Tag Archives: elders

“Let other people say the hopeful stuff”

“Stuff” wasn’t really the word he used. “Let other people say the hopeful shit” was what he said. “You can leave that to them, and then sometimes you’ll probably want to shoot them between the eyes. Your task now is to feel what this feels like, to be troubled by it, and to get yourself into the meaning-making business. See, everyone wishes they didn’t have to go through something like this, they ask why did it have to happen to you. Well, it didn’t happen to you. You are standing upright and healthy. You didn’t get this. You’re son did, and he didn’t ask for it. This is his life now and you have to walk it alongside him and help him make meaning of it.”

Not even three weeks after learning of Brendan’s diagnosis of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, I traveled to Ontario, Canada to attend the first session of the Orphan Wisdom School 2017. I didn’t go to get more information. I’m up to my eyeballs in information and I have more than enough to live out my days well-enough informed and able to talk like I know something about something. What I did go there for was to learn, and especially to learn from Stephen Jenkinson, an elder in the truest sense of the word. I have been lucky enough (or perhaps foolish enough) to have a keen nose for elders and to know one when I see one. I think it has something to do with the lines in their faces that come from something, or somewhere, more than age. There are those who carry enough intention, clarity, and wisdom that being in their presence is enough for me. Stephen is one of these such elders.

Stephen told us we were there to learn, which he defined as the unbidden and unsought encounter with unwelcome things… things we already know. This learning, he said, is expensive because it is incredibly costly. We were told that we were under no obligation to know anything. We don’t have to know anything in particular to learn. But there was an expectation that we would learn… though tracking with his stories and his roundabout way of getting to the point was an exercise in and of itself. Stephen said he doesn’t care about our inability to feel able. He cares about us, not our disability. The feeling of not being able is an assurance that nothing happens. 

So when I approached Stephen to talk to him about the trouble that I carry with me and the burden on my heart, I offered that it may not be a good time as he had just talked for three hours. But he paused with me and opened the door. I wept (it was the second time that day already). On my better days, or perhaps my worse days, I try to be a hopeful person. I tried to rally my emotions and said, “I know. We have a lot of life left to live. I will still teach him what it means to be a man, will still make many memories, will still introduce him to a village and to elders he can learn from. It’s not over yet.”

And I’m sure, knowing what he was seeing me do, he essentially told me to cut that shit out.

The lesson is that I don’t have to be hopeful. Hope takes me away from the present. It is not real. What is real is what is happening now and the only way to speak of trouble, to make it real and tangible and to allow it to form me, is to let it shake me to my bones. Sometimes our blood needs to run cold just to feel what it feels like and so we can know what it feels like to get warm again.

Why we can’t make changes from the top down

I post this quote, in part as a response to Greg’s questions HERE, and also as another effort in processing the importance of “elder wisdom.”

Richard Rohr, in his article, “The Catch 22 of Male Initiation” (LINK), writes,

It has become rather clear to many of us that both top leaders in the church and leading politicians in society are largely made up of men who wanted to get there.  They pursued roles and positions of power for any multitude of reasons, some of which are even praiseworthy.

At the second level of “management” you find priests, ministers, civil employees, and corporate bureaucrats who have rightfully sought their own career goals, but unless there has been some influx of wisdom, suffering, or mentoring from life itself, their ego structures tend to be pretty well intact and self serving. “My personal upward mobility, but for the sake of the kingdom of God” is the best we can hope for!  They have done even good things, but the underlying motivations of self image, security, status, and self aggrandizement have never been looked at or seriously questioned.  In fact, they assume this is what life is all about.  This creates a major spiritual blindness at both levels of leadership, and of course in all men who have not stumbled, fallen, and been raised up (the central paschal mystery).

What is lost to our society, however, is much needed wisdom and the common good, and often just basic spirituality.  Such patriarchy becomes a self perpetuating machine at an arrested level of consciousness. Uninitiated men appoint, affirm, and promote other men at their same level of moral development, because their own ego standards are all that they have to judge by. In other words, the water never rises, levels of consciousness do not naturally proceed by attraction and promotion from the top, which is what we all hoped for. This is the meaning of eldership, seniority, and mentoring, but it only really works in “wisdom based cultures”, which we now have very few of (Tibet, Bali, and small, hidden pockets, especially in remaining native cultures still found on all continents.)

So wisdom often has to come from the outside, the bottom, or the edge.

So the reason I call it a “Catch 22” is that you have to build your tower of success, even though it is the very thing that can destroy you, and will destroy you if we do not see through it.

We will lose if we do not find our power.  But we will also lose if we find our power and then do not “unfind” it!

So you must let go of the very thing that you have supposedly found.  But the trouble is you are very identified and attached to it by then!  So someone must warn you ahead of time, or it is often too late.  That is initiation.

I love this, and it speaks to my own thoughts on adults in leadership running around as adolescents. I have to be careful here in how I say this, as I myself am only just beginning in my journey of maturity and wisdom. I would say though, from experience, that there are many men of whom I know would have much to offer me and my peers in our “becoming,” but from whom I feel as though I don’t really have much to learn from in regards to what it means to be a well-rounded and wise man in our world. We must call them out.. call them to a higher standard… but I get the sense that many of them, in their “ego worlds” would not hear our requests for more present leadership. This, don’t get me wrong, is not always a fault of their own, but often due to their own father wounds and also to merely being a part of a perpetuating cycle that has lost its emphasis on initiation.