Sunday, September 30, 2012

Joanna Macy and Active Hope

          Recently I heard Joanna Macy at the Unitarian Church in downtown Portland. This was my third time hearing Joanna in Portland, and I also had the good fortune to attend a weekend intensive with her while I was studying down in the Bay Area. Her 2012 talk was an introduction to her new book, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re In Without Going Crazy (Macy and Johnstone, 2012).
Joanna talks about “the great turning.” We were in the great hall of the downtown Unitarian church, and before the lecture we were blessed to hear some really brilliant, integrative live folk music by a young man who’s studied with her. Songs such as “The Uni-Verse/The One Song” and an invocation for a time of global prayer tied to the Olympics, the organizer sharing “Each of us carries an essential thread of this rebirth of the tapestry for this holy Earth.”

Macy, the Clear View, and Redefining Active Hope

Joanna did speak of getting a clear view, seeing what is, even if painful. Macy’s work emphasizes how, in a culture of domination and power-over, even if it’s painful, even in the midst of highly developed brainwash, to choose to see. Then identify the values we’d like to see, and takes steps to move in that direction. She spoke of how our perception is affected by the stories surrounding us, whether it’s the story of business as usual, the great unraveling (in which the industrial growth society is shredding system connections in a way that is unreweave-able), or the great turning. She spoke of how she didn’t want to call the book “hope” – she doesn’t believe in it, has railed against hope for years [to which I was eternally grateful, I agree and was surprised when I saw the title. I’ve been meaning to change the earth empathy site from the beginning from "despair and hope" to "despair and justice," perhaps her words will spark me to make it so]. She described how, even though she did not prefer the language of "hope," her views did not come to fruition; the subtitle is her original desired title. So what she does in one chapter, with the co-author, is redefine active hope so it doesn’t really have to do with hope at all. Instead, it’s about seeing things as they are, being willing to, doing it, having the heart break open from it, and holding the clear intention and taking the action anyway. “The guiding impetus is our intention, not weighing our chances.” Joanna Macy clarifies: “This work does not require our optimism.” That resonated deeply with me. “It’s about stepping into a state of aliveness that makes our life meaningful.”
Dori Midnight, from

“Seeing with New Eyes”

She named four stations in the truth mandala that The Work That Reconnects uses: She suggests we ground in gratitude, then bring our awareness to our great sorrow and outrage, and then see with new eyes so that fourthly we can go forth, bringing full presence to the work. The third station was “seeing with new eyes.” Macy suggests a perceptual move of seeing with new eyes, meaning that as we learn/believe/experience (a la the work of deep ecology and the ecological self) “that we are a living part of the living earth, a shift happens.” A wider view of time emerges. The synergy with the natural world also widens and strengthens us. We are closely related to all the other beings through space and time. Other life forms have so much to give and share. We shift toward a different kind of power, from power-over to power-with, from one-way causality to collaborative approaches, power as synergistic, our interactions working with others. Like grace, there is no limit when we work together. 
 Here's Joanna on the possibilities:
The truth of our inter-existence, made real to us by our pain for the world, helps us see with new eyes. It brings fresh understandings of who we are and how we are related to each other and the universe. We begin to comprehend our own power to change

and heal. We strengthen by growing living connections with past and future generations, and our brother and sister species.

Then, ever again, we go forth into the action that calls us. With others whenever and wherever possible, we set a target, lay a plan, step out. We don’t wait for a blueprint or fail-proof scheme; for each step will be our teacher, bringing new perspectives and opportunities. Even when we don’t succeed in a given venture, we can be grateful for the chance we took and the lessons we learned. And the spiral begins again.  - Joanna Macy