The Widening Circles of Joanna Macy
by Cindy Squillace

Eco-philosopher and social activist Joanna Macy visited Syracuse in September for thefirst time in over a decade.
Joanna Macy at her recent workshop in Syracuse. Photo: elana levy

Joanna, husband Fran, and their family lived in Syracuse while Joanna completed her PhD in the Religion Department of Syracuse University in the 1970s. She is a respected scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory, and deep ecology, with several books and publications on these topics. Joanna is also a translator of Maria Rainer Rilke's poetry and a committed activist, using her experience and wisdom to help guide our human species toward the creation of a life-sustaining, peaceful planet.

This past winter, Joanna was invited by Australian peace and eco-activists to lead a 30-day advanced retreat/workshop called "Seeds for the Future." While attending this incredible program, I learned that CNY holds a special place in Joanna's heart. She was intrigued by the history I told her about our region. She wanted to learn more about the stories of the Haudenosaunee, the early feminists, the activities of the Peace Council, the Midland Avenue sewage treatment actions, and other bold ways that we who live in Central New York continue to act to save ourselves and the planet. I was delighted that she accepted my invitation to visit.

In addition to seeing old friends, Joanna was invited to the Matilda Joslyn Gage House, the Onondaga Nation, the Syracuse Cultural Workers, and Syracuse University. Joanna shared how deeply moved and inspired she was by what she learned about our region, particularly about the Onondaga Land Rights Action. She graciously agreed to speak at the Zen Center and led a discussion at Common Place Land Trust in Truxton.

The evening before she left, Joanna gave a two-hour workshop at University Methodist Church, with more than 75 people. At the workshop she explained why she considers this to be the most exciting time to be born on earth, and why she speaks of this as the time of The Great Turning.

In the short time we had together that evening, Joanna also led us in an exercise she calls "Widening Circles" (also the name of her autobiography and a Rilke poem). In this exercise each person chooses an issue they feel passionately about and then speaks about that issue from several differing perspectives, including an opposite perspective, a non-human perspective and a perspective from someone looking back on this issue from the future. Can you imagine a world where issues were seen from these perspectives before decisions were made? Participants felt quite "opened" by this exercise and several were moved to tears while doing it.

Joanna's presence was very real, very inspiring, and very challenging. Her ongoing work helps us acknowledge our pain and grief for all that is harmful to our planet and find ways to heal our connection with all other life forms. She now calls this "The Work That Reconnects."
Joanna's most recent book.

We discovered that many people in Central New York are interested in learning more about this work. Sixteen people came to a follow-up meeting and shared how they thought Joanna's work could be useful to them and to our communities. They wanted to:
learn how to bring spirituality into our peace work
learn how to use Joanna's work to support people in other peace/justice projects
use an ongoing group to change consciousness, to go "deep"
have a place to express and explore the despair and grief we feel about our world.

Although we are building the path as we walk it, and have no direct roadmap as yet, we hope that the thinking and creativity inspired by Joanna's work will keep rippling, spiraling, fertilizing our community in ever widening circles. We will keep PNL readers posted as to opportunities in the coming months to learn more and support each other in this work. Please call elana levy at 472-5711 if you are interested in being on a mailing list. For more information about Joanna Macy go to JoannaMacy.


Cindy Squillace is a Syracuse resident, social worker/grief counselor who isfilled with gratitude, outrage, joy and sorrow and wants to share the richness of life!