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.



One of the people that has taught me the most about the value of pause is Ann Linnea. Ann and I have known and appreciated each other for the last twenty years. She is cofounder of PeerSpirit and The Circle Way. She is author of books about nature, rites of passage, wilderness quests, and of course, circle. She is a good soul whose very pace of being can’t help but still the soul.

In the tradition that is The Circle Way, the pause is an essential agreement. “We agree from time to time to pause to regather our thoughts and our focus.” Often this is done with the ringing of a bell, bowl, or tingsha. I can hear Ann’s voice as clearly in my mind as I can anyones, her speaking after the pause — “I asked for the bell to give us a deliberate pause in our good thinking that is now becoming quite speedy. I want to feel deeply what is being spoken.”

Another person I’ve learned a lot about pause from is Roq Gareau. Roq is as smart and thoughtful as they come. He has “elder” written all over him. He is in his early 40s. And he is the kind of elder that I uniquely enjoy — he can turn to playful in a heartbeat. Roq is one of the most kind people I know that can come from deep eldering.

Roq has taught me about a form of pause, interruption. It’s related to pause, but different. It’s not the interruption of speaking over top of someone. It’s not the rude kind (though I get that this is sometimes needed). It’s the wise kind. I’ve often heard Roq revere interruption, in a way that continues to reverberate with me, “Our work is to interrupt the pattern of isolation that we find ourselves defaulted to in contemporary society.” This wisdom in Roq’s words is not about what follows the interruption. It’s not that level of specificity — not yet. His words are about the simple act of interrupting. Stopping. Daring to let go of the default. Taking a walk. Letting it go for a while. Interrupting physical, emotional, neural entrainment. Getting out of the deep carve.

Both pause and interruption are deep principles to me. They are practices, perhaps more understood by elders and people with eldering instinct. Pause isn’t paralysis. It isn’t freeze with fear. Pause and interruption are goto steps for me when I don’t know what to do, or when a group doesn’t know what to do. The are invitations to reground, and to trust in something less visible and less obvious. Pause and interruption challenge me, and I believe all of us, to go beyond the highly revered “doing” that contemporary culture so often demands (because there are deadlines to meet, right). Pause and interruption have a deep trust behind them, which is a rather good pattern to reinvoke in ourselves, with each other, and in the groups that we live and love our lives in, no?

Got Lucky

December and January are months in which I enjoy tucking in to movies and books. When the snow is here. When it’s cold. When the sun sets at 5:00.

Some of those movies and books are really compelling. They stay with me. Like I’ve welcomed them as renters in a particular neighborhood of my psyche. I enjoy seeing them in the morning and having tea together. Some of them are just so so. I’m not really drawn into the movie but I’m curious where they are going to go with it. I want to know how the director, etc. is going to get themselves out of the jam that is this unengaging story. Or if it’s a book, I tend to read faster, skimming sentences at the beginning of paragraphs and making it an exercise in speed reading. I’d rather have the compelling tea together, to be clear.

The “got lucky” part is that I’ve just watched a movie and am almost done reading a book that I’m guessing will be on my “best of” lists for 2017. The book is “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame). It’s a book given to me by a friend a bit more than a year ago with a really lovely and inviting inscription. It’s been sitting on my reading table most of the time since then. I’ve known where it was. The moment for reading it arrived three days ago. I wanted to treat myself to something on a Friday afternoon, 3:30. It was this book. Big Magic has fantastic and accessible gems of wisdom (my pages are very dog-eared) all around the theme of creativity and living a creative life. This book supposes that we humans are creative beings by nature and that our creativity is fundamental need. Further, that ideas live as a life form and are looking for human hosts so as to be born. This is good, right. If I had a nickel for every good idea that came my way that I loved but didn’t give enough attention to such that it “moved on,” yup, I’d have a wheelbarrow full of nickels. This book is compelling and inspiring and inviting. And I found, honest. I can’t wait to see the friend who gave me the copy and catch up together.

The movie is called Captain Fantastic, starring Viggo Mortensen, with outstanding roles by his on-screen children. This movie was also recommended to me by a good friend (the most enjoyable books and movies come from friends, hmm….). There are many important and compelling themes to me, embedded in the story. The relationship between nature and civilization. The perpetuated myths and habits that are numbing the crap out of much of western society. Need for village and need for forest — that’s how my friend described it. It’s sweet. It’s tender. It’s bad-assed. It’s intelligent. It’s confrontational. It’s enough to stir much in me and call forth in me courage to challenge systems and beliefs, most of them residing deeply in me, but let’s be honest, being enacted in many contemporary organizations and systems.

And so it is, 2017 arrives. After two weeks off from writing, I’m at it again. I got lucky with a great book and a great movie out the gate. Plenty to carry me into the year with some heart, some meaning, and some honesty. Glad for friends. And yes, some luck to0.