Letter from Joanna Macy

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Dear Friends and Colleagues in the Work,

In this time of Trump and other far-right leaders ‘round the world, I am more grateful than ever for the work that connects us.  The simple, strongly grounded practices help us stay honest with ourselves and each other.  The Spiral brings us home ever again, through grief and grit, to the promise of our common humanity and our mutual belonging in our living Earth.

I am moved by the growing evidence of a global community forming as the Work That Reconnects (WTR)  is adopted, adapted, and nourished in other countries and cultures, sometimes despite intimidation from government and extremist groups.  And I am moved by initiatives here in the U.S. to make the WTR more inclusive, accessible, and relevant across boundaries of age, class, color, gender and politics, and regardless of citizenship or immigration status.

In September 2016, on the morning I headed out for scheduled events in New England and New York, I was anxiously trying to remember all I needed to pack, from pills to pamphlets.   I decided then and there, at age 87, to no longer combine teaching with long distance travel.  I have held to that decision except for two events in 2017: a week in New Mexico on Trump’s Presidency and another at the Joanna Macy Center at Naropa in Colorado focused on nuclear guardianship at Rocky Flats. The choice I made means teaching more on-line, radio, and podcasts, and limiting in-person engagements to the SF Bay area.  If you have questions about that, please contact me directly.

Last September in the middle of a six-day seminar on “Systems Thinking and the WTR,” I was rushed to the hospital; the pain that sent me there required surgery on an intestinal blockage.  All went well.  The seminar, co-led by Molly Brown and Victor Lewis, proceeded swimmingly (watch for the videos!).  And I healed up well, despite a post-surgical infection that took me back to the hospital. 

Home at last, I found Mark Jensen, an osteopathic healer from Santa Fe, setting up his table.  On that table, Mark’s energy work did magic for me as well as for my daughter Peggy and several lucky friends over the next few days.  Before he flew back to New Mexico, Mark, whose involvement with the WTR builds on years of Deep Ecology work with John Seed, suggested  that I take the coming month of October in retreat.  So I did that.

I continue to feel the blessings of that October home retreat. How sweet to simply stop, be still. In my light-swept upstairs flat, filled with memories of Fran and family adventures, I opened to the silence at the heart of things. For meditation, reflection and reading, I chose to go back to the breakthroughs I experienced in the first years of our group work, which, in the early 1980’s, we called Despair and Empowerment. I remember how amazed and moved I was back then, by the shift in perception, even in self-identity, that quite a few people experienced after fully opening to their pain for the world. Their self-interest expanded to become identified with that of Earth.  The understandings of Deep Ecology helped explain that shift, and so by the mid-1980’s, after creating the Council of All Beings in Australia with John Seed, our work took on the name: Deep Ecology Work.

We cannot stop or slow down the unraveling of living systems without a vitalizing and guiding sense of identity with the living Earth.

In the course of last fall’s retreat, I was seized more than ever by the conviction that, given the market forces driving the acceleration of extractive industries, we cannot stop or slow down the unraveling of living systems without a vitalizing and guiding sense of identity with the living Earth.  We cannot do this by ourselves, only with her.  This renewed conviction will characterize my work the remaining years of my life.

Personally for me, the best news of all is that Anne Symens-Bucher and I are working together once more.  In spite of the 11-1/2 years of close and fruitful collaboration, pressures and misunderstandings pushed us apart in the middle of 2017 and brought great suffering to each of us and confusion to the WTR Network.  The promise I feel in the work ahead of me feels more real now.

In Trump’s first year in office, with its mean and dangerous policy changes, I have witnessed not only divisiveness and rage aflame across the country, but also the ready, no-fuss leadership of those countless ones building networks of resistance, care, and mutual protection–including the Work That Reconnects Network.  I have witnessed how you have been taking responsibility for the Work and stepping forward to share it with others.  You are showing that panic and paralysis are not the only responses to violence and fear, and that relationships come to life as we speak our hearts and listen.

I love thinking about those of you I happen to know and keep up with, including Hide, Shan, Zilong, and others seeding the work in China, while Noriko, Tamio, Yuka, Ken, and so many others grow it further in Japan; Kirsten and William, Solomon, Markie counseling  youth cohorts, along with Aravinda, Joseph, Coleen, and the Interhelp faithful; Ludmila and her teams, keeping hope alive despite Chernobyl’s new fires; Kit, Cindy and Jack with Freida of the Onondaga;  Anand and Gayatri growing their Deep Ecology ashram in Thiruvannamalai, India; John, Bobbi, Claire, Jo, and all the Aussies you have inspired; Molly, Constance, and Mutima fostering facilitators world-wide; Anne and Terry with the irrepressible Canticle Farmers in the heart of East Oakland; Karina with the Amazon inside her; Hanna, Gill, Jane and Chris in northern Scotland, weaving the Work into Findhorn’s fare; Liz and Aryeh spreading the WTR in sub-Saharan Africa; Chris, Sarah, Gretchen, Barbara, Jen, and Lydia Violet turning the Work into music and medicine; Peter with his Great Turning story-tellers in the UK; Werner faithfully designing and tending the WTR website; Gunter and Barbara, Xeto, Marliese, Gabi, Norbert, Geseko creating in Germany ever new applications of the Work; Clou and the Roseaux Dansants; Kaye and Adam at the northern gate; Victor bodhisattva;  Mordechai and Lynne offering workshops wherever they go; Adrián bringing the first-ever Intensive in Mexico;  Helena from Belgium helping Felipe in Colombia run WTR workshops drawing farmers together with  indigenous and Afrocolombian communities; Seelie and the Kathleens, Michelle, Christopher, Eileen, and other Nuclear Guardians;  Dahr and Anita, helping us face the horror through their writing– and far too many others to name. 

This is how an open system bears fruit.

Can you imagine the feelings of gratitude and wonder that well up in me as I see the initiatives you are taking, the vulnerability you accept, the steadiness of presence you bring?  This is how an open system bears fruit.

To close, let me share this poem that has been singing in my head ever since my October retreat filled me with grateful wonder about the Great Reciprocity at the heart of the universe.  It is the very first poem in Rilke’s Book of Hours, translated by Anita Barrows and me. 

The hour is striking so close above me,
so clear and sharp,
that all my senses ring with it.
I feel it now: there’s a power in me
to grasp and give shape to my world.
I know that nothing has ever been real
without my beholding it.
All becoming has needed me.
My looking ripens things
and they come toward me, to meet and be met.

Bless you for the part you play in the healing of our world. 


(Joanna’s report and suggestions regarding anti-oppression work within the Work That Reconnects appears in Evolving Edge in this issue.)

Joanna Macy, is a scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory, and deep ecology. A respected voice in the movements for peace, justice, and ecology, she interweaves her scholarship with five decades of activism. As the root teacher of the Work That Reconnects, she has created a groundbreaking theoretical framework for personal and social change, as well as a powerful workshop methodology for its application. Her wide-ranging work addresses psychological and spiritual issues of the nuclear age, the cultivation of ecological awareness, and the fruitful resonance between Buddhist thought and contemporary science, explored through her books, audio-visual resources, and teachings on the Great Turning. 


5 thoughts on “Letter from Joanna Macy

  1. ‘We cannot stop or slow down the unraveling of living systems without a vitalizing and guiding sense of identity with the living Earth.’ Oh yes, this is so true, and my conviction and work as well, to the end of my time here. Thank you so much for the Great Reciprocity!

  2. Hello Joanna,
    I was given your name by Lynda Koolish as one who had known the “Poet-Warrior”, Elsa Gidlow, perhaps visiting her at her retreat, the soon-to-be National Historic Site, Druid Heights. My work over the past year has been in conjunction with the National Park Service and the GLBT Museum and Archive in San Francisco. and seeks to further the argument the Elsa is a figure of national historic importance. To that end , I hope you might allow me some time when we might chat. A peek at my recent efforts can be had on the Facebook page called “Save Druid Heights”. I am Michael Moran, 1 310 213 2412.

  3. Pingback: Earth Day Sunday and Climate Justice Month - uupetaluma

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