Day 3 – Taking Heart in Tough Times with Joanna Macy – Morning Session

Greeting this new day of possibility, Joanna welcomed us to the third session of her two-day workshop. “May we feel the presence of the ancestors and may we be acquainted more deeply with our love for this earth and our insoluble connection. We’re moving around the spiral of this work now to the second phase: honouring our pain for the world.”

“Oh, what gifts there are there for us,” Joanna declared. “What vitality as we peel off the layers that the Industrial Growth Society would place upon us in repression.”

To prepare us for the brave and tender work ahead in this session, Joanna invited her partner Fran to share this Anita Barrows poem…

And I would travel with you
to the places of our shame

The hills stripped of trees, the marshes grasses
oil-slicked, steeped in sewage;

The blackened shoreline, the chemical-poisoned water;

I would stand with you in the desolate places, the charred places,
soil where nothing will ever grow, pitted desert;

fields that burn slowly for months; roots of cholla & chaparrala
writhing with underground explosions

I would put my hand
there with yours, I would take your hand, I would walk with you

through carefully planted fields, rows of leafy vegetables
drifting with radioactive dust; through the dark
of uranium mines hidden in the sacred gold-red mountains;

I would listen with you in drafty hospital corridors
as the miner cried out in the first language

of pain; as he cried out
the forgotten names of his mother I would stand
next to you in the forest’s

final hour, in the wind
of helicopter blades, police

sirens shrieking, the delicate
tremor of light between

leaves for the last
time Oh I would touch with this love each

wounded place

It takes great courage, and we have it, to see what we as humans have been doing to our world. Unless we are able to open our eyes, there is no hope of regeneration. What is coursing through our bodies and our minds is our own grief. It’s at the core of The Great Turning — it’s not pain-free — but the willingness to be there is the door to liberation. We are not doing it alone, we can take each other’s hand. We need to stand together. We need to listen.

Poets so capture the act of courage and integrity that is asked of us in The Great Turning. In the days of our ancestors, when challenges faced them — and there were plenty (droughts, floods, plagues) — they had the capacity of life to respond open-hearted and open-eyed. The Industrial Growth Society would not have us listen to those voices of pain in and around us, drawing us into the shopping malls and forcing us to believe we have to keep it together, we have to have two jobs to keep up. Through entertainment and info-tainment they will do almost anything to keep us from seeing the condition of our world.

This courage of seeing, of being unafraid to see the suffering of our world is needed in our work. We’re rediscovering this capacity. We live and we can’t avoid living with tremendous uncertainty. The Great Turning is underway, but no-one can tell what will unfold or if it will unravel first. We need to look squarely at the uncertainty. If we can’t be with that we’re no good. The warrior stands and does not demand the assurance of a happy ending.

Joanna-and-h-23.03.08.jpgYou are so poised at that moment with ‘not knowing’ at the heart of it. It doesn’t matter because your attention is drawn to the moment. Don’t look for optimism. There are no guarantees in The Great Turning, but that’s the way it is in life. There are no guarantees that when you fall in love it will last forever, or when you go into labour you will have a successful birth, or when you plant seeds the soil will yield a bumper crop. There’s just the vitality and the possibility that you can participate in that emergence.

Even if I could persuade you that everything is going to be alright, or give you a magic potion, would that bring forth your greatest creativity or your highest potential? We can’t be allergic to, or afraid of, our pain for the world. Losses beyond the telling almost need poetry to describe their grief.

Anger, outrage — neither should we be afraid of these feelings, we need to own our anger about what is befalling our brothers and sisters on the planet. Don’t dismiss your passion for justice, your fiery energies. If we censor those, we’re weakening our own responses. You may have a feeling of fear about what’s going to happen with your family when there’s an unravelling of our economy. We can almost taste the fear, the overwhelm; there’s just too much to take in. Perhaps we don’t really understand things like nuclear contamination. We cannot let these fears run our lives — there’s too much to do. Instead, we need to reclaim our tantric side of the grief. Our grief comes from love — you only mourn what you love. Another side is the courage to be with it.

We work with grief because underneath is the anger. Whether you work for the Pentagon or for the Peace Movement, there is no-one who doesn’t feel it. To own it is politically subversive in the extreme.

Because it’s so dangerous to feel that raw connection our dominant culture has been broadly successful at pathologising it. So, too, have our culture and psychological therapeutic community contributed to reducing our grief. Don’t fall for it — it is not to be reduced to some internal, private mistake. It is our connective tissue and an expression of our love. When we disown it we are cut off from the collective unconscious and that renders us obedient. So we’re trained by our culture to go around as ‘brains on the end of a stick,’ hungry ghosts going around looking to be sated. We’re making preparations for our own demise. We’ve lost what I thought was an unstoppable instinct for the preservation of life.


In primal cultures there is in adolescence a rights of passage when their mortality is integrated into the personality. It is believed that the individual can then move on to the rights and responsibilities of adulthood. Is this now not a right of passage for us because we are called to integrate our mortality as a species? Each of us carries in our heart-mind as a species the question of our mortality so that we can then move on to the rights and responsibilities of planetary adulthood.

By way of dedicating ourselves to the rights and responsibilities of planetary adulthood, Joanna invited participants to unite their voices in this exquisitely stirring Adrienne Rich song…

My heart is moved by all I cannot save
So much has been destroyed

I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age perversely,

With no extraordinary power,
Reconstitute the world.

That’s you, that’s us — our ordinariness, our passion, our faults, our love, everything.

The capacity to suffer with the world in Buddhism is called compassion. Don’t be afraid of your boundless heart — it’s not your personal possession.

Thank you, dear reader, for sharing this part of the journey with us. Please join us later today as we move to the third phase of the spiral, Seeing with New Eyes.

– Mattie Porte –

Photographers: Sverre Koxvold and Peter Vallance

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