Conversation Transformation

‘Great Turning’ Visionaries | Part 1

You can watch the full video of this conversation HERE.

Mattie Porte |  Hello everyone. We are greeting you today from Findhorn Ecovillage in the North-East of Scotland. Our focus is the Great Turning and to help us explore this important and relevant topic we’ve invited an esteemed panel of guests, visionaries who have dedicated their lives to the Great Turning and to the evolution of human consciousness.

We are honored to have with us Craig Schindler who coined the term the Great Turning in his book of the same name co-authored with Gary Lapid in 1989, Joanna Macy who expanded and popularized the term through The Work That Reconnects and also through her book, Active Hope. We also have Chris Johnstone with us who co-authored Active Hope with Joanna Macy and developed a series of companion workshops on that same topic. We have David Korten who wrote The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community. We have Pat McCabe, Woman Stands Shining of the Diné nation who brings a unique Indigenous perspective. Her work centers around thriving life and the Great Reunion. We also have Duane Elgin who recently wrote about the Turning in his book, Choosing Life: Humanity’s Great Transition to a Mature Planetary Civilization.

So thank you all for being with us. It is a pleasure and an honor. So I’d like to start by asking our panel, what is the Great Turning? What inspired you to this great work and how are you seeing it manifesting in the world right now? What is its significance at this moment in time? And Craig, let’s start with you as you first coined The Great Turning.

Craig Schindler | Thank you, Mattie. I think I’m going to begin with what motivated me and then go to the Great Turning. As a youth, I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I watched him take us up to the mountaintop where 2000 people in the auditorium leaned forward and had a glimpse that it’s possible for us to create the conditions for justice and peace on our planet. Dr. King of course was echoing the great souls across time who’ve been to the mountaintop, and told us that an evolutionary shift is possible.

Then, when my first born child, a son, was born on Hiroshima Day in 1981 in the midst of the Cold War, I juxtaposed holding this baby in my arm with weapons of mass destruction and the beginning of climate change, which we were aware of then, and the juxtaposition overwhelmed me in such a way that I made a commitment to go to Los Alamos and begin the process of creating a national dialogue on reducing the risk nuclear of war.

And there at Bandelier National Monument and the ancient cave dwellings where people lived a thousand years ago, Indigenous inhabitants of this continent had a vision of the Turning, of the Great Turning and that future generations we are connected to will give thanks and blessing to us for making the choice to create a more just, sustainable and compassionate world. From then on, it’s just been a matter of one foot after another trying to do our best.

So what is the Great Turning? It’s the turning away from our self-destruction toward a new era of human dignity, racial justice, environmental restoration, and peace within and peace without. It’s the end, after 5,000 years of our war weary adolescence, into our conscious adulthood. It is a shift that is both personal in terms of awakening to the inner-outer connection of interdependence and oneness and our kinship with all life, and it is the spiritual emergence of humanity to take responsibility, to steward this beautiful planet and to treat each other, as all the great traditions say, with love and respect.

How’s it emerging now? I would say that this is the most pivotal time in human history, that many generations have looked at the future and known that their decisions would affect the future, but that we are the first, those of us who are living now, to look and see that the decisions we’re going to make are going to determine whether there is a future or not. And I would tell you that the Great Turning is already happening, it’s been happening now for about 30 years, that there are millions of people who are committed to love and compassion and dignity and stewardship, and that we are working towards a tipping point. Scientists tell us that when 10% of a population adopts an innovative idea that it becomes exponential. We’re shifting from about 5% of us who have a loyalty to all humanity, to 10%  – when the message will become exponential.

Joanna Macy | Well, first, I try to make a definition of it because I’ve come so used to it with the folks around me using it. So I guess I define it as a perceptual behavioral paradigm shift or revolution that focuses on the emergence of a life sustaining planetary culture and economy. The term of course was among us with Craig and it’s so wonderful to be sitting here with him and I also use it in The Work that Reconnects around the world. It was an expression coming out of Buddhism and so many Buddhist practices were borrowed in our work to represent the teachings. When the Buddha taught or set forth a worldview, that was called a ‘turning’, he was turning the Wheel of the Dharma, the dharmachakra. And there were various turnings of it.


This, the Great Turning, we express as having the scope and magnitude of the agricultural revolution and the industrial revolution – a change which touches everything: the way we think, the way we act, the way we see.

And this Great Turning, we’ve seen it as having three dimensions, a dimension of holding actions that is slowing the destruction, building a new society in every respect, and a deep inner revolution as well as a shift in consciousness. So I’m very grateful to be alive at this time and I give this my life.

Chris Johnstone | Well, one of the questions you asked was what inspired you? And I think I like the question who inspired you and there are many people here. I first heard about the Great Turning from Joanna, I can’t quite remember when it was. We started working together back in the 1980s at Findhorn. And what really landed with me was an inspiring story. And I love the Great Turning because when I’m sunk by what I see happening, and there’s so much that can leave you feeling sunk, I think of the Great Turning as a way that things can go, and I love the way you were talking, Craig, about how people in the future might look back at how things have gone, people turning up, making a difference.

Also, I love the question, “What would it look like if the Great Turning were to happen through us right now?” If we think of it as a process that can happen for all of us in any moment, one is turning up, turning up to play one’s part. And then there’s a turning away from that which causes harm and a turning towards that which supports the flourishing of life.

And I think of that as an organizing framework, whenever I’m stuck and confused or sunk or feeling devastated, I just think, “Okay, what would the Great Turning look like if it was happening through me right now?” It would involve me turning up! We’re turning up here now. And if you are reading this, you are turning up and you are listening to this and you’ll have conversations where you turn up in that conversation. And there might be things that you turn away from, and there might be things that you turn towards.

And there’s a thought like, how does it happen? How do we see it being manifested? I love the idea ‘if you live it, then you’ll find out’. If you live the Great Turning, you’ll actually see what it looks like.

So anyway, that’s what I take. It feels like it’s an organizing story that I find deeply inspiring. And I’m really grateful for all of those I’ve seen living it. I want to go that way so that’s what I want to turn towards. And I’m so pleased to be alongside you here, I see what you’re doing, and I want to head that way, I want to turn towards that way.

Pat McCabe |  So, [speaks in Diné Bizaad] I’m introducing myself as a Diné woman to you on this morning from my mother’s house here in Albuquerque, New Mexico. So that’s where I find myself on Mother Earth this morning. I was adopted into the Lakota spiritual way of life and I was given the name Weyakpa Najin Win which translates roughly to “Woman Is Standing Shining”. So I wanted to greet you that way.

So here I am, an Indigenous person on this panel, and it might be surprising and it might not be to know that I’ve been rooting for collapse for a long time! I think most Indigenous people on the planet have been rooting for collapse for a long time. So that’s a very different orientation, right? Why have I been rooting for a collapse? Well, because, one thing I say is I have this privilege of walking in two different paradigms, completely different paradigms. What do I mean by paradigm? Different ways that human beings perceive of being human on this Mother Earth in the exact same circumstances under the exact same sky, same sun, same water, but radically different views of how that is to be done.

And there may be more than these two, right? This is something I feel like is really important at this time for us to consider, that paradigm is a choice. Paradigm is a choice. So I present Indigenous paradigm in circumstances like the one we find ourselves here on this panel, to say it’s not something that we can only imagine, or it’s not a fantasy world or a pipe dream, so to speak, there are people doing it already, okay? So humans can absolutely do this, and we can witness them.

And so I think there’s a longing in most Indigenous peoples that I meet for a return to what was before. And so this Turning, I would say is, in some ways, a turning backward to another understanding and to an awakening or witnessing. I guess I’ll say the return of original instructions or the understanding of, how exactly this Earth construct is made and what is our place in it? I talk often about who we are, where we are, how it is. And so as Thich Nhat Hanh has pointed out, (and he gives us a great Indigenous word through the English language), he calls us, interbeing. We are so interrelated, so deeply interrelated.

And so here’s the spiritual dilemma. Here we are in a free will construct where everybody gets to do whatever the heck they dream up to do and it’s not only human species that are involved in this free will business, it’s all species, I would say. But here we are, human beings with the power and choice to do anything we can dream up. And I love this meme that I’ve seen lately, that we choose white supremacy and credit scores of all the possibilities! But we can make other choices, right?

The Great Turning is the recognition of the laws of this construct. And so the spiritual dilemma is we can choose anything we want to do and every action that we commit affects every other being on the planet. So what is your choice to be?

I’ll say one other piece – we say that we’ve already passed through many worlds. This isn’t the first time we’ve lost a world, or that we’ve been on the brink of losing a world. So that gives us a different understanding spiritually, philosophically, about what is called for at this moment.

Duane Elgin | To me, the Great Turning is a turn from death to life, from death to life. It’s choosing life. Choosing earth is choosing life. And in the West, the modern world has been living out of a paradigm of death, a dead universe, mostly dead matter and empty space there for us to exploit from a place of separation. And now we’re seeing ruin emerging from that mindset. And so we’re turning from a dead universe to a living universe.

As Pat suggested, this in many ways is a return to our most ancient understanding of the nature of reality, of the universe in which we live. It is a line. And as we turn towards life, we’re coming home. We’re coming home to our original sense of being in understanding, of living in a living universe. And I came to this decades ago. Early on in my life I wanted to be a doctor, I wanted to be a healer, but in the early 1960s, I began to see the deep wounding of humanity and the Earth in the Vietnam era. And that is when I turned from being a healer of bodies and people to a healer of our wounded Earth and our wounded future.

So here we are, in my estimation, as people have said, this is the most pivotal time in the last 10,000 years, since the end of the last ice age. We are making a turn back to our original nature, our original understanding of the universe, where we are and where we’re going. And where we’re going is from separation and exploitation in a dead universe, to connection, communion and healing in a living universe. And in that in turn, we’re turning towards care for the wellbeing of all life.

David Korten | It’s interesting as you frame the question that way, “What is the Great Turning?” The first thought that comes to my mind, is it is a great turning of humanity from a course that leads to a world that will not work for anyone to a world that works for everyone. And of course, it has to be a world that recognizes it is not just about people, but it is about a living Earth that births and nurtures us and our existence, as well as our wellbeing. Our wellbeing depends on the health and wellbeing of the Earth in terms of the way we structure the economy and the way we define its purpose, which is essentially to make lots of money for rich people so that they can own everything on Earth, that is leading us in the action of self-extinction.


Now here’s a simple truth. There are no winners on a dead earth. Wow. We don’t need a lot of scientific research and data, it is a self-evident truth. And yet it is the most fundamental truth that almost everything in the way we manage the global economy ignores and violates.

So it’s very interesting. I grew up in a small town, my family owned a family business and I grew up assuming I was going to go back and run that business. I didn’t know if I’d ever leave my hometown. And to end up with a life in which I’ve lived all over the world – I could not have imagined as a child.

I was a very, very conservative young Republican at that point. And I was terribly concerned about these communist revolutions, born of poverty that were a threat to our American way of life. As I think about that now my venture out into the world on a mission to end global poverty was kind of an early recognition that if we don’t create a world that works for everyone, we will have a world that literally will not work for anyone. And the rest of it has simply been a process of pushing my understanding of what that means to an ever deeper level.

So what is the Great Turning? It is the transformation of humanity from our current misdirection toward the world that most humans have dreamed of since the beginning of time, a world of peace and love and generosity and caring. But it has to be a world on our finite Earth, our finite living Earth. It has to be a world that is organized around material sufficiency and spiritual abundance. Rather than this insanity that we’re all better off if we are all focusing our attention on making more and more money so we can each increase our consumption in more and more ridiculous and ultimately self-defeating ways.

Mattie Porte | Thank you. So the word awakening was mentioned, and when I’ve been researching the work of all of our panelists, I’ve noticed that everything points to this evolutionary leap of consciousness, this awakening, if you will. And I wonder if you can tell us a little bit about how we achieve that? What does it mean to awaken particularly for those who may be reading this discussion later and may be new to the spiritual path? How is that awakening manifesting on the planet right now? And I’d like to start with Joanna.

Joanna Macy | We’re waking up to our true identity to who we really are. That’s what I experience. And that’s what I find this time is inviting us to do – wake up that identity that we are part of Earth. We are being Earth, and choosing to come home to that identity as Earth is what we long for. We have been separated for so long.

What’s wonderful here is that at this point, these two great rivers that have been separated for so long  – science and spirituality – are flowing together to teach us, each their different ways, spiritual practice and traditions. As well as systems thinking, Gaia theory, and bringing us to experience that we are our Earth becoming conscious of itself, our true selves.

So this is not a creed, and this is not something that’s a required belief, but it just is beginning to emerge, a waking up, and that changes everything. And as that happens, we are beginning to experience that other people are speaking our minds with us, that there’s a collective dimension to our intelligence and our creativity that we are coming home from a long, long time. And it feels good.

Chris Johnstone | I think there’s a different word I prefer and it’s belonging. And I suppose awakening is a sense there was something that I was asleep to that I’m now becoming more aware of or conscious of, or living. But in terms of what I’m becoming more aware of, what I’m feeling stronger inside me, it’s belonging. And as Joanna was saying, it’s like recognizing that we are part of Earth. But it’s more than that because I think with belonging also comes a sense of direction and purpose. Like, if I feel I belong to a family, I belong to a community, I belong to a team, that shapes the whole story of my life, what I’m about, what I’m aiming to do, and when I feel strength of belonging, from that comes loyalty. I want to show up and act for the team that I’m part of. I feel I’m part of a team here today with all of you. Some I’ve met and some I’ve met through the work that you’ve been doing.

And I come across people sometimes who have such a sense of not belonging, that they feel a sense of alienation that they’ve lost the plot. And I know that I felt like that in the past too, but when I do feel belonging, it’s like I know what I’m here to do because I know what I’m here to act for.

Duane Elgin | I really appreciated what Chris was just saying about belonging. And to me, the awakening is coming home. It’s coming home to our original home, which is the aliveness of a living universe. And we have been living in this place of what we thought was dead matter and empty space without meaning or purpose. And now through the lens of physics, as well as the ancient wisdom traditions we’re seeing, no, we are living in a place of great and profound aliveness. And we’re coming home, not only to the aliveness of the Earth but the aliveness of the universe itself. And so when our aliveness within meets the extraordinary aliveness without, we’re coming home. Life is meeting life – and in that meeting, we feel belonging, we feel finally we can relax, we’re at rest. We’re where we should be, want to be and that’s at home in the greater aliveness of the Earth and the universe and within ourselves. So the awakening is a return to belonging.

David Korten | To me, the foundation of our awakening is an awakening to the actual nature of life and its complexity, and its interdependence. What we’re discovering now, truths that were long denied or ignored by science, we’re coming back actually to fundamental insights of our earliest ancestors. One of my very close colleagues from South Africa talks about the traditional South African word ubuntu, which means ‘I am because you are’. Wow. That is a very simple statement of it. But in the bigger sense, I am because all of life is. And if the interactions between all these living beings stop, we are dead.

The way science describes it, we started out with this burst of an energy cloud or the unitary consciousness or whatever you want to call it. But it’s like it burst forth on a journey to discover its possibilities.

The way we understand the unfolding of creation through our new scientific understanding, it’s not the winding down of entropy toward energy death, it is the whole of creation as we know it as a winding-up toward ever-growing complexity. It’s an unfolding and we are a part of that process.

And part of what we have to wake up to is all the ways we currently organize in terms of our cultural beliefs, which are so polluted and distorted by the economics that we teach our children that I call egonomics, not economics. And it is that promotion of the ego and the individual wealth and the individual consumption, the focus on competition rather than the recognition of our interdependence and the essential importance of cooperation. And if we can imagine the world we want, we can create the world we want.

Craig Schindler | I’ve been privileged several times to watch the Dalai Lama come into a room. Sometimes in a small group, sometimes in a large group and he comes in laughing and bowing, laughing and bowing probably 20 times before he gets up to the stage. And I like to think that he’s laughing and bowing because he gets the joke. Because he sees from his perspective that everyone in the room has the light of consciousness within them, and he gets to play the role of the one who’s reflecting that. And he knows that if he were to stop and say, “Yo, I’m the Dalai Lama”, at that moment, he wouldn’t be the Dalai Lama, because each one of us has that light of consciousness in us and we share it with all sentient beings. Right now, we’re going into a kind of trance state culturally, the trance of the ego, the trance of small self that objectifies self and others and creates that sense of isolation, of alienation, and really destruction.

We need to awaken from that space in the now, right now, to the big self, to the soul, to the witnessing consciousness that sees and experiences our interbeing, as Joanna said, quoting Thich Nhat Hanh, our interrelatedness, our ecological connection, our spiritual oneness with all life.

The Great Turning has four levels: the recognition that we are one Earth and all life is interdependent. The recognition that we are one family evolved from one archetypal mother, about 200,000 years ago. The recognition that we have one abiding vision in all our traditions, and that is to create the conditions for peace within and with the earth. And the recognition that there is one shared global ethic, which is the ethic of reciprocity to treat the other, all life, with the love and respect that you want for yourself.

Mattie Porte | Thank you.

Pat McCabe | And so one thing that I’m really noticing in this awakening is that there’s a lot of co-witnessing going on that is unprecedented, or it’s certainly been a long time… And I’m going to say with the murder of George Floyd here in the United States, it’s not that black communities didn’t know that this was going on. This has been going on for them for a long time. And suddenly all these other communities, are saying “What? a policeman can kneel down on a person’s neck in broad daylight and be filmed? How did this happen? What?” With the discovery of the mass graves of the children in the residential boarding schools in Canada, which was actually a carryover from the UK. And they’re finding mass graves in Ireland and Scotland as well. So that practice was carried to the United States and imposed on Indigenous peoples here.

But this discovery of these mass graves of the children at the catholic schools, the residential boarding schools, where the children were forcibly kidnapped and taken away from their families as a methodology of subduing and bringing them into alignment with a modern world paradigm. Suddenly, again, it’s not that Indigenous people didn’t know that was happening. My parents and grandparents went to those residential boarding schools. I’m the first generation out in my family who didn’t go. So it didn’t happen a long time ago – it’s recent. And so this co-witnessing and this outcry and this outrage and this collective mourning of what we have been capable of doing to each other, it is like we’re waking out of a trance and seeing what has happened.

So I was actually at Findhorn during the New Story Summit. When I got overwhelmed at one point and I went out and sat on the dunes to just collect myself, the Holy People came to me and they said, rather than try to tell a new story from this point forward, you would be better off retelling the old story. And if you went back and retold the old story, you would automatically change the trajectory into the future. Wow. So I’ve been working with that a great deal and so in many ways, I feel like this co-witnessing is the retelling of the old story on one level. So I’m learning, I’m asking, I’m in spiritual inquiry, asking, ‘what does it mean to retell the old story?’ But I have this sense of this co-witnessing, because these stories have been running without witness, without the necessary witnesses to bring healing and to bring reckoning.

PART TWO of this Conversation can be found HERE.

About Mattie Porte

Mattie holds a degree in Psychology and is trained in alternative energy medicine as well as spiritual and personal development. She has over 20 years experience in spiritual and personal development education and mentoring at Findhorn Ecovillage, where she currently resides. During that time she directed and produced her first feature-length documentary film – An Enquiry into a New Story for Humanity: Change the Story, Change the World.

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About Joanna Macy

Eco-philosopher Joanna Macy PhD, is a scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory, and deep ecology. A respected voice in the movements for peace, justice, and ecology, she interweaves her scholarship with five decades of activism. As the root teacher of the Work That Reconnects, she has created a ground-breaking theoretical framework for personal and social change, as well as a powerful workshop methodology for its application.

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About David Korten

David C. Korten is an American writer, lecturer, engaged citizen, student of psychology and behavioral systems, a prominent critic of corporate globalization, and an advocate of Ecological Civilization. He is founder and president of the Living Economies Forum and an active member of the Club of Rome. Find David on Facebook, Twitter and his website,

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About Duane Elgin

DUANE ELGIN, is an internationally recognized author, speaker and media activist.  He is the co-director of the Choosing Earth Project. His books include: Choosing Earth, The Living Universe, Promise Ahead, Voluntary Simplicity, and Awakening Earth. He received the Peace Prize of Japan—the Goi Award—in Tokyo in 2006 in recognition of his contribution to a global “vision, consciousness, and lifestyle” that fosters a “more sustainable and spiritual culture.” His personal website is:  and project website is: www.ChoosingEarth.Org

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About Pat McCabe

“Woman Stands Shining” Pat McCabe, has the honour of being of the Dine (Navajo) Nation. She brings the understanding of Indigenous ways of knowing into discussion and inquiry on Sustainability. She carries the foundation of Beauty and Spirit into places where it has been kept out. Pat is an active participant in Indigenous Peoples gatherings worldwide.

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About Dr. Craig F. Schindler

Dr. Craig F. Schindler is a nationally known author and speaker; coach and counselor in transformative psychology; conflict resolution expert; executive coach; and former professor of environmental ethics.

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About Dr Chris Johnstone

With a background in medicine, psychology, group-work and coaching, Dr Chris Johnstone is a specialist trainer for resilience and wellbeing. He has worked in this field for over thirty years, and through his online courses, he now reaches people from more than 55 countries. After working for many years as a doctor and addictions specialist in the UK health service, he now focuses on coaching, mentoring, writing and training, particularly through online courses at The College of Wellbeing

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