by Molly Brown
From Mt. Shasta Herald, February 13, 2015

Ours is a world of peril and transformation. We face the unprecedented challenges of global climate disruption, gross economic inequality, over-population, international financial breakdown, potential epidemics, rising seas, droughts and famine, power-outages, and spiraling fuel costs – with no place to move to, no place to hide.

We witness the devastation of the forests, damage to the ozone layer, loss of arable land, the accumulation and accidental spilling of radioactive and other toxic wastes in air, water and soil, the melting of glaciers, the extinction of thousands of species. Our life support systems on planet Earth appear gravely imperiled, perhaps beyond repair.

How shall we live in such a world? How can we preserve and renew our life support systems – physical, social, and spiritual – in the face of such colossal peril?

Joanna Macy, David Korten, and other writers use the term “Great Turning” to refer to a necessary and radical change in the way we think, do business, and go about our lives, a great turning to a truly life-sustaining society. Joanna Macy has identified three mutually reinforcing dimensions of the Great Turning, described in the book I co-authored with her, Coming Back to Life.

The first two refer to work-in-the-world: 1) front-line actions to slow the damage to Earth and its beings; and 2) understanding the economic and social systems that perpetrate the damage, and generating healthier systems that support life.

The third dimension includes psychological and spiritual practices that can bring about a shift in our world-view and values. That shift can connect us with strength, love and courage for the challenges before us.  An inspiring documentary, “Joanna Macy and the Great Turning,” is available here:

Many of us today are engaged in at least one of these dimensions, if not all three. I see many local examples of each dimension.

Front-line actions to slow damage include the Mount Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center’s historic work to preserve Mount Shasta from the impact of a proposed ski resort, and Medicine Lake from industrial geothermal development. Initiatives for generating healthier life-support systems include the Community Garden, the Siskiyou Land Trust GardenShare, Mount Shasta Commons, the Farmers’ Market, and Environmental Resources programs at COS. A large number of local groups and businesses educate the public about environmental and spiritual values, and offer inspiring experiences in nature to renew people’s sense of interconnectedness.

We can see this Great Turning happening within and around us everywhere today. We see a worldwide awakening of concern for the planetary environment, with documentary and feature films on the subject becoming box-office successes. Many young people especially have taken up the cause of defending the environment from destruction. Yet the crisis seems only to intensify, and we face the real possibility that our civilization will not survive.

Although the outcome of the Great Turning remains uncertain, it will surely fail if we ignore the problems – or just give up. Each of us may already be contributing to this Great Turning in large and small ways, perhaps some we don’t even recognize. We feel empowered when we connect with our desire to serve the greater good, and acknowledge the ways we are already serving, in one or more of these dimensions.

It is also helpful to see how our individual actions are part of a larger movement; no one of us – nor even a small group of us – can transform the world single-handed! We are all in this together.

• Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown. Coming Back to Life: The Updated Guide to the Work That Reconnects. New Society Publishers, 2014.