The Great Turning has become a signature term that visionaries in our midst give to this defining point in human history—a phrase ushered into public awareness through the work of Joanna Macy and others who view human development as inextricably linked to planetary well-being.*
Earth is issuing her own State of Our Union address in increasingly critical terms. Of the many relational transitions underway, “climate change” has arisen as a center point of concern among a diverse spectrum of scientific, religious, political, sociological, environmental and economic agencies. Our planet has put us on notice that we, as a species, must awaken to our responsibility, our capacity, and our desire for life affirming co-creation. And we must do so now.
Einstein was indeed right when he concluded more than 50 years ago that “the problems we have created cannot be solved at the same level of thinking that created them.” Caught in the outer swirls of fearful reaction, political maneuvering, and media frenzy, we simply grow the problem we’re looking to mature beyond.
Yet as we turn our attention toward the stillpoint of the Great Turning, we can catch glimpses of hope, reminders of our dignity and capability as a species—what it means to live with courage, compassion, and fertile imagination in the midst of fear. Climate change evokes, and demands, consciousness change.
The mosaic of articles that follow reflect on the ways we become lost and found within all that climate disruption presents to our senses and our sensibility. They point to bearings these authors have found useful in navigating this, as yet largely uncharted, territory. “We make the map as we go,” to paraphrase the poet Antonio Machado. Fellow travelers, get out your charts, pencils, and erasers; here we go…
“How can we face the mess we’re in without going crazy?”
Joanna Macy and Molly Brown start us off at the cliff edge of our CenterPoint features, encouraging a broad view of our topic landscape with this burning and commonly held question. Moved by what the Buddhists call “bodhicitta”—the choice to act for the sake of all beings—we are oriented in directions essential to fostering an enlightened response.
Acting on behalf of “Our Grandchildren’s Future,” Paul Severance and members of CEN’s Elders Climate Action group follow with a report of their on-the-ground engagement with lawmakers in the wilderness corridors of Washington, DC, showing up in person to deliver their call for immediate and informed attention given to national policies on climate change. Spurred on by poet Drew Dellinger’s question, “What did you do, once you knew?”, Paul outlines his team’s dynamic and multifaceted response and suggests practical ways to become involved.
Will Wilkinson leads us on a engaging tour into some of the dead-end canyons of mental perception and willful action that can so easily dim our vision and frustrate our responses to the big questions of our times. He points to “that circus of distractions and misplaced priorities that routinely seduce [us] away from grappling with what matters most.” Further, Will reminds us that this planet has an impressive intelligence and sustainability record to learn from. Keep those map pencils handy—there may be a few dark caverns you will want to mark on your own chart!StillPoint leads us to that part of our journal landscape where we invite personal and intimate reflection on the journey of aging and elderhood as it relates to each issue theme. A place where sincerely asked questions can be surfaced, held, wrestled with, and ultimately given the authority to guide us into unexpected and untamed territory.
Kathleen Schomaker pioneers this exploration, inviting us to join her on a “walk about” in an old growth forest comprised of tall questions such as: “To what do I pay attention? How do I pace myself? What battles do I choose to wage on behalf of my generation and future generations? What sacrifices can I make today for generations yet to arrive on the planet?” And ultimately, “What is the question worth holding?”
Poets lead the way, and here we give them the last word. Let us remember that every poem longs to be lifted off the page, and given wings. To this end we suggest a slow and audible reading, in front of a real or imagined candle flame, taking to heart what Polish poet and diplomat, Czeslaw Milosz, advises in this closing reflection— walk with your Angels and “do what you can.”
So, dear readers, let us gather around the fires that each of these authors are tending and reflect on what is most enlivening and true for each of us. Let us heed Einstein’s caution and employ new thinking to see beyond the view of just fixing problems. Indeed, as we add the desiccated “just fix it” paradigm to the fiery crucible of transformation that holds us now, we may feel the heat rise, uncomfortably at times. Yet this may reveal a wondrous opportunity available now—to live in heart and soul partnership with our beloved Earth, doing what we can together, and loving her in the best ways we are each uniquely able to… if we so choose.
* “The Great Turning” was first used by Craig Schindler and Gary Lapid in their 1989 book, The Great Turning: Personal Peace – Global Victory. Their work (in collaboration with Theo Brown) spawned Project Victory, which has been hosting worldwide initiatives for a more compassionate and sustainable future for the past three decades.
David Korten has made significant contributions to this exploration in his talks and writings, including his 2006 book, The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community.