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Our Job As Elders


This morning I am feeling fierce, protective, stirred and.....yes....I am feeling angry. Like a mother bear feels anger. It’s not your average anger. If you are still caught within the grasp of this business of domestication that is our species greatest catastrophe, you might not bother to read on. Two days ago, while sitting in session with a beautiful young couple expecting their second child while also deep in the work of initiating themselves into their own adulthood (a confluence far too many of us go through in our culture today), a commotion began stirring outside in the first field. A pair of red tail hawks, as well as a host of jays, robins and blackbirds, live in the ancient apple tree out there, so it’s not uncommon for raucousness to erupt when certain feathered folks infringe into other folk's territories. But today the commotion was different. One of the hawks was making a sound I’d never heard before. In between the piercing shrill single cry they are known for, was a wailing, a deep, long sound of grief, of “no”. Just after the session the elkhound and I ventured out to the field, wandering the land to see what we could see. There in the grasses we found one beautiful feather, fresh and crisp, sitting upright and strong, like a warning, an omen. Since then I have only seen the one hawk.

The wildest warriors among us are not going to play by the rules. We don’t want them to.

Up to a certain age, it’s our job to keep our children safe. But that is a relatively short period of time given the lengthy journey that comprises most of our childhood and becoming-human journey. Starting at around 8 or 9 (depending on the nature and soul of the ones we are charged with ‘raising’) it’s our job to start letting them go, out into the wilds of their own true lives, armed with the intelligence that, if we’ve been doing our jobs up to now, gives them the tools to discern who they are, what is their’s to do and what isn’t. If they’re endowed with this extraordinary inheritance, their true inheritance, they will get themselves into all the right trouble. ‘Right trouble’ doesn’t mean easy, safe or known. Not at all. It just means that whatever wounding they receive will be in direct service to the honing of their greatness. For instance, it’s perfectly possible that my oldest son’s heroin addiction was exactly the right kind of trouble for him; that it was a primary initiatory experience, laying in wait for him, which will deliver to him key aspects of his understanding of himself and the world. This body of knowledge, now living in his body, will make up a formidable part of the unique tapestry that is his soul’s operating system, purpose and primary expression. If we were to ‘save him‘ from encountering this addiction process, from encountering himself within this addiction process, if we were to have locked him up in a rehab for three years for instance, it is likely we would have been neutering his very life.

So you see how impossible it is in this day and time, with all the most extraordinary, alluring, terrifying dangers lying in wait for our young ones as they begin to feel the urgency and Life moving within them, as they begin to step outside their safety zone to make contact with their full, true selves, the autonomous adult version of themselves that is capable of gestating and birthing their genius into The World, you see how, at this particular time, given the fact that so many of us are so desperately lost ourselves, you see how much these wild young ones, the very ones who are likely THE ONES to shepard the next generations into a new way of living, you see how important it is that we get our shit together right now, remember how to be authentic, humble, powerful, unequivocal Elders, that we remember the process of true mentorship (which requires that we allow ourselves to become obsolete to this world, but that’s ok because by then we’ll already be in deep conversation with the other worlds), that we devote ourselves to the process of living lives of integrity, meaning and purpose, as if life depended on it. Do you see how important this is?

It is our job to see these young ones as the people who have the answers – answers that haven’t revealed themselves yet. If they don’t have the answers, this whole grand experiment, that may seem so woefully off-course but isn’t really, will go to hell. There is an exquisite dance here, the kind that is alive and well all around us, the kind that tends to confuse the domesticated among us. The dance is that we won’t necessarily see their wisdom. It will likely appear foreign to us (because it is). It may even seem absurd or fantastic or foolish. We need to get out of the way here. Do our job and get out of the way.

We need to understand that it’s our job to be the Elders; to live lives that are worthy of the respect of our youngers. I’m not talking about lives within the lines or by the rules, but actually of-integrity, risk-taking, modeling life that is in direct relationship with other life, as if it mattered. It is not our job to model lives that are good for us, comfortable, safe. It is definitely not our job to model lives that are fashioned according to anyone else’s rules for success, acknowledgment, acceptance. Nor is it our job to model lives that are constructed around our wounding – lives created specifically to avoid encounters with our soul’s truth and purpose. It is our responsibility to consider, every day, what we are teaching our youngers simply because of the way we are living, the decisions we are making, the lives we have constructed. Here is where our words are meaningless. Youngers do not learn a thing from our speeches. They learn everything about us from our actions, from the decisions we make, the on-the-ground example of the lives we are living, moment to moment. They are formed directly through the time we take to pay attention to what is unfolding within us, around us and within them. They pay attention to the truthful, fierce humility and self-love with which we are able to see our own wounds, own them, take responsibility for them and craft meaningful living straight down through the center of them and out the other side. Like a glorious arrow, feathers perfectly balanced, head aimed true.

It is a difficult road when we attempt to find our true life solely because we don’t like what is in front of us. Even in this dynamic it is far better when the impulse that propels us is one of claiming of what we are, not merely what we don’t want to be. These two experiences can be joined, and currently are joined for so many of our young as they are surrounded by elders whose lives lack integrity, are mired in addiction, lethargy, despair or simply the innocence of acculturated ignorance. But it is a fundamentally important (and at some point critical) ingredient that they also have a grasp on what they are moving toward rather than merely what they are moving away from. And they get this primarily, at first, through our unwavering intelligent reflection of them that is unattached to our own egoic expectation, shortcomings or fear.

It is an impulse living within the bone marrow of every human to live a life of worth, a life that truly matters to those who matter to us.  A genuinely intelligent culture raises its young so that the entirety of the universe is a living being, filled with wonder, miracle, mystery and Life and as such, it is the realm that must matter to them. A truly intelligent culture teaches its young the practice of being human, not merely the practice of surviving.

The silhouette of a warrior woman with storm clouds in the background.
The silhouette of a warrior woman with storm clouds in the background.

If we cannot do this our young, out of desperation for a sense of greatness, out of their own rage for our lack of nobility, respectability and aliveness, will find rebellious, erroneously dangerous experiences with which to attempt to initiate themselves into any other kind of life than the one they are watching us have. Or perhaps they'll make life easy for us and simply slip into their own version of the despair, superficiality and consumerism they see all around them. Either way, this represents an egregious failure on our part.

Help our youngers become fully human by claiming your own life, your place and your wisdom. Please allow your own importance, worth and intelligence. Please do not listen to the stories that tell you you should just be "happy", or "safe" or something else of no relevance whatsoever. Please turn and face the one life that is honestly and only yours to have, without which The World will not be whole. Without which our youngers will be hobbled in their attempt to find theirs.

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