What’s Next? Joanna Macy, Protest, New Structures, Personal Change & Occupy


— a working paper —

Joanna Macy, a scholar, Buddhist, writer and activist, has written about the three necessary ingredients for a “great turning.” She says that there needs to be the “protest” part which includes resistance, blocking and refusal (see below for comments on the OWS movement). The next one needs to have the “new structures,” those new organizations and businesses that reflect what we really need and desire in a socially just and sustainable foundation, what truly sustains us and what we ought to be supporting. Third category, she writes about, is the need for “personal consciousness change.” And more importantly she says that these three categories are non-hierarchical, which can be problematic if one is totally enmeshed in one arena and not that concerned about the other two.

I have been using this framework to guage what is going on and what is possibly next, and giving us a sense of answering/exploring what is happening out there and inside here so that exploration of ideas can instill some excellent conversations and inner spaces… where people can meet and engage in debate and explore together since often times the new ideas often emerge during coffee discussions or at various workshops as in the relatively recent Occupy Wall Street workgroups.

And one element that I like to add here is the strange proclivity that us humans seem to have which declares that our specific answers, our solutions are the only ones worth listening to. Whether you have it or not is not in question since this paper is basically a working paper exploring these ideas and to see how relevant these are regarding the curious question of “what is next?”

However, I will spill the beans now so we can see earlier on where I’m going with this. Since these categories are non-hierarchical, let’s assume that all three categories are very important and that each needs to go deeper and they all need to talk with each other. Very plain and very simple!

Let’s take the number two category “new structures” as a beginning point. Since food seems to be the top priority of many new structure type organizations we can see this easily in terms of community gardens, new young farmers, CSA’s and the investing in the infrastructure of such new structures. There are many green businesses sprouting up all over, new structures working with issues like social justice, fair trade, the B Corporation, sustainability, etc. Two such organizations that have been a rallying place for new structures has been Bioneers and the Green Festivals. If you want to get a taste of these, either go online or attend their “festivals” and you will typically leave in awe, quite inspired to do something else with your life if you aren’t already doing something that’s part of the new structures grid. But we also need to ask some questions – can they go deeper? Is there that temptation to greenwash typical businesses and simply keep it going in the more traditional and comfortable paradigm? Are the new foods, like organic raw chocolate bars or super green drinks, include paying a living wage as well as  being organic, using local suppliers, etc. These are good questions. All I’m saying is how often do they meet with the other two categories within their new structured business or organization or enterprise. Do they include the “protesters” and the “personal consciousness” folks? Are they going deeper within their own business, exploring new ways to make it “better” without killing their business model.

To transition from any of these categories is valid, important and heroic even because it seems to me that this is where we are at: a transition from an old dominant paradigm/worldview to a new one that is being birthed oftentimes under our noses. We as individuals are being nudged along more than we may like to think. I merely am using Joanna Macy’s ideas and await to see how these new structures are unfolding and how they relate to the other two.

And to be in transition implies that one be resilient. And if one is not resilient in these times one might not make it, and even end up like the dinosaur. Resilience has been given much noteworthiness the past five years. In fact Rob Hopkins, the founder of the transition towns movement, has declared that resilience is a much better term than sustainability when discussing such daunting memes as transition towns, or transitioning to a post petroleum economy and culture. One could even chart the changes within the new structures and see how it has evolved, see how resilient they have become and how their “successes” have been evolving. So, in this case with the new structures, going deeper often includes either a discussion with the other two categories as well as going deeper into their own specific model and knowing that resilience is a main factor.

For example, some businesses may have not wanted to become a legal corporation for once they did, the seemingly daunting process became a clearer definition of their business model which could have tied them to that current paradigm (of looking after the bottom line at all costs). However, the “B Corporation” is another model within the “new structure” category that fits this conversation (for more information see http://www.bcorporation.net/). And this is in itself fascinating as well. I no longer need to dwell on specific definitions or examples in this talk since the specific information is already out there. But what I’m doing is playing with this information, with the ideas, and hopefully gain some insight and creativity in this discussion to hopefully allow a birthing of an insight or action or new real resilience that was once thought of as being too daunting to even talk about.

We all have our unique gifts and the challenge and opportunity is to rediscover them and bring them to the party and see where they fall.

And this brings us to the first category: the protest, blocking, resistance one.

Many people have seen the uprisings in the Middle East with tanks, teargas, violence, the police belting it out with activists and ordinary citizens (and being repeated as I type this, in both the Arab Spring and now the Arab Winter). It also reminds us of the 60s in the United States of the various protest demonstrations in DC, Chicago, Ann Arbor, Madison, Berkeley, etc. But somehow that’s not happening here in the United States anymore, (at least not before September 17th with Occupy Wall Street). I’m sure there have been pockets but it was short-lived. Oftentimes the anger may have turned people off. Perhaps we just didn’t know how to do the protest category anymore. See, it worked in the 60s. We protested and oftentimes we were heard and things changed. It was a wonderful time because we were heard, and things changed! And what is one of the major complaints that is often expressed within the Occupied Wall Street movement is that we need to be heard. And, now as of this writing, the voice of the Occupy movement is gaining momentum and perhaps even occupying the daily discussion on the world stage.

So to generalize, it might be appropriate to simply say that the protest category (before September 17th) was simply stuck. But that “stuckness” gave birth to something else. Remember the definition of insanity or madness is to keep doing the same thing expecting different results. So that’s what’s so great about the Occupied Wall Street movement is that there has been a huge shift in knowing that the protest model is not working and it appears thus far that the occupying, leader-full, consensus-based umbrella of the movement has deepened that category.

Just a word about the occupied movement, I hope that we can reserve judgment on something so new. There will be mistakes. There will be confusion. There will be moments of not wanting to listen anymore or perhaps want to go back into our isolated “we know it all” solutions. This is all new. For me, being engaged in our local occupied activities I found it very exhilarating to simply listen to other people, to listen to their anger, to taste the outrageous points that people needed to reach before a birthing process emerged on the scene. And to see how other groups may wish to “hijack” the movement. It seems to me that no one group will be able to “hijack” the movement especially since it appears that the freshness and the incredible newness is continually bringing forth more and more creativity, more and more resilience, more and more camaraderie, where new ideas and new actions are organically and spontaneously emerging from such chaotic appearances. This is the first type of movement that I’ve seen that has been so inclusive with all kinds of people, all age groups, various beliefs.

Talk about going deeper within one of the categories and spreading it over the other categories, the occupy movement is doing it and it is beautiful. It might appear messy but real democracy has always been messy.. and as an aside this begs the question as to where have we learned this thing called democracy? Our homes, schools, government, corporations? No. nowhere.. so how can we have the audacity to export democracy when we don’t even practice it… And look what has been unleashed?! Creativity, art, new modes of communicating, mic checks, liveliness, new media, livestreams and on and on. Sometimes I saw glimmers of a coming together of such periodic bursts of creativity as we see in Burning Man, and Bhakti Fests and Bioneers. It’s quite beautiful to see so many people sleeping over in the parks inside the cities rather than having their festivities in rural areas or the desert. I recall hearing from so many “burners” that they needed to bring it back into their communities, bring back the gifting economies, the love, bring back the honesty and depth that they experienced… bring it all back into our communities so it’s just not one episode each year where one is freely living where trust, being messy, exploring wounds collectively, expanding one’s consciousness and behavior all being played out. Wow is it possible that all the inner and outer works are now moving to make more connections, the myceliac world of passionate connections is spreading even more, especially at a time where we need it the most.

And mistakes will happen and that’s a good thing because actually there are no mistakes, it’s all compost for something new being birthed and we are being birthed and it’s all good. It’s like an incubator. So often people in earlier protest actions spoke about including others in the camp of activism, including people who traditionally disagreed with ones singular viewpoint… and now it’s happening! At the camps I saw (via video) people massaging each other, first aid clinics were emerging spontaneously, new songs, new rituals like mic check, a variety of peoples “politics” were coming together, various circles, workshops, free food booths, media labs and on and on.

The third category is a personal consciousness change. I will say the same thing. Go deeper and spread into the other areas and connect with people in those other two categories. It can be challenging especially if you see personal consciousness is the ONLY category that is important!

If last year you had an epiphany and declare that you would become more sustainable and to live more simply… very cool. And if you are like me, you can only go so far… and slowly I began to see that everything is unraveling, and it’s through the interactivity with the other 2 categories where the personal change can deepen, expand and include others. As in the discussion of that humans are the main culprit around climate change. Perhaps there are other factors, as in climate change is happening on other planets in our solar system and that perhaps we need to take a look at what it means  to be human, as a species. So much of power politics keeps us separate and focused on our ego selves that it becomes so easy to divide and conquer since we are already divided. What would it look like if we refused their system, that we took our power back? And rather than always begging for power, or asking for it, we simply took it, that we became the powerful people we were designed to be… Perhaps this 1% were actually our teachers, as if saying how much are we going to eat and take before we break away and start becoming human instead of slaves begging for crumbs?

So if new information and new questions emerge, it stretches out and nudges various singular viewpoints. The new information expands or mutilates or transforms or shoots holes in our orderly belief system that we so preciously and almost desperately cling to. These are being shattered. This is the category of personal consciousness change where we can reach to the core of our thinking process and honestly evaluate what’s really going on. Have you ever noticed in a group situation where one person is honest it somehow affects others, somehow that honesty seeps through the group and begins to resonate with other people’s honest feelings and intimations and intuitions. Of course it’s not so perfectly transparent but it gives one the idea that we are very similar and that one truth may be strong enough and if it’s appropriate in that specific time and place we can reach and touch other people who may not have been able to articulate that specific shift but now there are more who are able to. I don’t want to get too complicated about this. This personal consciousness change category is tempting to call it quintessential in all three categories. I respect Joanna Macy’s image that these three groups are not hierarchical, and I will continue to play with them in that light since I think all three are playing with us all the time. All three categories are swirling around since there really is no separation. Yet it’s nice to play with a framework in which to explore.

So if new information may create more confusion and perhaps you think that more sacred medicines or more workshops or reading more spiritual works might help and perhaps they all do and then you find yourself possibly playing with the notion that we are all one and that separation is an illusion and that perhaps even, to a large degree, create our own reality because we have tasted abundance of synchronicity’s to declare that the mystery has returned to your life and you can’t go back to working for that dude because you are beginning to fall in love with yourself and suddenly you find yourself saying things and feeling things and wondering about things that you never did before and something is shattering… That not only is the world unraveling but you are unraveling because there is no difference between you and the world. You are the world.

The following is an excerpt of a diary entrance after an Occupying gathering that keeps this thread personally alive…

Suddenly I find I am laughing more, crying more, I begin to feel love and adoration and awe and suddenly I find myself blessing the kale that I have grown in my front yard and are now being used in salads where years ago I never knew what Kale was and perhaps was even proud of not knowing what it was. One time I received a strong hit to sage the house* rather than typically moan and groan in my “journal” entries. Almost overnight I find organizations that are also shifting.  I begin to notice that other organizations are morphing, are incorporating some of the categories like the Pachamama alliance that includes the resistance, the personal change, and the new structures. It’s all unfolding magically with mystery and resilience and aliveness.

One day as I browsed other cool organizations I discover that some of them have meshed with two categories like the evolver.net and Reality Sandwich people who have included personal change, sacred medicine and sustainability. Who would have guessed? Who would’ve anticipated five years ago that the psychonauts would meet up with the sustainability folks and have a conversation and declare that they needed a fusion, a coming together of minds that would stretch them, it would stretch the people who claim they are world changers… Take Burning Man and combine it with Bioneers and you will glimpse what I’m talking about. And just recently a ranch in Ojai held a weekend celebration called Ecotopia where, as their literature stated, that a coming together of Bhakti Fest, Burning Man and Bioneers would emerge… and it did… I was there. I had a chance to taste these pioneers. And who would have imagined that a group like OWS would take the world by surprise with its overreaching goals and aims and its non-violent tone. And who would have imagined that a group working for ten years would emerge with a film that would incorporate other odd movements and ideas like speaking about ending the fed alomg with the subject of crop circles; or in the same breath as including free energy devices, alternative healing practices, alien technology and local currency? But it came… just on time…. Do you feel it?

More and more I saw these groupings, these combinations, the falling apart of the singular dominant thrust from a specific idea or a specific belief system, or from a “political party…”.

One day I looked around a particular occupy event and I saw people from all walks of life talking with each other, laughing and loving and suddenly I feel life is good, things can change, life doesn’t have to be this incredible burden. I am changing and we are all on a ride and we find out that when we start trusting… our illnesses go away, our childhood innocence and play returns with a soft vengeance and we find out that we make friends easier and conversations are deeper and making love becomes sacred and holy and that eating is no longer hogging to feed the human machine and we are starting to come alive and this is what it’s all about and maybe you even have a glimpse of the purpose of why you are here on this planet at this precise time and suddenly you become holy, you feel wholly, somehow magically you’ve stretched beyond your limited viewpoint and the confusion that you may experience is now dissipating. Somehow you find yourself dropping the judgments and the worry and the comparing and you begin to feel such gratitude for being alive, to have the eyes to see the brilliant sun in the morning or the ears to hear the cackling of the crows and appreciate your feet and legs to walk down the street and see smiling faces all around you as if you walked out of a dream into a more lucid dream where sensations are flooding you with love and energy and inspiration and for once you connect with others with your vibrant smile and soft eyes and you begin to see each other with an aliveness that you never experienced before.

Is this what the shift is all about? Perhaps this is the change we’ve been waiting for. Perhaps we are the human beings that truly belong here. We feel the love that emanates from the universe that touches each tiny particle back and forth with everything else and suddenly you feel you are on fire and you are already ushering in the new world. You are the New World and you are now tasting this change that everybody talks about that we are waiting for. But now this is the new world and now you/we are the New World.

* see “Sage the House”: http://www.hopedance.org/home/soul-news/2083

Bob Banner publishes HopeDance.org online and this is a working paper with more parts to be added on….like an evolving painting….

One Comment

This is an important article, central to what we’re about. Banner’s heart surely is in it. However, Macy is a wondrously skilled writer, with whom Banner can’t compare, and has much more to say. Please see her web site: http://www.joannamacy.net/thegreatturning.html.