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Coming Back to Life: The Updated Guide to The Work That Reconnects

The rise of Trumpism brings to the fore a lingering question: Can we greens protect the planet without getting our own shit together? Here I’m not just talking about our personal ecological footprint, but also about the way we engage the world. Some call that personal growth or psycho-spiritual development.

Joanna Macy is an unusual leader in the green community because she explicitly links environmental activism with personal growth. While elements of her approach have some similarities to those of New Age practitioners, Macy also displays solid intellectual chops, which is in keeping with holding a doctorate in Buddhism, systems thinking and deep ecology. For example, her website offers interesting takes on topics such as “deep time,” “positive integration” and “engaged Buddhism.”

Macy’s book, Coming Back to Life, offers a good overview of her approach. Much of the book consists of exercises that she uses in her workshops, which she conducts throughout the world. I suspect that your typical local environmental activist would find one of her workshops challenging because they force you to get outside of your head and engage your emotions. Yet many of her exercises get to the heart of what it means to be an environmentalist because they help us connect with our ancestors and, most of all, nature.

— S. Salmi

Coming Back to Life: The Updated Guide to the Work That Reconnects
  • Joanna Macy and Molly Brown, 2014
  • New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, BC

“The Industrial Growth Society generates great suffering worldwide. Buddhist social thinkers see that what is at work here are institutionalized forms of the three mutually reinforcing poisons at the root of all human suffering: greed, aggression and delusion. Consumerism can be seen as institutionalized greed, the military-industrial complex as institutionalized aggression and state- and corporate-controlled media as institutionalized delusion. It follows that we are confronting in the Industrial Growth Society universal errors to which all humans are prone, rather than evil or satanic forces. It also follows that once these errors become institutionalized as politics, economic and legal agents in their own right, they attain a degree of autonomy extending beyond the control and conscious choices of any individuals involved. This understanding can motivate us not to condemn so much as to work to free ourselves and others who are in bondage to these institutionalized poisons.” (p. 3)

“What can we do to break the silence and meet our children on the level of their own deep responses? Sadly, given the destructive processes already unleashed, we parents and teachers cannot make the world a safe place for our children. Even if we stopped all fossil fuel use today, climate disruption will continue to unfold for decades, maybe centuries. In a world so full of death and destruction, how can we nurture the little ones’ sense of safety and security as they develop their own sense of self?” (p. 222)


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