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Lions Roar : January 2015
Joanna Macy The Work That Reconnects Joanna Macy has had a colorful life. She was recruited to work for the CIA in Cold War Germany, she studied the French Communist Party during a Fulbright year in France, and she participated in the Sarvodaya Shramadana movement, a self-gov- ernance program in Sri Lanka. A scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory, and deep ecology, she’s renowned today as an activist and seminal thinker of the environmental movement. In the 1970s, Macy took note of how frequently activists and would-be-activists contend with despair and other difficult emotions, and bearing this in mind she developed a system for nurturing activists and began sharing it with others. Today this system is called The Work That Reconnects, and it’s been taught to hundreds of thousands of people. The Work That Reconnects has four stages. The first is open- ing to gratitude for the gift of life. As it’s often reflected on in the Tibetan tradition, to be born a human is a rare and precious opportunity. After all, says Macy, “Humans have the capacity for choice,” and it’s through choice that we learn who we are. The second stage is honoring our pain for the world, which may arise as sadness, anger, or fear. According to Macy, “We’re afraid we’ll break if we really let the outrage and grief surface in us.” Yet when we’re not afraid of suffering, something remark- able happens: we discover the boundless heart of a bodhisattva. “Compassion,” she continues, “is not being afraid of the suffer- ing in the world or in oneself.” The third stage is “seeing with fresh eyes.” For Macy, this mean we truly see our interbeing with each other and the web of life. No longer feeling isolated, we find healing. Finally, we naturally move into the fourth stage, which is going forth. During the rainy season, Buddhist monastics tradition- ally gather for retreat. Then, when the rains clear, they “go forth,” taking their practice and teachings out into the world. In the context of The Work That Reconnects, going forth means that, with the wisdom and compassion we’ve developed in the first three stages, we’re inspired to do our part in creating per- sonal and social change. Now in her mid-eighties, Macy thinks back to 1965 when she was working with Tibetan refugees in India and a Buddhist nun shared with her a practice for developing compassion: Over the course of countless lifetimes, every sentient being has been your mother. View someone as your mother—caring for you, sacrificing for you—and your heart will open to them. This was quaint practice, Macy thought, but not personally relevant since she didn’t believe in reincarnation. Nonethe- less, she found herself mulling the practice over one day as she walked a mountain road lined with rhododendrons and cedars. And then it happened. She saw a laborer struggling to carry an enormous tree trunk on his back and—as she puts it—the fur- niture of her mind rearranged. Laborers with ragged clothes and gnarled hands were a com- mon sight around Dalhousie, India. Usually, they made Macy feel uncomfortable, and she’d look away from their gaunt, bent forms, while mentally condemning the system that exploited them. But this time, the person before her wasn’t an oppressed class, but rather her mother, her child. An incomparably pre- cious being. It didn’t matter that Macy didn’t believe in reincar- nation; her heart still broke open. Positive Disintegration By Joanna Macy the prospect of uncoverinG our innermost feelings about what is happening to our world is daunting. How to con- front what we scarcely dare to think? How to face such grief and fear and rage without going to pieces? PHOTOBYADAMSHEMPER SHAMBHALA SUN jANUAry 2015 55