Joanna Macy, a leading voice in activism for peace, justice and a safe environment, spoke to more than 140 people at Puget Sound Zen Center, Tuesday, April 29th, on the theme of Turning the Wheel in the 3rd Millenium. At the Vashon Island, Washington center, Macy told wonderful stories that enlarged her listeners' thinking about the planet within us, the mudras for Touching the Earth and No Fear, made us laugh, gasp, or well up with unshed tears. A scholar of Systems Theory, Sanskrit and Buddhist teachings, she made us all acutely aware of the imperative, today, right now, of compassion for every living being, of being mindful of our precious, only life.
"The most remarkable feature of this historical moment on Earth is not that we are on the way to destroying the world. we've actually been on the way for quite a while. It is that we are beginning to wake up, as from a millennia-long sleep, to a whole new relationship to our world, to ourselves and each other."
For those new to Joanna's dynamic, rational talks, the evening was a revelation, "I didn't know there were so many people who felt as I do!" Others, who had read or studied with her before, told me how she had already affected their lives.
"Joanna Macy, for me, is like one of those great coastal Sitkas who invite you to come on out where the big winds blow," says Duncan Berry who, with his wife Melany, is now carrying on Joanna's Great Turning work at WestWind on the Central Oregon Coast. "Whenever Joanna comes into our lives, it's always followed by a series of life-changing events in her wake." Duncan smiles, "So I lovingly refer to her as 'the troublemaker'."
"While we were living at Fern Cove, on Vashon Island, in the early '90s," Melany adds, "I learned of her work in deep ecology. She became my teacher and I began to learn about her commitment to The Great Turning—where we, as a society, turn from an industrial culture to a life-sustaining society. Many workshops and two thirty-day retreats with Joanna, one in Australia and one at WestWind—and I'm still learning."
"She introduced me to a Buddhist practice of practicing loving kindness, compassion, joy in another's joy, and equanimity." Melany took a deep breath, "And, by paying attention to my breath, I am able to participate in The Great Turning, a journey that Joanna began for us."
Dana Illo, who has lived simply in the Alaskan bush and now raises lavender on Crowsfeet Farm, Vashon, says that the question that haunts her is, “And what did you do, grandmother, to help the health of the planet and live with purpose?”
“Because of Joanna, my whole being in the world has shifted to include thoughts of my grandchildren and toward leaving a healthy planet for future generations. Joanna has brought me back to the obvious connection with nature in her Work that Reconnects. Joanna has inspired me to ask ‘If not now—when?’”
Beverly Naidus, a University of Washington, Tacoma, Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Art, and Bob Spivey of SEEDS, (Social Ecology Education & Demonstration School), an NW activist organization, have both been influenced by Macy since the 1980s.
“I was at the Blue Mountain Center, 1983, in the Adirondacks,” explains Beverly. “where one of my installations was about nuclear nightmares and I’d never heard of her, but a book literally fell off the shelf in front of me. It was Joanna Macy’s Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age. Joanna deeply influenced my work after that by making my installations audience participatory. I was thrilled to share my work with her.
“Bob and I both were in her workshop, ‘Thinking Like a Mountain’, at Ojai, California in 1987. She helped me to articulate deep ecology and social ecology and how they could blend with each other.”
All five of these people have had their lives redirected and enriched by Joanna’s thinking globally, her teaching and many books. The lives of others all over the world where she has been involved have changed, too, in ways we can only hope for. Her work may help you to transform despair and apathy—both personally and globally—in the face of overwhelming social and ecological crisis.
Macy’s books are all in print: Coming Back to Life; The Work That Reconnects; World as Lover, World as Self; Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age, and Widening Circles: A Memoir
Contributor: Kajira Wyn Berry
Photo: Kajira Wyn Berry