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Year's End 2007

Dear People,

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.

Joanna