Day 2 – Taking Heart in Tough Times with Joanna Macy – Evening Session

This evening’s session continued with the theme of gratitude, focussing on what is happening now. According to Paul Hawkin the largest social movement in history is running through our consciousness. “It feels right, Joanna shared, “to actually honour the momentousness of this movement — this revolution — the third of its magnitude in our history.” The first was some 10,000 years ago — the Agricultural Revolution. It changed everything. We’ve been nomadic, we’ve been storytellers, recounting stories round the campfire at night; we’ve been on the move, travelling across the planet. It’s in us still, Joanna says, but our recall is a little faint, consciously. Since then, we’ve settled down, begun to cultivate the earth, multiply, trade, etc.

The second revolution of comparable magnitude was the Industrial Revolution — the introduction of factories, mills, the steam engine. What this did to our concept and experience of who we are, and how we relate to each other and our world, changed us again for generations.

Joanna-c-23.03.08.jpgThe third revolution is the one we are experiencing now. The first person to name it, in the 1980’s, was William Ruckelshaus, former director of the United States Environmental Protection Agency. He claimed it is comparable to the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions, except that this time it has to happen faster and consciously. “While the first two revolutions were gradual, spontaneous, and largely unconscious, this (third) one will have to be a fully conscious operation…. If we actually do it, the undertaking will be absolutely unique in humanity’s stay on Earth.”

Some call it the Ecological or Sustainability Revolution; others call it The Great Turning. Joanna finds it very important for us to name and see it. It takes the effort, she says, of the moral imagination to see the significance of our own time, particularly because things are so dicy for us. We can become mesmorised by events spinning out of control.

By our will, imagination and determination, we can look to the future and borrow the eyes of those yet to come to look back at this time, speaking on behalf of future generations. We can argue that the future is here now — it’s wired into us. Every being who will ever live is here now in our gonads and our ovaries and our DNA.

As David Korten, author of The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, points out, we can choose our fate — it can be a great turning or a great unravelling. “We’re facing a choice between ‘the sorrows of Empire’ and ‘the joys of Earth Community’. He says, things are getting worse and worse, better and better, faster and faster. He ends his book, “It is within our means to choose our future. . . . We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

The Industrial Growth Society is built on the assumption of growth. This is a political economy that set its goals, and measures its success, on how fast it can grow, meaning one thing only — profits, market share.

Joanna-f-23.03.08.jpgIn any system, when you try to maximise only one variable, it throws the system off, builds in a self destructive aspect — it’s suicide. We’ve ignored the limits of our natural systems and these are in balance for a self-organising life. Not only have we been extracting resources faster than they could be renewed, we are producing waste faster than it can be absorbed. Some talk of a soft landing or managed collapse (this brought lots of laughter from participants). It’s futile — it’s a system that is destroying itself.

Our bodies and souls, at some deep psychic level, know this and it plays out in systematic effects in the body and mind causing desperation. Joanna posits, “What would it be like to live in an economy that is self-renewing?”

Our mission is to preserve, to protect, and to replace these damaging systems. By and large our culture is not aware of The Great Turning. Our friends, neighbours and loved ones are not aware of the alternatives. This revolution is not televised. Joanna wants this revolution to:
* lend acuity to our vision
* buoy our heart
* keep us from arguing about what is important.

There are three dimensions to this revolution as Joanna sees it. Each is interdependent — one is not more important than the other — they are mutually supporting:

1. Holding action to slow down the destruction of life – requires moral and intestinal fortitude; is crucially important but taxing and tiring. We see this in direct action and civil disobedience. Great way to feel the depth of your passion for life, but not enough for The Great Turning.

2. Creating new structures – required but still is not enough for The Great Turning.

3. A shift in consciousness – creating new solutions, new ways, Gaian ways of doing things – it’s about building the new into our culture. New ways can appear as fringe, but future generations will bless you for taking part in The Great Turning to sustain life for those who come after us.

Joanna-e-23.03.08.jpgJoanna beseached us not to take this third dimension for granted. “I can’t emphasise this enough. This is the greatest revolution in human thought in 5,000 years! We can join in the naming and making of it. At the core of that is the notion or understanding that we are part of this living planet.”

We’re retelling our story. In fact, our new story is emerging this week, right here during this conference! Voices are being heard now, for instance, indigenous voices. The ‘coming forth’ is current within many traditions, women’s spirituality, deep ecology, poets, artists.

It’s the greatest joy for us that we are alive at this time and can speak this new way of apprehending our world. We are gaining a wider sense of our identity.

Joanna closed this evening’s passionate session with a poem from Californian poet, Robinson Jeffers, who was one of the ancestors of the deep ecology movement:

I entered the life of the brown forest,
And the great life of the ancient peaks, the patience of stone,
I felt the changes in the veins
In the throat of the mountain, and, I was the streams
Draining the mountain wood; and I the stag drinking: and I was the stars,
Boiling with light, wandering alone,
each one the lord of his own summit, and I was the darkness
Outside the stars, I included them. They were a part of me….
how can I express the excellence I have found,
that has no colour but clearness;
No honey but ecstasy…

On completion of Joanna’s talk, the energy transitioned with participatory singing, led by community celebration activist, Barbara Swetina, followed by free-flowing dancing to move and ground the energy through our bodies.


Please join us tomorrow as we explore phase two of the work – Honouring our Pain for our World.

– Mattie Porte –

Photographers: Sverre Koxvold and Peter Vallance

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