Notes from Joanna Macy, Beloved Teacher

I read a book this month by Joanna Macy called World as Lover, World as Self. What a beautiful affirmation of the grief and terror and opportunity and excitement of this time, an affirmation for those of us who feel that pain of the world so acutely and want to respond and act in loving, regenerative ways. Joanna speaks to the heart of our dilemma as a culture in crisis and offers wise words for staying sane in challenging times:
“It seems of late to be getting a lot darker. The horrors inflicted on the Gulf of Mexico, still unacknowledged. The refusal to act on climate change, even as islands sink and species die. The betrayal of all but the very rich in Obama’s collusion with right-wing and corporate interests. And our war-making; the brutality, illegality, and astronomic costs of it–to say nothing of what’s equally baffling and ominous: the public silence.

What helps me face all this without going crazy… is to look at our world today in terms of the stories being enacted.

I’m working on a book with my friend Chris Johnstone, a British physician living in Bristol, England, called The Gift of Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy…  Our book identifies three stories, each of which acts as a lens through which to see and understand what’s going on. The first suggests things are fine in the industrial growth society, and that we can carry on with business as usual. The second is about collapse of the globe’s ecological and social systems. The third story involves the emergence of new and creative human responses in service to life on Earth.

In a sense, they are all true. The Business As Usual story is the one that enlists the most people, especially those in political and corporate power. It tells us that all we have to do is get back on the path of economic growth and consolidate access to the world’s resources. The second story, which we call the Great Unraveling, is held by scientists, activists, and social thinkers who see the irremediable damage the industrial growth society is inflicting on our world. They don’t talk about it in public much, because no one likes to be seen as a prophet of doom.

The third story, of course, is the Great Turning. It is held and embodied by those who can’t believe in the first story, and who are committed to not letting the second story have the last word. It’s about the epochal transition from the industrial growth regime to a life sustaining civilization, propelled by capacities that emerge in a time of crisis, like seeds breaking open in a fire.

There is no point in arguing which of these stories is “right.” The question is which one do you want to get behind. I’ve become fascinated by how these three stories encompass each other progressively, each including more of the larger context. The Great Unraveling does not cancel or exclude the Business As Usual story, but simply widens the lens to let us see the devastation it’s causing. Similarly, the Great Turning does not deny the Great Unraveling, but rather confirms it, while also bringing into view the creative and unprecedented responses engendered by this crisis.

That is why, as I present the Great Turning in talks and workshops, I take pains to convey the power of Business As Usual and the extent of the Great Unraveling. You may well be doing this, too.”

And so it goes, living in the interstices of the power of the stories and the power of our actions to make a difference…

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