Joanna Macy is a writer, an activist, and the creator of The Work That Reconnects, a methodology practiced over four decades that has helped people turn suffering into personal empowerment, strengthening them as agents of change. She encourages the development of groups for conversation, meditation, singing, body exercises, and other therapeutic experiences that encourage reconnection with other people and the planet.

The work began in the 1970s when Macy became an anti-nuclear activist. She decided to organize ways to encourage people to speak out about their pain. To this day, there are more than 100 such workshops held annually in countries all over the world, including Germany, England, Australia, Canada, Brazil, Japan, Israel, France, Sri Lanka, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden and Italy. One of the most notable workshops was held in Russia in 1992, to support the population affected by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident.

Macy’s methodology also inspired the creation of courses such as Gaia Education, developed by the Findhorn ecovillage in Scotland, which teaches professionals to develop creative and efficient solutions to the sustainability crisis. That initiative was recognized by the United Nations as an official contribution to its Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014). Macy granted an interview to Believe.Earth and told us why this work can help build a better future for everybody.

A close-up of an elderly woman's face. She has short gray hair, light blue eyes, and is wearing a red shirt and small metal earrings. She looks at the camera.

Joanna Macy: “We need to break free. We cannot fight back if we bury our heads in the sand” (Photo: Adam Shemper)

Believe.Earth (BE) – How was The Work That Reconnects born?
Joanna Macy (JM) – I was working for the health of the planet and all beings through activism against nuclear energy and the production of weapons when I realized that no one wanted to talk about the diseases and death facing future generations. I noticed that they didn’t want to talk about other problems as well, like pollution, or the plastic occupying more and more space in the world. Why were they silent? It was not because there was a dictatorship and they would be punished for speaking, but because they were afraid of feeling the pain inside themselves. So, I wondered how to get people out of this psychic sleep. We need to get rid of it. We cannot fight back if we bury our heads in the sand.

The Work That Reconnects was born to help us understand what is happening to our world, to talk about the truth we feel, and to face our pain. After some time, I learned that this work not only helps us to understand, but, equally, opens us to love and brings lightness to the heart. Our pain and our love for the world are inseparable: Two sides of the same coin. We need this awareness more than ever.

 BE – What is the greatest legacy of your work?
JM – I published the first book 35 years ago. I was in a hurry because I knew it would help people and, also, the Earth. I gave this work to the world,  through open source: I have no copyright, no control, no intellectual property. I preferred it to be distributed. People started reading the books and doing the workshops. Many of them, I’ve never met. I don’t know their names or where they are from. But I know that The Work That Reconnects has been practiced in many places. I’m pleased to have been helpful.

BE – Do you know any stories about how your work has been used?
JM – Yes! I received a letter from a woman from Zimbabwe yesterday. She learned this work from me at Schumacher College in England in 1994. She returned to Zimbabwe and began using it in encounters she called the “Tree of Life”. A few years later, people there were enduring a difficult time, when Robert Mugabe was ruling the country. They were being tortured and arrested. In that letter, she told me that we had not been in touch for 24 years, but she used to listen to my podcast and remembered our meeting. She met men and women who were tortured and sent to prison, and decided to use The Work That Reconnects to talk about the enormous trauma they were carrying, the isolation they felt, and the torture. In the end, people were smiling and opened up to one other. This woman offered workshops to thousands of people.

BE – How to move forward in the face of opposing forces?
JM –  No one can change everything, but if we are connected to Earth and the planet is connected to us, we move forward because we know that we do so with its strength and support. There are so many people in pain, anxious to get out of their jobs, but unable to do so because they know they would compromise their health, their housing, etc. There are forces greater than individual human hands – such as corporations, which make decisions only to increase their profits. But even the president of a company can try to change direction. There are those who can work for the Earth, who have the chance to do so. We cannot expect this from everyone, but we can support them and expect them to support us as well.

And you know what, there are wonderful things going on. So many people are working! This is what I call “The Great Turn”. Perhaps we can do our part by showing willpower, as this is our real mission.


Joanna Macy has written more than ten books and her work can be accessed through this link. See other materials below: