Join us for an inspiring interview with Joanna Macy, Eco-philosopher and Buddhist scholar. Listen to her share precious insights from her five decades as an activist, author and visionary teacher of Buddhism, general systems theory and deep ecology. A profound leader, grassroots organizer and compassionate voice, Joanna Macy has devoted much of her life to the movements for peace, justice, and ecology.
Founder of the Work That Reconnects, a groundbreaking framework and methodology for personal and social change, she has also authored numerous books, including ‘Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy,’ written with Chris Johnstone. Having empowered thousands of people worldwide to transform the despair and apathy caused by overwhelming social and ecological crises into constructive, collaborative action, she invites others to perceive the world in a new way that supports the continuance of life.
Following is an excerpt from the interview:
Carry Kim: We’re thrilled to have you with us. You’ve been involved for many years translating the work of poet Rainer Maria Rilke. And we’re wondering if you could share with us the sonnet to Orpheus, which you’ve said has helped you a great deal in this time.
Joanna Macy: Yes, it has. It was written in the 1920s, close before his early death. I’d be delighted to share because it’s contagious in the sense of perseverance. So here goes with Let This Darkness Be a Bell Tower:
Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,
what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.
In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.
And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent Earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.
Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29
Carry Kim: so pertinent, so relevant for right now. I wanted to go back in time to 1965 when you were in India, with your husband working with the Peace Corps. Well, half a century ago now, you recounted it as one of your most profound experiences, even to this day. And I’m wondering why.
Joanna Macy: Yeah, it still strengthens me as I remember it. It was a new experience of being bigger than the self that I’d become accustomed to think of as Joanna, bigger than the bag of skin that separates inmates in the world, and that there was justice. Uh, the Buddha had said, and as deep ecology implies about the ecological self, we are far bigger ourselves are far more extensive than this socially constructed, uh, skin encapsulated ego.
Carry Kim: Can you share what you experience working with the Tibetan refugees out there, and their notion of self?
Joanna Macy: That they, uh, weren’t trapped in watching themselves to see how good, our how correct, or how upbeat, or how discouraged they were. They had lost everything and faced death and snow blindness as they crossed over the high Himalayan passes and carrying all they had on their backs. And but there was no self-pity. Boy, did that hit me. Be free of always watching yourself in judging yourself as good enough or strong enough, for am I whatever in love and to identify yourself simply with the privilege of being alive now, in this moment and the privilege of having a choice. How? That’s liberation.
Carry Kim: Absolutely. Yeah. You’ve spoken so much about the hyper individualism of US culture.
Joanna Macy: Yes, I think it that cripples us far more than we realized. And this is great. A beauty of this moment that we’re alive and we can begin to experience not only for ourselves, but for others. And through what we choose to do that we can be free of this, because that’s what you know. That’s what late capitalism and the consumer society is built on, we are maybe never good enough. Never pretty enough that you don’t smell right. You don’t look right. You don’t drive the right car. Whatever. We’ll keep being reduced to this pathetic notion of where’s our true nature?
Carry Kim: absolutely
“One of my greatest sorrows is the cultures and languages just winking out so fast, and going extinct. A language is a whole precious way to see the world, as the word — our planet expresses herself through language. Some of these indigenous cultures are so exquisitely unrepeatable, to you have touched a big wound in my heart mind, and that [it’s important] to go and hang out with the those who still have these wonderful ways of seeing and being human, uh, before [they’re gone]. So that’s that’s just one more reason to serve. This is going to be inevitable. The camera is self destroying. [Karl] Marx was right about that.” — Joanna Macy
The Work That Reconnects sees the world reality told in three stories: Business As Usual, the Great Unraveling, and the Great Turning. The third story, the Great Turning is the epochal transition from an industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization.
More information: https://workthatreconnects.org/
Sabina Virgo from SoCal 350 does the Words from the Front, speaking on the Poor Peoples Campaign at the January 15 Martin Luther King Day Parade in Los Angeles.
Interview by Carry Kim from EcoJustice Radio.
Host and Engineer: JP Morris
Executive Producer: Mark Morris
This originally aired January 8, 2018 on KPFK 90.7 FM, Pacifica Radio in Los Angeles.
Updated 30 June 2019