Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

Transition Culture has moved

I no longer blog on this site. You can now find me, my general blogs, and the work I am doing researching my forthcoming book on imagination, on my new blog.

24 Mar 2008

Positive Energy: creative community responses to peak oil and climate change. Day 2, Part One

WThe second day of the conference began with Dorothy McLean, one of the founders of Findhorn, who describes herself as a ‘modern mystic’, talking about the evolution of Findhorn and her work communicating with Nature. You can read more about that here. This was followed by a quiet mindful walk outside, in the freezing wind, which was very calming and peaceful, although it benefited greatly from the kindness of the lady who gave me a hat.

After the break was the first session with Joanna Macy (these notes are constructed from my scribbled notes, so any mistakes are entirely mine and I apologise for them in advance.  You can read what is almost certainly a more detailed and accurate record on the conference’s official website). She began with a ritual to open the space and to help everyone to feel fully present. She used a protocol used by the Iroquois Indians in their meetings, which offered a very active way of starting the session.

She said that in the year 2000, the last time she had been at Findhorn, she told everyone it would be the last time she would come. However, as she has got older and her memory deteriorates, she forgot that she had said that, and so finds herself here again! Her workshop over the next day and a half will be based on her Work That Reconnects, which is essential in helping us to face the hardships that are looking, and it reconnects us with ourselves and our long story. It connects us with life on earth, with our future relatives and our ancestors, with those who are here and with those who we share this planet with.

There are 2 ditches on our way to the future, they are paralysis and panic. It is easy in the current context for what is happening to be so frightful that it brings up such dismay that we easily shut off our hearts and minds. It is easy to panic. We are on the edge of social hysteria, surrounded by blaming and fearmongering. We can, in fear, turn on each other.

The first time I did this work, in 1980, someone asked my why I was doing it. I said, and I don’t know where it came from, “I am doing this work so that when things get really hard we won’t turn on each other”. It is designed to help us to find the solidarity that is our birthright. It is our birthright to feel deep connection and to feel solid with each other. It is work that is dedicated to our navigating these times ahead having shed fear. It is dedicated also to our taking ourselves seriously as part of our self-healing and that of our work.

GHJWe find ourselves now with peak oil and climate change as monumental challenges, but they are only two of many. However, when we look at these challenges, what is important is not guilt, it is about being present. There are 4 parts to The Work That Reconnects that we will be exploring over the next day and a half. The first is Gratitude, which helps us to be present. The second is about Honouring our Pain for the World. The third is about Seeing with New Eyes, and the fourth is about Going Forth.

For any group work, intention is essential. Dedicating to a larger purpose, so that what carries us is our intention.

Fran, Joanna’s husband, then read an Onondaga thanksgiving prayer, and we arranged into groups of three and shared what we give thanks for in our daily lives. We then broke for tea.


The next session began with a slideshow of beautiful images from nature accompanied with music. After that Joanna began by explaining that the great reliable fact is that being thankful does not depend on external circumstances, on how our lives are going. Native Americans have survived holocausts with dignity and self respect. When we develop our capacities to meet the world with thanks and greetings we are developing psychological muscle that can help navigate all kinds of weather.

We are so programmed by a society dependent on creating dissatisfaction, it is akin to a worm in an apple. We end up wanting, craving, nothing is enough. Millions of industries are designed to create within us the itch of dissatisfaction. We don’t feel right, look right, smell right. We feel a need to compare ourselves with others. In this context, to develop the habit and capacity for thanks and greeting is subversive. It is time to take it seriously.

Many years ago I worked with the Savodya movement in Sri Lanka, the Buddhist inspired village development movement which seeks to apply Buddhism to basic community tasks. The name means ‘waking up to our power’. In the training, the 20 year old trainer said that at that point, his people must be very watchful for the emergence of consumer culture. Something can happen to our people that never happened under 400 years of colonial rule. Now we are independent, but TV and advertising will do what colonialism never did, make us ashamed of what we are, create a culture of self-loathing.

We are all affected by the political economy. Gratitude is liberating and subversive. Gratitude is not dependent on external circumstances.

Fran then read one poem I can’t remember, and also the following…

Hokusai says

Hokusai says look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing

He says look forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just get more who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat
yourself as long as it is interesting.

He says keep doing what you love.

He says keep praying.

He says every one of us is a child,
every one of us is ancient
every one of us has a body.
He says every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find
a way to live with fear.

He says everything is alive —
shells, buildings, people, fish,
mountains, trees, wood is alive.
Water is alive.

Everything has its own life.

Everything lives inside us.

He says live with the world inside you.

He says it doesn’t matter ifyou draw,
or write books. It doesn’t matter
ifyou saw wood, or catch fish.
It doesn’t matter if you sit at home
and stare at the ants on your veranda
or the shadows of the trees
and grasses in your garden.
It matters that you care.

It matters that you feel.

It matters that you notice.

It matters that life lives through you.

Contentment is life living through you.
Joy is life living through you.
Satisfaction and strength
is life living through you.

He says don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid.

Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.

Let life live through you.
Roger Keyes


This is what we are called to do now. Let this Earth be loved by you. In the context of the Buddhist concept of precious human rebirth, it is so extraordinary that we are alive, here, now, with each other, here. We are breathing… isn’t that amazing. In the things that we are grateful for, we can feel amazement and delight that we can put our minds where we want to, and do what we can do.

We then did the ‘Milling’ exercise, one of the central activities in the Work That Reconnects. Everyone dashed about like in a crowded city square, slowly slowing until they came face to face with another person. The first person we met were were invited to look at them and develop gratitude for the person before you who cares enough to come here, participating in the Great Turning, how amazing that they are here. The second person we were invited to see, through them, the long lineage of ancestors, back through the millennia of DNA, the accumulated experience of the human family, the work, relationships and creativity behind them. The next 4 were based on Buddhist principal of the 4 Abodes. The first was to celebrate the joy in the life of this person, all that they have achieved, created and done, and the wonderful gifts they bring.

The next is to experience the pain of the other person. They stand here with you with their hurts, abuse, sadness and pain. Feeling compassion for that will be one of the key tools we shall need in the Great Turning. The next one was about the need to work together, about the skills and talents hidden unrealised within that person, again, being able to see the potential in each other will be a core skill we will need. Finally we were invited to see within the final person we met how they are part of the web of life, how they are all interconnected, and how seeing that interconnectedness will be something we shall need.