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May 13, 2008

Dear People,

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.

With lights lowered, images of suffering and breakdown in our world were projected on a large screen, while a wordless, choral lament (from the same "My Heart is Moved" CD by Carolyn McDade) played over and over. On the hall's large, central floor space were set three glass bowls half-filled with water. The ritual consisted of people slowly, randomly, coming down from their seats around the hall to kneel by a bowl, and let its water trickle from their hands and their tears for the world be spoken ("My tears are for…"). As their forms moved about in the semi-darkness, resting here and there on the floor, or returning to their seats, we all seemed to be held by the music, the murmuring around the bowls, the splash of water. Then, when movement had stilled, we slowly processed out of the hall, carrying the Bowls of Tears. Into a garden pond outside the entrance we formally poured them out, reminding ourselves that the pain we feel for the world is no private pathology; it connects us with Earth and each other. "Let us remember: our tears for the world are the tears of Gaia."

The depth and beauty I experienced in the conference as a whole is conveyed in an interview with Rob Hopkins, which is on his web site (www.transitionculture.org/2008/04/21/). It starts: Rob: "What has been special for you about this conference?" Joanna: "You. And the people who are here. The beauty of Universal Hall. The coloured lights in the ceiling. The earnestness and the intention of the people stir me greatly. The willingness, the sense of unpanicked urgency. The deep goodwill. The dancing. The humour. That these folks are all doing it for the love of it without seeing the results of their own actions. That they are freed from continually computing our chances of success."

Let me signal Rob Hopkins' engaging new book, which you can order from his web site. Its title: the Transition Handbook: from oil dependency to local resilience. Sharing stories and lessons from his work in Ireland and Devon , he shows how the oil crisis can lead to the rebirth of local communities, which will grow more of their own food, generate their own power, and build their own houses with local materials.

The events I took part in after Findhorn--in southern England and the American northwest--brought me together with folks who are themselves facilitators and guides of the Work That Reconnects. Since the group work has been a "give away" from the start, without institutional support, control, or even coordination, it's heartening to get a glimpse of how it is spreading. Also I learned how helpful the DVD (Joanna Macy: The Work That Reconnects) has been for people in building confidence and providing tools.

An April "consultation" weekend near Bristol gathered thirty such facilitators, including veterans like Pat Fleming and Alex Wildwood, who first joined me back in 1983 when we called it "despair and empowerment work," and educator Jane Reed, who joined us in 1987 when we called it "deep ecology work," and then founded the Institute for Deep Ecology Education. Thanks to such a history and to Chris Johnstone's Great Turning Times e-newsletter, not to mention keen participation of folks in the Network of Engaged Buddhists and Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, Great Britain is a hot bed of workshops and trainings--and thirty more facilitators and would-be facilitators would have come if there had been room.

In Seattle as well, two weeks ago, I got a grateful sense of how the work is spreading. And I do mean grateful, because, when my chest cold kicked up and I couldn't complete the weekend workshop, seasoned colleagues took over for me. Randy Morris and Lois Canright, along with organizer Vic Bremson, led the 70 participants through "deep time" and "going forth" practices as well as a good round of networking. Randy, professor at Antioch University Seattle, draws on myth, culture, nature and Jungian psychology to teach a fantastic course called "Foundations for the Great Turning," (I hope to post the syllabus soon on my Great Turning page). He and Lois are members of Great Turning Northwest, a facilitators self-training group including Margo Adair, Bill Aal, Hillery Crocker, Dana Illo and others who've worked with me and even stood in for me over the years.

The Seattle weekend was organized by For the Grandchildren (www.forthegrandchildren.org), a network animated by its "commitment to unleash the power and joy of generational responsibility." The kick-off event Friday night featured David Korten and me in dialogue. Dave's work has been so important to my own perceptions and understanding over the years, I felt both honored and humbled to appear with him. Our dialogue can be heard on-line at http://ourmedia.org/node/399129. His website www.davidkorten.org contains some powerful delineations of the Great Turning, which he sees as an "epic passage" and "defining moment" in our journey on Earth.

After staying on in the Seattle area for some restful days and lively evenings, including a public dialogue with Bill Plotkin on Whidbey Island and sharing Dharmic views of the Great Turning at the Puget Sound Zen Center on Vashon Island, we flew to Boise , Idaho . I say "we" because my wonderful assistant Anne Symens-Bucher accompanied me as keeper and general wizard.

In Boise my 79th birthday was celebrated at numerous occasions, including public lecture, interfaith breakfast at mosque, amethyst bio-mat healing session in a magical store, Thai dinner, and a large, very vibrant weekend workshop. I attribute the vibrancy of the workshop, as well as its high numbers and depth of engagement, to familiarity with the work. A major role was played by Dan Walters, who, after a number of trainings with me in other places, was determined to ground the Work That Reconnects in his own city. So he enlisted a dozen or so colleagues from Earth Institute circles and Business Alliance for Local Living Economy, who joined him for a series of ten meetings using the DVD; then this group in turn spawned two others.

The work is spreading on-line as well. In addition to the internet goodies noted above, let me tell you about an engaging, illustrated course based on my book Coming Back to Life. Created by Stuart Carduner for a Buddhist-oriented web site, it uses arresting visuals as well as clips from my DVD to illustrate the book's key teachings. The course is called Reconnecting to Life and you'll enjoy taking a look at it on www.ashokaedu.net/coursesM/34/1.html, and telling friends who may not be into books (or even those who are).

Flash to all Elm-Dancers and Nuclear Activists! New reports on the situation in Novozybkov (due East of Chernobyl) come in from biologist Ludmila Zhirina, who has been distributing radiation monitors on our behalf through her organization Viola. Since 2003 teachers, families, and farmers have received these hand-held Geiger counters, as well as training in their use. They have learned to check food stuffs and gardens for radioactivity, and to measure changing patterns of contamination in school yards and farm fields. They appreciate having these tools that help them feel more in charge of their lives. With our help (including contributions often collected when we do the Elm Dance), Ludmila and her team have written, printed and distributed a first-of-its-kind Russian-language book on "Living With Radiation."

Now Ludmila reports a recent discovery made public by medical researchers. In the western part of the Bryansk region, in and around Novozybkov, studies of soil and water reveal an abnormal and serious lack of iodine, fluoride, and selenium. These elements normally protect tissues from radiation; their absence makes people yet more susceptible to thyroid and bone cancers, mental disabilities, and early mortality.

To Ludmila and her Viola team these findings help explain the morbidity they continue to see in and around Novozybkov. In response they are undertaking bold, new plans for 2008. The have decided to establish an educational center on ecological medicine in Novozybkov. Here programs and teaching materials will alert the population to the problems caused by lack of iodine, fluoride and selenium, and undertake remedial projects. These include seminars with medical doctors, exhibits of iodine-treated staples (salt, bread, milk, water, a porridge) as well as products naturally high in iodine (seafood, kelp, certain plants), and a wide array of posters and maps showing sources of these depleted elements. To extend the center's outreach, a mobile van will carry these exhibits into neighborhoods. Last month on April 26th, anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, the Viola team inaugurated this program by organizing an Ecological Day of Health for the people of Novozybkov.

I'm building a new web page for Viola's work in and around Novozybkov, click on Nuclear Project in the side column. Take a look at the photos of their trip to Chernobyl last autumn. I hope you'll be moved to accept our invitation to support them, and send a cash contribution payable to Living Earth.

With gratitude for your life in this time of Great Turning,

Joanna