Recently I picked up a book by Joanna Macy. Surprisingly, it’s the first book I’ve read by her. I’ve heard Joanna speak a bunch of times, but for some reason I had never read her books, though she’s written many. If you don’t know who she is, she is an environmentalist, often referred to as an eco-philosopher.
Joanna is an inspiration to me. I find myself writing more often on the how human beings are a part of the web of life, not separate, and what we do to the earth we do to ourselves. We need to take better care of the planet. Joanna writes about the Great Turning, which is essentially a “fundamental shift in worldview and values” in which people focus on taking care of their communities and environment, and act with the benefit of future generations in mind. She refers to efforts to make this happen as the “Work that Reconnects.”
Below is a brief excerpt from Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World (published 1998), which Joanna co-authored with Molly Young Brown. These are the principles of the Work that Reconnects, and which speak to me, and I hope, to others as well. We are a living part of a living planet. This is the direction we need to turn to if we are to keep a livable planet for all species.
The Principles of the Work that Reconnects
This world, in which we are born and take our being, is alive.
It is not our supply house and sewer; it is our larger body. The intelligence that evolved us from star dust and interconnects us with all beings is sufficient for the healing of our Earth community, if we but align with that purpose.
Our true nature is far more ancient and encompassing than the separate self defined by habit and society.
We are intrinsic to our living world as the rivers and trees, woven of the same intricate flows of matter/energy and mind. Having evolved us into self-reflexive consciousness, the world can now know itself through us, behold its own majesty, tell its own stories – and also respond to its own suffering.
Our experience of pain for the world springs from our inter-connectedness with all beings, from which also arise our powers to act on their behalf.
When we deny or repress our pain for the world, or treat it as a private pathology, our power to take part in the healing of our world is diminished. This apatheia need not become a terminal condition. Our capacity to respond to our own and others’ suffering – that is, the feedback loops that weave us into life – can be unblocked.
Unblocking occurs when our pain for the world is not only intellectually validated, but experienced.
Cognitive information about the crises we face, or even about our psychological responses to them, is insufficient. We can only free ourselves from our fears of the pain – including the fear of getting permanently mired in despair or shattered by grief – when we allow ourselves to experience these feelings. Only then can we discover their fluid, dynamic character. Only then can they reveal on a visceral level our mutual belonging to the web of life.
When we reconnect with life, by willingly enduring our pain for it, the mind retrieves its natural clarity.
Not only do we experience our interconnectedness in the community of Earth, but also mental eagerness arises to match this experience with new paradigm thinking. Concepts which bring relatedness into focus become vivid. Significant learnings occur, for the individual system is reorganizing and reorienting, grounding itself in wider reaches of identity and self-interest.
The experience of reconnection with the Earth community arouses desire to act on its behalf.
As Earth’s self-healing powers take hold within us, we feel called to participate in the Great Turning. For these self-healing powers to operate effectively, they must be trusted and acted on. The steps we take can be modest undertakings, but they should involve some risk to our mental comfort, lest we remain caught in old, “safe” limits. Courage is a great teacher and bringer of joy.