Joanna Macy: A Wild Love for the World via On Being with Krista Tippet


Tell me about how that awakening came in your life.

Ms. Macy:Well, it came about very naturally. I was always responsive to issues when they arose. And then in the ’70s, it became quite vivid for me and quite compelling as through my son — my second son — through a papery road [a paper he 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 direct activism, going together to occupy the Seabrook reactor before it could open and protesting down at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

I learned piles there. And that had a great spiritual teaching for me too, Krista, because it led me into fascination, if not obsession — I’ll say obsession — with long-term radioactive contamination through our processes of making weapons and generating power that insisted that I open my mind to reaches of time that had stretched both my heart and my intellect.

In other words, I realized that we were, through technology, having consequences with — our decisions had consequences or a karma, as we could 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.

Ms. Tippett:Something that’s very present for me as I’m reading about you and the passion you’ve had for this for a long time is you also were always very aware of a sense of grief as you realized …

Ms. Macy:Oh, yeah. Grief got me into it.

Ms. Tippett:Yeah. And you really work with people to hold on to that, to take their grief seriously, right?

Ms. Macy:Or not to hold on to it so much as to not be afraid of it, because that grief, if you are afraid of it and pave it over, clamp down, you shut down. And the kind of apathy and closed-down denial, our 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. 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 Chernobyl.

It relates to everything. It relates to what’s in our food, and it relates to the clear-cuts of our forests. 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, to see how we are called to not run from the discomfort and not run from the grief or 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. 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, our absolutely inseparable connectedness with all life.


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