The Gift of Belonging: A Tribute to Joanna Macy

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By Rebekah Hart


Beloved teacher, Joanna Macy, celebrated her 90
th birthday on May 2nd, 2019.  Joanna is an eco-philosopher, systems scholar, activist, translator of Rilke’s poetry, engaged Buddhist and root teacher of the Work that Reconnects.

I first discovered Joanna’s work in 2002, when I was 20 years old. At the time, I read her collection of essays, World as Lover, World as Self, and wept with a sense of recognition and relief. I had felt a tremendous sense of despair and isolation about the state of the world since I had been a young teenager. This despair had led me to environmental activism, and eventually, to Vipassana meditation.

I had the intuition that the inner work of meditation and the outer work of activism were somehow connected.

Perplexed by why people could acknowledge a problem but not feel urgency to take action, I had the intuition that the inner work of meditation and the outer work of activism were somehow connected. I wanted to bring them together in service to helping people help the world, but I wasn’t sure how. Tears came as I read Joanna’s words because it felt like she was integrating and articulating the many strands that I had desperately been trying to weave together, too, in my young life. She was talking about deep ecology, activism and Buddhism. Most importantly, she was talking about ecological despair at a time when no one else was. And Joanna had developed a practice, a form of group work, to help people honour their pain and reconnect to their power, which was exactly what I was looking for.

I enrolled immediately in a Work that Reconnects weekend with Joanna at the Rowe Center in Massachusetts. Later that year, I began facilitating workshops myself, first for students at McGill, and then eventually more widely. Over the years I have been lucky to spend over 75 days learning and collaborating with Joanna in retreats and workshops. We maintained a correspondence and she became my friend, mentor and spiritual teacher.

Perhaps the most significant gift Joanna has given to me – and to everyone touched by her work – is the transmission of the “perceptual shift” that comes alive through the Work that Reconnects. This perceptual shift is not an intellectual one – it’s a visceral response, a fundamental embodied sense of belonging with all life, and therefore one’s power to act for our world. Somehow, by joining together, normalizing and sharing our pain for the world in a collective context – including exploration through ritual – this perceptual shift comes to life. We see, as Joanna states, that “to feel pain on behalf of our world is evidence of our interconnectedness”.

…the very action of collectively going towards what we most fear – of naming our pain, anxiety, anger, or despair – becomes a homecoming.


And it’s a practice. Like any member of the Industrial Growth Society, I lose touch with this perception under the daily pressure to survive the grind of late stage capitalism. But I can feel the shift when I connect to a wild place that blows my heart open, to a person that I love, or to the teachings and practices of the Work that Reconnects. It often happens unexpectedly when I prepare for a workshop, or during workshops themselves, when suddenly the very action of collectively going towards what we most fear – of naming our pain, anxiety, anger, or despair about the social and ecological crises we face – becomes a homecoming. In moments like those, there is a feeling of warmth and of friendliness that connects me to everyone in the room, even with those who are barely more than “strangers”. My sense of time expands and shifts. My fear abates, and I feel the force of life as a great intelligence flowing through us, creating and sustaining us. Even though the future is uncertain, I feel trust. Joanna calls this a shift in our sense of self – from separate self to Ecological Self. In moments like those, we come alive to our true nature, which is to say, we are made of relationship. There is a sense of great relief. We don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’re alive and we’re courageous and we know we’re not alone. We feel renewed creativity and willingness to take action for what we love, no matter what happens.

It’s our gratitude and belonging in the web of life that can never be severed, no matter what we do.

I spoke to Joanna a few weeks ago, and she shared how important she feels it is, in these times of ecological crisis, of widespread social violence and injustice, to allow the “edge of bliss” to accompany the “edge of fear” that so many of us feel on the daily. That edge of bliss is the perceptual shift. It’s our gratitude and belonging in the web of life that can never be severed, no matter what we do. To me, that’s the true meaning of the Work that Reconnects.

Feeling deep gratitude for Joanna and her inspirational life. May she live many more healthy and joyful years, for the benefit of all beings!


Rebekah Hart is a somatic psychotherapist, marriage and family therapist, creative arts therapist, and longtime facilitator of the Work that Reconnects. She has studied extensively with Joanna Macy since 2002, and continues to collaborate with her. Rebekah takes a systemic and trauma informed approach to her work as a facilitator and therapist, weaving together a diverse background in dance, poetry, activism and mindfulness meditation. She has been offering workshops and mentorship in the Work that Reconnects for over 16 years. For more information on Rebekah and her work, see www.rebekahhart.ca

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