Last evening, David and I attended a lecture by author, translator and activist Joanna Macy regarding her most recent book called “Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy.” Co-authored with Chris Johnstone, this book takes an unflinching look at what Joanna describes as three streams: 1) the increasing fascism and control/destruction of individual rights and our environment; 2) “The Great Unraveling,” as these structures begin to suffocate under their own weight and insider exposures; and 3) “The Great Turning,” also called the Awakening, the new environmentalism, the Golden Age, and many other things.
Joanna’s talk discussed three aspects of activism, corresponding to these streams: 1) political/structural attempts to ” “slow down” the devastation, using the system to improve the system; 2) development of creative new ways to solve problems, such as the many eco-friendly and community-based start-up endeavors; and 3) a return to Old Wisdom and complete reconnection with Mother Earth — a recognition of our own hands as full of stardust and full of Earth.
Here’s the description we received from the Madison Area Permaculture Guild:
“Joanna Macy, world renowned deep ecologist and eco-spirituality elder, will be in Madison and present a public talk at First Unitarian Society. For decades, the octogenarian Macy has been spreading the word of the needed Great Turning from an Industrial Growth Society to a Life Sustaining Society. She teaches practices to help bring this about, starting with spiritual awakening.This is her first time speaking in Madison and an amazing opportunity.
“Active Hope is about finding, and offering, our best response to the crisis of sustainability unfolding in our world. It offers tools that help us face the mess we’re in, as well as find and play our role in the collective transition, or Great Turning, to a life-sustaining society.
“’Books about social and ecological change
too often leave out a vital component:
how do we change ourselves
so that we are strong enough
to fully contribute to this great shift?
Active Hope fills this gap beautifully,
guiding readers on a journey of gratitude, grief,
interconnection and, ultimately, transformation.’
~Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine.
“At the heart of this book is the idea that Active Hope is something we do rather than have. It involves being clear what we hope for and then playing our role in the process of bringing that about. The journey of finding, and offering, our unique contribution to the Great Turning helps us to discover new strengths, open to a wider network of allies and experience a deepening of our aliveness. When our responses are guided by the intention to act for healing of our world, the mess we’re in not only becomes easier to face, our lives also become more meaningful and satisfying.”
Amazon’s description of Active Hope follows:
“The challenges we face can be difficult even to think about. Climate change, the depletion of oil, economic upheaval, and mass extinction together create a planetary emergency of overwhelming proportions. Active Hope shows us how to strengthen our capacity to face this crisis so that we can respond with unexpected resilience and creative power. Drawing on decades of teaching an empowerment approach known as the Work That Reconnects, the authors guide us through a transformational process informed by mythic journeys, modern psychology, spirituality, and holistic science. This process equips us with tools to face the mess we’re in and play our role in the collective transition, or Great Turning, to a life-sustaining society.”
We found ourselves recognizing a kindred spirit in Joanna, as she expressed so many of the ideas that David and I regularly discuss. In particular, she assessed that political and community activism and new projects cannot by themselves overcome the challenges presented to humanity right now. They can slow things down and sprout new ideas, but those new ideas will wither without good soil and an internal shift that changes the way we view our world. As within, so without. As a Buddhist, Joanna discussed how her faith has helped her to engage challenges, and she giggled at the irony of a Buddhist writing a book about “hope.” The concept of Active Hope as something one does, rather than just a passive wishing or attachment to results, brought a sense of groundedness, mindfulness and empowerment to her activism. She shared the idea that Active Hope occurs moment by moment as we choose which kind of world we wish to engage and nurture into being.
She also reminded us that we can never know our own ripple effect in the Universe. We can never truly know how those moment by moment decisions affect another person, animal, being or the entire, integrated collective. But we can know what feels better moment by moment, and we can continue to choose the world we envision and love. Joanna gave a call to Visionaries to hold the vision and to transform ourselves from within so that we’re ready to manifest that vision. We loved her talk, as did the packed sanctuary at the First Unitarian Society, also known as Frank Lloyd Wright’s home congregation.
We also loved the fact that she’s in her 80’s and continuing to travel around the world and inspire local projects. She acknowledged how Madison has sparked imaginations and hearts around the world, modeling peaceful, high vibe activism. She reminded us not to give up. Just because people experience a setback or a discouraging moment, doesn’t mean to throw in the towel. She exhorted those in attendance to keep going, keep shining, and keep bringing in the world we wish to create: “the world is watching Madison.”
Another highlight of the evening was Joanna’s reciting of some Rainer Maria Rilke poetry she had translated from the original German:
I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.
I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I’ve been circling for thousands of years
and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?
~ Ranier Maria Rilke ~
(Rilke’s Book of Hours:Love Poems to God, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy)
She finds poetry speaks to our times much more than prose and also recited a poem by Milwaukee resident Susa Silvermarie:
A Thousand Years of Healing
From whence my hope, I cannot say,
except it grows in the cells of my skin,
in my envelope of mysteries it hums.
In this sheath so akin to the surface of the earth
it whispers. Beneath
the wail and dissonance in the world,
hope’s song grows. Until I know
that with this turning
we put a broken age to rest.
We who are alive at such a cusp
now usher in
one thousand years of healing!
Winged ones and four-leggeds,
grasses and mountains and each tree,
all the swimming creatures,
even we, wary two-leggeds
hum, and call, and create
the Changing Song. We remake
all our relations. We convert
our minds to the earth. In this turning time
we finally learn to chime and blend,
attune our voices; sing the vision
of the Great Magic we move within.
the new habit, getting up glad
for a thousand years of healing.
– Susa Silvermarie
I will leave you with a video: Active Hope Show 1 – The Shambhala Warrior Prophecy
Joanna Macy tells the Shambhala Warrior Prophecy, twelve centuries old and from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Introduced by Chris Johnstone, this is the first episode of The Active Hope Show, which explores insights and practices that help bring out our best responses to the planetary emergency we face.