The Greatest Danger – The Deadening of Heart and Mind

by Joanna Macy

What you are is what you have been. What you’ll be is what you do now.” – Buddha


The Great Turning arises in response to what we know and feel is happening to our world. It entails both the perception of danger and the means to act. As conscious, embodied beings endowed with multiple senses we are geared to respond: instantly we leap from the path of an oncoming truck…dive into a pool to save a child. This response-ability has been an essential feature of life throughout human evolution. It enables whole groups and societies to survive, so long as their members have sufficient information and freedom to act. In systems term, response to danger is a function of feedback—the information system that connects perception to action.

Now, however, perils facing life on Earth are so massive and unprecedented they are hard to even take in. The very danger signals that should rivet our attention and bond us to action, tend to have the opposite effect. They make us want to pull down the blinds and busy ourselves with distractions that support billion-dollar industries telling us everything will be ok as long as we buy the new…..or watch the next show in…


We eat meat from factory-farmed animals and produce grown by agribusiness ignoring pesticides, hormones, and genetic alterations they contain. We buy clothes without noticing where they are made, preferring not to think of the sweatshops they may have come from. We don’t bother voting…or hope our candidate will change his/her views. Has our society become callous, nihilistic?  Does it not care for life on Earth?

It can look that way. Reformers and revolutionaries decry public apathy. To rouse people, they deliver yet more terrifying information, as if people didn’t already know that our world is in trouble. They preach about moral imperatives as if people didn’t care…it all appears too overwhelming, too complicated.. too out of people’s control.

So it’s good to look at what this apathy is, to understand it with respect to compassion. Apatheia is a Greek word that means, literally, non-suffering (the inability or refusal to experience pain). What is the pain we feel—and desperately try not to feel—in this planet time? It pertains not just to privations of wealth, health, reputation, or loved ones, but to losses so hard we can hardly comprehend them.  It is pain for the world (distant famines, ever-widening military offensives, toxic wastes, climate’s destructive change).

To be conscious in the world today is to be aware of vast suffering and unprecedented peril. The problem, therefore, lies not with our pain for the world but in our repression of it.

It is hard to believe with feel pain for the world if we assume we are separate from it. The individualist bias of Western culture supports that assumption. Feelings of fear, anger, and despair are seen as personal pathology. Thus we are tempted to discredit feelings that arise from solidarity with our fellow-beings or other life forms.

Many fears arise: Fear of powerlessness: Fear of Knowing -and speaking

Yet there is a shift in consciousness…you are part of it…which is central to the arising of the Life-Sustaining Society.

The world view emerging now lets us behold anew and experience afresh the web of life in which we exist. It opens up to the vast intelligence of life’s self-organizing powers, which we have brought us forth from interstellar gases and primordial seas. It brings us to a larger identity in which to cradle and transcend our ego-identified fears. It lets us honor our pain for the world as a gateway into deep participation in the world’s self-healing.

More basic to the Great Turning than any ideas we hold is the act of courage and love we make together when we dare to see our world as it is

Our pain for the world is natural and healthy.

Excerpt from Coming Back to Life: The Updated Guide to the Work That Reconnects by Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown  pp 19-72

Joanna Macy Happy Belated birthday – 91 years old on May 2, 2020. An excerpt of her extraordinary love in action is found at Joanna Macy: A Wild Love for the World at inspiringstory.org

And Happy belated birthday Honorable Buddha.  The super moon on May 8 (last one in 2020) corresponds with Buddha Poornima, which is the birthday of the great spiritual master, Gautam Buddha

“If we fail to look after others when they need help, who will look after us?

The root of suffering is attachment.

Silence the angry man with love. Silence the ill-natured man with kindness. Silence the miser with generosity. Silence the liar with truth.

However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you if you do not act on upon them?”- Buddha


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About awakinOAK

Intentionally located in east Oakland -- to, on the one hand, overcome institutionalized violence and on the other hand, be showered by the multicultural love and wisdom from neighbors-- this small community strives for integral nonviolence and supports activities that foster fearlessness, courage, autonomy, unconditional love and compassion for all beings. Every Friday for the last 10 years, the anchors of Awakin Oakland, host "Wednesdays on Fridays", an open-house meditation night that was inspired by a family in Santa Clara who has been doing this for close to 23 years [2020] No teachers or gurus. No set agendas or proposed beliefs either. Just one strong principle -- when you change within, the world changes
This entry was posted in ahimsa, Awakin Oakland, fearlessness, natural philosophy, Peace Army, science, soulforce, WednesdaysOnFridays and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Greatest Danger – The Deadening of Heart and Mind

  1. Thank you for your words of wisdom and peace. It is a challenge to be calm in the face of danger and entrapment, even if staying home is for our own good. Striving for personal peace is so important. The words of Guatam Bhudda above are a roadmap in this crisis. For me, they offer insight into the roots of despair and they provide steps so we can make the shift in consciousness that Joanna Macy describes above. Healing is within reach.

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