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May 2, 2013 Happy Birthday to Me!


Dear People,

Last May as I entered my 84th year, I felt glad about that number: it seemed so rich, roundy and potent. Now that the year’s complete, I look back and see how rich and round it actually turned out to be. I wish I could make a tapestry, like an Indra’s Net, of the faces in the intensives and workshops and courses - faces young and old made beautiful by truth-speaking, luminous with tears and laughter. The encounters are beyond my powers of description, but I can convey some of the themes and thoughts, starting with this lovely birthday video I received from children in Bryansk and Novozybkov in Russia. These beautiful children are all working with the Viola organization to keep on recovering from the radiation from Chernobyl (link coming soon).


Marvel of mind: the power to choose

We can choose where we put our minds. Our minds won’t staeny there, of course, because minds like to run around. But then we just choose again and return the mind to where we want it… till it wanders again and we bring it back again. (Do you suppose choice-training is the point of meditation?)

Years back when I was rooting around in systems theory and the Buddha’s teaching of karma, I saw that both these perspectives reveal choice-making as the genesis and essential nature of the self. If you want to find out what and who you are that’s where to look. In the course of our evolutionary journey that capacity to choose, to pick the path you intend to take, arose with the emergence of self-reflexive consciousness. Indeed, that’s what self-reflexive consciousness is. (If this interests you look at chapter 4 in World as Lover, World as Self, and chap 9 in Mutual Causality).

Now, forty years later, with everything growing more perilous, I experience a whole new dimension of gratitude for this power. Just as Chris Johnstone and I start our book, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy, so I often begin talks and workshops with the three stories or realities shaping our world today. Which do you choose to put in the foreground: Business As Usual in the industrial growth society? Or The Great Unraveling, as ecosystems and cultures fall apart? Or the Great turning to a life-sustaining society? Each story is true and happening right now. The question for each of us is which do we choose to identify with and devote ourselves to.

Red Tail Hawk

The other day in our People of Color group in the WTR, Rose Elizondo gave me a feather. It is weightless and lovely with bands of silvery beige and brown. It is from the red-tail hawk, and Rose explained that it represents the power of choice.

The Great Turning, the largest social movement in history, is created by millions of individuals making their own individual choice to act for the sake of life on Earth.

In Tibetan Buddhism the first Preliminary Reflection, as taught to me by yogi Antrim of Tashi Jong one vivid summer 23 years ago, is to contemplate how rare and precious is a human birth. The preciousness has nothing to do with superiority or worth, but rather with the belief that, of all the realms of existence, from animals and hungry ghosts to devas and jealous gods, only life as a human allows you to choose the uses of your mind. It lets you “change the karma.”

A water-stained notebook from that summer in Tashi Jong holds my attempt to take in the immensity of the gift. “So may life-times and forms it has taken to knit the circuitries for self-reflexive consciousness. So much endurance under the heavy hand of fate and the blind play of instinct, to gain at last the ability to consider and judge and decide. So many mute yearnings to act and speak for the larger whole, until this present dawning, when you enter the dance of your own volition.”

The Flame in the Heart

In the Buddha Dharma, as many of you know, there’s a word for the motivation to act for the sake of all beings. It is bodhichitta. It is the intention generated by the bodhisattva, who is the one who knows we are not separate from each other, but are held, as Martin Luther King put it, in “an inescapable network of mutuality.” So bodhisattva also knows that there is no private salvation.

I love it that in Active Hope, my co-author Chris, who is not on the Buddhist path, wanted to retain those two Buddhist-Sanskrit terms: bodhisattva and bodhichitta. There is no English equivalent yet for either one.

I was told by Tibetan teachers that bodhichitta is like a flame in the heart, and that I should prize it and at all costs protect it from flickering out. I’ve come to see two amazing things about this flame in the heart. First is the realization that, no matter how uncertain the situation appears, your bodhichitta is the one thing you can count on. And, the second thing about bodhichitta is that it frees you up from constantly trying to judge your effectiveness or compute your chances of success.

Perhaps I so love the deep time and deep ecology practices we do in the Work That Reconnects because they give us an experience of bodhichitta. To step aside from our usual identity and speak for another life form, or for a person of the future, immediately opens up the horizons of our self-interest. Care for the welfare of even distant others then feels natural, strong, and so obvious it’s easy. So. when by our moral imagination we make future generations present to our minds, they teach us bodhichitta, strengthening us to act for the ongoingness of life on Earth.

Canticle Farm

A beautiful development in my life this last year has been my deepening relationship with Canticle Farm, an urban community initiated by my personal assistant Anne and her husband Terry Symens-Bucher, both secular Franciscans . The community is located in the Fruitvale district of East Oakland, where the Great Unraveling is especially apparent in the lives of the marginalized and the poor. Currently comprised of 9 residents living in 5 houses on one contiguous body of land, Canticle Farm's Franciscan mission embodies all three aspects of the Great Turning. Residents are facilitating the Work That Reconnects as well as integrating it into community processes. They are committed to integral nonviolence, spiritual disciplines, service in their neighborhood and beyond, and experimenting with gift economy. Their practices include receptive silence, radical liturgy, rights of passage, shadow work, and soul-centered emotional, psycho-spiritual development. They have a large garden in which they grow some of their food, and hold an intention to source the rest locally. Once a week they glean fruit and receive donations of organic produce from the farmers' market, and give it all away in the neighborhood as what is named "fruta gift."

I have recently had the privilege of teaching at Canticle Farm in a ground-breaking application of the WTR for people of color who are themselves intending to facilitate the work. This dance has brought me new insights into the work, as well as touched my heart in profound ways. I also loved facilitating a weekend workshop at Canticle Farm last month, the first of what will be many opportunities to work with me in that setting. I loved being so close to home, yet in encompassed in nature (oh the blooming wisteria!) in the middle of an urban area, in a community embodying the Great Turning.

On this birthday of mine, if you would like to give me a present, I invite you to support Canticle Farm at this crucial moment of its evolution. Their goals are ambitious, as they intend to purchase two of the houses they currently rent, for which they will need $600,000. Meanwhile, their monthly rent is over $3000. Please visit their website to donate:, or mail a check made payable to Canticle Farm, 1968 36th Ave. Oakland, CA 94601. [Canticle Farm is awaiting its 501c3 status; all donations made now will be retroactively tax exempt once they receive this status].

Such love does

the sky now pour,

that whenever I stand in a field,

I have to wring out the light

When I get


- St. Francis of Assisi


In a few hours the party begins, friends and family will be gathering to celebrate with me this precious life—and where? You guessed it: Canticle Farm. Love ever, Joanna


P.S. And here's a special treat created by Peggy Macy to be shown at Joanna's 84th birthday party!