Joanna Macy quote

Akshobhya’s Mirror

Glastonbury Oracle, October 2020

“We are in a space without a map.” Joanna Macy began her article Entering the Bardowith this statement, suggesting that the world is entering not just a crisis but a ‘space between the worlds’; the time between the end of a culture that is dying and a new civilisation that has not yet emerged. “As you enter the Bardo” she continues, “there facing you is the Buddha Akshobhya”.

He is holding a mirror that reflects everything, exactly as it is. “The teaching of Akshobhya’s mirror is this: do not look away. Do not avert your gaze. Do not turn aside.” The radical attention and total acceptance that are called for are a very big ask, but this is the necessary first step towards finding a way through the chaos we are facing. There’s no alternative. I’m not a Buddhist; I say this as a concerned individual trying in my own way to make sense of what’s now happening.

​So what are our governments and our business leaders doing? Faced with climate change, dramatic loss of biodiversity, erosion of topsoil and unprecedented pollution, racism and social inequality, one pandemic and the likelihood of more, they are doing anything rather than looking at the real situation head on. They encourage us to believe that we shall soon be back to ‘normal’, that everything is basically under control, that we can trust them to fix all the problems.

It won’t, it isn’t, and we can’t. In the words of a good friend, “We’re in the middle of a roundabout while the Prime Minister drives around us in his disintegrating clown car parping his klaxon like a performing seal.”

But really he’s just a distraction. It has to be asked, what are the rest of us doing? Wouldn’t we rather blame anyone – performing seals included – than stare into the dreaded mirror ourselves? Wouldn’t we look for any reason to hope it will be ‘alright’, however unlikely, rather than accept that it’s too late for that now, that the green movement – for instance – has failed, just as much as capitalism has proved itself inadequate to meet the needs of the time.

Returning to Joanna Macy, she offers us a third story, besides ‘Business as Usual’ and ‘The Great Unravelling’. This is the creation of ‘a life-sustaining society’. But she has had to come to terms with the increasingly obvious fact that “we cannot avoid climate catastrophe”.  She now sees her Work that Reconnectsas providing “the guidance, solidarity and trust needed to make our way through this inevitable breakdown”.

A number of others have come to similar conclusions. Some of them are working within organisations like XR, in the hope of achieving at least some marginal mitigation of climate change. Others choose to look directly into that mirror, ‘staring into the abyss’, including Jem Bendell of Deep Adaptation, and also Justine Huxley of St Ethelberga’s Centre for Peace and Reconciliation. She has run workshops designed to take participants to the point where all hope that things can be made ‘alright’ has been stripped away; what people who have taken part report is that beyond that point they feel a “new courage” and “extraordinary joy”.

I shall look forward to her next workshop. How else can us humans remember that all life is sacred and one integrated whole?