The Work that Reconnects

Excerpt from the Worldview Dimension of Gaia Education’s online course in Design for Sustainability

Daniel Christian Wahl
4 min readApr 26, 2018


“It is my experience that the world itself has a role to play in our liberation. Its very pressures, pains, and risks can wake us up — release us from the bonds of ego and guide us home to our vast, true nature.”

— Joanna Macy in World as Lover, World as Self (2007, p.23)

Forty years as an activist in the peace, justice and environmental movement, combined with a background in Buddhism, systems theory and deep ecology have made Joanna Macy a powerful force for positive change. She has touched the hearts and mind of thousands. The methodology she developed through The Work that Reconnects is one of the most powerful tools of personal transformation, empowerment, and creation of active change agents in what Joanna (and David Korten) has called The Great Turning — the transition from the current industrial growth society to a life sustaining society.

The Work That Reconnects began in the 1970s and was developed out of Joanna’s ‘Despair and Empowerment’ workshops offered as a way to acknowledge to feelings related to the real possibility of a nuclear war between the powerblocks. The Work that Reconnects reminds us our intimate connection with the web of life and our authority to take action on its behalf.

Over forty years Joanna and many of the people she helped to train as facilitators have offered this work to many thousands around the globe, helping them to find insight, solidarity, and courage to act, despite rapidly worsening conditions.

Joanna based the work on her deep understanding of Buddhist dharma teachings and her background in systems theory. Together with Arne Naess and John Seed, Joanna helped to start the deep ecology movement. The Work that Reconnects shares the deep ecology platform we explored earlier.

In the book Coming Back to Life Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World, Joanna and Molly Young Brown share a treasure trove of exercises and practices that make up the work that reconnects.

Joanna Macy and David Korten have written in depth about the Great Turning, “a name for the essential adventure of our time: the shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization.” (Joanna Macy); The Work That Reconnects is a pioneering form of group work that began in the 1970s. It demonstrates our interconnectedness in the web of life and our authority to take action on its behalf. Its methods are described in Coming Back to Life, the book Joanna Macy wrote with Molly Young Brown. (image left; image centre; image right)

“The central purpose of the Work that Reconnects is to help people uncover and experience their innate connections with each other and with the systemic, self-healing powers in the web of life, so that they may be enlivened and motivated to play their part in creating a sustainable civilization. In order to do this, we pursue these contributing goals:

to provide people the opportunity to experience and share with others their innermost responses to the present condition of our world

to reframe their pain for the world as evidence of their interconnectedness in the web of life, and hence of their power to take part in its healing

to provide people with concepts — from systems science, deep ecology, or spiritual traditions — which illumine this power, along with exercises which reveal its play in their own lives

to provide methods by which people can experience their interdependence with, their responsibility for life

to connect people with the inspiration they can draw from past and future generations, and other life-forms

to enable people to embrace the Great Turning as a challenge which they are fully capable of meeting in a variety of ways, and as a privilege in which they can take joy

to bring people into mutual support and collaboration in working for the world.”

— Joanna Macy

Joanna Macy based The Work that Reconnects on two fundamental assumptions:

  • “This world, in which we are born and take our being, is alive. It is not our supply house and sewer; it is our larger body. The intelligence that evolved us from stardust and interconnects us with all beings is sufficient for the healing of our Earth community, if we but align with that purpose.
  • Our true nature is far more ancient and encompassing than the separate self defined by habit and society. We are as intrinsic to our living world as the rivers and trees, woven of the same intricate flows of matter/energy and mind. Having evolved us into self-reflexive consciousness, the world can now know itself through us, behold its own majesty, tell its own stories — and also respond to its own suffering.” (more)
The four phases of the Work that Reconnects — start with gratitude! (image)

More about Joanna Macy and her remarkable life:

Note: This is an excerpt from the Worldview Dimension of Gaia Education’s online course in Design for Sustainability. In 2012 I was asked to rewrite this dimension as part of a collaboration between Gaia Education and the Open University of Catalunya (UOC) and in 2016 I revised it again into this current version. The next opportunity to join the course is with the start of the Worldview Dimension on May 21st, 2018. You might also enjoy my book ‘Designing Regenerative Cultures’. You can read Joanna Macy’s review of it here.

Image Source: Earthymindfullness



Daniel Christian Wahl

Catalysing transformative innovation, cultural co-creation, whole systems design, and bioregional regeneration. Author of Designing Regenerative Cultures