In June 2022, Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone released a 10th anniversary revised edition of their well-loved book, Active Hope. This new edition features many updates from the first edition, including a new subtitle: How to Face the Mess We’re in with Unexpected Resilience and Power.
Isn’t “unexpected” a wonderful word? It brings to mind the concept of “emergent properties,” from systems science. Something new and unexpected arises as the components of a system interact. Co-authors Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone offer a straightforward brew of concepts, exercises and imagery to stir the pot of our psyches, so we can face the mess we are indeed in, and rediscover our resilience and creativity. Active Hope is a recommended guide for book groups, circles of practice, as well as individual study.
A beautiful visual (page 42), offers a simple and inspiring example of a journey through the spiral using “open sentences” or “sentence starters.” This can be experienced in pairs, as a group, and could be a great entry point for those new to the work.
You can find the introduction and first two chapters, including this practice, here.
The main thing that’s different from the first edition published a decade ago is the context the book address – our world conditions have become significantly more scary and depressing. The book has been updated and improved, drawing in new insights and practices that help us play our part in responding to this. The paragraphs below, from the introduction, describe the task the book sets out to serve.
So this is where we begin: by acknowledging that our times confront us with realities that are painful to face, difficult to take in, and confusing to live with. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself feeling anxious, defeated, or in despair.
There’s something else we’d like to bring in alongside this difficult starting point. It is a recognition that when we’re at our most exasperated, we can sometimes surprise ourselves. We might discover strengths we never knew we had or experience degrees of aliveness we’d not even suspected were available to us. This is a time to reach out and find new allies, as well as to discard forms of thinking and behavior that have led us astray. In a process known as adversity activated development, our very act of facing the mess we’re in can help us discover a more enlivening sense of what our lives are about, what we’re here to do, and what we’re truly capable of.
Do you hope this will happen for you? Or that you might play a role in helping this happen for others? If so, we invite you to join us in our journey. Together we will explore how we can access unexpected resilience and creative power, not just to face the mess we’re in, but also to play our part in doing something about it.
The authors describe some of the key changes in the book that build on this starting point:
- The dedication at the start of the book – previously this was ‘This book is dedicated to the flourishing of life on this rare and precious earth’. We’ve now added ‘and to the role each of us can play in responding to our planetary emergency’.
- In the first edition, the collapse of our civilisation was viewed as a risk for the future that might be preventable if we acted in time. With such significant worsening of planetary conditions over the last decade, the new edition begins with a recognition that a collapse process is already underway.
- A central theme the book explores is how we can engage in a collective transition referred to as ‘the Great Turning’. The new edition brings a shift in emphasis in the way we think about the Great Turning, from outcome to process and from ‘will it happen?’ to ‘What helps this happen?”. Looking at how this larger story can happen through us in any moment brings a focus on three types of turning – turning up with an intention to play our part, turning away from that which causes harm and turning towards a way of doing and thinking and being that supports the flourishing of life.
- The first chapter describes the mismatch between the scale of the problems we face and that of our collective response, looking at factors that block engaged responses, and also those that promote enlivened ones.
- Decolonization is identified as a key element in the shift in consciousness integral to the Great Turning
- The second chapter brings a new practice that offers a way for two people to go round the spiral of the Work That Reconnects in a half hour conversation.
- In Chapter Five, we’ve added a new section on applying inspiration from the Shambhala Warrior Prophecy in our lives.
- Addressing the toxic polarisation tearing apart communities, we look at what helps us stand together rather than turn against each other.
- In Chapter Ten, we address the need to recalibrate our hopes, so that we can let go of those no longer supportable, or that lead us in the wrong direction. Drawing on insights from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, we look at how to both be grounded in reality while also maintaining a sense of visionary possibility.
- In Chapter Twelve, a new section draws on health psychology research in looking at how to nourish and strengthen our motivation to act for positive change.
- The last chapter draws threads of the book together in building towards a climax that identifies resilience as a powerful and creative force of nature that can happen through us in unexpected ways. It identifies three ways we can open to active hope, with a framework of three Acts of Opening.
- The resources section at the end of the book has been updated, with links to a free video-based online course in Active Hope at https://www.activehope.training, and other resources that can support the activation of hope in and through our lives.
Most of all, the book invites people to engage in a strengthening and transformative journey designed to nourish and build our capacity and commitment to play our part in the Great Turning. Each chapter has been revised to better support this journey from the context we face now.
For more information, please see https://www.activehope.info.