Joanna Macy and the History of the Work That Reconnects

This group work arose in North America in the late 1970s, during a time of escalating concerns about nuclear weapons and nuclear power. Joanna Macy and her colleagues observed that when people share with others their feelings of fear, anguish or despair, their power to act for change is released. 

Rapidly the efforts of these people and many others synergized to develop a model that used counseling methods, spiritual principles, ritual and myth, laughter and tears, reverence and irreverence to help individuals break out of the numbness of despair and denial. 

In the mid-1980s participants began calling it Deep Ecology work and by then the work was spreading around the world with workshops often taking the form of so-called “Councils of All Beings”.

Coming Back to Life, co-authored by Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown, was published in 1998 to provide an up-to-date description of the theory behind the work and some sixty of its exercises. From this book onwards, the group work came to be called “the Work that Reconnects”.

Joanna Macy has created a groundbreaking theorethical framework for personal and social change, as well as a powerful workshop methodology for its application.

The wide-ranging work addresses psychological and spiritual issues of the industrial growth society, the cultivation of ecological awareness and it enables a fruitful resonance between Buddhist thought and contemporary science. It helps people transform despair and apathy in the face of overwhelming social and ecological change.

Joanna Macy has written many books that are broadly distributed. I strongly recommend you start by reading Active Hope, How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy, which she wrote with Chris Johnstone in 2012. They are currently working together on a reviewed edition to be published in 2022, 10 years after the first. We’ll talk more about the concept of “active hope” on this blog soon.

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