Joanna Macy: The Work That Reconnects (Part 2)

The newest episode of our university podcast, ‘Mindful U at Naropa University,’ is out on iTunesStitcher, Fireside, and Spotify now! We are honored to announce this week’s episode is the second part of a two part series with special guest Joanna Macy, PhD, scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory, and deep ecology; and a visionary force in environmental activism for over five decades. Learn more about Joanna Macy’s work from the Joanna Macy Center at Naropa University.

 play-icon Joanna Macy: The Work That Reconnects (Part 2)

“We talked about the spiral of the work that reconnects, and then you talked about how once you dare to really see and speak what you’ve wanted to keep at arm’s length—once you refuse to turn away and really suffer with your world—then you realize that the world is flowing into you, and the living planet becomes alive for you. And then it generates for you. So, that’s we call seeing with new eyes. Everything looks different. And we use practices that are inspired by what we call deep ecology, like the council of all beings—where we step aside from our human role, which is only the last chapter of our long planetary journey. We’ve, as we know from the life forms we had in the womb of our mother, we had a tail and gills and fins. So, that we capitulate that ontogeny.”

Full transcript below.

Joanna Macy PhD, author and teacher, is a scholar of Buddhism, systems thinking, and deep ecology. A respected voice in movements for peace, justice, and ecology, she interweaves her scholarship with learnings from six decades of activism.

Her wide-ranging work addresses psychological and spiritual issues of the nuclear age, the cultivation of ecological awareness, and the fruitful resonance between Buddhist thought and postmodern science. The many dimensions of this work are explored in her thirteen books, which include three volumes of poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke with translation and commentary.

As the root teacher of The Work That Reconnects, Joanna has created a ground-breaking framework for personal and social change, as well as a powerful workshop methodology for its application.

Based in Berkeley, California, close to her children and grandchildren, Joanna has spent many years in other lands and cultures, viewing movements for social change and exploring their roots in religious thought and practice.

Full transcript
Joanna Macy
The Work That Reconnects Part #2

[MUSIC]

Hello. And welcome to Mindful U at Naropa. A podcast presented by Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.

I’m your host, David Devine. And itÕs a pleasure to welcome you. Joining the best of Eastern and Western educational traditions – Naropa is the birth place of the modern mindfulness movement.

[MUSIC]

DAVID:
Before this very special podcast gets started. I want to inform you that I traveled onsite to Berkeley, California to speak with Joanna Macy herself. While there I had such a beautiful connection and conversation with her. This is part two of a two part series podcast. If you haven’t listened to part one, please check it out. But if you have please enjoy this episode. Thank you.

JOANNA MACY:
So we talked about the spiral of the work that reconnects and then you talked about how once you dare — really see and speak what you’ve wanted to keep at arm’s length — once you refuse to turn away and really suffer with your world and then you realize that the world is flowing into you and the living planet becomes alive for you. And then it generates for you. So that’s we call seeing with new eyes. Everything looks different. And we use practices that are inspired by what we call deep ecology like the council of all beings — where we step aside from our human role, which is only the last chapter of our long planetary journey. We’ve — as we know from the life forms we had in the womb of our mother — you know we had a tail and gills and fins. And so that we — we capitulate that ontogeny.

So as humans we’re just the last chapter.

DAVID:
Just a little blip.

JOANNA MACY:
Yeah. And so deep ecology, which sort of helps us move beyond the notion that humans to the crown of creation and that we should have special privileges and more superior and other things. And as one of the things that I love about the Buddha dharma is that the Buddha himself in his earlier lives in the lore you know in the mythic beautiful deep awareness is that come through that way of when he learned — how he learned compassion and wisdom in his life as a tiger or as a cobra or all these other life forms. So, we practice that a lot to help us feel that we are not separate from our planet — and a planet that as it grows it reflects our more inclusive consciousness.

DAVID:
Yeah.

JOANNA MACY:
And so, then we act.

So, the first poem that I encountered this poet Rilke — Rilke was for me way back when I was in my 20s and living with two of my kids in Germany. And I opened this book and I read this — I live my life in widening circles that reach out across the world. Oh, I may not complete this last one, but I give myself to it.

I’ve been circling around God — that 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. So that little poem has fired a couple of the practices that we do in our deep ecology work. And it gives a way of singing that insight of deep ecology, which like the Buddha Dharma sees that mind is throughout. You don’t just have mind with humans — mind is throughout the whole phenomenal world. And that we can become one again with our world. We don’t have to be afraid of it. We don’t have to be in that horrible isolation of thinking we have to control everything.

We can just be an ordinary strand in the web of life. And it’s so beautiful — just that.

DAVID:
Yes.

JOANNA MACY:
So, then another one that is caught attention of the people in the work we do. He imagines that God was not a very theistic person — this poet. But if there were a God — is the heart of the – like the heart of the universe, the mind. So, God speaks to each of us as she makes us — then walks with us silently out of the night. And these are the words we dimly hear. These are the words that the sacred can whisper to us.

You send out beyond your recall — go to the limits of your longing. Embody me. Flare up like flame and make big shadows I can move in. Let everything happen to you. Beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final. Don’t let yourself lose me. Nearby is the country they call life — you’ll know it by its seriousness. Give me your hand.

Well that’s been set to music.

So — but the idea has been for many of us we’re going out as bodhisattvas because we blend real good with the Buddha Dharma. We can’t believe he wasn’t a Buddhist, but this is my larger body. And whatever happens — let it be and you know Buddhist practice — let everything happen — beauty and terror. It’s all part of the show. Don’t be afraid. Don’t let yourself lose me. Let everything happen to you — beauty and terror. Because you’re here for the healing. You’re here for the healing of it all. And maybe it’ll work.

DAVID:
When you were talking about the circles, I was having this like idea of the gravitational pull of God.

JOANNA MACY:
Oh yeah!

DAVID:
So, the center having this quantum bending and then we’re just like a marble — just getting closer and closer and closer to the heart of God because of the quantum pull.

JOANNA MACY:
Oh yes.

DAVID:
And some people get really close quicker because of the work they do and the lives they lead, and other people are just so proximal and they’re just like taking a really long time. Their orbit is a lot slower.

JOANNA MACY:
And it makes me think of the beautiful powers in our lives of the distant planets like Neptune and Saturn, Jupiter. But then I was just occurring — sitting here with you that we could say that poem — Gaia speaks to each of us as she makes us. And walks with us silently out of the dark — like our planet calling us into being, waving us from all the strands beginning from the formation of the galaxies. And that we have been brought to this time when things are really dicey. So, Gaia says to us — flare up like flame and make big shadows I can move in. So, don’t be afraid of making a big show because I’ll be at work. And I will work and you all just — you can be ok, catch some attention there and I’ll work and let everything happen to you. Don’t be afraid. Let everything out — beauty and terror. No feeling is final.

DAVID:
Joanna your sword is so sharp.

JOANNA MACY:
LAUGHS

DAVID:
You know how to cut people so good. And I love it. I’ve noticed that you’re Buddhist practice because the work you do is really hard and not easy and not meant for most. Buddhism is a hard thing to take on as well. But the coupling of the two has made you into such a bad ass — you have such great discernment and you’re really good. I’m feeling super energized in hope and gratitude and love and light. I feel so good right now. And itÕs just being in your presence, hearing what you have to say and understanding the life that you led and knowing your history — just makes me feel so good for the beings that will keep coming because the shadows are getting bigger. She’s doing her work.

JOANNA MACY:
LAUGHS AND CLAPS

DAVID:
You know I mean? It’s — it’s just so good.

JOANNA MACY:
And you know, in the work itself at almost every workshop that I do and then those who have been taught directly by me — love to bring — is very explicitly from the Buddha dharma is the four immeasurable and that characteristic of the bodhisattva. And this was right from the beginning.

I was just pausing because I was thinking of the story of how the Buddha — I’ll just tell it and then you can —

DAVID:
Please.

JOANNA MACY:
Yeah. So, there are these four practices that are called the four brahmaviharas or sometimes the four immeasurable. And I love their wonderful practices. And I saw how they were being used in a big — a Buddhist movement called the Sarvodia movement in Sri Lanka where I went to do a little over a year of fieldwork when my kids all finished high school — empty nest — off I went. And so, then when I went back to school, I began reading this scripture and I saw that when the Buddha gave this teaching — what the occasion was. And the occasion was that there were a group of Brahmin priests who didn’t like it — the Buddha would not say whether or not he believed in a god. He just — he was agnostic about that. And that upset them very much because that’s how they — priests made their money by making rituals that only they could make — it was very expensive. And they had to say the right words. And often very bloody because you sometimes sacrificed animals — even a horse. So, these brahmins wanted to nail him and get him to say there was there wasn’t a god. And because he was — they thought he’s just slipping around. He kept saying, stick to your experience. Don’t claim things are true that you can’t experience yourself. So, they — so they came to him and they said, oh, revered sir by what ritual do you get the soul, the Atman or atha to God — Brahman. Because that’s where they — after death of the father — usually they didn’t bother with the mother. But you have this very expensive ritual and they knew just to get the soul up to heaven.

And so they — they expected the Buddha to say, oh I don’t believe in rituals, they’re expensive and bloody or he didn’t say I don’t actually believe that there is a God or that I actually don’t believe there’s a separate self, but he didn’t do any one of those.

He said, you want to know? I’ll tell you. And he gave these — practices as the ritual of going to heaven. And these were they — it was loving kindness, compassion, joy and the joy of others, and equanimity. And that was why we call them rhamaviharas.

So, in the work that reconnects — or deep ecology work — we have taken these and made them into interactive practices that are so beautiful because people do it — engaging silently with each other and holding, learning to see a face as so incredibly precious its alive. And there is in this person the movements of kindness to caring, openness, power for the healing of our world. And then not only that, but then we move — then we move around some more.

And then you come to the second one — oh you look at this person. Here is someone who knows what it is to suffer — even as a little child of course they suffered and they know the loneliness or the hunger or the confusion or being lost or being afraid like everyone, but this person knows not only the interfering, but the — what’s — that it’s happening around the world. And it gives some examples of these. And this person keeps their eyes open — does not turn away from this suffering. That is almost a recipe for a bodhisattva — don’t turn away from no — LAUGHS.

And then this first — then you go to the third one. Oh — and that’s the sympathetic joy that you — it’s the best cure for competitiveness that we have been schooled in you know. And the same for the equanimity. What I love about the Buddha dharma is that these methods are given instead of just in my root tradition, which I honor — I honor my root tradition as Protestant Christianity. But I honor many other traditions too. And in that one there is the — oh they — no they tell you to love — say God is love. That’s the way you — but they don’t tell you how as well as the Buddhist with these — I mean these ones that I share in the work that reconnects — you find yourself loving whether you like it or not.

DAVID:
Yeah. And they don’t say love —

JOANNA MACY:
You fall in love.

DAVID:
Yeah. They don’t say like this is how you love. They just say here’s some steps to work on the self and then you fall in love.

JOANNA MACY:
Yeah!

DAVID:
With others, with yourself. Yeah, whoa it’s so good.

The reason I was drawn to Buddhism at my early 20s was the fact that it was so relatable — it was so easy to understand. Maybe at points —

JOANNA MACY:
That’s good karma for you.

DAVID:
Yeah it might have been hard to — I almost became like seven different religions before I was 14. I was — I was seeking something.

JOANNA MACY:
Oh boy you were.

DAVID:
I was going for some — I don’t know what it was. I was just like where’s the spirit at. And it was — it was in Buddhism. Buddhism is where I really found it.

JOANNA MACY:
Well did you feel that in one of your grandparents or your parents?

DAVID:
I don’t really know.

JOANNA MACY:
I bet you — you were looking for something.

DAVID:
Yeah. We were super Catholic.

JOANNA MACY:
Oh!

DAVID:
When I was growing up. And it was the thing we did every Sunday. And I was a little lost lamb when I was, but I came across Buddhism and I realized the Kingdom of God is within. I don’t need to go to a temple, but you know being around community is a really good way to develop that. But when you start reading the practices you realize it’s you — it’s you that needs to do it. And what I like about it —

JOANNA MACY:
That’s beautiful. It’s for — it’s for doing.

DAVID:
Yeah. I mean you can say all the words you want, but unless you are actively practicing then it’s like okay. And plus, you have to practice it and understand it. But we have, you have, I have, we all have the same thing. We all have a brain. We all have a soul. We all have a body. We all have the mechanisms to do the thing, but it is our responsibility to do it. And so, that’s one thing I’ve been into. I think the older I get the more I realize like if it’s based in truth and love — I’m into it. You know whether it’s religion, compassion — just showing up or the world — as long as it’s based in these authentic qualities — I’m into it. In Buddhism it has those.

JOANNA MACY:
Sort of like — that’s what the Dalai Lama — he says, you know people shall oh these very arcane practices — my religion is kindness.

DAVID:
Yeah!

DAVID:
Simple.

JOANNA MACY:
Well I — I want to say one more poem.

DAVID:
Please.

JOANNA MACY:
And this is the last sonnet to Orpheus — written later — soon before — he died young, but soon before he died. And it — it helps me face this dark time that we’re in with so much unraveling and the impending collapse that people just — so it reminds me that I’m so glad to be here. I wouldn’t have wanted this to happen on Earth with humans and me not be there?! I don’t know how to.

DAVID:
Not missing that party.

JOANNA MACY:
LAUGHS
So — quiet friend, who has come so far — I’m thinking of all the eons that we each spin around — feel how your breathing makes more space around you. And let this darkness be a bell tower and you the bell. And as you ring, what batters you becomes your strength. Let the darkness be a bell tower and you the bell and what batters you becomes your strength. So, move back and forth into the changes. What’s it like this intensity of pain? Oh, if the drink is bitter turn yourself to wine. In this uncontainable night — be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses and the meaning discovered there. And if the world seems not to hear you — say to the silent earth, I flow and to the rushing water speak I am.

Yeah. It’s again — it’s the beauty of our Earth. We’re inseparable from that. Our earth and the rushing water. And got to stop the fracking.

DAVID:
Seriously. Stop it. There’s just like responsibility. I love the self-responsibility.

JOANNA MACY:
Yes.

DAVID:
Holding others accountable once you’ve learned what responsibility means in your heart. And I mean if everyone was set in that direction oh, we’d just be like locking arms in a different way. We can do this. We are doing it. We can do this.

JOANNA MACY:
We can.

DAVID:
And I want it now.

JOANNA MACY:
You’re right, we can. And now is actually the time.

DAVID:
Now is the time.

JOANNA MACY:
And I just — you can see her up there on the corner of my fridge. She lives in my heart. Greta Thunberg because she — her courage — she speaks it’s so clear. And she says, no we don’t have time to fight around anymore.

DAVID:
No.

JOANNA MACY:
Yeah.

DAVID:
No. No time to be wasted.

JOANNA MACY:
Oh good.

DAVID:
So, upon my research, I started noticing the arc of your work and who you’ve become. And I was writing it out and I was like how am I going to interview Joanna? Like how am I going to do this? You’ve done so much in your life. And I just wanted to honor you in the way that you deserve. And I started realizing like you started out with Buddhism and how I see that starting out is like that’s the study — that’s where the development of work and the understanding of how things function ultimately.

And then from there you kind of went into the nuclear guardianship. So, you became this empowered warrior understanding and action — you were putting into action and engaging. And then from there you realized the great turning. So, you understand how the shift of consciousness — the generations are shifting and bringing to light the realization, the evolution of everything. And then the culmination of everything comes out to the work that reconnects. So, it’s like you’ve done all this work and then all of a sudden, you’ve come to building something to give to people. And it’s the work that reconnects and that’s how I see you becoming and how your work flows — it’s not necessarily a question it’s more of a noticing I would say of like Buddhism, nuclear guardianship, the great turning, and then the work that reconnect — itÕs like an arc of —

JOANNA MACY:
Yeah, and then just true — a lot of people in there because always this has been from the beginning — interactive, finding things, trusting that everybody is a bodhisattva whether they know it or not. And then inviting them to — to experience and then they become as bodhisattvas they — they have lots to show and say so that this is the — were moving away. So, I mustn’t be praised for you know as I achieved this because this is, we move as the great archetype of psychologist, James Hillman says, we’re beyond the age of the lonely cowboy hero. This time, you know we’re growing this together. We’re waking up together It’s too dicey now to trust someone who is a solo achiever — you get me.

DAVID:
Yeah.

JOANNA MACY:
And there’s so many people testifying to this. Like the Dalai Lama saying, I don’t think there’s not going to be another or saying the next Buddha is the sangha.

DAVID:
Oh. It’s a community.

JOANNA MACY:
Wait, that’s it. And that there are others — there’s another phrase of putting it in Jewish terms. We are moving — without it we’re not going to save the planet. A collective intelligence. And so, as everybody — all God’s children want to have a part in the choir — sitting up there on the telephone wire, you know.

So, the work that reconnects is collectively grown — I’ve articulated it. And I’m so grateful that I’ve had a role in it. But we don’t have titles.

DAVID:
Definitely.

JOANNA MACY:
And it’s so beautiful. As a matter of fact, the day Senora Graziano is taking the work — among those taking the work in South America. And he worked with me. He met me in a course that I gave, but I was — the course itself was based on the work that reconnects, but he just oh — I want to be part of that. And I said what — so he’s translated my books into Spanish — particularly Spanish of the Americas. And then in a piece he wrote recently he said, people are so responding to it — its cause I wonder isn’t that amazing what can this spread in the global south when it comes from the USA?

I mean because we are the villains as much as anybody — our naked militarism. And so, I treasure one of the — in sub-Saharan Africa — there are people being trained to deal with genetically modified foods and other crimes peddled by our corporations that grew out of us and they use that coming back to life and active hope those are the two books. One published in ’11 “Active Hope” and the other in ’14, “Coming Back to Life: The updated guide to the work that reconnects. I haven’t travelled there, but what they’ve taken the books and been trained in returning to indigenous — a kind of indigenous jurisprudence for protecting their sacred land. And so, in, you know whether it’s Kenya, Ethiopia or Ghana or Benin in the West or Zimbabwe and they find oh, this work! We love this work. All we do — and they learn — we love it because it fits. It goes with our indigenous spirituality. And they go back to the shame and sin — quote which doctors at the traditional teachers — the wisdom keepers of their villages. Many of them they had been working for corporations that peddling GMO’s and other forms of toxic fertilizers — all of that which is now causing kidney disease and everything. So, they were — saw themselves as shining examples of modern people — not from the village, but now we know we’re part of the world. And then they saw what was happening. So, they’ve been given these books by the Gaia foundation which has raised money to help train them for jurisprudence for the earth and not to buy into the extractive-ism and the dominant corporate — so corrupt — they’re corrupting these people. Yeah.

DAVID:
I think your work has a relatability to anybody — no matter kind of where you’re from because it relates to the earth.

JOANNA MACY:
That’s right. So, I’m inspired by Buddhism, but I don’t — I’m not insisting you be Buddhist.

DAVID:
Not at all.

JOANNA MACY:
But I tell them — I often use words — you know what I use — bodhisattva because you’re here for the healing of all — you know, and I use bodhicitta — that you and your heart is an energy and it is either for the uplift of all.

DAVID:
Yes awesome. Thank you.

So, let’s round it off. I have just a couple quick more questions for you. And I just want to know in this moment of your life — what are some of the heart practices that you have? Like what are some of the practices that you are doing — meditation practice, mantra practices or just thought practices or action?

JOANNA MACY:
Well I do gratitude because that’s part of — from the workshops it’s really — leading the workshops has bred in me instinctive turn toward gratitude, which is just so wonderful. So, that’s a blessing I’ve gotten from the work. And also, the Brahmavihara that I mentioned. And a practice that is becoming — that’s very generative in me is to honor and breed my love for the earth. And what has helped me there has been at the dawn of the (?) — the perfection of wisdom scriptures — there’s a sacred figure. They didn’t even have pictures of her, but they call her the mother of all Buddhas. And I’ve done scholarship about her and written about her.

So, she has kind of blended with Gaia. It’s interesting and I feel her holding me when I sit — and I was about say by my alter — by anywhere — on a park bench or on a sub — BART system you know or on a bus — I can just feel held by my planet — our planet Gaia. But also, there’s (?) — the perfection of wisdom and instead of bowing to her or kneeling before this source of all wisdom — a little bit like you felt with (?). I’m sitting in her lap. She covers my back. She’s shielding my back. And she’s breathing through me. So, my own breath is like her breath through me. And the workshops right from the start we practice feeling ourselves not just breathing but being breathed.

DAVID:
That’s nice. Okay. Beautiful.

So, here’s a question that I thought of a lot of — a lot of people interview you and they ask you questions, but I’m curious what kind of questions would you ask people?

JOANNA MACY:
What do you love? Or that was just sort of — that just come up because I’m curious and because I am strengthened by other people’s love. I — just looking at Gretta Thornburg and her love for the planet strengthens me. And then they’re saying their love strengthens them.

DAVID:
I see what you’re doing there. Okay.

JOANNA MACY:
Yeah, I think that’s the main — I may not say it quite like that.

DAVID:
Yeah, depending on the moment.

JOANNA MACY:
Yeah, but I might phrase it a little differently — but it’s —

DAVID:
But I like the technique in which you’re thinking about it as —

JOANNA MACY:
Yeah, IÕm curious — it feeds me — and then it’s — it’s also becomes a lesson on loving. You know and then you’re — it’s just you are saying about the drumming and the — and the hearing and how you’ve loved that and had a gift for it. And you’ve brought it up into a art form for the service of Earth.

DAVID:
Yes. All right. Okay, my last question.

What else would you like to say to us — final words of the podcast. Maybe just saying anything that comes to mind. Anything that you haven’t said?

JOANNA MACY:
Relish this day. Celebrate life this day. It feeds life to be loved so — love this life, this day. That increases the chances for us all.

DAVID:
So good.

Wow, so — that was such an honor to speak with you today. I — I feel so full of gratitude and I also feel more empowered to show up in gratitude. So, I’m seeing the work you’re doing, the wisdom you have. And I just really appreciate you sharing with us and just letting us know like what’s going on. It was so beautiful and thank you so much for just allowing me to come into your space and just have a conversation with you.

So, I’d like to thank again my very special guest Joanna Macy. Joanna is an educator, a writer, Buddhist practitioner, a speaker, a nuclear activist and her work is also taught at Naropa University in the Joanna Macy Center.

So, thank you again.

[MUSIC]

On behalf of the Naropa community thank you for listening to Mindful U. The official podcast of Naropa University. Check us out at www.naropa.edu or follow us on social media for more updates.

[MUSIC]

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