World as Lover, World as Self
By Joanna Macy
Parallax Press: Berkeley, 1991.
251 pp. $15.00.

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Joanna Macy has always considered it perfectly natural to feel the sufferings of the world as her own. She has worked with Tibetan refugees in India, developed a system of workshops in Europe and America to cope with the psychological fallout of potential nuclear annihilation, and became an early “eco-warrior.” In World as Lover, World as Self, she has gathered together essays that offer sustaining insights drawn from her active, compassionate, and thoughtful life.

World as Lover, World as Self begins by reminding us of leaking nuclear waste, worldwide loss of topsoil, famines, pollution, and the extinction of thousands of species. The more Macy describes the painful news of our toxic world, the more one wants to separate oneself from it—to shrink into a safe, clean place within. That place is an illusion. But the mind tries to prevent itself from noticing. And with that last, subtle move, one’s mind closes a trap on itself, de-activates the natural, corrective “feedback loop” between itself and the world. It may seem safe in there; but it is a zombie existence.

Macy displays compassion for those who think they can hide. She knows the suffering implied by their efforts. What passes for apathy (apatheia, “not feeling”) in our time indicates to Macy a deep despair. But along with her compassion comes the penetrating challenge: “We have to learn to look at things as they are, painful and overwhelming as that may be, for no healing can begin until we are fully present to our world, until we learn to sustain the gaze.”

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