Monday, February 13, 2017

Learning to See in the Dark Amid Catastrophe: An Interview With Deep Ecologist Joanna Macy

This is a vitally important interview between Dahr Jamail, whose work I deeply respect, and  one of my longtime and most beloved teachers, Joanna Macy. It is  my deepest hope that this will be read and shared widely. May we all find "that love for life that can act like grace for you to defend life." 
Bless us all ~ Molly

Joanna Macy, deep ecologist, systems theorist, Buddhist scholar, author, speaker, teacher, communing with the Earth at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, January 2017. (Photo: Lois Canright)

By Dahr Jamail, Truthout | Interview

 It's 3:23 in the morning
and I'm awake
because my great great grandchildren
won't let me sleep
my great great grandchildren
ask me in dreams
what did you do while the planet was plundered?
what did you do when the earth was unraveling?
Drew Dellinger

We are living in a time of the convergence of multiple cataclysmic forces: runaway anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), chronic wars and the most grotesque economic inequality ever witnessed on Earth. And all are worsening by the day.
Humans have changed the chemistry of the oceans and altered the very atmosphere of Earth. The planet's largest ecosystems are in free-fall collapse as ACD proceeds apace. Racism, sexism, xenophobia and myriad other structural forms of hate are amplifying around the globe as a fascist authoritarian has ascended to the US presidency, the most powerful office in the world. This reality-television star, failed businessman, sexual predator, and hate-and-fear monger is clearly aiming for the fast track toward totalitarian rule.
"[The totalitarian leaders'] careers reproduce the features of earlier mob leaders: failure in professional and social life, perversion and disaster in private life," Hannah Arendt, author of the essential The Origins of Totalitarianism, wrote. "The fact that their lives prior to their political careers had been failures, naïvely held against them by the more respectable leaders of the old parties, was the strongest factor in their mass appeal."
Sound familiar?
Origins, published in 1951, should be mandatory reading for anyone concerned about what is happening in the US right now, and what may be to come. Arendt, a world-renowned and respected philosopher during her time, could have also been called a prophet.
"The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist," Arendt also wrote. "But people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists."
Many believe that Trump's chief strategist and senior counsel, Steve Bannon -- the racist, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, misogynist former chief executive of Breitbart -- is essentially the puppeteer pulling the strings. Bannon's goal? "I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today's establishment," he told the Daily Beast in 2013.
More recently, just after Trump won the election, Bannon was quoted by The Hollywood Reporter as saying, "Darkness is good. Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That's power."
The news on all fronts is truly horrific. Yet as these malevolent forces charge ahead, equal and opposite reactions of resistance, awakening and love for humanity and the planet are emerging. Not even one month into the presidency, the Trump administration has spawned global demonstrations the likes of which are comparable to those that occurred in February 2003 in opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq.
Clearly an awakening is well underway.
Hannah Arendt begins Origins with an epigram from her teacher Karl Jaspers that seems apt: "Give in neither to the past nor the future. What matters is to be entirely present."
That statement parallels what I was told by one of the great teachers of our time, Joanna Macy.
"The most radical thing any of us can do at this time is to be fully present to what is happening in the world," she told me in 2006.
Macy, an eco-philosopher and a scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory and deep ecology, cofounded with her husband Fran Macy a method of grieving, healing and empowerment that evolved into what is now called the Work That Reconnects.
I attended one of her workshops in 2006 in order to deal with the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder I was struggling with as a result of my reporting from the front lines in Iraq, and wrote about that experience here.
Yet now, in 2017, a new darkness is enveloping the world.
After taking some time to herself in the wake of Trump's ascendency to power, Macy emerged with an offering of a retreat in Abiqui, New Mexico, aptly titled, "In the Dark, the Eye Learns to See."
The title, borrowed and melded from poet Theodore Roethke's "In a Dark Time," as well as Martin Luther King Jr.'s quote, "Only when it's dark enough can you see the stars," could not have been more appropriate.
The moment I was aware of the opportunity to engage deeply in the work again with Macy, who is now 87 years old, I enrolled.
Like so many, I have felt utterly overwhelmed by the viciousness and rapidity with which what Macy refers to as "The Great Unraveling" is now occurring. Like a mountain climber beginning to slip down an icy slope, I needed to find a way to check my fall, hold fast and resume the climb, even if it meant climbing up into a storm.
Simultaneous to "The Great Unraveling," Macy coined the phrase "The Great Turning" to describe "the essential adventure of our time": the shift from what she calls the "industrial growth society" that is consuming the planet to a life-sustaining civilization.
Whether that shift will occur or not is an open question, now more than ever before as we move into the darkness of this ominous storm. But it is this very storm that could very well bring about "The Great Turning."
"We need an opposing wind to fly," Macy said to the group the morning before our interview. "It's the hardship that catalyzes our awakening."
Dahr Jamail: Since our last interview, which was published in June 2014, we are in exponentially worse shape: Donald Trump is president, the catastrophic impacts of climate disruption only continue to worsen and make themselves all the more evident and chronic war is not even paid attention to any longer … among countless other ailments. Given how things were when we spoke in the summer of 2014, it's difficult to believe it is this much worse in such a short time, yet here we are. From your perspective, how has this not caused more people to wake up and take a stand?
Joanna Macy: I think the two answers to that, as I see it, are as follows. One is that, as Bill Moyers has said the morning after the election in that piece he wrote, "Farewell America," he laid it at the doorstep of the media: the failure of mainstream media to grow up and report what was actually happening. They let themselves be bought and cowed and distracted, and disrespected the intelligence of the American people by feeding them pap and amusement. They featured Trump up down and sideways. I think that's part of it.
Let's not omit Fox News, which has been a force for the distraction and dumbing-down of the United States of America for quite awhile now. [As] one whose spiritual roots are in Protestant Christianity, it makes me quite sick to my stomach to see what the evangelicals' role … has been in the mauling of the public attention and intelligence.
So there's that, but then there is something else.
For the last 36 years, since the advent into power of Ronald Reagan, public education and the public school system has been gutted. It's criminal that we've seen how two whole generations have grown up with shamefully limited understanding of the world, history and geography. People in this country now have great difficulty in critical thinking and being able to express themselves.
The public mind has been shattered, fragmented.
In the Vietnam War, for example, 50 years ago, all the protests were visible on television, and people knew where Vietnam was. So to me, one of the great tragedies has been the disintegration of the American capacity to think and pay attention. 

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