On Thursday, June 18th, I heard Joanna Macy speak in Toronto.
What a blessing!!
Luckily, I took notes (writers always do), so I can share some of her insights here.
(Joanna Macy has written some great books, & there are other JM-related items on this blog; I’ll refer to these in a P.S. at the end.)
Joanna opened by thanking us for our attention and pointing out that the phenomenon of self-reflective consciousness (a concept also frequently referenced in the work of Thomas Berry & Sister Miriam MacGillis and perhaps others I ought to name) – i.e., where we now are in the evolution of the Universe/Earth/humanity, has been a 4-billion year process. Here we now find ourselves, at this so-amazing time in history – what an amazing miracle and blessing! (She also referred briefly to the fact of the stunning biodiversity that supports our self-reflective consciousness.)
She noted that we are “waking up together” – and that it’s hard for us to wake up. Our world/culture works very, very hard to keep us asleep – and the “power holders” are very happy to see us stay that way. Not just asleep, but caught up inside our own personal pathologies. For the power-holders/moneymakers, it is good that we feel ashamed of our personal problems, and keep quiet. This serves their agenda very well indeed. (That way, we don’t question, we just keep buying. We don’t rock the boat.)
She spoke of the deep need for gratitude. “Gratitude is essential for our showing up,” she said, and pointed out that all indigenous cultures have always had a spiritual tradition of gratitude. When we are caught up in self-pity, that keeps the power-holders very happy – because it keeps us buying and buying and buying, trying to fill up those holes we have inside. When we focus on gratitude, we see how rich and blessed we are – how beautiful our Earth is – and self-pity (and addictive consumption) fall away.
So – it’s hard to wake up – and gratitude is key.
As is truth-telling. Telling the truth, Joanna Macy said, is “like making oxygen.”
When we do acknowledge the truth about our world, it is definitely painful. That’s why we hold it off – whether as individuals with our personal pathologies (Janet talking now: this is all very, very familiar territory for me just now), or as human beings recognizing the state of the world and the abyss our species is perched on the edge of.
Joanna Macy has long been a scholar of Buddhism, and Buddhist thought and practice have very much shaped her life. Compassion is a key linchpin in Buddhist thought.
Macy points out that when we suffer with others (there is much, much pain and suffering in this world, after all), that is compassion – suffering with is what compassion means. We are sometimes made to feel as though we are crazy when we “suffer with” – but as Macy says, No, we are not crazy – we are allowed to “suffer with.”(1) Our fear and our tears and our outrage are also not personal – we are suffering for our world, not just for ourselves. (This insight alone is so powerful I could probably muse on it for days.)
She also commented that we need and should and are allowed to honour our pain. (I needed to hear that too.)
As other writers/teachers are also pointing out, if in slightly different ways (e.g., Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie), the problems of the human race are mind-made – they are problems that originate inside our minds and our ways of thinking; thus, they can be un-made! (As I’ve said so many times in other blog items here, for goodness sake, read Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth – Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose!!!! A must, must, must-read.)
We need one another terribly – we need communion and community. Our loneliness/aloneness/isolation keep us “small,” when in fact, as Joanna Macy says, “We are so much bigger than we thought.” We spent thousands of years projecting all the greatness on a “Big Daddy God” who was somewhere up in the sky – not on the Earth – and now we have brought the sacred “back down to Earth.”
Macy says “Our roots, our true nature – is vast.”
We are vast – I have felt this, many times. I’ve also – and very, very recently, as in, a few hours ago – felt entirely trapped inside my own aloneness and personal sadness – and just had the insight this morning that most of us don’t understand our very own nature. We are strangers, even to ourselves! Only in talking with others, in communion and in conversation, do we shed our isolation and our lack of self-understanding. And gain compassion for ourselves, as well as for others.
Well – this notion that we are actually vast creatures should surely empower us!!
Macy says that we now find ourselves, as a species, in a time of transformation as huge as the agricultural revolution of 10,000 years ago. Some are calling this time “The Great Turning(2),” and as we know, its outcome is not certain. Perhaps we will make the turning; perhaps we will not… No one can yet say.
As Macy explains, “the not-knowing is the prerequisite of our presence.” In other words, if we knew the outcome, either way, would we “show up” in the same way?
What happens will be the result of “how we show up.”
In World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice & Ecological Renewal, Macy says “Choice is so important because it actually constitutes what it means to be a person.” And “Do-er and deed co-arise. Hence our continuity of character, bearing the stamp of repeated choice and habit. Hence also our freedom, for new options arise with each present act of will.” (my italics)
We cannot know what will happen… What will happen will be the result of our choices and actions. So our choices/actions are very, very important.
Macy also says “You also know that each action undertaken with pure intent has repercussions throughout the web of life, beyond what you can measure or discern.” As I said in another essay in which I quoted this, I do believe this is true.
I am so very grateful to have been introduced to the work and wisdom of Joanna Macy (thank you Skye!!)
I can see no way ahead for my own peace and sanity but to continue truth-telling. This may take some unpredictable turns.
But if I am somehow helping to create a little oxygen with it, I’ll be one very gratified person.
And you, now. How will you show up?
p.s. Books of Joanna Macy’s that I have read & much enjoyed are Widening Circles – A Memoir (New Society Publishers, 2000) & World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice & Ecological Renewal (Parallax Press, 2007).
p.p.p.s. Joanna Macy spoke about the pivotal importance of gratitude in our lives & in the Great Turning. I talk about gratitude a lot too. If you go to the post 'Gratitude Posts: A list & an insight' you’ll see both a list of the posts here that touch on gratitude, & some insight on gratitude from Joanna Macy. Here is the quote:
“Thankfulness loosens the grip of the industrial growth society by contradicting its predominant message: that we are insufficient and inadequate. The forces of late capitalism continually tell us that we need more – more stuff, more money, more approval, more comfort, more entertainment. The dissatisfaction it breeds is profound. It infects people with a compulsion to acquire that delivers them into the cruel, humiliating bondage of debt. So gratitude is liberating. It is subversive. It helps us realize that we are sufficient, and that realization frees us. Elders of indigenous cultures have retained this knowledge, and we can learn from their practices.” [World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice & Ecological Renewal, Joanna Macy, Parallax Press, 2007.]
(1) The next day, on the street in Toronto, I saw people begging, & as I’ve written in a couple of other blog entries, I like to give money to people because a) I suffer with/have compassion for people in this situation and b) it makes me feel good and now c) I have permission to “suffer with” – it’s nice to have this tendency of mine affirmed. I am not crazy for these feelings of compassion.
(2) There is an excellent book by this name, The Great Turning – From Empire to Earth Community, by David C. Korten, 2006. Well worth reading. Also a film by the same name, & it’s great too!