Being an ‘elder’ is a possibility for our soul’s journey through life while being a path of development and awakening. Many oral cultures revere their senior members, where the elder generation carries the knowledge, history and wisdom for the on-going society. These men and women are repositories for hard-won insight and experience that leads to a good life. Balanced against this, other cultures, especially subsistence hunting and gathering societies, must manage the need for movement and scarce resources with practices that reduce the elder’s individual biological burden on the collective. In that world of limited resources, passing on the body of wisdom to younger generations requires constant contact between generations if the knowledge is to be retained and transmitted. In our modern western culture, we seem to be at this same cross-road. As the senior generation, how might we contribute to a truly good life for generations to come, while continuing on the path of illuminated heart?
Growing numerically ‘older’ is only a very small part of the landscape, yet aging does bring to us the continuing physical, developmental and spiritual changes we all will face as we live. Interestingly, though we can plan for these events, they seem to spontaneously ‘emerge’ and appear in our on-going life stream. Hence, growing old can seem an existential affliction that must inevitably end in unredeemed death. What if the key word is ‘emergent’ signifying arising or becoming, rather than ‘Elder,’ that suggests an end point, a specific goal of becoming?
Here in our current, post-modern privileged society of North America, the elder (or older) is marginalized and the cult of youth is the dominant meme. Yet, as we live well past our retirement and reproductive ages, we increasingly weigh on the finite resource base. Might my continuing development and evolution bring wellbeing to the whole, although I am no longer ‘productive’? How can my awakening benefit generations to come, even though I am no longer reproductive and parenting? In what ways might I offer my depth of experience, wisdom and compassion to and for the generations to come? Must each succeeding generation ‘start from scratch’ making the same mistakes and creating suffering for humanity in the way we did? Some unintended consequences that our generation is leaving as legacy might well succeed in killing our beloved planet’s human life support system.
We are at a place in our life’s journey that is actually an extraordinary conversation happening on the boundary, the edge of contact between the stages of ‘elder’ and ancestor. This conversation is an opportunity to find out what deeply matters to you and what you really care about in this next phase of life.
Jonathan, 16 April 2016
Not soon, as late as the approach of my ninetieth year,
I felt a door opening in me and I entered
the clarity of early morning.
One after another my former lives were departing,
like ships, together with their sorrow.
And the countries, cities, gardens, the bays of seas
assigned to my brush came closer,
ready now to be described better than they were before.
I was not separated from people,
grief and pity joined us.
We forget — I kept saying — that we are all children of the King.
For where we come from there is no division
into Yes and No, into is, was, and will be.
We were miserable, we used no more than a hundredth part
of the gift we received for our long journey.
Moments from yesterday and from centuries ago –
a sword blow, the painting of eyelashes before a mirror
of polished metal, a lethal musket shot, a caravel
staving its hull against a reef — they dwell in us,
waiting for a fulfillment.
I knew, always, that I would be a worker in the vineyard,
as are all men and women living at the same time,
whether they are aware of it or not.
Czeslaw Milosz (1911 – 2004)
English version by Robert Hass
New and Collected Poems 1931 – 2001, by Czeslaw Milosz