Three Dimensions of the Great Turning – Examples

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In the Work That Reconnects we uplift and celebrate the story of the Great Turning, the essential shift to a way of living and political economy that serves and sustains life.

The work of the Great Turning, which is vast and complex, clusters naturally into three areas, or dimensions. Perhaps you can locate your own efforts in one or more of these dimensions? Reflecting on the dimensions may also illuminate where you are called to serve.

The Dimensions of the Great Turning are:
  • Holding Actions in Defense of Life
  • Transforming the Foundations of our Common Life (Gaian Structures)
  • Shift in Perception and Values

The efforts of all three areas synergize and often overlap. Which is more important? To stop the harm, to build what we need more of, or to change awareness? Action in each dimension is necessary and welcome. People working behind the scenes in any of these dimensions are just as important as those who are recognized for their efforts.

The Wheel of the Great Turning exercise is a spontaneous and creative way to explore the ways you may already be participating in Great Turning.

Let’s explore these dimensions one by one:

Holding Actions in Defense of Life

Holding Actions aim to hold back and slow down the damage being caused by the political economy of the Industrial Growth Society. We work to protect what is left of our natural life support systems, rescuing what we can of biodiversity, clean air and water, forests and topsoil.

Holding actions also counter the unraveling of our social fabric. We care for those who have been damaged and safeguard communities against exploitation, war, starvation and injustice. We defend our shared existence and the integrity of life on our planet.

This Dimension of the Great Turning includes the political, legislative, and legal work required to reduce the destruction. Direct actions, such blockades, boycotts, civil disobedience, and other forms of refusal, are also holding actions.

Some examples of Holding Actions:

  • Documenting and teaching about the ecological and health effects of the Industrial Growth Society
  • Blowing the whistle on illegal and unethical corporate practices
  • Circulating petitions, writing letters to the editor and to officials, writing articles, blogs and books, lobbying legislators
  • Giving talks, showing films, tabling in public places, organizing study/actions groups
  • Vigils, marches and other demonstrations of protest
  • Bringing legal actions against corporations and government agencies
  • Divestment campaigns
  • Boycotting and picketing institutions and businesses to protest unfair and dangerous practices
  • Maintaining a long-term protest camp such as climate camps
  • Blockading constructions of ecologically destructive and military installations
  • Direct action or civil disobedience; for example actions at sites of ecological and community harm, such as to railway routes transporting crude oil next to school playgrounds
  • Providing sanctuary to people in danger of unfair arrest
  • Fasting and hunger strikes
  • Providing shelter, food, clinics and legal assistance for people especially victimized by the Industrial Growth Society

Work of this kind buys time. It helps some communities, cultures and ecosystems to survive. But Holding Actions alone are insufficient for the Great Turning. Along with limiting the damage, we need to replace or transform destructive systems and structures.

Transforming the Foundations of our Common Life (Gaian Structures)

In this Dimension of the Great Turning, we develop and implement life-sustaining systems and practices. But first, we must come to understand the complex dynamics of the Industrial Growth Society (sometimes referred to Late Capitalism). What are the tacit agreements that create obscene wealth for a few, while progressively impoverishing the rest of humanity? What interlocking causes enslave us to an insatiable economy that uses our Earth as supply house and sewer?

As we demystify the workings of the global economy, we develop powerful narratives about accountability and restorative justice. For all the apparent might of the Industrial Growth Society, its fragility is being exposed – how dependent it is on obedience, and how doomed it is to devour itself.

The development of alternative structures also draws on wisdom retained and cultivated by people of ancient and traditional cultures. Wise application of technological innovation is also a priority.

Like green shoots pushing up through the rubble, new social and economic arrangements are sprouting. We band together and take action in our own communities. Some of these efforts may be criticized as insignificant, but they hold the seeds of resilience and generativity for the future.

Some of the initiatives in this dimension:

  • Study circles and symposia to explore and understand the workings of the global economy
  • Permaculture and other ecologically sound farming practices
  • Communities grounded in interconnections across culture, race, and abilities
  • Models of community living such as multi-generational households, eco-villages, and collective home shares
  • Retrieval and creation of laws to protect the commons from privatization and industrial harm, formulating and claiming Community Rights, the Rights of Nature, the Rights of Future Generations
  • Cultural recognition and legal definition of the rights of LGBTQ persons
  • People’s Tribunals and Truth & Reconciliation Commissions
  • Restorative Justice and conflict resolution to replace litigation and punishment
  • Holistic measures of wealth and prosperity, e.g. the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI). Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW), Socila Progress Indicator (SPI), Gross National Happiness (GNH) to replace the dangerously misleading index called the Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
  • Renewable, localized, non-polluting energy generation such as wind, solar and tidal technologies
  • Municipal composting, recycling and zero-waste programs
  • Citizen restoration projects reclaiming streams, watersheds, wetlands and arable land

By themselves, however, initiatives like these cannot produce transformation on a global scale without an underlying shift in consciousness. This leads us to the third dimension of the Great Turning.

Shift in Perception and Values

The emerging structures of our common life cannot take root and flourish without deeply realized and embodied values to sustain them. Many of us must make profound shifts in our perception of reality, and in our understanding of the nature of relationship – both among humans and with the more than human world.

The insights and experiences that enable us to make these shifts take many forms. They arise as we recognize and honor our grief for our world, uprooting notions of the essential separateness of the self from other humans, the world, and the deeper energies of reality. They arise as breakthroughs in scientific thought and practice reveal evidence of a vital living universe.

The wisdom traditions of the world can guide us in a deepening understanding of our world as a sacred whole. In the Council of All Beings ritual, we awaken to our “deep ecology,” in which the living world as a whole has the same right as humans to flourish.

At the core of our consciousness is a wellspring of caring and compassion. This aspect of ourselves – which we might think of as our connected self – can be nurtured and developed. We can deepen our sense of belonging to the world.

Approaches that support this shift include:

  • Ecofeminism and ecopsychology
  • Somatic therapies
  • Liberation Theory and Pedagogy of the Oppressed
  • General living systems theory

Some examples of this dimension:

  • First Nations peoples bringing their spiritual message to struggles against Tar Sands extraction and pipelines and the epidemic of open pit mining.
  • Initiatives to promote understanding and celebration of the Rights of Mother Earth, the Rights of Nature and the Rights of Future Generations – and our responsibility to honour and protect those rights

The realizations we come to in this dimension of the Great Turning save us from succumbing to panic, paralysis, or viciousness. They give us strength and courage to resist psychic numbness and the false shelter of avoidance. They empower us to choose not to turn on each other as scapegoats on whom to vent our fear and rage. Instead, we move toward radically embracing the unity of humankind across all differences and the fundamental sacredness of all life.

Nurturing Life

Joanna Macy developed this theoretical framework of the Three Dimensions of the Great Turning. In recent years, another dimension has been suggested: Nurturing Life. Beloved facilitator Jolie Elan, who passed away unexpectedly in 2020, suggested that parents raising children embody this dimension.

Jolie had a great friend who was a stay-at-home mom. She was concerned that because she was not an “activist,” she was not doing enough. One day, when Jolie was walking with her friend’s daughter, the girl pointed to a rock and exclaimed: “Look! A giving rock!” Jolie asked, “What is the rock giving?” The girl responded, “No, it is not giving to me, I am giving to it! This is a rock to love, so I am giving it love!”

Jolie realized that her friend was doing one of the most important things a person can do: nurturing life. Through the way she was raising her child – aware, caring and loving the world – she was nurturing the life of future generations and opening the door for change.

Some examples of Nurturing Life:

  • Raising children with life-affirming consciousness
  • Growing food and saving seeds
  • Caring for the elderly and those in need
  • Restoring ecosystems

Since then, the idea of Nurturing Life as a fourth dimension of the Great Turning has been spreading, and has been welcomed by Joanna Macy. In fact this dimension is like a foundational “glue” that holds them all together. Whether you are involved in Holding Actions, or working to Transform the Foundations of our Common Life, or deepening humanity’s Shift in Perception and Values – or engaging in all three – you are engaging in the age-old, essential practice of Nurturing Life.This material draws extensively on Coming Back to Life and also Active Hope.