Gaia’s Director, Liz Hosken, celebrates the 90th birthday of one of Gaia’s great elders; educator and Earth defender Joanna Macy. She reflects on how Joanna’s ‘Work that Reconnects’ is helping inspire a new generation of movement leaders and activists for  Earth Jurisprudence across Africa.

I first met Joanna in the late 1980s at a workshop on Deep Ecology in the UK. I was astounded.  Within a few hours people from all walks of life, who did not know each other and would not call themselves environmentalists, were sharing their pain for the Earth, for other species, for special places, for the barren world they feared their children would inherit.

Educator, philosopher and Earth protector, Joanna Macy.

What was her magic, I wondered? How did she find the route into people’s guarded hearts so quickly?  Through her artful honing of questions and exercises, Joanna took us to the core of our common human experience. Her great gift is to help us remember we are one species, one human family in the web of life, participating in an awe-inspiring, living planet, through whom we are deeply en-souled.

Since that first meeting, I have been honored to work alongside Joanna and to introduce her Work that Reconnects  to friends and allies in Africa, where it is now taking root with her ongoing guidance and support.

I see this work as the vital medicine we need at this time to overcome the separations created through colonialism and anthropocentrism in their many forms. These patterns of domination are deeply familiar and justified through superiority complexes of ideology, race, sexuality, gender, and religion. Yet, as we face death everywhere – of cultures, species, ecosystems, possibly life on our planet as we know it — we need to heal these wounds within the human family and come back to ourselves as Earthlings, first and foremost, to nurture the possibility of life for future generations of all species.

To mark the occasion of Joanna’s 90th birthday in May 2019, Gaia has gathered testimonies from some of the emerging African leaders who have found inspiration in Joanna’s vital work. They  are actively applying her exercises in different contexts throughout the continent –  in their personal practice, with communities and in their advocacy work.

Their words are a testament to the enduring inter-cultural power and relevance of the Work that Reconnects. Thank you, Joanna, for the gift you are to us at this challenging time!

African Reflections on The Work that Reconnects

After centuries of colonial and anthropocentric domination, there is an urgent need to decolonise our minds, develop life-sustaining pathways rooted in Africa’s cultural diversity in Africa, and to defend life against the suicidal economic juggernaut of the industrial growth economy .

The Gaia Team’s contribution to this healing path has been to develop and support immersive trainings, alongside mentors like Joanna, to deepen our experience and understanding of ourselves as Earthlings embedded in our lawful, ordered and living planet.

Through this journey, practitioners and advocates see the world from an Earth- centred perspective and learn how to inspire communities and movements wanting to revive Africa’s indigenous identity as the foundation from which to free itself from colonialism’s legacy.

Since 2014, Gaia has been accompanying dynamic leaders in Africa, on this collective journey of discovery, de-schooling, remembering and reconnecting with our living Earth.

The first three-year course, commended by the UN, was completed in July 2017, and graduates are now mentors for the second group who are mid-way through their journey of EJ learning.

Participants in the course come from seven African countries — South Africa, Zimbabwe, Benin, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya. Most are working with rural communities through small local civil society organisations concerned with ecological, cultural and social transformation.

They are people at a turning point in their lives. Disillusioned by the ‘American Dream’ promoted by the industrial growth economy, and searching for ways to deepen their contribution to life-enhancingways in these turbulent times, they are drawing inspiration from their African heritage and other traditional wisdom.

Here some of these coordinators reflect on the crucial role Joanna’s writings and The Work the Reconnects are playing in their own journeys:

African Earth Jurisprudence Practitioners at a retreat in the hills of South Africa. Photo: Gaia Foundation

I found Joanna’s work deeply authentic, spiritual, and therapeutic. It has given me the strength and tools to deal with the dysfunctional system that is destroying all forms of life. The image of the Spiral of the Work remains deeply engrained in my mind. It is so potent because it is packed with layers of truth that speak to the very core that makes us human. It goes beyond race, culture, religion, gender, class and ethnicity, allowing us to freelysurrender to the process of‘coming back to life’.  As we are reborn, we make greater and more meaningful connections that restore and sustain life.”– Gertrude Pswarayi-Jabson, Zimbabwe.


“Joanna’s guidance highlights what our African philosophy of uBuntu teaches us, that we can connect with the pain of others. We can feel deeply and move through with reverence and love. Coming Back to Life provides the tools and affirmation that it is okay to experience being shaken up but also to know when to move through.”– Shaun Dunn, South Africa.


“Joanna expresses the mystery of life and the complex interactions among Earth community members in a fresh and compelling way. I am particularly inspired by her deep exploration of how important it is to feel pain of the world in which I am part. I couldn’t grasp this powerful thought until I encountered life threatening experiences of my own. The experience opened my mind to dare to confront any uncertainty, to think about life beyond our physical being. Her wisdom on compassion, relatedness, gratitude and seeing with fresh eyes are my lifelong companions.”- Fassil Gebeyehu, Ethiopia.


 “This work is so precious, because it reveals how and why we are disconnected. It fills us with energy to rediscover the joy of being part of our living Mother Earth. These exercises of liberation are contemplative while also rallying us to work for the cause of the Universe which is living and regenerative.” Edonandji Gbegniho, Benin.


I am so privileged to have ‘met’ Joanna through my EJ Practitioners Course. Her book with Molly Brown “Coming back to Life: the Work that Reconnects”  has really reshaped my thoughts and practices as an environmental and social justice activist. Thank you Joanna for your immense contribution in raising the alert on the destruction of Mother Earth and providing pathways for dealing with the pain, reconnecting with Her and strengthening the will to protect and defend Her at this time of the great unravelling.” Nnah Ndobe Samuel, Cameroon.


Joanna’s books are full of practical, spiritual, and nature – based exercises that resonate with African indigenous thinking.  They now form part of my daily  routine. I constantly refer to her books, to draw inspiration for exercises with communities as well as for trainings or gatherings. People from all walks of life are moved and inspired to see life from a different perspective – as part of our living Mother Earth.” Method Gundidza, Zimbabwe.


“I want to express my deep gratitude to Joanna.  During my training in EJ with Gaia, I had the extraordinary opportunity to explore and practice the teachings in her books. Since then they have become my faithful companions. They connected me to myself and to Nature in a deeper way and helps me to do the same for others. The exercises remind us of our ancestral wisdom, to see life and Mother Earth from a timeless dimension. Thank you Joanna for helping to elevate our thinking, to come back to life’s meaning.”  Oussou Lio Appolinaire, Benin.


“The deep crises we are suffering today is because we have lost connection with reality, which is life as part of Mother Earth. We need to rebuild our relationship with Nature, to find life sustaining ways to live so that future generations of all beings can have life. Mother Earth is suffering and we can all feel it. Joanna helps us connect with this reality – the joy and the pain – and how to stay conscious.  Her exercises are very powerful ways of staying awake –  for communities and for other gatherings. Thank you Joanna, Zwavhudi.” Mashudu Takalani, Venda Community, South Africa.


“I have read Coming back to Life and done many of the exercises, which have ‘widened my circle of re-connection.’  Joanas teachings opened my mind and heart,  enabling me to experience love and communion with Nature. It has awakened me and I feel this has brought me back to life . this inculcated in me a desire to keep widening my circle of relationship with out more than human community of life. She opened my eyes to the beautiful self-organising Universe.  This is affecting those around me and my commitment to do what I can to protect and nurture life on our living Mother Earth. Joanna, I am deeply grateful and in awe of the gifts you have brought to the world at this time.” Mersha Yilma, Ethiopia.


“Joanna Macy has had such an impact on me and my friends, it has given me hope that it is possible for more people to awaken and assure life for generations to come – not only of humans! Her books are my companions which I have read many times as I continue to explore her practices.  Deep gratitude Joanna.”  Dennis Tabaro, Uganda.


“Coming back to life is one of the greatest books I came across through my EJ course with Gaia.  Each month now as we gather for our community dialogues with elders  in Tharaka Kenya, we begin with a “mystica, ’ drawing on one of the exercises, to get into the right spirit. The community loves the way the exercises stimulate their thoughts and affirm indigenous perspectives.  I have used them in other gatherings too – they are powerful rituals.” Simon Mitambo, Kenya.

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