Skip to main content
Date: 01/01/2014
  • Practices
  • Seeing with New/Ancient Eyes
  • Deep Time
  • Emerging Facilitators
  • Facilitators

The Seventh Generation

from chapter 9 of Coming Back to Life by Joanna Macy and Molly Brown; second edition, published 2014. Please acknowledge the source when you use any of these practices.


Time: 60 minutes


This Deep Time ritual (originally called the Double Circle) allows us to see the Great Turning within a larger time frame, including that of a human being of the Seventh Generation into the future, roughly two centuries from the present. It takes seriously the words of eminent radiologist Sister Rosalie Bertell: “Every being who will ever live on Earth is here now. Where? In our gonads and ovaries and in our DNA.”

This practice serves well as the sole experiential component of a short workshop or evening gathering.



Have people sit in pairs facing each other silently and oriented in the same directional axis, as in East-West or North-South. Those facing in one direction, say West, identify as their present-day self. Those in front of them who are facing the opposite direction, say East, will identify as a human of the seventh generation in the future. These roles are not interchangeable, and are to be determined swiftly and clearly. Be sure each person knows what role they’re in.

Ask people to grant two assumptions for the purpose of this ritual. The first assumption is that there will be humans living on Earth two hundred years from now. Even if you have come to believe otherwise, please grant that assumption for the purpose of this ritual. 

The second assumption is that the future ones have a cultural memory of what is happening in our time of the early 21st century — whether carried by educational institutions or storytellers. This is an important assumption. It means humans are not all scattered in caves but living in life-sustaining communities — because, you know, the Industrial Growth Society clearly can’t last another 200 years.

Now explain that in order for present and future beings to meet across two centuries, we must go to a “point outside of time.” We travel there by the power of our intention and our moral imagination, and by sounding together — long and strong — the seed syllable Ah, which stands for all that has not yet been spoken.

When the sounding has brought everyone to the point-outside-of-time, explain the two roles as follows: (this how Joanna gives these instructions) 

You present-day people choose to see the person before you as a human of the seventh generation. And you future ones know that the person before you lives back in the year _____. You [future ones] have something to say to them [present ones] and to ask; this will be spoken in my voice [the voice of the person guiding the exercise] and taken as coming directly through your own heart-mind. You present-day ones will then answer out loud, while the future one listens in silence. 

And by the way, the word “ancestor” refers to all people of preceding generations and is not limited to one’s own genetic line.


In the next part of the exercise, the guide will speak for the future humans as they ask the present day humans three different questions. Allow three to five minutes for the present-day humans to respond to each question. After the first response and again after the second, invite the future ones to silently acknowledge what they have heard, then to take their leave, and walk to an empty place in front of another present-day being. Everyone will be facing a new person.

We encourage you to speak these three successive questions in your own words, rather than reading them.


Question 1:

Ancestor, I greet you. It’s so amazing to see your face, because all my life I have heard stories from teachers and grandparents about the time you are living. Some of the things I’ve heard I find hard to believe, so I’d like to check them out with you.

They say that in your time there are a few people richer than the richest ancient kings, while billions of people are without enough food or shelter or clean water. They tell us that in your time bombs are being made that can blow up whole cities. We know about that, but they say you know about it too, right when the bombs are being made. They tell us that whole species of animals and plants are going extinct. We know about that, too, because gone is gone.

But they tell us you know about that while it’s happening. Is that true?… And if it is true, what’s that like for you?


Allow about five minutes for the present-day humans to respond. Then invite the future ones to silently acknowledge what they have heard, then to take their leave, and walk to an empty place in front of another present-day being. Now everyone is facing a new person.


Question 2: 

Ancestor, I greet you. When we in our generation find water we can drink and soil that’s safe to grow food, it is thanks to the work you and your friends are doing on our behalf. It must be hard for you, especially at the beginning, standing up for beings you haven’t met and will never meet. So I want to ask you this question: What inspired you to start on this path? And what were the first steps you took?

Allow three minutes or so for the present-day humans to respond. And once again invite the future ones to acknowledge what they have heard, take their leave, and move to a new place in front of yet another present-day being.


Question 3: 

Ancestor, I greet you. We know you did not stop with those first steps. There are stories and songs about what you and your friends are doing to leave us a livable world. What they don’t tell us, and what I would really like to know, is where you find the strength to do this. Where do you find the power to keep on going for the sake of life, despite all the obstacles and discouragements?  Can you tell me?

Future humans respond. After the present-day persons have answered the third question, the future ones do not leave, but stay right there and respond to your next invitation:

Now, you of the seventh generation, it is your turn to talk. You have been listening to three ancestors speak of their experience of Great Turning. As you listened, thoughts and feelings arose in you. Now is your chance to express them. What is in your heart to say to the one before you?  Very soon this person will be returning right into the midst of that darkness and travail. What words do you have for him or her?

Ask the present-day ones to just listen now, without speaking.

Closing the ritual: Bring the ritual to a close by inviting the people in dyads to thank each other silently, and then all return to real time together by once again sounding the seed syllable Ah. During the sounding, those who spoke for the seventh generation can shake off that role. For they, also, are part of the Great Turning, in this moment.

With this particular practice, the processing of it can be almost as rewarding as the ritual itself. Ask for any reflections people would like to share with the whole group. Encourage those who speak up to identify the role they played.



  1. In an earlier form, the ritual was done in two concentric circles; each person in the outer circle sits facing a person in the inner circle. Those in the outer circle are themselves in the present time, and those in the inner circle are future humans of the seventh generation. After each spoken encounter, the future ones rise, step back to move one place to the right, and sit again. In this way the inner circle moves clockwise while the outer circle stays stationary.
  2. Here’s another question to use if you have time. Place it after #1. Ancestor, when did you first realize the Industrial Growth Society was doomed? How did it dawn on you that humans would have to live in a radically different way for complex life forms to continue?


Additional Resources: 

The Seventh Generation from Work That Reconnects on Vimeo.

Contributor/Author: Joanna Macy & Molly Brown