritual practice, to get informed about new issues, to learn new skills. Every day there were countless possibilities for challenging yourself or stepping into a new role...
"So what did I come away with? To sum it up in one short sentence: a previously unimaginable inner strength. It gave me the most incredible range of skills, ideas, support, and motivation. It gave me 41 companions on my way, to support and be supported by. And it allowed me to face my darkest fears about the suicidal trajectory of human 'progress.' It didn't give me renewed hope for the future of our civilisation. If anything, our unflinching gaze dashed the little I had had. At the same time, though, it gave me a profoundly different appreciation of what it means to be alive, to be human, to be a part of this Earth and connected to all of its beings. It helped me to understand that the very existence and wonder of life is a cause for celebration. And most importantly of all, it allowed me to realise the simple and complete integrity of working creatively towards a life-sustaining society. This is not a goal-oriented activity. It is an end in itself."
From Jenny of Germany, peace studies graduate and organic farm worker:
"The magic circle is at the Cove in Denmark (Western Australia), where I spent one lunar cycle to explore time, communication with nature, diving into my grief and growing into my true self, healing in every moment...
"Imagine yourself in a beautiful rainforest, right at the beach, pelicans are flying above you and you see the sunrise over Honeymoon Island. You welcome this new day, knowing you will share it with 40 other humans, who care for our planet Earth...
"You share your gratitude of being alive, what makes your heart sing, with the others to prepare yourself for the information of the suffering of the world, which you are about to receive. You listen to talks and go through different exercises about nuclear waste and weapons, the end of oil, genetically modified food, child soldiers, the war on terrorism, dying species, climate change and much, much more.
"Grief flows through you, cracks your heart open and takes you into deep pain, but at the same time you feel deep relief, because no longer do you have to pretend that everything is alright. You live through the pain, feel the healing of it and come out of it ever more compassionate.
"You dive into your creativity, perform a theatre piece on nuclear waste for the future beings, paint, sing, play music and write poems.
"You explore nature and the sacred sites of the Aboriginals who have welcomed you to their country.
"You sleep under the stars and welcome a new day standing in the water naked, the sun in one hand and the moon in the other.
"At new moon you walk the labyrinth, facing your death, watching yourself coming apart, making space for new things to arise.
"You look into another human's eyes, recognizing each other, knowing that you have spent many lives together and finally found each other again...
"You awaken to the new person, your new name you've grown into: Touching the Moment."
These last words of Jenny's remind me to tell you that at the halfway point in our 30-day journey, as we moved into the Dark of the Moon, a ritual shedding of our old identities occurred. My colleague Bobbi led us in a process of writing our names and many roles onto stringed labels, which, with considerable laughter, we were then tied up in so thoroughly we could hardly move. At the last moment before we dispersed, we were cut free, and told that in the next day's silent solo in nature, we would find new names. Names with verbs. Jenny received Touching the Moment. My new name is Peeling Karri, which won't make much sense to you if you're unfamiliar with the gorgeous gleaming, silvery golden trunks of tall Karri trees as their long strips of bark peel off.
Soon after coming home I read a recent speech by one of my teachers Richard Heinberg, author of Powerdown. His words echoed and affirmed our experience at Seeds for the Future. "In essence," he said, "we must plant the seeds for what can and will survive, for a way of life as different from industrialism as the latter is from the medieval period, a way of life whose full flowering we ourselves may never see in our brief lifetimes"
"It is probably optimistic," he went on to say, "to think that (this message) will be understood by more than one or two percent of the population. However, if that seed nucleus of the total citizenry really gets it, we may have a chance. We all know what seeds are capable of."
Yours in glad solidarity,
P.S. For a gold mine of information about the Work That Reconnects in the UK and beyond, subscribe to Chris Johnstone's quarterly email newsletter, "The Great Turning Times." Write to him at
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My sabbath year has ended now. There's no longer a current address for that house of inner silence. Still I hope I can bring some of its qualities with me as I go back to work and a busy schedule. Though it is probably too early to name them adequately, my gratitude for the sabbath of 2004 asks me to honor some of its blessings.
None of them are earthshaking; I didn't get enlightened or discover a formula for triumphant tranquility in the face of apocalypse; and the same old face looks back from the mirror. But let me mention some of the simple gifts of this sabbath brought me:
- Beholding things. When I planned my sabbath year, I had more ambitious plans for the occupation of my mind. Fortunately I fell sick at the outset last January and for two months pneumonia left me too weak to do anything but lie there and look. At the sky, mainly, which is extraordinarily beautiful and luminous and constantly changing. Then at plants, leaves, faces, ants in the sink. Just to look is a rapture, endlessly nourishing. This appetite for looking endures. Nothing can quench it or equal its pleasure. You can imagine how I enjoyed this with my grandchildren, for my sabbath gave me plentiful, exquisite hours with Julien, Eliza and Lydia, looking at the world through their eyes.
- Time to think. This is rare, actually. Even as a scholar I'd been so busy preparing things to say or write for other people that I seldom indulged in this forbidden fruit: to stop in puzzlement or curiosity, to wonder where an idea might lead, to follow that thought, teasing it out, recognizing junctures of my own intuition or ignorance, and waiting to see where they led. Systems theory and deep ecology, though already staples of my work, were especially engrossing and rewarding. At moments I wept with gladness that my life had brought me into play with these unfolding structures of thought. And ever again I drew them into concourse with the concept and experience of time. The 30-day workshop in Deep Time, soon to happen now in Western Australia, served as a magnet to my mental explorations.
- Missing the group work. The Work That Reconnects, because I had withdrawn from it, revealed its importance to my own inner ecology, especially in a time of so much national and global bad news. Simply discussing the news in conventional conversation often left me feeling empty and powerless; and I realized how much nourishment I had drawn over the years from the truth-speaking and deep community ignited by the workshop practices. This new depth of appreciation for the Work That Reconnects is one of the more poignant gifts of my sabbath.
- Gratitude for the bodhisattvas of our world. Although I joined efforts to defeat Bush in the presidential election, and to garner support for Sarvodaya's work with victims of the tsunami in Sri Lanka, I took, by and large, a breather from activism. This restraint did two things for me: 1) it forced me to feel the grief of what's happening without recourse to reactivity and submerging that grief in the frenzy and self-importance of mounting some action or other. And 2) it impelled me quietly to identify with all my brothers and sisters who are taking action. To honor them, identify with them, and urgently pray for them. This allowed space for a fuller, more grateful sense of what they are doing--whether they're reporting from Baghdad like Dahr Jamail, or trying to get the votes counted in Ohio like Susan Truitt and Jesse Jackson, or, like my Sarvodayan friends in Sri Lanka, rebuilding lives decimated by the tsunami. So, strangely enough, the stillness of my sabbath year heightened my sense of connectivity with brother and sister bodhisattvas--in the living web of Indra's Net.
Having talked about the gifts of stillness, I should in all honesty mention two projects that insinuated themselves into this sabbath year. One is the completion, with my co-translator Anita Barrows, of a new volume of translations of Rilke's poetry. In Praise of Mortality: Selections from the Sonnets to Orpheus and Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria Rilke will be published in March by Riverhead Books. I cannot begin to describe the sheer goodness and joy this effort has brought me, both in the process and the product.
The other project is a study-action group on the issue of uranium weaponry, which grew out of our August intensive in the Work That Reconnects. Meeting monthly, our "pod" of some seven or eight bright souls bring hard work and high spirits to a pretty ghastly subject, convinced that knowledge about it will help turn our nation away from war. Look at the fact sheet we just created, and posted on this website under Nuclear Guardianship. I don't know whether the grim information it offers can convey the warmth and gladness that our pod finds in working together.
Fran and I leave for Australia on the 18th and will be gone until mid-March.
Yours for Earth and always,