The Great Turning

The Natural World: Week 2

The Great Turning
Wednesday, March 14, 2018

When we look down on the Earth from space, we see this amazing, indescribably beautiful planet. It looks like a living, breathing organism. But it also at the same time, looks extremely fragile. —Ron Garan, NASA Astronaut [1]

I have set before you life and death, therefore choose life. —Deuteronomy 30:19

Eco-philosopher, Earth elder, spiritual activist, and friend Joanna Macy (b. 1929) promotes a transition from the Industrial Growth Society to a Life-Sustaining Society. She calls it the Great Turning, a revolution of great urgency: “While the agricultural revolution took centuries, and the industrial revolution took generations, this ecological revolution has to happen within a matter of a few years.” [2] She is hopeful as she sees many participating in: “1) Actions to slow the damage to Earth and its beings [holding actions]; 2) Analysis and transformation of the foundations of our common life; and 3) A fundamental shift in worldview and values.” [3]

The Center for Action and Contemplation has focused primarily on the last dimension, fostering a change in consciousness. Here’s how Joanna Macy and Molly Brown describe this crucial shift in perception and values:

It is hard to undertake the holding actions or initiatives . . . unless we are nurtured by deeply held values and ways of seeing ourselves and the world. The actions we take—and structures we build—mirror how we relate to Earth and each other. They require a shift in our perception of reality—and that shift is happening now, both as cognitive revolution and spiritual awakening. . . .

The insights and experiences that enable us to make this shift may arise from grief for our world that contradicts illusions of the separate and isolated self. Or they may arise from breakthroughs in science, such as quantum physics and systems theory. Or we may find ourselves inspired by the wisdom traditions of native peoples and mystical voices in the major religions . . . that reminds us again that our world is a sacred whole in which we have a sacred mission.

Now, in our time, these three rivers—anguish for our world, scientific breakthroughs, and ancestral teachings—flow together. From the confluence of these rivers we drink. We awaken to what we once knew: we are alive in a living Earth, the source of all we are and can achieve. Despite our conditioning by the industrial society of the last two centuries, we want to name, once again, this world as holy.

These insights and experiences are necessary to free us from the grip of the Industrial Growth Society. They offer us nobler goals and deeper pleasures. They help us redefine our wealth and our worth. The reorganization of our perceptions liberates us from illusions about what we need to own and what our place is in the order of things. [Moved] beyond tired old notions of competitive individualism, we come home to each other and our mutual belonging in the living body of Earth. [4]

[1] The Overview: Planetary Collective,

[2] Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown, Coming Back to Life: The Updated Guide to the Work that Reconnects (New Society Publishers: 2014), 4.

[3] Ibid., 6.

[4] Ibid., 14.

Image credit: Starry Night Over the Rhône (detail), Vincent van Gogh, September 1888 (Arles), Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.
The life pouring through us, pumping our heart and breathing through our lungs, did not begin at our birth or conception. Like every particle in every atom and molecule of our bodies, it goes back through time to the first splitting and spinning of the stars. —Joanna Macy

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