Lately I’ve been realizing how much I’ve depended on trees for a sense of centeredness and tranquility. For as long as I can remember, I’ve climbed them, hugged them, and stood humbly in their presence.
Activist Joanna Macy has a similar devotion to trees. They frame her life story, which begins with a luminous memory of Grandfather’s maple: “When I sat very quiet, the play of light seemed to go right through my body and my own breath was part of maple’s murmuring.” The story concludes in Bodhgaya, India, in the shade of the bodhi tree where the Buddha attained enlightenment.
Widening Circles, Macy’s autobiography, is often inspirational—not in a lofty, quotable way but in its candid recounting of problems identified and actions taken. She shows the reader the process that transforms the sidelined social critic into a determined activist. Her own transition from “traditional” wife and parent to impassioned leader of the anti-nuclear power movement offers an important lesson to those of us who wonder what we might do to effect social change.
As she reflects, sitting under the bodhi tree, on all the people who have influenced her life, she wonders: “Is it my love for them all that holds me in orbit? Or is it the fate awaiting my planet’s people in this harsh, momentous time?” Even though the questions she poses may be impossible to answer, I can think of no better antidote for the cynicism of our time than her honest, personal account of the searchfor enlightenment.