Joanna Macy: “We need an opposing wind to fly. It is hardship that catalyzes our awakening.”

If there is one woman who models for me, a multidimensional, heart and soul based, deeply centered awareness practice of being here now interwoven with others on Planet Earth, it is this magnificent, clear-seeing, vulnerable, unflinching philosopher and activist, now 87 years old.

Learning to See in the Dark Amidst Catastrophe: An Interview with Deep Ecologist Joanna Macy

After noting how increasingly difficult it is for modern, corporatized, dumbed down, wired, screen-addicted, atomized, lonely individuals to hold each other’s gaze, she goes on to recognize that this is exactly what we must do. Feel with each other in our common suffering.  That this is the Work that Re-Connects.


Number one in your pursuits is the nurture and feeding of the separate ego, separate individual. That leaves you very little to fall back on if you have to confront something unpleasant, like the criminal activities of your own government. So the weakening of the mind, through the reasons I’ve given, and the culture bred on competition, command and control, power over — which we inherit from the patriarchy — these also have bled people of the nerve to challenge the absurdity or criminality of the larger systems. This makes it very easy for people to allow themselves to be lied to and to be bought. There is the fright induced by finding yourself essentially alone. And that is much the story of the American culture.

One more reason, and I think about this all the time, is that we have, in the mid-20th century, the release from breaking open the nucleus of the atom. What we did in doing that was to release the strongest binding power in the universe. It’s the glue of the universe. And you can’t do that. If it ever were to happen, we’d need to be highly integrated, wise beings, who knew just what they were doing.

The tragedy is that we managed to do that when we were still very vulnerable to greed and hatred and this isolated ego needing to subdue everyone else for the sake of the ego. That that happened is perhaps the greatest tragedy of planet Earth. And for the sake of our poor ancestors. I’ve become convinced that people feel unglued, that there is a basic shakiness.

People used to be able to rely on certain things. Reliance on the Earth being there. Relying on the teachings you had. Relying on some values that mattered to you. Relying on your relationships with people. But this [relationships] is the strongest power of the universe that holds it together, that we would shatter that. I think about this a lot.

As an activist on nuclear issues, I notice how all efforts in environmental activism, peace and justice activism, were [hampered] by this difficulty people have in sustaining the gaze. This is an unfortunate development.

. . .

It’s hard to wake up alone now. It’s scary to see even what is going on. But there is almost no limit, I’ve come to believe, to what we can do with the love and support of each other. There is almost no limit to what we can do for the sake of each other.

If you are going to wake up, you have to wake up together. Never has that been more true than now, at this stage of late stage corporate capitalism.

.. . . .

The most important thing to do is find your gratitude for life. Take stock of your strengths and give thanks for what you have, and for the joys you’ve been given. Because that is the fuel. That love for life can act like grace for you to defend life.

So don’t get too solemn. Don’t just spend all your time gritting your teeth. Laugh out loud. Enjoy a kind of wild joy. Ah! Now I have time, to break free from what had stopped me before. Now I’ve time. This time. To realize my inter-being with all life.

So it’ll be different for different individuals. But I think we should not make a move to do things alone. Find others. Even if it’s one other person to begin with. Then others will come. Because everybody is lonely. And everybody is ready to find what they most want. And if it means that we have to be in such danger for us to find out how much we need each other, then let it be that.

So little study groups, and book groups, make a garden together. Keep your ear to the ground. Inform each other. We have to develop the skill of finding that it is more fun to be waking up together, Sarvodaya [Sanskrit term meaning “universal uplift” or “progress of all”], than a single lone star on the stage.


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