[2014] Coming back to life

  title={Coming Back to Life: The Guide to the Work that Reconnects},
  author={Macy, J. and Brown, M.Y.},
  series={G - Reference,Information and Interdisciplinary Subjects Series},
  publisher={New Society Publishers}

In openlibrary.

My highlights:

We can find, in the love that grounds us in the living Earth, clarity, courage and self-respect to free ourselves from bondage to a sick and death-dealing economy.

Consumerism can be seen as institutionalized greed, the military-industrial complex as institutionalized aggression and state- and corporate-controlled media as institutionalized delusion. Universal errors to which all humans are prone, rather than evil or satanic forces. These errors become institutionalized as political, economic and legal agents in their own right, they attain a degree of autonomy extending beyond the control and the conscious choices of any individuals involved.

We can meet our needs without destroying our life-support system.

The Great Unraveling draws attention to the disasters that Business As Usual has caused and continues to create, evidence of the ongoing derangement and collapse of biological, ecological, economic and social systems.

The Great Turning [is] the emergence of new and creative human responses that enable the transition from the Industrial Growth Society to a Life-Sustaining Society. It is happening simultaneously in three areas or dimensions that are mutually reinforcing: actions to slow the damage to Earth and its beings, analysis and transformation of the foundations of our common life, Fundamental shift in worldview and values.

We can demystify the workings of the Industrial Growth Society. We also see its fragility, how dependent it is on our obedience and on deception, secrecy, surveillance and force.

To be conscious in our world today is to be aware of vast suffering and unprecedented peril. The distress we feel on behalf of the larger whole of which we are a part. It is the pain of the world itself, experienced in each of us. We are afraid that if we were to let ourselves fully experience these feelings, we might fall apart, lose control or be mired in pain permanently.

It is nearly impossible in today’s global economy to feed, clothe and transport ourselves without unintended harm to the natural world and other people’s well-being. We have neither patience nor practices for dealing with collective guilt, but we can learn. We find it hard to believe that we can suffer on behalf of society itself, or on behalf of other life-forms, and that such suffering is real and valid and healthy.

Not only is our attention hijacked, but our imagination as well, diminishing our capacity to envision what we might yet create. We may fear retribution from the Powers That Be: being fired, blackballed, imprisoned or disappeared. Demagogues direct our frustrations against other groups, blaming those most victimized. For the failures of corporate capitalism, we scapegoat each other.

We try to protect our heart with a defensive armor that closes it to the pain of our world. To be cut off from this root chakra robs us of our birthright to deep ecstatic connections within the web of life.

Free play of the imagination requires trust in life and courage to walk where there is no path. We are beginning to wake up, as from a millennia-long sleep, to a whole new relationship to our world, to ourselves and each other.

Supported by postmodern science and ancient spiritual traditions, it brings a fresh understanding of our relationship to the world and of powers within us for its healing. Liberating us from constricted notions of who we are and what we need, it brings us home to our true nature— in league with the stars and trees of our thrumming universe. We came to think of ourselves as made of better stuff than the animals and plants and rocks and water around us. Our technologies have amplified disastrously the ecological and social effects of that kind of thinking. Fortunately— and paradoxically— our very search for mastery and knowledge through science has brought us to the dawning realization that the world, indeed the universe, seems not to be composed of stuff at all. Each time we have grasped what appeared to be a basic building block, it has dissolved into a dance of energy and relationship.

Ideas become real for us through our senses and imagination— through stories, images and rituals that enlist our capacity for devotion, our tears and laughter. The bodhisattva, the Buddhist hero figure, is one who deeply comprehends the dependent co-arising of all things. This one knows that there is no private salvation and therefore turns back from the gates of nirvana to reenter samsara (the world of suffering) again and again, until every being, every blade of grass, is enlightened.

As life-forms evolve in complexity and intelligence, they shed their armor in order to grow sensitive, vulnerable protuberances— like lips, tongues, ears, eyeballs, noses, fingertips— the better to sense and respond, the better to connect in the web of life and weave it further. [Power] to the powerholders themselves, it is like a suit of armor: it restricts vision and movement. Narrowing awareness and maneuverability, it cuts them off from fuller and freer participation in life. They have fewer options for action and fewer sources of joy, except to grasp for more of what represents power to them. [This is] not a struggle to seize power so much as to release it for efficient self-governance.

Putting forth great effort, let there also be serenity in all your doing; for you are held within the web of life, within flows of energy and intelligence far exceeding your own.

What is the Work that Reconnects?

Having evolved us into self-reflexive consciousness, the world can now know itself through us, behold its own majesty, tell its own stories— and respond to its own suffering. Our experience of pain for the world springs from our connectivity with all beings, from which also arise our powers to act on their behalf. Unblocking occurs when our pain for the world is not only acknowledged, but experienced. When we reconnect with life by choosing to bear our pain for it, the mind retrieves its natural clarity. Significant learnings occur, for the individual system is reorganizing and reorienting, grounding itself in wider reaches of identity and self-interest. The experience of reconnection with the Earth community arouses the urge to act on its behalf.

Coming from Gratitude, Honoring our Pain for the World, Seeing with New Eyes and Going Forth.

Fearless experience of pain for the world. Radical connectivity of all life.

Guiding the Work that Reconnects

A workshop is an island in time where, removed from other distractions and demands, we can focus together long enough to explore our deeper responses to these realities. The group helps us to sustain the gaze. Our task is to provide processes that help people know their pain for the world, their interconnectedness with all life and their power to take part in the Great Turning.

Be sure you’ve done your own despair work before attempting to facilitate it for others.

One of the greatest gifts that a guide can offer to participants is the opportunity to listen to themselves and each other. In stillness, they can listen to their body, what is underneath the words they spoke or what is awaiting articulation. Remember that anger, sorrow, fear and overwhelmedness are natural responses to the suffering of other beings and the deterioration of our world.

A defining characteristic of a ritual is that it invites those taking part to speak archetypally— that is, to speak as part of a larger sacred whole. More encompassing awareness tends to release us from the grip of a hyper-individualized sense of self.

We turn to the breath, the body, the senses— for they can help us to relax and tune in to the wider currents of knowing and feeling. The breath is a helpful friend in this work, for it connects the inside with the outside, revealing our intimate and total dependence on the world around us. Our bodies pick up signals that our minds may refuse to register.

Your senses are real; they connect you with your world; you can trust them. Open your eyes and look in the mirror.

Don’t you apologize for the tears you shed or the rage you feel about what’s happening to our living world. They are just the other face of your belonging. As we relate to what is happening to our world, concern and compassion are not all we feel. There is fed-upness too, even some callous indifference. To be whole, to be present and real, we need to acknowledge those responses as well. To be empty allows space for the new to arise.

The Industrial Growth Society cannot be sustained. It is destroying the biological and ecological systems on which all life depends.

Unlimited economic growth. nothing in the universe grows endlessly without limits.
Maximizing profit. When one variable in a system, e.g. profit, consistently trumps all others, the system cannot stay in balance, goes into overshoot and heads toward eventual collapse.
Externalizing costs and blocking feedback. In order to maximize profit, ecological and human costs of production are off-loaded to third parties, such as taxpayers and the natural world. This distorts both perceptions and accounting of a corporation’s impact. It blocks the feedback that any system needs in order to know the effects of its behavior.
Top-down power. The worldview underlying the Industrial Growth Society sees reality in terms of separate entities, which are in linear, hierarchical and competitive relation with each other. Hence power has been understood as power over and win/ lose, an assumption that breeds insatiable wants.

Power is understood as mutual and synergistic, arising from interaction and generating new possibilities and capacities within the limits of biosphere.
A life-sustaining economy does not alter the integrity and balance of natural systems through technological innovations, such as genetic or geo-engineering.
The goal of economic activity is not the profit of a few, but sufficiency for all, now and into the future.
Feedback is essential for accessing the true costs of our behaviors and our responsibility for any harm they incur.
Humans are seen as both unique and inseparable from our matrix, the web of life; our genuine self-interest includes that of other beings and the living body of Earth.

We are Nature, long have we been absent, but now we return.

Hear us, humans. This is our world, too. And we’ve been here a lot longer than you. Yet now our days are numbered because of what you are doing. Be still for once and listen.

Growth Society radically alter our experience of time, subjecting us to frenetic speeds and severing our felt connection with past and future generations. We have lost time as a biologically measurable experience. Our culture’s readiness to demolish treasures of the past— and to permanently poison the aquifers the future ones will need— reveals a pathetically shrunken sense of time and a pathological denial of its continuity.

Be with us now all you who have gone before, you our ancestors and teachers. You who walked and loved and faithfully tended this Earth, be present to us now that we may carry on the legacy you bequeath us. Aloud and silently in our hearts we say your names and see your faces. All you with whom we live and work on this endangered planet, be with us now. Fellow humans as well as brothers and sisters of other species, call forth our collective will and wisdom. Aloud and silently we say your names and picture your faces. You who will come after us on this Earth, be with us now. It is for your sakes, too, that we work to heal our world. We cannot picture your faces or say your names— you have none yet— but we feel the reality of your claim on life. It helps us to be faithful in the work that must be done, so that there will be for you, as there was for our ancestors, blue sky, fruitful land, clear waters. Gather with us now in this hour. Join with us now in this place.

You come from an unbroken line of survivors and each has gifts to bestow. Open your arms and hands to receive these gifts; gather them in. Take their physical endurance… take gifts of the one with the courage to lead, sending out scouts, choosing the way to go, keeping an eye on the little ones, the aging ones, those heavy with child; keeping the group together. Take the gifts of the storytellers around the fire at night… those who watched how the stars moved, so clear, so mysterious. Walking with these ancestors, harvest their keen senses— their observant eyes, their knowing fingers gathering leaves and roots for fever and for childbirth. Harvest the knowledge of the healers and midwives. Harvest the wild knowing of the shaman who dances between realities, between seen and unseen worlds, and brings back instructions for the people…. Harvest the beating of the drum and the chants as we buried the dead and welcomed the newborn. Walking up through the centuries, see trust in the eyes of the children, the passion in the eyes of the young…. See the wisdom in the eyes of the aged…. Hear the laughter of two young girls splashing in a stream…. Harvest our kinship with the other animals, watching and learning their ways— our teachers, our totems. Receive the ingenuity of your ancestors: making tools, weaving cloth, fashioning homes…. Know their love of beauty, music of a flute coming from the hills, hands carving jewelry, feet dancing on the packed earth. And people come to be owned as well as the land…. And some of your ancestors are slaveholders and some are slaves…. All have gifts for you to harvest, gifts of endurance, gifts of responsibility, gifts of sorrow. And among them, those who rise up to claim the human right for dignity, for food…. Harvest the gifts of ancestors who sing songs of freedom and fight for justice…. Walk with the ancestors who stay on the land, tilling the fields, generation after generation, knowing the soil and the seasons of growth, times of plenty, times of want. Harvest their gifts. Harvest the courage of those who speak out for a fair wage and the right to organize. And some of your kin sent to the death camps, and others in charge of them. But they all have gifts for you, if only broken hearts and the plea to be remembered.

We need to worry less about doing what is more important, and more about doing whatever we can. Those of us who are used to power need to learn to listen as much as we talk, and those with less power need to learn to talk as much as we listen.

This is my right to be here; this is my right to seek freedom from endless suffering and inflicting of suffering. We are here for the sake of life. By the authority of our belonging to Earth from the beginning of time, we are here.

As we go forth in the Great Turning, there are systems and institutions that we will and must challenge. The men and women who serve these structures may appear as our opponents, but they are likely in bondage to our true opponents: institutionalized forms of greed, hatred and delusion.

  • I vow to myself and to each of you to commit myself daily to the healing of our world and the welfare of all beings.
  • I vow to myself and to each of you to live on Earth more lightly and less violently in the food, products and energy I consume.
  • I vow to myself and to each of you to draw strength and guidance from the living Earth, the ancestors, the future beings and our brothers and sisters of all species.
  • I vow to myself and to each of you to support you in your work for the world, and to ask for help when I need it.
  • I vow to myself and to each of you to pursue a daily spiritual practice that clarifies my mind, strengthens my heart and supports me in observing these vows.

Our cultural identities inform how we move in the world, whether consciously or not. Some of us have lost it under the pressure of assimilation; others had it stolen from us by force, through colonization, conquest and slavery. Words like privilege, racism, oppression, power, inclusion and exclusion can be charged for us, depending on our histories. By deciding what we mean by them as we work together, we eliminate much of the tension that arises from thinking we’re talking about the same things but actually talking past each other.

Different is just different, not better or worse.

We can open to the pain of the world in confidence that it can neither shatter nor isolate us, for we are not objects that can break. We are resilient patterns within a vaster web of knowing. When we accept our world’s pain as the price of our caring, it naturally flows into action, without drama or self-righteousness.

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