Joanna Macy Leads “The Work That Reconnects”

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             Joanna Macy Leads “The Work That Reconnects”
        for Donella Meadows Leadership Fellows, Sustainability Institute
                          and Cobb Hill Cohousing
                         September 23-26, 2006 • Hartland, Vermont

A beam of sunshine shone like a warm spotlight on the bouquet
of flowers that moments earlier had formed the centerpiece of a
ceremony commemorating Donella (Dana) Meadows. It was
the end of a four-day workshop led by Joanna Macy and the
sixty participants were in the final hours of a magical learning
journey together.

This was the first time that four overlapping communities – each
a legacy of Dana Meadows -- joined together in their common
goal of creating a sustainable world. Two classes of Donella
Meadows Leadership Fellows, Sustainability Institute staff and
residents of Cobb Hill Cohousing gathered in Cobb Hill’s
common house to enhance their efforts, individually and
collectively, towards what Joanna calls a life-sustaining                      Joanna Macy
civilization and what Dana called the sustainability age.

Dana and Joanna both base their environmental and social change work in systems thinking. Joanna
said, “I have great regard and gratitude for Dana. She was a source of brightening for my world even
before I met her. She had realism, and precision, a diagnostic eye, and brought such creativity, such
zest to it, such a jovial heart.”

Joanna structured the workshop around      The first day focused on gratitude, the second day on
             a spiral map.                 honoring our pain for the world, the third on seeing with
                                           new eyes and the last day on going forth. Interactive
                                           exercises, ritual and discussion built on these themes,
                                           leading participants to experience both the depth of their
                                           despair for the world, and their intention and ability to
                                           turn the tide. Joanna used humor, scholarship, intellectual
                                           liveliness, emotional depth, masterful facilitation and
                                           talented storytelling to give participants a multi-textured
                                           experience of coming alive to their place in history, and to
                                           their unique contributions to a sustainable world.

The workshop also included input from Sustainability Institute staff. Beth Sawin presented Our
Climate Ourselves in an evening session. This served as an example of how to face the difficult truth
about the situation and use it as a teacher, helping us access what we care most about and the courage
to bring it forth.

Describing what she calls, “the Great Turning,” Joanna put participants’ lives and work in the context
of this transition from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization, “To see this as the
larger context of our lives clears our vision and summons our courage,” she said. Joanna emphasized
two things about the Great Turning: 1) it is an inevitable present day reality, and 2) its ultimate
success cannot be known. She said, “great spiritual power is unlocked when we unlink our work from
the need to see the results of our efforts.” One participant likened the Great Turning to a school of
fish or flock of geese – it doesn’t happen all at once but leader by leader, as each takes their turn
leading those around them.

                                                         The Great Turning is happening concurrently
                                                         on three dimensions, Joanna said:

                                                         • One is “holding actions,” which slow the rate
                                                         of social and ecological damage – these include
                                                         regulations, restrictions, blockades and
                                                         boycotts.

                                                         • The second is ”shifts in consciousness” in
                                                         which old reductionist and materialist ways of
   Joanna describing her theory of systems thinking      thinking give way to understanding the
           as a basis for the Great Turning              interconnectedness of all things, such as we see
                                                         with systems thinking.

• The third dimension of the Great Turning is “structural changes” which include new economic and
social formations -- new ways of owning land, of sharing housing, of understanding healing, of
measuring prosperity. Examples include community-supported agriculture, new currencies and
collaborative living such as co-housing and eco-villages.

Joanna’s methods for bringing this to light called on the intellect, the heart and the imagination.
Participants “conversed” with people seven generations from now and they studied the Great Turning
from the perspective of historians alive in the year 2106 researching that crucial moment 100 years
ago, when in 2006, change was gaining momentum. “Huge human ingenuity was unleashed at that
time,” she said. “What forms did it take?” This Deep Time perspective, reaching both forward and
back in time, is an effective way to shed new light on the decisions and actions we take now.

On the last day Joanna led a deep time exercise to set intentions
for going forth. This was the final phase of the workshop. One of
the Fellows left committed to work on green house gas emissions
mitigation within the California electric utility industry. Already
she has scheduled two teleconferences to which 6000 industry
clients have been invited. Another Fellow wrote about a tragedy
she experienced soon after. She reported:

“Before this workshop, I would have wanted to isolate myself from the situation, and harden my
emotions with fear. But I was able to reach out and somehow form a web of comfort, and faced this
together with a caring that is so taboo in past society, but which is a healing and rational way for
people to share their sadness, fear, regret, and love.”

The spirit of building relationship and community, rather than retreating into isolation and
misunderstanding, will hopefully stay with us all for a long time as the four circles of Dana’s legacy
became one large circle carrying on her, Joanna’s and each other’s work.

Thank you to the Morgan Family Foundation for financial support that made this workshop possible.

				
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