Joanna Macy

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Joanna Rogers Macy
Joanna Macy.jpg
Born (1929-05-02) 2 May 1929 (age 86)
Occupation Author, Buddhist scholar, Environmental activist
Nationality American

Joanna Rogers Macy (born May 2, 1929), is an environmental activist, author, scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory, and deep ecology. She is the author of eight books.[1]


Macy graduated from Wellesley College in 1950 and received her Ph.D in Religious Studies in 1978 from Syracuse University, Syracuse. She studied there with Huston Smith, the influential author of The World's Religions (previously entitled The Religions of Man). She is an international spokesperson for anti-nuclear causes, peace, justice, and environmentalism,[1] most renowned for her book Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World and the Great Turning initiative, which deals with the transformation from, as she terms it, an industrial growth society to what she considers to be a more sustainable civilization. She has created a theoretical framework for personal and social change, and a workshop methodology for its application. Her work addresses psychological and spiritual issues, Buddhist thought, and contemporary science.

Key Influences[edit]

Macy first encountered Buddhism in 1965 while working with Tibetan refugees in northern India, particularly the Ven. 8th Khamtrul Rinpoche, Sister Karma Khechog Palmo, Ven. Dugu Choegyal Rinpoche, and Tokden Antrim of the Tashi Jong community. Her spiritual practice is drawn from the Theravada tradition of Nyanaponika Thero and Rev. Sivali of Sri Lanka, Munindraji of West Bengal, and Dhiravamsa of Thailand.

Key formative influences to her teaching in the field of the connection to living systems theory have been Ervin Laszlo who introduced her to systems theory through his writings (especially Introduction to Systems Philosophy and Systems, Structure and Experience), and who worked with her as advisor on her doctoral dissertation (later adapted as Mutual Causality) and on a project for the Club of Rome. Gregory Bateson, through his Steps to an Ecology of Mind and in a summer seminar, also shaped her thought, as did the writings of Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Arthur Koestler, and Hazel Henderson. She was influenced in the studies of biological systems by Tyrone Cashman, and economic systems by Kenneth Boulding. Donella Meadows provided insights on the planetary consequences of runaway systems, and Elisabet Sahtouris provided further information about self-organizing systems in evolutionary perspective.

Her Work[edit]

Macy travels giving lectures, workshops, and trainings internationally. Her work, originally called "Despair and Empowerment Work" was acknowledged as being part of the deep ecology tradition after she encountered the work of Arne Naess and John Seed, but as a result of disillusion with academic disputes in the field, she now calls it "the Work that Reconnects". Widowed by the death of her husband, Francis Underhill Macy, in January 2009, she lives in Berkeley, California, near her children and grandchildren. She serves as adjunct professor to three graduate schools in the San Francisco Bay Area: the Starr King School for the Ministry, the University of Creation Spirituality, and the California Institute of Integral Studies.

Sustainability Education[edit]

Joanna Macy is one of the world’s leading sustainability educators. Macy shares her knowledge through her books, workshops, courses and talks. She explores the challenges communities globally are facing, and shares communal approaches to strengthen a life-sustaining culture. The workshops Macy teaches are Business Sustainability, Spiritual Ecology, Meditation, Responses to Climate Change, Wisdom of the Elders, and Tips for Activists. Many of Macy's books have an accompanying website where readers can explore, take a course, or use tools to aid their training. On Macy’s website for her (and Chris Johnstone’s) book Active Hope, How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy, she summarizes the practice which sustains an active hope:

  1. Take in a clear view of reality.
  2. Identify our vision for what we hope will happen.
  3. Take active steps to help bring that vision about.

In the book, Macy and Johnstone explore what Active Hope is (and why it is already happening) in the chapter entitled The Three Stories of Our Time. This chapter is designed to inspire readers to gauge their states (variously) of acceptance, denial, confusion, flexibility, adaptability, compassion and resilience. While Macy's "three stories" are:

  1. Business as usual. Some examples are “people who believe that economic growth is essential for prosperity, nature is a commodity to be used for human purposes, and promoting consumption is good for the economy”.
  2. The Great Unraveling: economic decline, resource depletion, climate change, social division, war, and mass extinctions. The second story is designed to provoke reflection, and even discomfort with the truth.
  3. A shift in consciousness. In this story a collective identity is found and built upon through what Macy describes as The Three Dimensions of The Great Turning, “Holding actions - for example campaigns in defense of life on Earth; life-sustaining systems and practices - for example developing new economic and social structures; and a Shift in Consciousness - for example change in our perception, thinking, and values.

The chapter is about the importance of change in society, and for the need to continuously nurture and educate for a life-sustaining culture.


  • Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age; New Society Pub (1983); ISBN 0-86571-031-7
  • Dharma and Development: Religion as resource in the Sarvodaya self help movement; Kumarian Press revised ed (1985); ISBN 0-931816-53-X
  • Thinking Like a Mountain: Toward a Council of All Beings; Joanna Macy, John Seed, Pat Fleming, Arne Naess, Dailan Pugh; New Society Publishers (1988); ISBN 0-86571-133-X
  • Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory: The Dharma of Natural System (Buddhist Studies Series); State University of New York Press (1991); ISBN 0-7914-0637-7
  • Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God; poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy; Riverhead Books (1996); ISBN 1-59448-156-3
  • Coming Back to Life : Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World; Joanna R. Macy, Molly Young Brown; New Society Publishers (1998); ISBN 0-86571-391-X
  • Widening Circles : a memoir ; New Catalyst Books (2001); ISBN 978-1897408018
  • World as Lover, World as Self; Parallax Press (2005); ISBN 0-938077-27-9
  • "Pass It On: Five Stories That Can Change the World"; Parallax Press (2010); ISBN 9781888375831
  • "Active Hope : how to face the mess we're in without going crazy"; Joanna Macy, Chris Johnstone; New World Library (2012); ISBN 978-1-57731-972-6

See also[edit]

  • David Korten, a collaborator with Macy on the Great Turning Initiative


  1. ^ a b George Prentice (January 18, 2012). "Anti-nuclear activist is 'just a sucker for courage'". Boise Weekly. 

External links[edit]