‘Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy’ by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone

New World Library, 2012, 256 pp

ISBN: 978-1577319726

Reviewed by Ian Mowll

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This book is about hope. Not passive, free floating hope but hope filled with practical action. It is so easy to become fearful, isolated and despondent given the enormity of the environmental and social challenges that we, as a human race, are facing. How we can sustain ourselves through these challenges and live positive, compassionate and hope filled lives? This book answers this question.

Underpinning the book is the four stage process contained in Joanna Macy’s ‘The Work That Reconnects’: coming from gratitude, honouring our pain for the world, seeing with new eyes and going forth. Starting from a place of gratitude we give thanks for all that inspires and sustains us – this helps us to come from a place of compassion rather than projecting our wounds. Then moving on to face the difficulties in the world, we understand that we are bound to feel pain if we feel compassion for all life forms and the Earth itself. In seeing with new eyes we learn to look at the world from new perspectives and so we move away from a potentially stuck and fearful position. And finally we see how we can ground all that we have learnt and experienced into practical ways to help the planet, all living things and its people.

What I find so interesting is that there is a strong parallel between Joanna Macy’s four stage process and Matthew Fox’s 4 paths in his seminal book ‘Original Blessing’: via positiva, via negativa, via creativa and via transformativa. This resonance may appeal to GreenSpirit members who are familiar with Matthew Fox’s work.

What is so inspiring in the book are the stories, both real life and mythological. Joanna’s experience of her dangerous journey into Tibet and Chris’ story of his battle with the medical profession are, for me, highlights. These real life examples of courage against adiversity give me hope that difficult challenges can be faced and dealt with.

As a fan of mythological stories, I loved the recounting and explanations of the Arthurian legends, particularly The Fisher King and King Arthur. And having experienced the power of Joanna Macy’s exercises, it is good to see some of these explained. These, along with further stories, examples and exercises help to bring an experiential approach which I find very appealing.

This book is a wonderfully motivating resource for anyone who is fed up with being part of the problem of the world’s predicament and wants to be part of the solution.

Full details of this book and related information can be see at:
http://www.activehope.info/

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