Rekindling The Great Turning

Sometimes our light goes out but is blown again into flame by an encounter with another human being. Each of us owes the deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light.” ~Albert Schweitzer,  Philosopher, Physician, Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown in their excellent guide-book “Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect our Lives, Our World” say there are three dimensions of what they call The Great Turning.

If you are involved in any type of analysis, awareness, action or regeneration you will certainly have moments of despair and experience isolation, frustration, even doubts about the worthiness and potential of the work you do…as Bill Mollison’s quote in my last post mentions, it is a matter of humility and perseverance. Instead of complaining or feeling overwhelmed, when there is a flaw, there is an opportunity for work to be done.

As I age, I find this work harder. Burnout can come easy and climb unnoticed until is too late, it manifests in the body and the soul as sickness and discomfort, cynicism and withdrawal.

Finding Joanna and Molly’s book was a blessing, a rekindle of my own burnout candle, and I highly recommend its reading to all involved in any of the three dimensions of the Great Turning.


Here are some excerpts of the book:

“Perhaps the most visible dimension of the Great Turning consists of the countless actions to slow down the destruction being wrought by the Industrial Growth Society. These take political, legislative and legal forms, as well as direct action. We call them holding actions because they attempt to hold the line, to buy time for systemic changes to take place.” These actions include documenting, whistle blowing, circulating awareness through blogs, articles, petitions, giving talks, showing films, vigils, marches, legal actions, divesting campaigns, boycotting, long-term protests camps, blockading, civil disonbedience, providing sanctuary for people in danger and providing shelter, food, legal assistance and clinics for those victimized by the Industrial Growth Society…

But as Joanna and Molly say in their book “This first dimension of the Great Turning is wearing. It is heroic work. When we’re in the spotlight, it can bring respect and applause from the many who see what’s at stake. We can also get stressed out of our minds by nonstop crises, battles lost, constant searches for funding and escalating threats and violence against activists.”

This burnout is easy to spot at many levels where activists give up and move to the land or abandon their fights, turning inwards to escapism or denial or turning cynical and giving up.

They continue:

The second dimension of the Great Turning is also essential in order to free ourselves and our planet from the damage inflicted by the Industrial Growth Society. It has two aspects:

  1. Understanding the dynamics of corporate capitalism, including the structures of law and governance that support it
  2. Generating structures based on the inherent authority and rights of We the People to govern ourselves and to protect the grounds of our common life

What are the assumptions and agreements that create obscene wealth for a few, while impoverishing the rest of humanity? What indentures us to an insatiable economy that uses our larger body, Earth, as supply house and sewer? What are the structures of law that make it illegal for local communities to define their own future and protect themselves from corporate harm?”

We are in an era of profound change that urgently requires new ways of thinking instead of more business as usual; capitalism, in its current form, has no place in the world around us”. ~ Klaus Schwab, founder World Economic Forum

This is not a pretty picture. It takes courage and confidence in our own intelligence to look at it clearly; the rewards are great when we do. As citizens are discovering in a plethora of websites, blogs and publications, we can demystify the workings of the Industrial Growth Society. For all its apparent might, we also see its fragility — how dependent it is on our obedience and on deception, secrecy, surveillance and force.

In this second dimension of the Great Turning, we are not only studying the structural causes of the global crisis; we are also learning old and new ways to better serve the common good (bold and italics are mine). These two efforts go hand in hand. They use the same mental muscles, the same kind of knowledge, the same itch for practicality. In countless localities, like green shoots pushing up through the rubble, social and economic arrangements are sprouting to free us from injustice and ruin. They may be hard to see at first, because they are seldom featured in the media. Not waiting for our national or  state  politics to catch up with us, we are banding together, taking action in our communities.”

“The actions that burgeon from our hands and minds may appear marginal, but they hold the seeds for the future.”

Some examples of this second dimension include: study circles, retrieval and creation of laws to protect the commons from industrial privatization, cultural and legal recognition of LGBTQ individuals, restorative justice and conflict resolution to replace punishment and litigation, holistic measures of wealth and prosperity, renewal, localized and non-polluting generation of energy, land trusts and intentional communities, permaculture courses, family and community gardens, CSA’s and local farmers markets, municipal composting, citizen restoration projects, holistic health and wellness practices, local currencies, time banks, tools sharing, local cooperatives, etc.

Finally, Joanna and Molly write: “It is hard to undertake the holding actions or initiatives described above unless we are nurtured by deeply held values and ways of seeing ourselves and the world (bold and italics are mine). The actions we take — and structures we build — mirror how we relate to Earth and each other (idem). They require a shift in our perception of reality (idem)— and that shift is happening now, both as cognitive revolution and spiritual awakening. This is the third dimension of the Great Turning.

Some ways to cultivate new perceptions and values include:

  • Grassroots programs to raise awareness of racism, discrimination and oppression in all its forms and transform attitudes, assumptions, habits and behaviours
  • First Nations peoples bringing the spiritual message about our connection to land and other beings
  • Initiatives to promote understanding and celebration of the Rights of Mother Earth
  • Aboriginal teachings for the protection of sacred sites all around the world
  • Shamanic traditions including sweat lodges and trance drumming
  • Wilderness immersion experiences, including vision quests and deep connection to nature programs
  • Engaged Buddhism
  • Creation spirituality in Christianity, Sufism in Islam and versions of the Kabalah in Judaism spreading the messages of the sanctity of all life
  • Ecopsychology expanding our understanding of mental health
  • Ecofeminism, blending political critique with the women’s movement and re-anchoring us in the natural world
  • The environmental justice movement
  • Music, visual arts, poetry and visionary novels, dance, theatre and film increasingly expressing our interconnectedness

Though we hardly have words for it, this cognitive, perceptual and spiritual revolution is occurring at a great rate of speed.

This shift in our sense of identity will be lifesaving in the socio-political and ecological traumas that lie before us. All honest forecasts are for very rough weather ahead. As distant markets and supplies dry up, financial institutions collapse and climate-induced disasters multiply, the shock waves washing over us could tumble us into fear and chaos. The realizations we make in the third dimension of the Great Turning save us from succumbing to either panic or paralysis. They help us resist the temptation to stick our heads in the sand. They help us withstand the temptation to turn on each other, finding scapegoats on whom to vent our fear and rage. When we know and revere the wholeness of life, we can stay alert and steady. We know there is no individual salvation. We join hands to find the ways the world self-heals.

Though we can discern the Great Turning and take courage from its manifold activities, we have no assurance that it will unfold quickly enough. We cannot tell which will happen first: the tipping point beyond which we cannot stop the unraveling of the systems supporting complex life-forms — or the moment when the elements of a Life-Sustaining Society cohere and catch hold.

If the Great Turning should fail, it will not be for lack of technology or relevant data so much as for lack of political will. When we are distracted and fearful and the odds are running against us, it is easy to let the heart and mind go numb. The dangers now facing us are so pervasive and yet often so hard to see — and so painful to see when we manage to look at them — that this numbing touches us all. No one is unaffected by it. No one is immune to doubt, denial or distraction in relation to the severity of our situation, nor to doubt about our power to change it (bold and italics are mine).

Yet of all the dangers we face, from climate change to nuclear wars, none is so great as the deadening of our response. That numbing of mind and heart is already upon us — in the diversions we create for ourselves as individuals and nations, in the fights we pick, the aims we pursue, the stuff we buy. So let us look at it. Let’s see how it happens so we can awaken. The Work That Reconnects helps us open up our eyes, our minds and hearts. Then, reconnected with our deepest desire, we will choose life.


It is the destruction of the world in our own lives that drives us half insane, and more than half.
To destroy that which we were given in trust: how will we bear it?” ~ Wendell Berry

Our hope is that if we keep all the distractedness going, we will not
have to look at who we are, we will not have to feel what we feel, we
will not have to see what we see.” ~ Judy Lief

May a good vision catch me
May a benevolent vision take hold of me, and move me
May a deep and full vision come over me
And burst open around me…
May I awaken into the story that surrounds,
May I awaken into the beautiful story.”
~David Abram

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