Joanna Macy A Wild Love for the World
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I I discovered the philosopher ecology Joanna Macy as a translator of the poetry of Reiner Maria Rilke, we take that exquisite poetry as a lens on Joanna. Macy's wisdom on the great dramas of our time ecological political personal Rilke sought the shape of meaning in a now vanished central Europe at the turn of the last century. Join a Macy's vision took shape in crucibles of the twentieth century. I spoke with her in two thousand ten now entering her nineties. Joanna Macy says we are at a pivotal moment in history with possibilities of unraveling or of creating a life sustaining human society. You're always asked to sort of stretch a little bit more and actually were made for that. But in any case, there's absolutely no excuse for making our passionate love for our world dependent on what we think of its degree of hell. Health. Whether we think it's going to go on forever. This moment, you're alive, I'm Krista Tippett, and this is on being. Joanna Macy has lived adventurously by any definition. She worked for the CIA in Cold War, Germany, then as a young mother, she moved with her husband to postcolonial India where he ran the newly minted peace corps there. She cared for to betton refugees. Joining the young newly exiled Dalai Lama later, she became an environmental activist long before that term entered the global lexicon Joanna Macy is best known today as a Buddhist teacher and scholar. So just as we start I would love, and this is where I start with everyone whatever we're talking about. I I'd like to ask you to talk a little bit about the spiritual and religious background of your childhood. Yeah. I grew up in a liberal Protestant family where the church was very important because my grandfather was a congregational preacher. And so were his father and grandfathers on back it skipped a generation with my father at any rate. I was very familiar with the sounds and words and the great feeling of comfort on we went to church as a child people said nice things they didn't argue which was what was happening and my home. And I had a what we could say a conversion experience, although it was already in the church, but Jesus and God became very personally alive for me when I was just turning sixteen at a church camp. And I wanted to give my life to the church, but at that point Krista there was it didn't even occur to me to enter the ministry. I mean, I was that much a child of my era. Right. And so since I didn't even consider it. I. I was thinking of other ways like being a missionary or something. But when I studied and went into studies of biblical history, and theology I began to choke. I found that there was something that I balked at terrifically which were Creteil arguments about items belief and also any hint of exclusivity that there were people beyond the pale. And so I walked out when I was twenty and it was a great hole in my life that opened up, and it was actually not until fifteen years later when my young family, and I were in the peace corps in India, and I began working with to Benton refugees that was the mid sixty right? I found a way of looking at the world through I became so curious about what made these people so common, radiant and and unstoppable in preserving their tradition and enjoying life. I do want us to it. You mentioned that you're that. There was a lot of arguing in your family. And you and your father was to ran ical was Toronto. And yet at the same time, you talk about a poetry being part of the how other family, and that was also something that that he kept a list, right? And it seems to me that was part of what would be very could be very broadly described as your spiritual sensibility also from an early age. Would you say that? Yes, I would. And I would say also the summer said I spent at my paternal grandfather's farm and upstate New York being in the fields in the woods around the Barnes felt so real and gave me a sense of the world was very big and wise and intelligent, and that I could had an. Appetite to disappear into it. And it was this streak of nature mysticism that made they summer months, so much more vivid and real to me than the nine months. I spent in New York City at going to school, and I live for that. And there were hymns of Saint Francis, right and others that. Oh, yeah. Yeah. This is my father's world. That was another him. I loved that could lift me up. And there was Jesus walking by the shores of Galilee. He was outdoors all the time. Yeah. I don't see him sitting in a pew or climbing up on a pulpit. Right. He came up on a rock or walking along a sandy beach. And so yeah. So I as I said a minute ago. I I I discovered you and learn about you as a translator of Rilke, and I wanted to try to take real as a way into the life. You've lived your approach to it your wave seeing the world and seeing change in the world what I'd like to speak them of when we were living in Germany. My second son was born there. This was the nineteen fifties. And one day I walked into a bookstore on adult bear Strasser near the university. And they're on a table was this little sort of cloth bound book and serve rag paper, it was exquisite and. It was the dust-strewn book the book of hours, and I picked it up, and the poem that it opened two was the second poem of the first part, he labor mind Leibman vaccinated in the hanging. I live my life in widening circles, and that something immediately rearranged in the furniture of my mind, I- addenda fide completely with it. And I saw as was it's just eight lines in that poem that it could read a fine that I was on a spiritual path that because I wasn't on the linear road up the ladder up Jacob's ladder to get closer to God. They got it been there all the time, and I was orbiting around him. And that it had been happening actually for thousands of years. So. So this was the nineteen fifties. Right. Is that what you when you discovered real? And at that time, you had a very interesting early adventure with the CIA had were you doing that at that point? That's right. See I had when I dropped theology in and Christianity my impulse Ida very strong impulse toward service. So I thought I would serve politically, and I got a Fulbright scholarship to the institute is put a tika political science, and France, and there I studied the French communist party, and that made me very interesting to see I a I was all of twenty one twenty two at the time and still very wet behind the heirs. And so when CIA dangled a glamorous job in front of my nose. I fell for it and went and worked for them for about two years, but you know, Krista. I want to read the poem. I mentioned oh good. I'd love for you to read it. So as I stood there having an exciting life, but still wishing that I were on a spiritual path. And what was there for me? If I couldn't stomach the church, fathers Christianity and the arcane a theological arguments. And then I read this. So I'll say it in English. I live my life in widening circles that reach out across the world, I may not complete this last one, but I give myself to it. I have been circling around God that primordial tower. I've been circling for thousands of years and still I don't know am I fall can. A storm are a great song. The constrictions that my culture had made around the sacred, and it just fell away like dried crusts, and and I felt an excitement about being alive now in a world that itself. Yes. Of course, it was my world itself is sacred. And then when you went to India you had you had an encounter with Buddhism. Did you know much about him before not really, okay? No, no. Which was quite wonderful because it was before Buddhism was sweeping really case to the west. Right. And you you came to in India as opposed to discovering it over here. Yeah. That's right. That's right. And I was bent on. I fell in love with these thebenz who are living in very harsh circumstances up in the foothills of the Himalayas after this incredibly strenuous and often with loss of life, and and great danger and sick making escapes over the peaks and pass. Out of Tabet, and that the way they loved life and the way they love fair. Tradition in a very open hearted way. I wanted to know what helps them be like that. So that was of a turning point in my life. If it's interesting too that you're you were drawn to that tradition to its lived as lived expression long before you actually got into to the beliefs or the teachings behind it. Yeah. And I was primed for it. Because I had read Heinrich horrors, my seven years into our right? And I had read it in German. It's original language, and I actually I was going to interpreter school in Munich my last year, and I use that texts for my simultaneous interpreting exercises that I would read it and render. It in English without a pause. So that. That book really got into my brain cells. In my head and in my heart. So that when I was actually among the thebenz and in the presence of his holiness, the Dalai Lama young man, then. Yeah, I had I certainly had a sense of deja vu. And as you point out in some of you writing there is a real there are real echoes in resonance between. Some of real Kaz poetry about God. And and Buddhist teachings and notions about reality. Very interesting. Yes. It's just amazing to me that he refers to your early on in his stunned book, the book of hours, he said, we must not portray you in king's robes, you drifting missed that brought forth the morning, and then he says you are like a web. Are you are like a tree? Are you are a forest through which I run I am are you are a herd of luminous deer. And I am forest and dark and you run through me. So he's using image after image from the natural world right to. Convey that both the mystery and the beauty and the relationship that way find in the sacred and he dresses this sacred as a as God. But he's it's God that is very different from the one. He had been dragged into Catholic churches in with his super pious mother in Prague as a boy he hated that. He she had him touched the painted wounds on the crucifix to arouse his compassion. And he found all that too repulsive. But then when he went interestingly enough in his early twenties to Russia with his wonderful lover low. Andrea Sala may who has from Saint Petersburg and he encountered. Russian, spirituality, which is very close to the earth, and that opened up to him a quality of spiritual experience that was fairy earth related and vast and timeless. Here's one of my favorite Rilke poems about God. God speaks to each of us as he makes us then walks with us silently out of the night. These are the words we dimly here. You sent out beyond your recall go to the limits of your longing. Embody me flare up like flame and make big shadows. I can move in. Let everything happen to you beauty and terror just keep going. No feeling is final. Don't let yourself lose me. Nearby as the country, they call a life. He will know it by seriousness. Give me your hand. I'm Krista Tippett. And this is on being today with real ca translator and Buddhist philosopher ecology Joanna Macy. You know, something that's very intriguing to me is that you were talking about the environment. And I think maybe not sure if you called yourself in environmental activists, but being what that's true swear that was a something that so many people are talking about. I mean, how tell me about how that awakening came in your life. Well, it came about a very naturally I was always responsive to issues when they arose. And then in the seventies, it became quite vivid for me, and quite compelling as through my son, my second son through a papery wrote in his environmental, engineering course at college that I learned about what nuclear power generation was doing in even the thermal pollution. Let alone the radioactive contamination. And so side by side with him. I stepped into a direct activism going together to occupy the Seabrook reactor before it could open and protesting down at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And I learned pile. Dell's there and that had a great spiritual teaching for me to Krista because it led me into fascination if not obsession say obsession with long-term radioactive contamination of through our processes of making weapons in generating power that insisted that I opened my mind to st- reaches of time that had stretched both my heart, and my intellect and another where I realized that we were through technology having consequences with our decision said consequences or karma, as we say that reached into geological time, and that what in industry and government choices that we make under pressure for profit or bureaucratic whatever. That we are making choices that will affect whether beings. Thousands of generations from now will be able to be born sound of mind and body something that's very present. For me in reading about you. And the passion you've had for this for a long time as you. You also were always very aware of a sense of grief as you realized. Yeah. All right grief got me into it. Yeah. And you really work with people to hold onto that to take their grief seriously, right or not to hold onto it so much as to not be afraid of it. Because that grief if you are afraid of it and pave it over clampdown, you shut down and the kind of apathy and. Closedown denial are difficulty in looking at what we're doing to our world stems not from callous, indifference or ignorance so much as it stems from fear of pain. And that was a big learning for me as I was organizing around nuclear power and around at the time of Three Mile Island catastrophe and around chair noble. And so it relates to everything relates to what's in our food and it relates to the clearcut Savar force it relates to the contamination of our rivers and oceans, so that became actually perhaps the most pivotal point in. I don't know the landscape of my life that. Dance with despair that to see how we are called to not run from the discomfort and not run from the grief for the feelings of outrage or even fear and that if we can be fearless to be with our pain. It turns it doesn't stay static in it only doesn't change if we refuse to look at it. But when we look at it when we take it in our hands when we can just be with it and keep breathing then it turns it turns to reveal its other face and the other face of our pain for the world is our love for the world are absolutely inseparable connectedness with all life. And I think again. In in even thinking that way oppo-. Eric mindset is more useful than the kind of fact based right or argument based way, we tend to approach problems culturally even precisely the same ecological over. That keeps people from even mentioning how distressed they are. Because they think that they need to have all the facts and figures institutes deke's to show that they intellectually can control. The master the problem. Yeah. But we get overwhelmed by the facts and the figures, and the pictures, they they're debilitating their paralyzing as you say, it's it's also that we don't really know how to do well with grief and turn it into something else. But I think that a lot as a journalist as somebody who works in media. It's double edged sword, isn't it and being 'cause she wanna portray. I mean, say you're taking care of your mother, and she's dying of cancer. And you can't eat won't. I can't go in her house a room because I don't wanna look at her. But if you love her you want to be with her. When your loved something your loved us and say, well too bad. My kid has leukemia. So I won't go near her. It's just the opposite. What is in powering moments? I mean, and I wonder if real comes to mind again of how he is very clear about darkness as a part of life. Yes, there's some a poem that has been to sonnet and the very last sonnet to Orpheus that has entered my bloodstream that has helped me a great deal in this time. I will say it. Quiet friend who has come. So far feel how you're breathing makes more space around you. Let this darkness be a bell tower, and you the bell. And as you rang what batters you becomes your strength. Move back and forth into the change. What's it like this intensity of pain? If the drink is better, turn yourself to wine. In this uncontainable night, be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses. The meaning discovered there. And if the world so cease to hear you say to the silent earth, I flow and to the rushing water speak. I am. After a short break. More with Joanna Macy. You can always listen again and tear the unedited version of every conversation. I have on the on being podcast feed wherever podcasts are found. Support for on being with Krista. Tippett comes from the fetzer institute, helping build the spiritual foundation for a loving world. Fetzer envisions a world that embraces love as a guiding principle and animating force for our lives a powerful love that helps us live in sacred relationship with ourselves others and the natural world. Learn more by visiting fetzer dot org. I'm Krista Tippett, and this is on being today a conversation with philosopher of ecology and Buddhist scholar. Joanna Macy now entering her nineties. She worked with the CIA in Cold, War, Europe and the peace corps in post, colonial India. She was in environmental activist long before this term entered our cultural vocabulary and any mainstream way, and she brings a poetic, and spiritual sensibility to this. It's reflected in her translations together with the Nita Barros of the early twentieth. Century, poet Reiner, Maria Rilke Joanna Macy believes that we are in a moment. She calls the great turning a transition from society shaped primarily by industrial growth to a society structure to be life sustaining. She finds nourishment for this vision in real coca. He also chronicled a turn of century world altering moment in time. Talk to me about where these kinds of insights have brought you. I mean, we have had this fessing my, and we talked about the fifties and sixties and seventies. And you're always responding being with what was happening. I mean, how does that? How does the head of this words of real speak to what's happening in this early twenty first century that we're now? Well, from the beginning rail in his first poems that he stayed loyal to in the book of hours, he foresaw. He had the strong inkling that he and he gave vicious, you know, metaphors images to it that this twentieth century that was opening up would be very dark. He didn't know about the world wars. He didn't know about the concentration camps, the death camps the nuclear bombings. He didn't know about the new diseases in that Padembe, but he did sense that and some of his poems are as if he's consoling God for his, you know, for what's happened to his creation, and there's a poem that where. He says. God becomes the earth itself? And he speaks to the earth. Do John Kander grant dear darkening ground? You've endured so patiently the walls. We built please give the city's one more hour, and the churches and cloisters to and let those labor let their toil still hold them for another five hours or seven before that our of inconceivable terror when you take back your name from all things just give me a little more time. I just need a little more time because I am going to love the things as known as thought to love them till they're real and worthy of you. So I feel like that. I'm ready to say, I'm not insisting that we be brimming. With hope it's okay not to be optimistic. Buddhist teaching say, you know, a feeling the half to maintain hope. Can wear out. So just be present. The biggest gift you can give is to be absolutely present. And when you're worrying about whether you're hopeful or hopeless or pessimistic or optimistic. That's who. Who cares? The main thing is that you're showing up that you're here, and that you're finding ever more capacity to love this world because it will not be healed without that that was what is going to unleash unleash our intelligence, and our ingenuity and our solidarity for the healing of our world. So that is the way what keeps me going Krista. And so the great turning is a revolution. That is underway. The transition to a life sustaining society that this is a sprouting up in countless ways new ways of holding the land. New ways of generating energy new ways of producing food. Some of them very old ways that we are going back to wisdom of the ancestors of the indigenous people often new ways of measuring press, Bertie and wealth new ways of handling differences through non violent communication through restorative circles instead of outside the dominant punitive penal system now there's tremendous when you add all that up. You do see a picture. Oh, yeah. Now something else is going on to which is the great unraveling under the pressure of the destruction caused by the industrial growth society, and the awesome thing about the moment that you, and I share is that we don't know which is going to win out. Right. How is this story going, and that is seems? Most orchestrated to bring forth from us, the biggest moral, strength, courage, and creativity. And I feel 'cause when things are this unstable a person's determination, how they choose to invest their energy in their heart mind can have much more effect on the larger picture than were custom to think. So I find it a very exciting time to be alive. If somewhat wearing emotionally. Is is there any real comes to mind these big? Yeah. Yeah. Tell me what comes to mind. Oh, I'm all will come again into it. Strength. Let me see if I can find that. I I'm trying to there. I've been reading my pulling out my real 'cause I was planning to rejoin there a couple of lines just or so haunting to me, what's and it something about it's the end of a poem. It's something about in like an in the ephemeral nature of things is they're very fragrance. Yes. Yes. Yes. Which sounds which sounds so much like he was a. But it was full. So this this runs through real Kasan? It's two Orpheus song itself. Cannot happen without time without the voice rising and falling away. And I love it that he remembered that line for is not impermanent the very fragrance of our days is not impermanent the very fragrance days. I just want to kind of underline the connection, you repeated they make I think might be counter intuitive. You know, you talk about spirituality, any also are always equally talking about, you know, these are some phrases from your writing echo thinks you said wild love for the world or an even erotic connection with the world. Yeah. That those two go together for you this right world is lover world is self and that it's okay for our hearts to be broken over the world. What else is a heart four? And and there's a great intelligence there. We've been treating the earth as if it were a supply house in a sewer, we've been grabbing extracting resources from it for our cars in our hairdryers in our bombs and we've been pouring the waste into it till overflowing. But it are her is not a supply house in a sore. It is our larger body we breathe it, we taste it. We are it and it is time. Now that we venerate that incredible flowering of life that takes every aspect of our physicality. So when I I'm looking at my hand right now as we talk. It's got a lot of wrinkles. But it's linked to hands like this back through the ages. This hand is directly linked to hands. Learn to reach and grasp and climb and push up on dry land. We reads into baskets, and it has a fantastic history. Every every particle in every atom in this hand goes back to the beginning of space time or part of that story. That actually gets it something. I I wanted to ask you about your sense of time. But I was I came at that with a much more narrow imagination. I was I was thinking about the history of seeing the political history of seeing how. How that India? Do you lived in in the nineteen sixties is now transformed in many ways, it's a rising Cerna globalized economy. How that east Germany where you watch the uprising in Hungary. How the, you know, the Berlin wool mill the you have globalized culture. Yeah. Extending over all of it with a monoculture in a way that is wiping out. Ancient cultures and languages is. That what you see this is what I see. And at the same time. There's this incredible linking. And there is right here in my neighborhood group of young women who have created an organization where they work on a pro preate technology with women in India and Africa. Do you have since I I have. I mean, I'm you're eighty one I'm forty nine. But I have a sense also that that there's an intuition in the blood and bones of young people of new generations coming up. They inhabit this reality, right? That they know it in a way that I never will. When you use children babies, and they're able to look into the face of some pretty awful political corrupt machinations, or what have you that would get me frothing with righteous indignation? Yeah. And they smile in shrug and say, what do you expect? And then they go and do what needs to be. I'm Krista Tippett. And this is on being today with Rilke translator and philosopher ecology Joanna Macy. I was noticing one of your most recent books, I think is more real which you titled in praise of mortality. You wrote real invites us to experience what mortality makes possible it links us with life and all-time our and you went on ours as the suffering and hours the harvest I wonder at eighty one is their wisdom. You have about that very it's I'm very grateful for real quick because I signed the contract to prepare with a native year with Rilke just weeks before the sudden death of my husband of fifty six year and in that devastation and loss. I had to work on this book, and I had to be with Rilke. And I couldn't say, oh, I'm to Waco. Let me mourn. It's too much. I I just had to put my socks and do it and what a role. Award. It was as if I were being dipped in beauty and then one day I found this quote, and I put it in the book because he says a lot about. Death and the way he faced his death. And he did not take solace in an afterlife. So he just saw death belongs to life in can make us more life, but Krista listen to this. I put it on February twenty seventh. This great secret of death, and perhaps its deepest connection with us is this in taking from us a being we have loved and venerated. Death does not wound us without at the same time lifting us toward a more perfect understanding of this being and of ourselves. Get a lotta that. And. And they're beautiful words where you're really able to have those words when your after your husband. Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Well, you know, neither of us thought we were immortal. And we know one would go first, and I was ever lastingly grateful that we were in love and stayed in law, particularly it was like falling in love all over again in our later years. And so there was a lot of cherishing. But I found that that quote that I just read you, and that I is really engraved in the inside of my head is is true. It's true. And that's why we're we're changing all the time. And I'm not he's part of my a world. Now, you become what you love and Orpheus became the world that real ca sang too, and my husband Fran is spread out in this world that he loved so there's always asked to sort of. Stretch a little bit more. And but actually were made for that. There's a song that wants to sing itself through us. And we just gotta be available. Maybe the song that is to be sung through us is the most beautiful requiem for an irreplaceable planet, or maybe it's a song of joyous rebirth. Is we create a new culture that doesn't destroy its world. But in any case, there's absolutely no excuse for our making our passionate love Frau world dependent on what we think of its degree of health. Whether we think it's going to go on forever. Those are just thoughts anyway. But this moment you're alive. So you can just dial up the magic of that at anytime. Here in closing is a poem from real casebook hours, which Joanna Macy translated with Anita Barros and subtitled love poems to God. You are not surprised at the force of the storm. You have seen it growing. The trees flee their flight sets the boulevards streaming, and you know, he home they flee as the one Ugo toward all your senses sing him as you stand at the window. The weeks stood still in summer the trees blood rose. And now, you feel at wants to sink back into the source of everything you thought you could trust that power when you plucked the fruit. Now, it becomes a riddle again. And you again a stranger. Summer was like your house. You knew where each thing stood. Now, you must go out into your heart is onto a vast plain now the immense loneliness begins. The days. Go numb the wind. Sex the world free senses. Like whether leaves. Through the empty branches. The sky remains it is what you have. Be earth. No. And even song. Be the ground lying under that sky. Be modest now like thing ripe, and until it's real. So that he who began at all can feel you when he reaches for you. Joanna Macy's books include active hope have to face the mess. Wherein without going crazy. Her wonderful books of Rilke translation together with the Nita barrows are real Carr's book of hours love poems to God a year with Rilke and in praise of mortality here. She is reciting one less Rilke poem for us. You can listen again to all the poems. Joanna Macy recited this hour at on being dot org. The power for today in the year for real coca is the swan. And when I opened that this morning and saw that I was still lighted because when I've seen swans they always make me think of Fran and it's also about death and about how not to be afraid of death. This laboring of ours with all that remains undone as if still bound to it is like the lumbering gait of the swan. And then our dying releasing ourselves from the very ground on which we stood is like the way he hesitantly lowers himself into the water. It's gently receives him and gladly yielding flows. Back beneath him as wave follows wave while he now, holy serene and shore with regal composure allows himself to glide. So as I read that sonnet this morning, I thought of Fran and I thought oh, look at you getting to have some regal composure I have to while I have to deal with broken car with books. I have to call out with repairs to our heat. He's. Larry goes Rico composer. On being is Chris Gle lily Percy, Maya tarot, Marie Sambo Aaron Farrell Laurindo. Tony Liu Bethany Iverson Aaron cul SoKo, Kristen Lynn, profited. Oh, Eddie Gonzalez Lillian VO Lucas Johnson. Damon Leigh, sues burly, Katie, Gordon. Zack rose and Siri Grassley special. Thanks this week to Harper one for permission to use poetry from the collection a year with Rilke translated and edited by Joanna Macy and Nita barrows. The on being project is located on KOTA land, are lovely theme music is provided and composed by Zoe Keating. And the last voice that you hear singing at the end of our show is Cameron Kinghorn on being was created at American public media. A funding partners include the fetzer institute, helping to build the spiritual foundation for a loving world. Find them at fetzer dot org. Kelly payphone Dacian working to create a future where universal spiritual values form. The foundation of how we care for our common home humanity. United advancing human dignity at home and around the world. Find out more at humanity. United dot org part of the video group. The Henry loose foundation in support of public theology. Reimagined, the Osprey foundation a catalyst for power, healthy and fulfilled, lives and Lilly endowment. And indianapolis. Based private family foundation, dedicated to its founders interest in religion, community, development, and education. 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