Pachamama, Joanna Macy, and The Work That Reconnects

Rabbi Mordechai Liebling
[Liebling is a member of the Board and President Emeritus of The Shalom Center. He has also been director of the jewish Reconstructionist Federation and vice-president of the Jewish Funds for justice.]

During the past two years, I have been learning – and beginning to learn how to teach – from several holistic wisdom practices / trainings focused on the illness and the healing of the earth.

One of these is rooted in the Pachamama Alliance, creators of Awakening the Dreamer Symposiums.
Pachamama is the Supreme Goddess honored by the indigenous people of the Andes including parts of Peru, Argentina, and Bolivia. Pachamama is referred to as both the Physical Planet Earth as well as the Universal Feminine Energy in Time and Space, The Cosmic Mother. Pacha is an archaic Quechua word meaning universe, world, time and space. So She is in fact the Goddess of all that exists for all time, eternal.

Together with my wife, Lynne Iser, I have begun to transmit a version of these Awakening the Dreamer Symposiums – which combine videos of the beauties of the earth and its human earthlings with experiential exercises in how to take these beauties to heart, understand what is happening to them and why, and act to heal and renew the earth, social justice, and spiritual depth.

For more information on this work, see –

In August, I participated in a 12-day intensive workshop with Joanna Macy. She has been a teacher and a leader for decades in the effort to reconnect ourselves to the great web of life that provides the home and context for human existence. She teaches that the tragedy of civilization is that the intellectual freedom and knowledge that we gained with the advent of the Enlightenment, the rise of scientific thought, and the privileging of the mind over the heart and body have led to a culture that is destroying the earth.

Our task is not to negate science and reason, but to balance them with the wisdom of the heart, the spirit and nature. Joanna calls what she does “The Work that Reconnects”; it is through reconnecting with others and the earth- the web of life, that we can create the balance.

Her basic methodology is a four part process:

First -- appreciate the beauty of creation and the blessings in our lives;

Second -- allow in the pain of the current destruction, the desertification of soil, the poisoning of our air and water, the extinction of species, the decimation of forests, and go beneath the denial and numbness to experience the dying of life all around us;

Third -- out of the blessings and the sadness, develop a new vision of what is possible to be done individually and collectively;

Fourth -- make a plan to realize that vision and act on it.

She has developed a very effective and powerful set of rituals and exercises that bring people through the stages. I had no idea of the sadness within me about the pollution of streams until I began weeping as I poured water onto a cairn of mourning that we created.

We live in a culture that profits from creating numbness to the destruction. Organisms don’t like to feel pain. We readily fall into the many feeling numbing addictions of consumption -- consumption of food, media, clothing, alcohol, drugs (legal and illegal), anything in short that corporate culture tells us will make us happy, cool or desirable. A cycle of destruction has been created -- consume more to avoid the pain of destruction ; the more that is produced/consumed the greater the destruction; so the more we need to consume to avoid the pain.

One reason the observance of Shabbat is so radical, is that it is a day without buying things or tuning into commercial media.

It is more possible to allow in the pain when feeling connected to the earth and to other people. Feeling the pain alone can be terrifying. Knowing that there are others with you provides safety and comfort. Feeling connected to the earth, to the 14 billion years of evolution, the unfolding of the Cosmos, provides a container for the grief.

Joanna, along with many others, sees this era as the Great Turning. Our civilization will either turn towards healing and shape a new paradigm, or descend into the Great Unraveling. The consensus among environmentalists and many other scientists is that unless we radically reduce our contribution to global warming in the next 10 to 20 years we will enter into a period of climate destabilization that may cost hundreds of millions of lives and that the resulting scarcity and chaos will likely lead to the destruction of democratic governments worldwide.

We have two tasks in this era: to hospice the death of our current society and work to ease the pains of transition and to be midwives of the new culture that is being born. We can do these things in three ways.

• Actions that try to mitigate the current pain, whether that be direct relief such as working in soup kitchens or advocating for government policy changes to stop pollution;

• Actions that create a new way of doing things- e.g. creating coops, alternative technology, co-housing;

• The ‘greening of consciousness’ -- creating a new awareness in the world of the interconnection of all beings, of the need to balance the mind and heart.

For me this framework is a way of remaining optimistic and providing direction while allowing myself to feel both the joy and pain of being alive at this moment.

The most remarkable feature of this historical moment on Earth is not that we are on the way to destroying the world -- we've actually been on the way for quite a while. It is that we are beginning to wake up, as from a millennia-long sleep, to a whole new relationship to our world, to ourselves and each other.--- Joanna Macy

For more information about this work, go to


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