What We Do
The School for The Great Turning (SGT) was created by Lydia Violet Harutoonian, M.A, community organizer, facilitator, artist, and dedicated student of Joanna Macy’s. While pursuing her Masters in Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness at the California Institute of Integral Studies, Lydia entered an in-depth study in the histories and perspectives that have generated our current planetary crisis. For the past 13 years she has studied closely with deep ecology elder and Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy, learning how we can metabolize our pain and care for the world into profound resilience and energy for action. She created SGT after witnessing repeatedly the power of group learning focused on ecological education, social justice, and spiritual healing.
Lydia has facilitated Macy’s Work That Reconnects (WTR) for the past 13 years, a set of teachings and group exercises that help build clarity of vision, fierce compassion, wisdom, and creative responses to challenging eco-socio-political times. As we move through both the dangers and awakenings we currently face as a people, this work offers tools, meditations, and concepts that we can rest into, connecting to our desires to be effective allies to both planet and people.
SGT now hosts dozens of workshops, retreats, and online courses per year, with formidable teachers including Joanna Macy, adrienne maree brown, Leah Song of Rising Appalachia, Amikaeyla Gaston, Vahisha Hasan, Penny Livingston, Sarah Nutting and Karisha Longaker of MaMuse, Adrian Villasenor-Galarza, John Seed, Jen Myzel, and Yuka Saito.
Music As Medicine
Three years ago Lydia collaborated with Rising Appalachia and Penny Livingston to offer the first “Music As Medicine In Our Time” workshop, weaving Macy’s “Work That Reconnects” with community singing and nature connection as a formative way of cultivating individual and community resilience. The depth of discovery and connection in this first workshop launched Lydia on a new trajectory of her work. These times are indeed heartbreaking. We are dedicated to helping keep the spirit of the people fed so that we have the energy and tools to stay engaged in this critical time on behalf of our planet. Our Music As Medicine department continues to offer this programming to our community.
The Three Dimensions of the Great Turning
A Teaching from Joanna Macy
Holding Actions is an individual or collective actions that help to slow down destruction and harm. They are all the ways that we organize to interrupt the destructive aspects of the business as usual. This includes boycotts, court injunctions, protest camps, sit-ins, space occupation, financial divestment, direct actions; these are all actions that buy time as we remember and learn how to organize systems in a way that supports life. They often require great courage, focus, self-awareness, strategy, and shared distribution of power that lifts up the often invisibilized voices of those who have suffered most at the hands of business as usual.
We are grateful to our comrades who both have and continue to engage in holding actions, and we seek to be a place of refuge where any burnout can be tended to, nervous systems can refresh, and self-love and self-respect can be renewed. We offer teachings from the work of teachers such as Joanna Macy and Adrienne Maree brown as ways of helping people engaged in holding actions to locate themselves within an ecosystem of response to suffering that liberates all of us from the isolation encouraged by the industrial growth society.
We believe that where the existential and the political meet lies a holy place.
Gaian Systems are all the ways humans are both remembering and learning to organize life systems in ways that support the continuation of living systems. As holding actions reduce harm and buy time, how do we regenerate life? These can be ways of growing food, regenerating ecosystems, water catchment, and distribution, organizing resources and economy, housing, healthcare, and more. These ways are being actively remembered from ancestral wisdom endangered by white supremacy, colonization, militarism, and industrialism. New, creative ways of organizing life are also being born every day, indicating Paul Hawken’s “blessed unrest,” the largest decentralized social movement in human history.
We give thanks to the farmers, builders, city planners, medicine holders, water keepers, and more who give their life force to exponentially support life on this precious planet.
We intend to conspire towards life.
Shifts in Consciousness
As many of us live in a society that prioritizes the material and tends to devalue and even deny the existence of internal landscapes, shifts in consciousness can often be overlooked as a critical dimension of The Great Turning. Human beings are experiential in nature. As we take in the world, we synthesize our experience within the bounds of our own mind, heart, emotional landscape, and imagination. Some use the words spirit and soul, others creativity and feeling. Whichever language reflects your cosmology on this planet, we know that there is nothing a human being ever says or does that isn’t first seeded in consciousness, and we believe in nurturing that middle ground.
Shifts in Consciousness, therefore, include educators of many kinds, artists, musicians, poets, spiritual teachers, therapists, healers; all those people who contribute to our invisible realms and help us to imagine and sustain the work. As Joanna Macy teaches, Holding Actions and Gaian Systems are fundamental to The Great Turning, but they may not carry within them lasting power without being accompanied by Shifts In Consciousness.
We aim to contribute to a community liberation and healing that contributes lasting power to The Great Turning.
Our Teachers & Guest Teachers
Lydia Violet Farshid-Harutoonian
Founder / Facilitator / Artist / Educator
Lydia Violet, M.A., has studied dedicatedly with deep ecology...
elder and Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy for the past 12 years, learning how we can metabolize climate despair, eco-anxiety, and community traumas into energy for resilience, action, and community healing. She founded and runs School for The Great Turning, in dedication to the work of Joanna Macy, and to create access to an education that supports the societal shift from an Industrial Growth Society to a Life-Sustaining Society.
For 4 years Lydia has also run the Music As Medicine Project, combining traditions of community singing with Macy's "Work That Reconnects." Lydia has lead hundreds of groups in this work internationally, as well as conducted facilitator trainings and offered keynote addresses at conferences and festivals.
Lydia is also an accomplished Iranian-Armenian-American multi-instrumentalist weaving together American roots and Iranian folk music traditions. With her live band she combines fiddle, banjo, and luscious harmonies to offer a soul-folk revival experience, bringing in a fresh wave of protest music. In the past year she has collaborated with world-renowned artists Climbing PoeTree, Rising Appalachia, and Lyla June. ♬
Educator / Activist / Elder
Joanna Macy Ph.D, author & teacher, is a scholar of Buddhism, systems thinking , and deep ecology.
A respected voice in movements for peace, justice, and ecology, she interweaves her scholarship with learnings from six decades of activism.
Her wide-ranging work addresses psychological and spiritual issues of the nuclear age, the cultivation of ecological awareness, and the fruitful resonance between Buddhist thought and postmodern science. The many dimensions of this work are explored in her thirteen books, which include three volumes of poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke with translation and commentary.
As the root teacher of The Work That Reconnects, Joanna has created a ground-breaking framework for personal and social change, as well as a powerful workshop methodology for its application.
Based in Berkeley, California, close to her children and grandchildren, Joanna has spent many years in other lands and cultures, viewing movements for social change and exploring their roots in religious thought and practice.
Since the early 1980’s her travel was governed by invitations to teach the group work that she and a growing number of colleagues were developing. Many thousands of people around the world have participated in Joanna’s workshops and trainings. These methods, incorporated in the Work That Reconnects, have been adopted and adapted yet more widely in classrooms, community centers, and grassroots organizing.
In the face of overwhelming social and ecological crises, this work helps people transform despair and apathy into constructive, collaborative action. It brings a new way of seeing the world as our larger living body. This perspective frees us from the assumptions and attitudes that now threaten the continuity of life on Earth.
Educator / Mystic / Activist
Proclaimed as one of the “purest contemporary voices” by National Public Radio (NPR), Amikaeyla...
is a force for change. A Cultural Arts Ambassador for the State Department, as well as a highly sought-after performer and public speaker, she travels worldwide doing expansive work with political refugees, war survivors, and jeopardized populations “opening paralyzed voices and transforming wounded spirits...”.(Laura R., President, Institute of Noetic Sciences). Founder and Executive Director for The International Cultural Arts and Healing Sciences Institute (ICAHSI), Amikaeyla unlocked her self expression and healing in an intensive care burn unit after a near fatal hate crime. Lying in excruciating pain and anguish after being told her legs would have to be amputated and she would never walk again, she discovered she could not only overcome fear, but also become fearless through the healing power of music.
Working in the Behavioral Health arena for over the past 25 years, Amikaeyla brings together artists and healers of all forms and from all specialties to promote healing and wellness through the arts & activism. She is often called by the United Nations and embassies worldwide into difficult scenarios to offer inter-cultural literacy and deep restorative justice work in support of transformative and peaceful solutions.
Artist / Educator / Herbalist / Mystic
Leah Song is a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumental musician, storyteller, poet, and activist...
known for her role as front woman in Rising Appalachia, with her sister Chloe Smith, incorporating sultry vocals, rhythm, banjo, guitar, ballads, dance, spoken-word and storytelling into her work. Her music is based in the traditions of Southern soul and international roots music. Song engages in social activism and is involved with the environment, food justice, human rights and prisons.
She has studied and worked alongside some of the greatest teachers of our time...including Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Martin Shaw, Joanna Macy, Winona LaDuke, Sobunfu Some, and Rosemary Gladstar, gathering tools and teachings of resilience, mythology, grief work, creative ritual, and rewilding.
Adrienne Maree Brown
Writer / Educator / Community Organizer
Adrienne Maree Brown is the writer-in-residence at the Emergent Strategy Ideation Institute, and...
author of Holding Change: The Way of Emergent Strategy Facilitation and Mediation, We Will Not Cancel Us and Other Dreams of Transformative Justice, Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, and Changing Worlds. Adrienne is the co-editor of Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction from Social Justice Movements and How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office. She is also the cohost of the How to Survive the End of the World, Octavia’s Parables and Emergent Strategy podcasts. Adrienne is rooted in Detroit.
Educator / Herbalist / Land Whisperer
Penny Livingston-Stark is internationally recognized as a prominent permaculture teacher,...
designer, and speaker. She holds a MS in Eco-Social Regeneration and 3 Diplomas in Permaculture Design. Penny has been studying the Hermetic Tradition of alchemy and herbal medicine making in Europe, Indonesia and the United States. She has taught hundreds of Permaculture Design Certification courses worldwide in addition to advanced courses.
Penny has been teaching internationally and working professionally in the land management, regenerative design, and permaculture development field for 25 years and has extensive experience in all phases of ecologically sound design and construction as well as the use of natural non-toxic building materials. She specializes in site planning and the design of resource-rich landscapes integrating, rainwater collection, edible and medicinal planting, spring development, pond and water systems, habitat development and watershed restoration for homes, co-housing communities, businesses, and diverse yield perennial farms. She as taught Herbal Medicine Making, Natural Building and Permaculture around the US as well as Bali, Indonesia, Peru, Germany, Mexico, France, Turkey, Portugal, Australia, Belize, Brazil, England and Costa Rica.
Trauma Educator / Orgainizer / Minister
Vahisha Hasan is a faith-rooted organizer moving at the intersections of faith, social justice,...
...and mental health. She is the Executive Director of Movement in Faith, a project of Transform Network. She is a powerful public speaker, transformative facilitator, social justice trainer, minister, and writer with a deeply prophetic voice and imagination for how faith communities can be an active part of healing and collective liberation.
She is the Director of the SEAL Initiatives at American Baptist College in Nashville TN (Social Justice, Equity, Advocacy, and Leadership). Vahisha is also a core team member of TRACC4Movements (Trauma Response and Crisis Care), providing supportive tools for wellness for those who labor in freedom and liberation. She also serves as an associate minister at Christ Missionary Baptist Church, under Rev. Dr. Gina Stewart, Senior Pastor, where she was licensed and ordained June 23, 2019.
Vahisha holds a dual Master’s of Divinity and Master’s of Mental Health Counseling with an Education Specialist Certification from Gardner-Webb University and a bachelor’s degree in Communications with a concentration in Interpersonal Organization from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
In addition to penning book reviews, journal articles, online publications, and writing a bachelor’s curriculum in Applied Psychology, she has curated and co-edited three editions of Resipiscence: A Lenten Devotional for Dismantling White Supremacy, 2018-2020.
Artist / Educator / Healer
Wholeheartedly fed by the folk and gospel traditions, MaMuse (Sarah Nutting and Karisha Longaker)...
create uplifting music to inspire the world into thriving. Interweaving brilliant and haunting harmony with lyrics born of honed emotional intelligence, MaMuse invokes a musical presence that inspires the opening of the heart. Playing a family of varied acoustic instruments including upright bass, guitar, mandolins, ukulele, and flutes, while backed by guitar virtuoso Walter Strauss and inspired drummer (Mike Wofchuck), these two powerful women embody a love for all life. The synergy that is created through this musical connection is palpable and truly moving to witness.
With nine delicious years of co-creation and five full length albums under their belts, MaMuse keep their hearts tuned to the creation of music for the health of all beings.
Kele Nitoto is a second generation African-American percussionist and singer.
Born and raised in the Oakland Dance Culture, Kele Has studied with masters of many styles, becoming proficient in West-African, Congolese, Afro-Cuban, Afro-Peruvian, and Afro-Haitian traditional musics. Over the last 25 years, Kele has performed throughout the world in dance companies, bands, and teaching workshops and classes, summer camps, spiritual and workplace retreats, and for countless ceremonies and celebrations.
Playing with such artists as Lydia Violet and the Thrive Choir, Kele has performed and recorded with the likes of MaMuse, Climbing Poetry, Rising Appalachia, Melanie DeMore, and Esperanza Spaulding. He is currently spearheading Oakland Hand Drums, an organization focused on rhythmic education and performance through a cultural and creative lens.
Artist / Educator / Mother
Jen Myzel, facilitator of the Work that Reconnects, is a singer-songwriter, children’s book author...
...and elementary school teacher. Jen’s three studio albums are inspired by her eight years of study with Joanna Macy, founder of the Work that Reconnects. Jen's children’s sing-a-long book, ‘Yellow Lotus Flower’, has been praised by Joanna as “a story for our times”. As a teacher and musician, Jen has collaborated with inspiring, family-friendly artists including the Alphabet Rockers, Octopretzel and Empty Hands Music, and has performed at various change-maker events including the Bioneers Conference and the March Against Monsanto. Jen is a founding member of the Thrive Street Choir and has written and led songs for direct actions and rituals across the Bay Area including the widely sung “Gentle Heart.” Jen currently lives in a land-based community in the occupied Miwok and Pomo territory of Occidental, CA with her husband, newborn son and seven other humans aspiring to be more graceful stewards of this beautiful Earth.
“Action isn’t a burden to be hoisted up and lugged around on our shoulders. It is something we are. The work we have to do can be seen as a kind of coming alive. More than some moral imperative, it’s an awakening to our true nature, a releasing of our gifts.”
What Folks are Saying About
School of the Great Turning
“...thank you, for your work, your music, the songs (my voice is slowly coming back after years of silence and I’m writing one-line songs of gratitude thanks to you)!!”
“Thank you so much for this class and all of your sharing. Yesterday was an accumulation of so many emotions, but I am so happy to have shared my story. I truly believe in the Music As Medicine project and excited to see it grow.”
“I am lingering in the joy of our time together…I loved being in community with everyone y’all gathered. Thank you! With tears and solidarity in everything we are doing…”