Joanna Macy – Rilke and the Dance of Despair
(Still from the film ‘The Wisdom to Survive’)
“God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.” – Rilke
The following are excerpts from an interview Joanna Macy did with Krista Tippett on her radio show ‘On Being’ where she discussed her life’s work, her love of the poet Rilke and the implications of this moment in history.
“I realized that we were, through technology, having consequences with our decisions — 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.”
“…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.”
“Then as I saw it, 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.”
“I’m ready to see. I’m not insisting that we be brimming with hope. It’s OK not to be optimistic. Buddhist teachings say, you know, feeling that you have to maintain hope can wear you out, so just be present.”
“The biggest gift you can give is to be absolutely present, and when you’re worrying about whether you’re hopeful or hopeless or pessimistic or optimistic, who cares? The main thing is that you’re showing up, that you’re here and that you’re finding ever more capacity to love this world because it will not be healed without that. That was what is going to unleash our intelligence and our ingenuity and our solidarity for the healing of our world.”
“Now something else is going on too, which is the great unraveling under the pressure of the destruction caused by the industrial growth society. And the awesome thing about the moment that you and I share is that we don’t know which is going to win out.”
“How is the story going to end? And that seems almost orchestrated to bring forth from us the biggest moral strength, courage, and creativity. I feel because when things are this unstable, a person’s determination, how they choose to invest their energy and their heart and mind can have much more effect on the larger picture than we’re accustomed to think. So I find it a very exciting time to be alive, if somewhat wearing emotionally.”