The World We Seek

“Isolation and fear reinforce each other…The mystery at the core of our existence is that simple: we are held in a web of mutual belonging.”

Joanna Macy, Buddhist activist and teacher

Joanna Macy talks about three dimensions of “The Great Turning”—the cultural shift happening all around us, taking us into a future built on justice, equity, and respect for our earth home. She divides this most important work of our time into three overarching action areas:

  1. We can hold the line, protecting what’s at risk.
  2. We can reinvent, building new structures that supplant the crumbling outdated ones.
  3. We can reimagine, nurturing a consciousness shift to transform the world from the inside out.

In recent years I’ve been drawn to the third of these. A little bit to the second. Not so much the first, though I care deeply about what happens to women, marginalized groups, the poor, and our planet.

I care, but I’m not much of an activist in the traditional sense of the word. Constitutionally I am more primed for shining light on beauty than beating back ugly.

So I admit I was at first hesitant to go to my local rally in support of Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington. Protests are important and needed, as are phone calls and watchdog alerts and bodily interruptions of heinous activities like mass deportations.

I’m more of re-envisioner by nature. And I don’t like crowds. I guard my energy carefully.

But my intuition told me that going to the sister march in Indianapolis would not drain me. And I knew it was important to show up and be counted as an Indiana resident in favor of ethical leadership and fairness and, well, humanity’s future on the planet.

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What I didn’t realize that riding the bus downtown, joining the jubilant women and men assembled there, would fuel me. That being part of this fantastically big (worldwide!) event would renew my hope and feed my desire to remake the world.

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I saw a very young boy with a rainbow scarf and a small sign that said “Make America Kind Again.” A man with a Steelers jacket and an incongruous (or not!) pink ribbon around his arm.

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Photo by Gaynell Collier-Magar

I saw fathers being tender with their daughters and sons, a woman in a wheelchair with oxygen tubing in her nose and a Planned Parenthood sign across her lap, and many beautiful people of all ages, body sizes, genders, and races.

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“Though she be but little, she is FIERCE.”

The day left me with a sense of unity that feels part and parcel of both reinvention and reimagining. I could see it in the creativity and passion expressed through signs, clothing, song, speech, movement.

img_5808When I got home and started to see reports of other cities’ marches all over the world, I felt an incredible lift. I thought, The world has my back.

This healed my broken heart, or began to heal it.

I know that the impact of a one-day march, no matter how colossal in size, is limited if we all go back to our regularly scheduled lives. But something tells me that this is just the beginning. If we hold to our hearts, staying awake AND kind, we can’t be far from the new world we seek.

The Steps We Take Now

“We can indeed transform the world, and we are each called to take part in this sacred work.”

—Desmond Tutu, from the Foreword of Random Kindness

It seems that every day brings news of another horrific act of violence. The level of cruelty reaches appalling levels. Where are we going and why are we in a handbasket, as my mother would say?

But recently I got my hands on the reissue of this beautiful book, and it is like an inoculation against hopelessness.

Are we moving “closer and closer to a world where everyone is dead for no reason,” as the book describes one possible scenario? Or are we waking up to the fact that “we’re all making the soup we’re all eating?”

I first learned of this fabulously illustrated work from my sister Mesa Refuge resident Paloma Pavel, who is a total powerhouse. Years ago she started working in the anti-nuclear movement with Joanna Macy (my idol!), and she hasn’t stopped advocating since.*

Paloma coauthored the lovely little book expanding on the saying Practice Random Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty. Her coauthor, Anne Herbert, originated this statement, and the two originally collaborated on Random Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty in response to the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles.

An artist named Mayumi Oda (the “Matisse of Japan”) illustrated the book in a traditional folk art style based on 12th century Japanese picture scrolls. Frogs, cats, monkeys, birds, and rabbits play the part of humans on a dual path—will they (we) choose destruction, or delight?

Historically in Japan, this type of folk art used animal representations to spread subversive messages. It seems an apt medium for a book that proclaims, “We are all leaders now.”

The 20th anniversary edition has just been published. I had the thrill of hearing Paloma read its lyrical text on our last night at Mesa Refuge, a full year before the book was reissued.

Myself, Sierra Murdoch,  Jerry and Gail Needleman, and Paloma Pavel at Mesa Refuge

Myself, Sierra Murdoch, Jerry and Gail Needleman, and Paloma Pavel at Mesa Refuge

So beautiful:

“The steps we take now
Make new earth grow beneath our feet.”

“In every moment we live
We have the choice
To find the fight
Or make delight
We have power.

To hear Paloma read the full text aloud was just magic.

I borrowed the book from the library for now, but I plan to purchase my own copy. All royalties will be donated to antinuclear advocacy and community resilience across boundaries.

*Check out more of Paloma’s work at Earth House Center and Breakthrough Communities.

Birthing a New Story

Does it ever seem to you like an age of innocence is past? I’ve been thinking about this since reading Charles Eisenstein’s brilliant article, 2013: The Space Between Stories.

He describes a nostalgia for the cultural myth of his youth, “a world in which there was nothing wrong with soda pop, in which the Superbowl was important, in which the world’s greatest democracy was bringing democracy to the world, in which science was going to make life better and better. Life made sense.”

By Simon Q from United Kingdom (Rusting Sherman Hull Uploaded by High Contrast) via Wikimedia Commons

By Simon Q from United Kingdom (Rusting Sherman Hull Uploaded by High Contrast) via Wikimedia Commons

He talks about how we used to believe that the good folks in charge had things all under control, but of course it’s clear now that isn’t true. Our eyes are opening. We can’t ignore the perpetuation of global poverty and extreme inequity. We’re waking up, painfully, to the destruction wrought in the name of commerce and greed. We see that things are falling apart, and the institutions and experts we used to trust are not going to fix it.

And we can never get back to that old cultural story. We’re birthing the new story now, but we’re in a between-time. Our lack of shared cultural myth makes this a turbulent and often frightening time, with the extreme death throes of the old story showing us the worst of the worst.

Or that’s what Eisenstein thinks anyway, and it rings true for me.

Joanna Macy says it this way:

This is a dark time filled with suffering, as old systems and previous certainties come apart.

Like living cells in a larger body, we feel the trauma of our world. It is natural and even healthy that we do, for it shows we are still vitally linked in the web of life. So don’t be afraid of the grief you may feel, or of the anger or fear: these responses arise, not from some private pathology, but from the depths of our mutual belonging.

Bow to your pain for the world when it makes itself felt, and honor it as testimony to our interconnectedness.

So instead of running from our pain in this chaotic between-time, we can turn toward it, with compassion. We can grieve what’s passing away, mourn what’s lost to us forever. We can acknowledge the emotions that arise as we awaken, even the ones we’ve been taught are best kept locked down.

Crocus blooms under snow

Crocus blooms under snow

Instead of cutting off the feeling parts of ourselves, we can invite our whole selves to help dream the new story.

What story shall we create?

Inspiration from Across the Pond

© Scott Patterson | Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Scott Patterson | Dreamstime Stock Photos

I just found out about a forthcoming book called Stories of the Great Turning, which features first-person accounts of Brits who are transforming their lives in inspiring ways. According to Vala Publishers:

“These are the stories of just a few people who decided to act, in their own lives, in response to the challenges of climate change and environmental degradation, and found their own way to make a difference. They are not stories about celebrities, environmental geeks or gurus but honest accounts from people who…’just got on with it.’

It is a book that takes the question, ‘What can I do?’ and sets out to find some answers using one of our species’ most vital skills: the ability to tell stories in which to spread knowledge, ideas, inspiration and hope.”

Kindred spirits if there ever were. And there’s a foreword by beloved eco-activist Joanna Macy, and I think you know how much I adore her. (“Now is the time to clothe ourselves in our true authority.” –from the Foreword.)

I’m invited to the book launch next month. Exciting! It’s in Bristol, England, so I won’t be there, but still!