This blog entry is a follow up from the one I sent out on Thursday. In that blog I introduced the work of Joanna Macy. I wrote about the student group at UVic that is using her resources in a regular gathering we call “Sacred Ecology.”
In this entry I want to explore more deeply the framework Joanna Macy employs to help people on the path of transformation and to free them to become conscious agents of change. With our fragile earth groaning under unprecedented human pressure, a change in consciousness is urgently needed, and it starts with each one of us.
Matthew Fox, writing from a Christian, Creation-Centred Spirituality perspective, suggests that there are four necessary movements in spiritual transformation and the maturing of consciousness. Drawing from the Christian mystical tradition, he names these movements as the Via Positiva, Via Negativa, Via Creativa, and the Via Transformativa. Each explores a different aspect of the spiritual path and taken together they express an integrated and multifaceted map for spiritual transformation. Buddhist Joanna Macy also uses a four dimensional process necessary for what she calls the Work that Re-Connects:
- Affirmation: coming from gratitude,
- Despair work: owning and honoring our pain for the world.
- The Shift: seeing with new eyes, and
- Going Forth.
Briefly, each of the four movements may be described in this way:
Awakening to spiritual awareness often begins with the experience of awe and wonder. As Mathew Fox says: “Awe is the beginning of wisdom.” And as Einstein is reputed to have said: “My sense of God is my sense of wonder.” We live in an amazing and magical universe, imbued with profound intelligence, complexity, frightening power and tender fragility. The Universe Story (cf. Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme), as revealed to us through the tools of science, speaks of a trajectory of creative unfolding from the point of nothing 13.7 billions years ago, to indescribable unleasing of power, potential and creativity. From the simplest of proto-elements at the beginning of time (or better, the formation of time), to hydrogen, helium and ever increasing complexity, self-organization and expansion into stars, space, clusters of galaxies, to the spark of life, and to the formation of consciousness with the universe reflecting on itself. As humans awakened to this vibrant reality, we can only respond with amazement, awe, delight and gratitude. As Rabbi Abraham Heschel said so poignantly: “Just to be is a blessing, just to live is holy.” Joanna Macy writes: “To begin with simple, ordinary thankfulness for our existence grounds all the work that will follow.”
This is the way of darkness, the way of despair and grief. Daily we are confronted with what humankind is doing to the Earth. We feel it as our bodies try to process the toxins, and disease reflects in our own flesh what is being manifested on the earth. Spiritual awakening happens when we pay attention to the pain, and journey into the grief. The mystics call it the dark night of the soul. As a species, we are all now involved in the dark night of the soul. Joanna Macy writes that “Here we confront the realities of our planet–time, including the degradation and suffering of Earth and her beings, and let ourselves experience our responses to these realities.” This is not a bad thing. It can be the beginning of a radical conversion, of the Great Turning, the beginning of new life.
Out of the paths of awe and gratitude, and also the path into darkness, comes the re-visioning energy of creativity. Out of the alchemy of delight and darkness comes the capacity to see with new eyes and envision new possibilities for a sustainable future. We come to realization that we are profoundly interconnected with the whole matrix of life and existence, to past and future, and to the more-than human world. And drawing upon the web of life for strength and guidance we can weave new strands that will enhance and support the creative unfolding of Earth into an ever richer diversity and greater consciousness.
This is the path in which we manifest the vision, wrought out of amazement and darkness, into action and conscious living. This is the path of justice work, of finding practical ways to live more simply, to lessen our negative impact on the earth, to find ways to put love into acts of healing, and building a sustainable community and future. As Joanna Macy writes: “In this stage we explore the synergistic powers available to us as open systems and apply these understandings to our work of social change.”
Of course, these movements or paths are not linear, but arise and unfold at the same time, sometimes with emphasis on one, then finding expression in another. Our plan for the Sacred Ecology gatherings are to focus on one of these paths each time we meet – playfully and thoughtfully, with experiential exercises and discussion.
In a future blog, I will let you know how we are doing.
Originally appeared in the Times Colonist on October 3, 2010.