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Pass It On: Five Stories That Can Change the World

Joanna Macy and Norbert Gahbler

Download a sample chapter: click here for the PDF.


Russia: Path Into the Forest
Joanna Macy

There is a circle dance we do in every workshop and class of mine, whether it's on systems theory, Buddhism, or deep ecology. We do it to open our minds to the wider world we live in and to strengthen our intention to take part in its healing. Each time we put on the music and link hands, I think of Novozybkov in the fall of 1992.

Our team of four-two Russians, Harasch and Yuri, my husband Fran and I-had been traveling from one town to another in Belarus and Ukraine, offering workshops to people living in areas contaminated by the Chernobyl disaster. Now we had come to our final stop: the town of Novozybkov, an agricultural and light industrial city of 50,000 a hundred miles due east of Chernobyl, in the Bryansk region of Russia. Together with its surrounding villages, it is considered to be the most contaminated city of its size that is still inhabited.

Drawing on what we learned from years of leading groups in despair-and-empowerment work, we came to offer, as we put it to the authorities, "psychological tools for coping with the effects of massive, collective trauma." We had entitled the workshops "Building a Strong Post-Chernobyl Culture." The name had a nice Soviet ring to it, but I soon realized that the word "post" was wrong. It suggested that the disaster was over, I said to Fran, but it was soon obvious that it was far from over. The radioactivity was still spreading silently through wind, water, fodder, and food, creating new toxins as it mixed with automotive and industrial pollution, and sickening bodies already weakened from previous exposures. Our workshops, we soon realized, were not so much to help people recover from a catastrophe as to help them live with an ongoing one.