Discovering Joanna Macy: the Work that Reconnects

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On the 6th of April, facilitators Jenny Smith and Jenni Horsfall from the Shift Bristol Practical Sustainability training are running a one day workshop in Joanna Macy‘s work, the Work that Reconnects, at the Centre for Alternative Technology. Below, Jenny explains Joanna Macy’s ideas, and discusses how it has helped activists the world over.

I discovered Joanna Macy through her book ‘World as Self, World as Lover.’ The title alone impacted me viscerally and the subsequent experiences of reading it and later training with her profoundly influenced my understanding of how life affects many of us in this industrial growth society.

Joanna Macy is an American elder in her eighties who has been involved in anti-nuclear protesting for five decades, among other things. In the seventies she recognised that many environmental activists were burning out through not having the means and support to process the strong emotions of rage, overwhelm and despair that they were regularly feeling.

In response to this she devised an experiential process called The Work that Reconnects which has supported thousands of environmental and social activists through a four stage spiral to come together to both share their experiences and support each other in the journey towards a more life sustaining existence.

The spiral starts with gratitude for what we love about life, a revolutionary act in itself given the culture of not having or being enough that most of us have grown up in. It then moves to a space of honouring pain for the world which again is a rare and counter cultural experience in our world of stiff upper lip and business as usual. In the turning point from honouring pain to the third stage of ‘seeing with new eyes’ the depths of despair or fires of fury are clearly re-framed as evidence of innate connection with all of life. Drawing from the science of Systems Theory, Mahayana Buddhism and Deep Ecology Joanna illustrates that our experience of pain for the world springs from our inter-connectedness with all beings, from which also arises our powers to act on their behalf.The final stage is integration and forward visioning of how to take this work back out into life once the workshop is over.

My personal experience of activism has been in the field of working with marginalised groups of people in areas of addiction, street sex work and self harm and other areas of mental health. I understand the risks of burnout when the odds are stacked against what you are working for and when the majority of the world do not seem aware or particularly interested in what seems blatantly clear to you. The Work that Reconnects is essential inner work for activists, because without attending to our inner experiences both emotionally and spiritually it is very hard to be of any significant affect in the long term. The one day course on 6th April is both an introduction for anyone new to the work or a refresher for anyone already familiar.

Find out more about the workshop here, or contact Jenny directly at