How To Be An Elder

When I was young, one of the things I was taught was to “respect my elders.” I suppose that came from my parents and grandparents, offered both playfully and seriously. I think some of it was when I entered faith community life. Elders were important. They knew things. They could help. There was an honor that was to be extended.

I’m 55 now. It’s a few years of living. Old enough to know some stuff. Old enough to know that I’m just getting started in many ways.

I began listening yesterday to some of the CD series by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, American poet and author, “How To Be An Elder.” I listened as I flew the last leg of a very long series of flights from Salt Lake City, USA to Brisbane, Australia (via Los Angeles and Sydney). I love these lines, these “secrets” that Clarissa Pinkola Estes shares.

  1. You were born gifted. You won’t live a normal life.
  2. Your gift is unique.
  3. If you ever find yourself drawn to the seduction of normal, get over it quickly.

There’s a story that Estes is telling about gift in relation to wound, which I find very helpful. The wound is so often, where the medicine lays, or is available. It’s your wound that can be transformed into gift, that can be offered to others. And, that growing into that wound, harvesting the wisdom from it, will create a “not normal” path.

I know that part of me that seeks normal life. I know the part of me that can’t stand or bear normal life. It just seems that there is so much more to discover beyond the realm of presumed reality.

You know, I think it was mostly the tone of Estes’ voice. I loved hearing her speak with such normalcy about wounds, how they shape us, and how our uniqueness is formed by leaning into that wound.

It’s a similar message to what my friends Roq Gareau and Dave Waugh write in their book, Soulful Fellowship. “If you are human, you experience suffering and woundedness. This very suffering and roundedness is invitation to giftedness and eldership.”

As I sit on a Brisbane Monday morning (turning to Sunday evening back in my home of Utah), I’m not sure why I think of these things. Perhaps because I can feel the adventure beginning. Returning to Australia. Teaching The Circle Way. Being with friends Amanda and Penny. Growing again. Trying to offer honesty with the people I’ll work with. Seeking elders. Trying to offer a bit of what I’ve learned.

I want to feel the journey in the way that Estes describes it. In the spirit of story. In the spirit of welcomed imagination.


Surprise and Beauty

I love it when simple exercises have significant impact. You know, the kind that seem almost silly because they are so simple. That seem like a distraction from the “real work.” Silly they aren’t, so often. And often, they are just the right kind of real.

Last week I got to do one of those with my friends at Soultime, while on Bowen Island. Dave Waugh was the one that offered it, a twenty minute bare foot walk in the forest. I don’t want to over describe my experience with too much rational thinking brain to flesh out the “why.” For me it was enough to encounter the world through different senses, and to disrupt the normal goto habits.

Off the twelve of us went. In silence. And with invitation to pay attention. Some carried a question. For me, it was just an intent that I realize is a super important operating system for me. Mostly looking down at the ground and taking slow, short steps (that was the invitation) I decided that I wanted to pay attention to what surprised me and to what felt beautiful.

First thing that caught my attention (because this is less about strategizing an outcome) was a simple piece of a branch that was about the size and length of my index finger. It had been splintered in roughly half. Dried bark on the outside. A couple of oval layers of tan and brown on the inside. The surprise and beauty that I immediately wondered about was about the story of this little branch. Was it broken from chopping wood. Was it splintered from falling off of a tree? Was it carried and dropped by a bird? It was intriguing to me that there was story to this little branch, as there is story to pretty much everything. The story has always been the interesting part of the encounter.

I walked further. Slow steps. Again mostly looking down. It was a sunny day which made all of this very easy. I was loving the silence. I was loving the simplicity as I began to feel the ground with my feet. As if they were my hands. The soft green moss. Even the crunchy dried branches part — it was good to feel what I normally wouldn’t when wearing shoes. I loved walking on a fallen log. Different textures. Different feels. More surprise and more beauty — I suppose these are always there if we are willing to give them attention.

As I continued to walk, still mostly looking down, I decided to look up through the trees. Again, simple as it sounds, the contrast of experience from such deliberate looking down, well that was delicious. The blue sky through the tree tops. The suddenly extended range beyond 6 feet to the height of the trees and the infinity of the sky. I loved it. And then, a gust of wind rushed through the trees.

Look down. Look up. Listen. That’s what I came up with.

And then the bell rang to signal return for the twelve of us to the yurt to share what we noticed.

Look for surprise and beauty. Look down. Look up. Listen.

It was just a simple exercise. Oh ya, a simple exercise that woke something up in me. Thanks Dave. Thanks Soultime.