Check-in from Joanna Macy

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Curtains Closing

Last fall, shortly after reading the most recent IPCC report, I was on retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, engaged in walking meditation.  At one point my mind was stuck on an old memory–some minor embarrassment, and no mindful “noting” loosened its grip. “Wait a minute,” I thought, “I should know how to handle this.” At that very moment, a strong voice came to me and thundered, “Just fall in love with what is!”  As I heard these words, I saw two curtains closing:

Just fall in love with what is!

One was the IPCC report with its urgent orders to shrink our greenhouse gas emissions. The other was the election of Bolsonaro in Brazil, with his promised razing of the Amazon rainforest, dooming all hopes of carbon reduction.  I stood immobilized, as if turned to stone, my whole body deadened by the eclipse of a livable future. And yet the message came, “Just fall in love with what is”–a clear call for acceptance.

What Happened to the Great Turning?

In the 1990s a name emerged for the purposeful and Earth-based solidarity we were experiencing and for the promise it carried–the Great Turning. The term soon came to signify the transition underway to a life-sustaining society–a transition as real and as pervasive as the Great Unraveling brought by the industrial growth society. While the Great Turning takes form in specific actions and achievements, it essentially lives within us as vision and commitment. In that sense it reminds me of the Buddhist notion of bodhicitta, devotion to the welfare of all, often portrayed as a flame in the heart. 

Breakdown now appears inevitable

I think many of us assumed that we could achieve a life-sustaining society without the collapse of our current global economy. But given the depth and breadth of destruction being wrought by state and transnational corporations, breakdown now appears inevitable. It is also to some degree necessary for the emergence of a life-sustaining society, and that for two reasons: 1) we are still in the grip of the industrial growth society; and 2) so long as its corporations automatically privilege profit, and continue to hold the overarching political power they have today, our capacity to lay the foundations of a life-sustaining society is very limited. So the Great Turning will be more important to us than ever, not only as a light at the end of the tunnel, but also as lens and compass to discern our way. In addition, the Great Turning brings skills and tools for nourishing our spirit, our ingenuity, and determination. 

While We Still Can Meet

We can start right away while we still can easily communicate and work together. What we do now in our neighborhood as well as in wider “rough weather networks” strengthens our capacities, which will be ever more valuable as the consumer society falters and fails. Everything we learn from the self-organizing and adaptive nature of Gaia will serve to guide and steady us. To help us grasp the beauty and relevance of Gaian laws, it is our great good fortune that we are beginning to listen to indigenous voices as they share, despite genocide and betrayal, their millennia-old Earth wisdom traditions.   

Rediscovering Our Belonging

We belong to the living body of Earth and nothing can ever separate us. 

Being fully present to fear, to gratitude, to all that is, we rediscover that we belong.  We can develop a practice of mutual belonging and find ways to remember, celebrate, and affirm this deep knowing of our inter-existence.  We belong to each other. We belong to the living body of Earth and nothing can ever separate us. We are already home.  The practice of mutual belonging is the medicine for the sickness of the self-isolated ego, and will accompany us through the hard times upon us.

The field of belonging is rooted in the living body of Earth, in the flows of time and relationship that form our bodies and communities, our land and climate.  Let us bring these flows into our awareness so they inform each choice we make, all of us bodhisattvas in the Jeweled Net of Indra.*

© by Carolyn Treadway

*”Indra’s Net is a beautiful vision of the universe that arose out of Mahayana Buddhism. The imagery is of a huge net where at every node is a jewel, and each jewel reflects the other jewels and catches the reflections back and forth. The other jewels represent other beings in a kind of tapestry of the universe.”  (Joanna Macy in Yoga International interview.) 


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. 

6 thoughts on “Check-in from Joanna Macy

  1. What Bear said to Salmon :

    “I’ll borrow

    Your molecules for

    A time,

    Then you will

    Borrow mine.”

    © Salskov Iversen 2011

  2. 08 January –

    I had an odd visitation, similar to Joanna Macy :

    I’d wrapped in anguish about wildfire in Australia, the Giant Paddlefish of China (now extinct), the war addiction of the neoliberals, and on and on . . . to insanity.

    I heard a loud voice that said

    “. . . the best is yet to happen !”

    That is all . . .


  3. Thank you, Joanna.
    With the global pandemic, I am reminded of a scene in the Disney version of “The Sword in the Stone” when Merlyn and Mim are in a fierce battle. They change form back and forth each trying to gain the upper hand. Finally, Mim turns herself into a fire-breathing dragon while Merlyn is a mouse. It doesn’t look good for Merlyn when he is held in Mim’s dragon fist. But then he seems to disappear. He isn’t gone, he’s just gotten very small. He turned himself into a “germ” that makes Mim, the dragon sick. Merlyn the virus is the victor.
    Our whole adult lives we have wondered what could stop Business-as-usual so that people could wake up and make new choices. Apparently, it is a pandemic-causing virus. Acceptance of that is hard, but would anything else be easy? Didn’t we always know that there are risks involved.
    Up until now, we have been busy dreaming and planning. Now we must stay alert for opportunities to demonstrate and orchestrate that beautiful shift to the Life-Sustaining Society that we know is possible.
    Keep living through your beautiful and powerful hearts. “let it all happen, the beauty and the terror…just keep going.”

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